Black women have given us so much, from music to fashion to sports to poetry to activism. Unfortunately, due to the intersectional nature of oppression, women of color experience the double-bind of racism AND sexism, not to mention erasure.
Erasure is when we forget or conveniently leave out someone’s contribution to history, and there are many instances of this happening to black women – from the #MeToo movement that was co-opted from Tarana Burke to the dozens of black women murdered by police in America.
Breonna Taylor, an outstanding citizen who was murdered at the hands of Louisville Police in March, would have been 27 today. Her killers, Jonathan Mattingly, Detective Brett Hankison, and Detective Myles Cosgrove, have not been brought to justice, even as the nation protests for #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd.
The powers that be want us to forget. They encourage erasure. In order to understand racism and oppression, we need to listen to black people and be willing to explore our own biases.
In honor of #BirthdayforBreonna, I put together a list of my favorite books written by black women: poets, feminists, revolutionaries, and others. We can support them by purchasing their books and learning from their lived experiences.
1. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
“In this breakout book, Ijeoma Oluo explores the complex reality of today’s racial landscape–from white privilege and police brutality to systemic discrimination and the Black Lives Matter movement–offering straightforward clarity that readers need to contribute to the dismantling of the racial divide…”– Goodreads
So You Want to Talk About Race is logical, straightforward, and earnest explanation of systemic racism. By her own account, Ijeoma Oluo admits she’s never been one for “hot takes” – her articles are the “often unsexy fundamentals that [she] felt people were missing when they discussed race, gender, and privilege in our society.” Nevertheless, I couldn’t put this book down once I started reading it. This book would be a great gift for your family members who don’t “get it” yet.
2. Pleasure Activism by Adrienne Marie Brown
We live in such a repressed society that the word “pleasure” instantly makes us think of indulgence, hedonism, bacchanalia… in reality, pleasure can be derived from many things: relaxing, breathing clean air, feeling connected to our community, etc. Pleasure is essential to the human experience. Why not let it guide our activism?
“How do we make social justice the most pleasurable human experience? How can we awaken within ourselves desires that make it impossible to settle for anything less than a fulfilling life? Author and editor adrienne maree brown finds the answer in something she calls “pleasure activism,” a politics of healing and happiness that explodes the dour myth that changing the world is just another form of work…”-Google Books
3. Beloved by Toni Morrison
Beloved is a novel based in the 1800’s after the civil war that focuses on the true story of a slave-mother forced to make a terrible, heart-wrenching decision. When I opened this book and was immediately greeted by baby ghosts, a haunted house, and bestiality, I knew I had to keep reading.
Toni Morrison’s book could be considered sci-fi, on par with The Handmade’s Tale because it actually happened. She draws us gently into an incomprehensible world – one of slaves and slave owners, prisoners and plantation owners, bounty hunters, and violence. As a white person in 2020, it’s hard for me to imagine the lived reality of slavery. I think we all know it happened in a history-textbook kind of way, but this book immerses you what it was ACTUALLY LIKE. It transports you back in time while also contextualizing the racist police state we live in today.
4. Sister Outsider by Audrey Lorde
Audrey Lorde is an intersectional feminist ICON who “who wrote from the particulars of her identity: Black woman, lesbian, poet, activist, cancer survivor, mother, and feminist writer.” Sister Outsider is a collection of her essays.
Lorde advocates for reform of the third-wave feminist movement through the inclusion of women of color and pushing them to see outside first-world, white-centric feminism. Most of all, she encourages us to not only accept but EMBRACE our differences as a catalyst for change.
It was Lorde who said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” which is a fabulous quote because it applies to a lot of injustice in the world. It reminds me of the Bob’s Burger’s episode where the landlord Mr. Fishoeder avoids a rent strike by making his tenants compete against each other in a water balloon fight. In this case, the master’s tools are the water balloons and his house is a beautiful estate. In the end, (SPOILER) the tenants realize they need to band together in order to leverage against the injustice.
“It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”Audrey Lorde
5. All About Love by Bell Hooks
All About Love is one of my favorite books EVER. It challenged the way I view love and made me realize the definition of love in our society is so narrow, and we are capable of so much more. That’s why I was so surprised when my book club was so divided over it. Half of them loved it, the other half was either lukewarm or hated it. I never knew a book that’s “all about love” could be so divisive! Anyway, you’ll just have to read it and decide for yourself.
6. The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
The Last Black Unicorn is an autobiography in which Tiffany Haddish, actor and comedian, describes her experience growing up in the foster system and how she became the person she is today. Despite being about some serious topics like racism, abuse, and bullying, Haddish’s book has a positive message, and she makes you LOL consistently. It’s an impressive feat. This book is hilarious, poignant, raw, and inspiring, and I’d recommend it 100% in these trying times when we could all use a laugh.
“Tiffany Haddish has become known for her unabashed honesty and continues to keep it 100 in a new memoir, The Last Black Unicorn. Readers will love discovering how Tiffany turned her passion for comedy into a full-time career.”-Barnes & Noble