This month we invited Lalaa Comrie, an Afro-Caribbean Poet, Book Blogger, and Diversity Advocate from Toronto (who currently facilitates our program, the Anti-Oppression Book Club), to share some of her book recommendations for Black History Month. We are excited to share her seven top picks with you! Please read below to check out our February 2022 #EEABlog guest post.
Post By Lalaa Comrie, @ThisBlackGirlReads
Feature Image By Christin Hume
Sometimes the best way to understand the world around us is to stop and pick up a book. That’s certainly true during Black History Month and well beyond. A big part of Black History Month is acknowledging the struggles of people of African descent, but also celebrating their beauty and the magic as well.
In our current climate people of all backgrounds are seeking understanding, and most people take this time to diversify their bookshelves. If reading is your thing, the options are endless, from thoughtful essays, fiction, or haunting poems, Black authors have been publishing a number of books that are shaping our conversations about race, community, and culture, and expanding our thinking.
In celebration of Black History Month, here are seven books that highlight the unique voice of the Black experience:
- Homegoing by Yaa Ghasi
Homegoing is an absolute work of art and is number one on this list for a reason. In this stunning debut by Ghanian-American novelist Yaa Gyasi, readers meet the descendant of an Asante woman named Maame through her two daughters, separated half-sisters. One sister, Effia marries the British governor in charge of Cape Coast Castle, where her sister Esi is tortured and held captive in the slave dungeons right below her. Homegoing follows these two families, separated by the brutality and complexities of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.Each chapter is dedicated to a descendant of one of the sisters and follows their journey of family, heritage, prejudice, love, marriage, discrimination, and slavery. Attempting to understand systematic racism and the plague that slavery had and continues to have of families is next to impossible. But through this novel, we can see how each generation is connected to the previous one and how some of the issues that plague one generation trickles to the next.
- Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-LodgeThis is an essay collection that examines structural racism. It was born out of frustration about conversations about race by Brititsh writer Reni Eddo-Lodge. The book began as a 2014 blog post by the same title, in which Eddo-Lodge wrote “I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates our experiences.” Throughout her collection, Eddo-Lodge discusses class, race, gender and privilege, through the framework of British culture and history. But whether you’re British or not, the book’s exploration of inequality will echo with readers all over the world.
- The Vanishing Half by Brit BennettThis book explores the intricacies of race, gender, and class in a profound way. It follows identical twins Desiree and Stella, who run away from their hometown, Mallard, to New Orleans at the age of sixteen. The twins, like most people in this small town, are Black but incredibly light-skinned, so “light” they could “pass” for White, and one of them does.The twins end up getting separated from each other for the first time in their lives. Stella forms a new identity for herself, while Desiree moves back to the very place she tried to escape. This is an incredibly thought-provoking book that poses the question of what is race and explores one’s ability to change their sense of self.
- How to be Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
Ibram X. Kendi is an award-winning scholar who studies the history of racist ideas that are embedded in our communities. In ‘How to Be an Antiracist,’ Kendi arguably takes a risky self-critical approach by looking at how racist thoughts took root in his own life. The book talks about understanding the racial disparities and policies that are key in understanding and uprooting racism and inequality in society as well as within ourselves.The book effectively weaves together memoir and analysis while showing readers specifically how to become the antiracists this world needs them to be.
- The Long Songs of WEB Dubois by Honoree Fanonne JeffersThis book is beautifully written, and is a treasured experience to read. Ok, it is about 800 pages, but the journey is well worth it and it will transform your understanding of America. The great scholar, W. E. B. Du Bois once wrote about the Problem of race in America, and what he called “Double Consciousness,” a sensitivity that every African American possesses in order to survive.The novel spans from the pre-slavery era of the 1700s to the late 20th Century covering themes such as: racism, colorism, feminism, classism, and intergenerational trauma. This is a must read.
- Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present by Robyn MaynardIf I had to choose one book that I think all Canadians should read it would be this one. This book traces the violent realities of anti-blackness from the slave ships to prisons, classrooms, and beyond. Maynard provides readers with the first comprehensive account of nearly four hundred years of state-sanctioned surveillance, criminalization, and punishment of Black lives in Canada. She goes deep with research, evidence, and tons of narrative that adds so much colour to her words.Policing Black Lives traces the still-living legacy of slavery across multiple institutions, shedding light on the state’s role in perpetuating contemporary Black poverty and unemployment, racial profiling, law enforcement violence, incarceration, immigration detention, deportation, exploitative migrant labour practices, disproportionate child removal, and low graduation rates. For me, it serves as a call to action for us to dismantle the systems that oppress Black people in Canada.
- Caste by Isabel WilkersonIf you think there’s no caste system in America, this book will surely open your eyes. Wilkerson skillfully blends personal anecdotes, news stories, reporting, and historical research to create a convincing portrait of the endurance of caste in America. The book gives a profound insight into how a caste society is built, how it functions, and how it shapes an individual. It delves into the hidden hierarchies that exist within our society that investigates threads between how the Nazis studied the racial systems in the U.S., as well as the health, cultural, and political ramifications of our striated culture. One of the most profoundly insightful books I have ever read.
These are only a few of the books you can read to diversify your booklist during Black History Month and beyond. One month can never be enough to explore and celebrate all the achievements and contributions of Black people. Learning, expanding our thinking, and reading books that allow us to go beyond our own experience should be part of our everyday lives.
ABOUT THE WRITER:
Lalaa Comrie is an Afro-Caribbean Poet, Book Blogger, and Diversity Advocate from Toronto, on a mission to help readers Diversify & Decolonize their bookshelves. In 2015, after traveling across Canada she realized that so many people were in the dark about race, culture, class, privilege, and systematic racism. She needed to find a way to educate those who wanted to learn, so she launched ‘This Black Girl Reads’ Blog as a way of helping readers explore the world and the voices that far extend their own personal narrative. Her aim is to highlight the voices that have been suppressed, in hopes that if we diversify our bookshelf it also helps diversify our approaches, bridge the gap, and break down some of the barriers that exist in our community. Her podcast “Getting Lit” is a monthly podcast that introduces listeners to new diverse books coming out each month that they should add to their list.