Hello readers! Emily here! Today we wanted to take some time to specifically recommend non-fiction books we love by Black authors in honor of Black History Month. I’ve been trying to really intentionally confront my own privilege and stamp out the tendrils of racism that have made their way into my heart. Part of that is reading amazing non-fiction written by Black authors to more fully empathize with the Black experience and challenge my own preconceived notions. These books have literally changed my outlook on the world and I cannot recommend them highly enough.
Amazing Non Fiction
Well Read Black Girl: Finding our Stories, Discovering Ourselves edited by Glory Edim is an amazing anthology about the importance of recognizing yourself in fiction. It’s an essay collection from a number of Black women, including Jesmyn Ward, Jacqueline Woodson, and Tayari Jones, about finding yourself in between the pages of books and how powerful and life-changing that can be. I know we can all agree with that sentiment!
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a poignant letter written by Coates to his teenage son. Written in the wake of the acquittal of the police officers who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Between the World and Me is at once wide-ranging and achingly personal. As a parent, I found parts of it so difficult to listen to. It is the ultimate privilege not to need to have these kinds of conversations with my own son — about how to navigate a world that often assumes the worst about you based solely on the color of your skin. I highly recommend the audiobook read by Coates, as it made the entire book feel urgent and personal in a different way.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin is a perfect companion for Between the World and Me. Written at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in 1963, this book is a duo of letters written at the time of the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Baldwin urges people of all colors to fight against the racism that still pervades America. It’s more than a little heartbreaking how relevant this book still is more than fifty years later.
How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi examines the underpinnings of racism and seamlessly weaves together memoir and an unflinching examination of what it means to be truly antiracist. He puts forth a compelling argument that the opposite of racism isn’t passively being “not racist”; instead, it is active antiracism. I think that Kendi himself sums it up best: “This book is ultimately about the basic struggle we’re all in — the struggle to be fully human and to see that others are fully human.”
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is both a memoir of Stevenson’s life and work as well as an examination of the unjust and racially biased death penalty. It’s beautifully written (and another great audiobook if you prefer those). I’m actually an attorney and so this book spoke to me on a personal level, but even if you are not in the legal field, I think you will find Stevenson’s story compelling. It’s recently been released as a movie, and all I can say is, bring tissues.
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown is a Christian-based take on the problem of racism, and the impact (often negative) that the Evangelical movement has had on race relations in the United States. Brown examines what it means to be Black, female and Christan, and the many ways those intersect. This book is her memoir about how she learned to love herself, despite the many negative messages she received from the world.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander is another book that appealed to me because of my legal background, but it turned out to be so much more impactful than I could have imagined. Alexander argues that separating people based on race hasn’t gone away, just the way it’s looked has changed. Because of the laws in our country that keep felons from voting forever, and because of the outsized levels of incarceration of Black people, this results in a new separation of those who can have a say in our country through voting and those who cannot — one that is strongly correlated to race. It’s a powerhouse of a read.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah is probably my favorite audiobook fo all time and I absolutely recommend listening rather than reading it. This memoir explores Noah’s childhood in South Africa, where just being part white and part black was in and of itself a crime. Although this is a hilarious book, it also explores poverty and violence and identity in a powerful way. I absolutely love it!
What About You?
Have you read any of these? What did we miss? We can’t wait to chat with you in the comments!