An Essential Black Lives Matter Reading List

Introduction by Jasmine Snow
Contributions by Ona Ojo, Ella Saoirse Clucas, Manon Jones, Kate Waldock, Ella Rowe-Hall (in order of appearance)
Illustration by Shafia Motaleb @artsyfifi

It is understandable to feel sad, angry and perhaps even defeated by the news at the moment. However, alongside the numerous petitions to sign, organisations to donate to and protests to attend there is another invaluable way in which we can all better ourselves, defeat systemic racism and understand the context of the protests which are being held right now, not just for George Floyd, but for the countless other people who have been subject to racial oppression: reading. In order to dismantle systemic racism, we must first understand it and so here is an essential Black Lives Matter reading list.

The Fire Next Time (1963) by James Baldwin

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwinis an essential read, if only for how frustratingly similar many of Baldwin’s experiences in segregation are to that of black people today, almost 60 years after its publication. Written in the height of the American Civil Rights Movement, Baldwin’s work is divided into a letter to his nephew on the mistreatment of black men in America and an essay on race and religion, both Christianity and Islam. Baldwin discusses elements of the lasting tension between white and black people, including his own experiences as a boy with policemen, who harassed him simply because they could do so without consequence. 

He urges black people, who have never held the illusion of the American Dream, to assist white people in dismantling their narrative of white innocence, which he believes to be the most serious crime in perpetuating inequality. Like activists today, Baldwin stresses that no one is truly free until we all are. Moreover, police brutality and inequality must be actively challenged by all citizens: regarding the destruction of society, ‘it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.’

Ultimately, Baldwin acknowledges how difficult the task of advancing race relations will be, but the work’s title – derived from a black spiritual – implies that if this violent path is not soon abandoned, it will lead to our civilisation’s destruction. For their analysis of race, religion, humanity and power, Baldwin’s essays are fundamental to understanding the plight of black Americans in the mid-20th century and today.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (2017) by Reni Eddo-Lodge

So you’ve signed those petitions, donated to those bail funds, and posted for #blackouttuesday. If like me you’re wondering what your next steps should be, or how you might better educate yourself on the #BLM movement, might I recommend getting your hands on a copy of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s hugely informative and unquestionably vital work. 

Though the spark that lit the protestors’ flame began in the United States with the death of George Floyd at its epicentre, Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race contains an essential detailing of black history in Britain, a history otherwise unnoticed by our evading curriculum. The book retraces racism in the UK back to its roots and along the way unpicks its threads from the very fabrics of modern society. Eddo-Lodge tells the stories of black British people who were let down by the government, victims of violence and police brutality not dissimilar to that which we’re watching unfold on the angry streets of Minneapolis; she confronts white privilege with the fearless honesty necessary for change; she explains with care and passion the injustice of the system that still remains intact. 

After sowing the seeds of black history Eddo-Lodge discusses employment bias, feminism, and the link between race and class. This is a book that touches all bases, so solidifying its place on this list. This is not just any book. It is an essential step in the journey towards allyship, towards understanding and empathy, and towards the dismantling of the racist structures that dominate society as we know it.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (2018) by Robin DiAngelo

White Fragility by American lecturer, Robin DiAngelo raises uncomfortable conversations about what it means to be white, while discussing many different aspects of racism. Her book may be viewed by some as a harsh wake-up call and a radical statement at its time of release in 2018, as it discusses topics that are often avoided regarding race and racism, but DiAngelo emphasises the importance of discussing these topics. These topics include white supremacy and ‘white fragility’. While working as a diversity trainer and sociologist, DiAngelo began to pick up on the sensitivity that some white people present while discussing the racism embedded in our society today and institutional racism. 

The term ‘white fragility’ was first developed by DiAngelo, prior to the release of her book in 2011. This term offers an explanation of defensive behaviour that certain white people may present when their opinions about race and racism are debated or viewed as incorrect. After reading this US best seller, which is also the fastest-selling book in the history of Beacon Press, one can understand that racism is a system rather than just the insensitive use of racist slurs. It highlights how that today, the issue isn’t the lack of conversation, but the lack of understanding and regard about the many different layers of racism and how it continues to effect individuals today. 

In this book, DiAngelo successfully brings perspective to help us understand why conversations about pressing racial attitudes are so difficult for us to have. In these difficult and dark times, this is a must read in order to bring clarity and make sense of why such tragic racial events continue to happen today and why the fight for equality must continue. 

How to Argue with A Racist: History, Science, Race and Reality (2020) by Adam Rutherford

Michael Lebowitz once said, “Reach for the book: it is a weapon”. The recent murder of George Floyd has led to protests, both violent and peaceful, throughout the world. Adam Rutherford’s book; How to Argue with a Racist could not have come at a more important time. Rutherford himself is biracial, his mother from India, and his father from Britain; which has led to racism against himself throughout his life. His own experience coupled with scientific fact gives readers the words, history, and science to literally argue with a racist. 

This book is so brilliant because it tackles stereotypes made by even the most well-intentioned, from the alleged genetic edge black people have in athletics over good training, to the assumption that East Asian people are better at maths. Not only does it discuss the science around genetics and race, it also illuminates a racist history in Britain, which is often ignored in favour of condemning America. Rutherford, in typical scientist fashion, uses the facts to show how racism is still prevalent; citing both historic and contemporary examples. 

The book has four chapters, making it a concise read for busy people and it’s packed with the necessary facts to help become a well learned ally. Rutherford provides the tools to educate yourself and others, using only the facts. George Floyd’s murder has started a necessary movement, but it is important to continue the fight, and How to Argue with A Racist can be part of the foundation of a better, more educated, future. 

The Bluest Eye (1970) by Toni Morrison

One staple novel classifiable as an essential Black Lives Matter read is The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. Morrison was an exceptional, iconic and vital voice for the black community; particularly women. Even though this was her first book, it is written with such experience and passion that it reads like a more mature work.

Morrisons novel tells the tale of a young, black girl named Pecola, who grew up in Ohio, during the 1940s; the town Morrison herself grew up in. The novel moves back and forth, flashing back to Pecola’s childhood and then forward again to her present day. Although, much of the narrative is narrated by her foster sister and friend Claudia which emphasises her tragic powerlessness from the very beginning. Pecola’s life is flooded with racial torment and abuse. This young, vulnerable girl desperately wishes that peoples perception of her would change and dreams of being ‘pretty’ like the other, white girls are deemed to be.

Morrison’s book is an incredible read, inciting deeper thought and sympathy into the lives of the black community. Even though the novel is situated in the past, it aligns perfectly with the Black Lives Matter protests today. Each character in Morrison’s novel explores the array of emotion and pain a person in the black community may feel. Moreover, it inspires people to educate themselves, and ignites a fire within us to remedy our history which has previously omitted black rights. We must use our knowledge to prevent other young, black children from experiencing a life like the character of Pecola, a bird who was born with fractured wings never to fly at the hands of racism.