Emily Campbell, Chiara Crompton, Rowan Cothliff, Daisy Forster, Jasmin Lemarie and Ben Ofungwu
As October marks Black History Month, Impact have come together to share with our readers the books we think are important from black and minority authors.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
Girl, Woman, Other is an eye-opening novel that makes an informative and thought provoking read, especially within our current political climate both here and in America.
Evaristo was the first black woman to win the Booker Prize, co-winning it with Atwood in 2019. It isn’t difficult to see why it got such a positive response, with the novel depicting the diverse and often unheard stories of black and minority groups in Britain. We need more books that explore the struggles these groups face with the humanity and authenticity Evaristo demonstrates in this novel.
The novel is based on the interconnecting lives of twelve very different characters living in Britain. Despite their differences the characters face similar experiences in their everyday lives because of prejudice whether it be determined by race, class, wealth, sexuality or gender. Perhaps, Evaristo relates to many of the issues explored in the novel being from a family of mixed cultures with an English mother and Nigerian father. She focuses much of the novel’s setting in London where she herself grew up with her seven siblings. Evaristo seems to use her writing as not only a political but also a personal outlet.
Having never read Evaristo’s work before I was impressed by her unique writing style. For example, her unconventional use of punctuation gives it a poetic feel when reading. I thought the lack of full stops and structure to the writing was unusual and could be seen as Evaristo trying to allow the reader at the start to understand the feeling of being out of place in society. Overall, I found this an educational read and I was impressed by how Evaristo didn’t just use one narrative voice but used twelve multi-generational voices which allowed for the different individual thoughts and experiences to be expressed.
Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad
‘White Supremacy’ is a terrifying phrase, and one most of us shun whenever we are faced with it. It conjures images of far right rallies and chanting crowds of neo nazis. It is fringe, and somehow removed from the privilege experienced by white people. In Me and White Supremacy, Layla F. Saad asks you to revaluate that
If the book is being worked through in the manner that Saad intends, it is an ugly and upsetting experience
Often blunt, and always unflinching Saad, in a book specifically designed to be used by white people, asks you to “look white supremacy right in the eye and see yourself reflected back” in order that we may become “better equipped to dismantle it within yourself and your communities”. Stripping away the passivity that comes with considering ‘White Supremacy’ to be a purely systemic and societal problem, Saad asks the reader to engage with the internalised racism that comes with white privilege or ‘White Supremacy’. The book originated as a 28 day Instagram challenge and is based around daily journaling tasks such as asking “How do you benefit from white privilege, and how you have held onto that benefit (despite knowing the harm it does)?”
Answering these questions sincerely and accessing the truths that they uncover, as Saad discusses, is not an easy thing. If the book is being worked through in the manner that Saad intends, it is an ugly and upsetting experience. “There is no feel good reward at the end other than knowing you are doing this because it is the right thing to do”. This is ultimately the only incentive I can give anyone to read this book. It is not sugar coated, it is not there to relieve white guilt, it is not an easy antidote to white privilege. It is however someone who knows what they’re talking about sitting you down and telling you how to be better. How to be a better ancestor, how to be a better ally and how to start dismantling ‘White Supremacy’ from the inside out.
The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
In light of the Black Lives Matter movement this year, I was able to reflect on a book I had recently read, which you may have heard due its great success across the world; The Color Purple written by the black american author Alice Walker. This unique novel not only brought me to tears, but educated me as to what being a black woman in the ‘deep american south’ really entailed for many during the 20th century, as a result of white supremacism.
Being a white person, it will be impossible for me to ever fully understand the truly horrific effects that systemic racism places on black people everyday. However, through the protagonist ‘Celie’ and her compelling, dialectical narrative voice, the gap between me and understanding the poverty and segregation of black people edged considerably smaller. The book comments negatively on white supremacy in a manner that can only be described as ‘actions speak[ing] louder than words’, with rich white men tearing down and ruining the ancestral land and homes of the Olinka people of Africa, merely in order to build a road leading to a new rubber plantation.
The traumas Celie faces throughout her lifespan in the novel, brought me emotionally closer to her. I listened as she learned to love and forgive, remaining persistent and finding her voice. I listened as she battled to break the position her poverty put her in. We are shown glimpses of the privilege of white people that put into perspective her position, helping us to see the injustices she and many others should never have to face for being born with a different colour skin.
There, There by Tommy Orange
My favourite book that I read over lockdown was There, There by Tommy Orange. It’s quite a short novel that focusses on 12 characters, all from Native American backgrounds, leading up to an Oakland Pow wow.
The story takes place in California and follows the lives of ‘Urban Indians’, who do not live on reservations and are vastly under represented in literature and pop culture. The narrative shifts between first and third person narration and switches from character to character, but in a way that keeps the plot moving and rarely becomes confusing. The characters range from children to elderly people who each have their own issues, most of which stem from the systematic oppression of their people.
I implore everyone to read more about Native American culture and identity as their stories continue to be erased today
The book includes shocking passages about the long and heart-breaking history of Native Americans. Hearing the truth about the treatment this ethnic group receive, especially in the current day and age, is utterly jarring and it is disgusting that have been completely written over in history books. This book is a story about the consequences of people being marginalised and oppressed until they break, through no fault of their own.
Orange is an extremely skilful writer; each narrative voice he creates is completely distinctive and it is a wonder that this novel was written by a single writer. The book is worth reading for Orange’s writing style alone, but I implore everyone to read more about Native American culture and identity as their stories continue to be erased today.
Beloved by Toni Morrison and Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race by by Reni Eddo-Lodge
In light of the uprising of the BLM movement, I decided to educate myself on racism by turning to reading books written by black authors. For fiction I read Beloved by Toni Morrison which is a beautifully written story focusing on the ending of slavery in the USA through the perspectives of black characters who were recovering from the trauma of their previous enslaved lives. Morrison’s language encapsulates the experiences of living in America as a black woman in the 19th century; revealing the horrific realities of slavery and racism. This novel was so powerful that parts of it made me cry, and I felt ashamed of my own ignorance of the past. It also showed how deeply ingrained systemic racism is in our society, and that the traumas of slavery still haunt us today. Now one of my all-time favourites, Beloved explores themes of motherhood, racism and masculinity.
I then decided to read some non-fiction and that was perhaps more relevant to racism in Britain today, which led me to Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. I cannot emphasise enough how important or powerful this book is. I was forced to confront my own whiteness and the privilege this has given me and made me understand we all have to work actively to be anti-racist. Not only that, but Eddo-Lodge takes the reader on a journey showing how Britain is built on the backbone of racist systems and the trauma of black people; revealing how prevalent they are today. She highlights how white supremacy infiltrates every area in our lives; be it in education, power, housing and even in feminism. It is so vital that we amplify black voices without centring white ones. This is only the beginning to working towards dismantling white supremacy.
The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s
House by Audre Lorde
‘For there are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt’. I could easily fill this entire write-up with my favourite quotes from this book, but I believe this is the one that truly encapsulates this collection of essays. Audre Lorde wasn’t seeking to propound new theories, she was simply inviting you into the perspective of a Black, Lesbian, Mother, Warrior, and Poet.
This short book is divided into 5 essays. The titular ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’ is a fervent plea to women to reconcile their differences (racial, class and sexuality, amongst others) and target the real cause of their division – patriarchy.’
These essays were all penned between the late 70’s and early 80’s, yet they all bear significance today
‘Poetry is Not a Luxury’ reminds us of the true power of poetry, and how it provides us all with a means to articulate what we otherwise find difficulty in expressing – she highlights the particular importance this is of, for people not in a position of privilege. ’Uses of the Erotic’ is an examination of the differences between the pornographic and the erotic, and how we could all benefit from the appropriate usage of the latter. ‘Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism’ is directed at every black woman who’s been told that their vexation towards racism is only negative, and a disturbance. Here, Lorde tells us to remain angry at the problem, with a few pointers as to how to channel it effectively. Lastly, ‘Learning From the 1960s’ is concerned with our remembrance of the past, and how it’s vital that we don’t make the same mistakes again – in regards to our push for justice. This entire essay feels especially prescient now, considering the current goings-on.
These essays were all penned between the late 70’s and early 80’s, yet they all bear significance today. The overall theme in her work is empowerment. This was a woman who fiercely documented the injustices that she saw, but rather than wasting breath appealing to those committing them, she sought to challenge those who were oppressed by it. There’s not a sniff of self-pity or surrender, instead, a strong sense of defiance and strength—particularly of ‘the Black Woman’—reverberates all through this book, and her wider oeuvre.
In some ways, I am probably not her immediate target audience—as a straight black boy—but in a lot of ways, maybe I am, and maybe, so is anyone who’s in a position of likely oppression. Audre Lorde was a phenomenal writer, whose name deserves to be better well-known than it is – I believe this book is a great prelude to the rest of her philosophy.
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