A big part of Black History Month is centred around education, calling for people of all races, ages and genders to learn about racial injustice and how racism is manifested in society.
If you want to help bring racism to an end, become a better ally, understand the experiences of Black people and proactively make a change within society, but aren't sure how to go about it, diversifying your bookshelf is a great place to start.
By educating yourself with books about racial injustice and racism (thus not asking a Black person to take time and energy to explain what terms like 'white privilege' mean), you'll be able to understand how you can influence your own circles of friends, family and colleagues. You'll also be supporting non-white writers, too.
To start your journey, here's a list of recommended reading by authors of colour, some of which delve into the complexities of racism and the Black experience. There's a mix of fiction, poetry and non-fiction to dive into, as well as anti-racism guides. If you can, shop from Black-owned bookshops like Afrori or Round Table Books, or your local independent seller. You can also choose to support your chosen independent store by shopping with Bookshop.org.
Slay In Your Lane by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené
Incredibly well-researched, this book is packed to the rafters with helpful statistics on systemic racism, spanning Black relationships to what it's like being a Black woman with health concerns, while remaining simple to understand. If you're looking for an insight into what life is like for Black women today, this is a great choice.
Girl: Essays on Black Womanhood by Kenya Hunt
Edited by ELLE Editor-in-Chief Kenya Hunt, this anthology contains essays from the likes of Queenie author Candice Carty-Williams, Freddie Harrel, Funmi Fetto and more on what it's like to be a Black woman and mother today. In equal parts laugh-out-loud funny and heartbreaking, if you can't relate to these stories personally, they'll certainly shine a light on an experience it's vital to understand.
Safe: 20 Ways To Be A Black Man In Britain Today by Derek Owusu
On the flip side, this next collection of essays explores the experience of being a Black man today. Brave, timely and vital, with writing from Suli Breaks, Alex Wheatle and Okechukwu Nzelu, this book gives Black British men a platform to celebrate and protest their experiences, dismantle stereotypes, spark conversations about mental health and LGBTQ+ identities and reclaim space in all areas of society.
Biased: The New Science of Race and Inequality by Dr Jennifer Eberhardt
Dr Eberhardt, a Stanford University professor, outlines how unconscious bias (having judgemental or stereotypical views that you may not even be aware of) is something present in *all* of us – and why it's nothing to be embarrassed about, but does need to be addressed. This book actively encourages people to do some inward self-reflection and explains how to overcome these unknowingly held prejudices.
When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
Co-authored by one of the Black Lives Matter founders, this best-selling book draws upon personal experience and offers an intelligent, thought-provoking review of humanity, culture and race. The title reflects the fact that Black Lives Matter has been condemned by some as a terrorist organisation and picks apart exactly why that couldn't be further from the truth.
Against White Feminism by Rafia Zakaria
If you've ever wondered what white feminism is, and why it matters, this is the book for you. Although feminism has been a major force for good for many, some women have been left behind. Attorney and activist Rafia Zakaria shows how poor, immigrant, non-Western and non-white women have been sometimes unconsciously, but actively, excluded from feminism. This book will make you think.
Millennial Black by Sophie Williams
Being a Black woman in the workplace isn't easy – and who knows this better than author Sophie Williams? With a title that comes from her well-known Instagram handle, this book is a roadmap for young Black women on how to succeed in the workplace, and will make you aware of the many issues they may face. Alongside advice on navigating the race pay gap, boundaries, finding your gang and racist abuse, there are interviews with June Sarpong, Candice Brathwaite, Munroe Bergdorf and many more. A perfect read for fans of Slay In Your Lane.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Queenie follows a young Jamaican-British woman trying to balance the worlds of romance, working life and family, with politics and personal growth. From one of Britain's most celebrated authors today, the story of Queenie will make you laugh, cry, and learn about Black British culture in a way that is rarely represented in mainstream fiction.
Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga
There's a lot more to Black British history than we were likely taught in schools. David Olusoga unravels the connections between Britain and people from Africa and the Caribbean in this award-winning book. Taking us back to Roman Britain through to the slave trade and beyond, this read will have you seeing history in a whole new light.
More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth
You may recognise Welteroth from her role as a judge on Project Runway, or as the former editor of Teen Vogue (she has been widely credited for infusing the title with social consciousness). Her debut book has been described as "part-memoir, part-manifesto" and shares her journey of climbing the ranks of journalism, fashion and life, often being the only Black woman in the room. An eye-opening insight into how race impacts professional success.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
A book born out of a viral blog post of the same name, Eddo-Lodge (an award-winning journalist) offers an invaluable insight into racism in Britain past and present in a now iconic work. Educational while remaining accessible, the updated edition comes with a bonus chapter on what followed after the book's publication in 2017.
Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch
Hirsch, a journalist and author from Wimbledon, discusses her experience of growing up in a predominantly white area – where people regularly ask where she's "from" – alongside how British history's white-centred focus is devastatingly harmful for us today. Hirsch asks what it means to be British, as well as exploring her mixed-race identity.
I Am Not Your Baby Mother by Candice Brathwaite
From the founder of Make Motherhood Diverse comes a book detailing the steps that need to be taken in order to do exactly that. A prolific and powerful presence on social media, Brathwaite's debut reflects her online content, which strives for Black mothers to be included the mix – whether it's in adverts for maternity clothes or conversations at the school gates. This tome is all the more vital after it was revealed that Black British women are five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women.
Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
Split into a 28-day programme, this book encourages you to take just a few minutes a day to read about and reflect on racial issues. Saad breaks down white privilege, white fragility and white supremacy and explains how they can all manifest in daily life – at the end of each section, you'll reflect on how this has occurred in your own life, and what you can do to be aware of and challenge those behaviours.
How To Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
Taking the premise that it's not enough to be neutral in situations of injustice and to simply know that racism is wrong, Kendi calls upon readers to be actively anti-racist and proactive, while detailing how to do so. Practical change is essential when looking to be a better ally.
Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid
A fiction offering, Reid's masterful storytelling centres on a Black nanny who is accused of kidnapping the white child she looks after during a trip to the supermarket – the event is caught on camera leading to an explosive chain of events. Observations on liberal racism and privilege are well made throughout.
Don't Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri
A powerful read on the importance of hair in Black culture, putting everything from non-white celebrities who wear braids to the way braids helped to free enslaved Africans under a microscope. Hair is so much more than "just hair" – and here's the proof.
Natives by Akala
A history of racism in Great Britain, that also explains how different races came to be in the UK in the first place. Akala, a BAFTA and MOBO award-winner, gives a comprehensive overview of why things are the way they are in the UK, including personal experiences, such as the day he realised his mother is white. Check out Akala's YouTube videos too – he's an incredible rapper, poet and cultural commentator.
Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall
A deep dive into white feminism (aka feminism that doesn't take into account or lift up women of colour) and its failings, which although written by a US-based author is still highly relevant to UK readers. Given that the format is a collection of essays, it's easily digestible (even if the material is heavy at times). Expect looks at the hyper-sexualisation of Black women, pop culture and mental health.
The Clapback: Your Guide To Calling Out Racist Stereotypes by Elijah Lawal
Humorously busting myths such as "All Black people love fried chicken, right?" and breaking down why it's very much not cool to ask someone "Yeah, but where are you from originally?", Lawal uses straight facts and his razor-sharp wit to create this overview of racist stereotypes.
So, You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
If you're looking to get more clued up about the situation in America, Oluo's book focusses on the US's racial landscape and tackles issues like privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, the Black Lives Matter movement and the N word. The book has been described as perfectly bridging the gap between Black, brown and white readers who have questions surrounding race complexities.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
This unique book follows twelve characters on their journeys of self-discovery, stretching from Cornwall to Newcastle. As all of their stories intertwine, the reader is taken on an exploration of what it means to be Black and British through various lenses – ranging from a city slicker banker to a lesbian theatre pro.
Black, Listed: Black British Culture Explored by Jeffrey Boakye
Drawing on his own experiences and mixing them with what's going on in the wider landscape, Boakye educates through humour and insightful observations as he investigates all the ways in which Black people (and communities) have been oppressed, mimicked and celebrated. His measured, easy-to-read writing style makes this one tough to put down once started.
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
A moving collection of prose, poetry and vignettes, Rankine uses her book as an opportunity to study racial inequality within a "post-racist" Western society. She does this by putting everyday examples of prejudice under a microscope, as well acts of discrimination and violence – both physical and emotional – in an almost documentary-style manner. An incredible blend of styles that will leave you pondering.
White Fragility: Why It's So Hard For White People To Talk About Race by Robin DiAngelo
For those who've already read up a lot on the subject, or experienced racism firsthand, this book might not feel all that revelatory. However, it's certainly still well deserving of its best-selling accolade – it explains many of the ways white people enjoy and uphold white supremacy and privilege in the world, and is the perfect springboard for sparking interesting and important conversations and further reading.
The Space Between Black and White by Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith
Detailing Goldsmith’s life story, from growing up as the only mixed-race child in her area to becoming the Queen Mother of her father’s village in Ghana, this is a fairly chunky book boasting over 500 pages – but don't let that put you off. Goldsmith’s relentless pursuit of more makes the story feel both inspiring and, at times, heartbreaking. She discusses everything from mental health, to her physical experiences and emotions, all while exploring what it feels like to be mixed-race. A joy to read and recommend.
For other ways that you can help support justice for Black lives, see here.
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