CULTURE: RECOMMENDED READING ON RACE - PART 1
I have a confession to make. Talking about race makes me feel uncomfortable, it always has. It is not something I enjoy doing nor take pleasure in engaging in but I, like many Black people I know, feel something of an obligation to do it. I never want to be the spokesperson for my entire race but it oftentimes seems that whether I like it or not, I end up being the mouthpiece for Black people in discussions about race and racism, and in these cases I feel that I might as well make my points as eloquently as I am able to. It is often difficult for me to translate the everyday challenges, as well as systemic racism, I face as a Black woman into any sort of coherent structure but I’ve found that actively seeking out and consuming content, particularly books, that aim to elucidate some of these concerns, has really helped.
These texts supplied me with the vocabulary to articulate my experiences in a way that I was unable to before, which has been really empowering for me in times like these.
Reading some of these vital texts has supplied me with the vocabulary to articulate my experiences in a way that I was unable to before, which has been really empowering for me in times like these when it seems like there is nothing we can do to enact any concrete change aside from having these difficult conversations.
Here are five essential texts that have helped me:
Akala - Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire
This Sunday Times Bestseller and Foyles Non-Fiction Book of the Year is written by Bafta and MOBO award-winning musician, social entrepreneur and political commentator Akala. He draws on his personal experiences as a mixed-race man in Britain to delve into the ways in which race and class intersect. The way he expertly uses his own experiences and broadens them out to look at the historical, political and social factors that have shaped them, provides a fascinating and eye-opening read.
Jeffrey Boakye - Black, Listed: Black British Culture Explored
In this original and compelling book, writer, teacher and engaging cultural commentator Jeffrey Boakye outlines and analyses various terms used to refer to black communities and individuals, considering words and phrases such as ‘BAME’, ‘Afro-Caribbean’ and ‘Urban’ to name a few. By dissecting pop culture and taking a comprehensive look at global Black history Boakye is able to investigate and explore the reality and nuances of Black identity in the 21st century.
Afua Hirsch - Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging
Barrister turned writer, broadcaster and journalist seeks to explore what Britishness really looks like to a mixed-race child of immigrants who was born in this country. Part-memoir, part-social commentary Hirsch recounts experiences and encounters familiar to most Black-Brits, be it a cursory school history lesson that misrepresented Britain’s role in the slave trade, the struggle of finding Afro-hair products or being ID-ed by her college porters during her time at Oxford University. These alienating microaggressions all inform Hirsch’s insightful social analysis of British national identity.
Frantz Fanon - Black Skin, White Masks
Martiniquais psychiatrist, intellectual and revolutionary anti-colonialist thinker Frantz Fanon’s 1952 book presents a historical and social critique on the complex ways in which identity, particularly Blackness, is constructed and produced. He draws on his own life and works as a psychoanalyst to produce an account on the effects of racism on the psyche and the Black experience in a white world.
Charles Mills - The Racial Contract
Slightly more academic than the other suggestions, The Racial Contract is an essay by Jamaican philosopher Charles W. Mills in which he attempts to demonstrate how ‘white supremacy is the unnamed political system that has made the modern world what it is today.’ This is a dense but clear read that exposes the racial underpinnings of Western political thought in a radical way.
It is important to continue to challenge the canon and diversify our reading lists in ways that transform reading into a radical and empowering act.
Once you’ve chosen which books to read, here are some alternative bookshops and presses that you can order from that will help you support independent or Black-owned bookstores and publishers.
New Beacon Books is the UK’s first Black bookshop and publishing house, based in North London and first opened in 1966. It specialises in Black British, Caribbean and African literature and it is just a testament to its necessity as a space, that over fifty years later it is still here.
The largest independent, radical publishing house in the English-speaking world, where you can find a wide variety of texts on topics ranging from international politics to anthropology to the environment. On top of that, they have a really engaging and thought-provoking blog that is definitely worth a peruse.
An independent publisher of progressive, left‐wing non‐fiction books. Established in 1969, they are one of the oldest radical publishing houses in the UK, but their focus remains making timely interventions in contemporary struggles.
Jacaranda Books is an award-winning independent publisher committed to publishing ground-breaking writing with a dedication to creating space on the bookshelf for diverse ideas and writers. Last year they announced their Twenty In 2020 initiative, to publish the works of twenty Black British writers, including adult fiction, nonfiction and poetry.
Alternatively, if reading isn’t for you, and you’re more of a visual learner, then perhaps you can check out some of the eye-opening documentaries and Instagram accounts that will be referenced in Recommended Reading on Race Part II.
All in all, I still find discussions about race awkward and emotionally exhausting, but being armed with information, statistics and the vocabulary to explain what I’ve experienced has made it much easier for me to feel more comfortable in having these uncomfortable conversations. As a Black person, I think it is important to continue to challenge the canon and diversify our reading lists in ways that transform reading into a radical and empowering act.