Black History Month TBR
Black History Month, celebrated every February, offers an opportunity to specifically focus on and appreciate stories by Black authors and about Black experiences. Here are eight nonfiction books by Black authors, five of which are on my TBR for the year and three of which I’ve already read!
1. How To Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
“How To Be An Anti-Racist” was released in August of 2019, though it became more broadly well-known during the surge of Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. Part memoir, part social commentary, Kendi’s book is a call to action. He reexamines how we should approach conversations about race and racism in the United States. Kendi rejects the idea of non-racist neutral ground. Instead, Kendi establishes a spectrum in which racism and anti-racism are at opposite ends and racism and on which we all lie somewhere in between.
“How To Be An Anti-Racist” Summary
“Ibram X. Kendi’s concept of antiracism reenergizes and reshapes the conversation about racial justice in America–but even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. Instead of working with the policies and system we have in place, Kendi asks us to think about what an antiracist society might look like, and how we can play an active role in building it.
In his memoir, Kendi weaves together an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science–including the story of his own awakening to antiracism–bringing it all together in a cogent, accessible form. He begins by helping us rethink our most deeply held, if implicit, beliefs and our most intimate personal relationships (including beliefs about race and IQ and interracial social relations) and reexamines the policies and larger social arrangements we support. How to Be an Antiracist promises to become an essential book for anyone who wants to go beyond an awareness of racism to the next step of contributing to the formation of a truly just and equitable society.“
Originally released in December of 2019, “Black Is the Body” is a collection of 12 essays that connect the author’s personal life to the broader experiences of Black Americans. Her essays are unforgettable, fresh, and witty as they discuss race and the author’s own experiences with blackness. Bernard’s writing covers a variety of topics including her marriage to a white man, her experiences teaching African-American studies at a primarily white university, her experiences as a mother, and stories about her mother and grandmother that connect to her own. It is a story that is meant to be “contradictory, messy, and very personal,” and it is effective in doing so.
“Black Is the Body” Summary
“Blackness is an art, not a science. It is a paradox: intangible and visceral; a situation and a story. It is the thread that connects these essays, but its significance as an experience emerges randomly, unpredictably. . . . Race is the story of my life, and therefore black is the body of this book.”
In these twelve deeply personal, connected essays, Bernard details the experience of growing up black in the south with a family name inherited from a white man, surviving a random stabbing at a New Haven coffee shop, marrying a white man from the North and bringing him home to her family, adopting two children from Ethiopia, and living and teaching in a primarily white New England college town. Each of these essays sets out to discover a new way of talking about race and of telling the truth as the author has lived it.“
3. Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper
“Eloquent Rage” was released in February of 2018. In it, Cooper examines how anger, especially Black women’s anger, is politicized and weaponized against them. According to Cooper, the ‘angry Black woman’ stereotype is “designed to silence” and discredit Black women. “Eloquent Rage” is primarily a memoir, drawn mostly from Cooper’s own experiences in learning how to “stop disguising and dismissing her own anger.” It acknowledges the rage of Black women and recognizes the inherit power those feelings. Instead of viewing anger as a merely destructive force, Cooper argues that it can be used as a force for good.
“Eloquent Rage” Summary
“Far too often, Black women’s anger has been caricatured into an ugly and destructive force that threatens the civility and social fabric of American democracy. But Cooper shows us that there is more to the story than that. Black women’s eloquent rage is what makes Serena Williams such a powerful tennis player. It’s what makes Beyoncé’s girl power anthems resonate so hard. It’s what makes Michelle Obama an icon.
Eloquent rage keeps us all honest and accountable. It reminds women that they don’t have to settle for less. When Cooper learned of her grandmother’s eloquent rage about love, sex, and marriage in an epic and hilarious front-porch confrontation, her life was changed. And it took another intervention, this time staged by one of her homegirls, to turn Brittney into the fierce feminist she is today. In Brittney Cooper’s world, neither mean girls nor fuckboys ever win. But homegirls emerge as heroes. This book argues that ultimately feminism, friendship, and faith in one’s own superpowers are all we really need to turn things right side up again.”
4. More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth
Elaine Welteroth is an award-winning journalist, producer, former editor-in-chief at Teen Vogue, and author. Her book, “More Than Enough,” released in April of 2020, focuses on the lessons she’s learned as an interracial woman succeeding in high-profile careers. As the child of an interracial couple who grew up in a primarily white neighborhood, Welteroth struggled to be embraced in any community. Yet, her career brought her into contact with powerful women – both white and black – who helped shape her. “More Than Enough” follows Welteroth’s impressive career, her developing social and political consciousness, and her eventual decision to abandon corporate media.
“More Than Enough” Summary
“Throughout her life, Elaine Welteroth has climbed the ranks of media and fashion, shattering ceilings along the way. In this riveting and timely memoir, the groundbreaking journalist unpacks lessons on race, identity, and success through her own journey, from navigating her way as the unstoppable child of a unlikely interracial marriage in small-town California to finding herself on the frontlines of a modern movement for the next generation of change makers.
Welteroth moves beyond the headlines and highlight reels to share the profound lessons and struggles of being a barrier-breaker across so many intersections. As a young boss and often the only Black woman in the room, she’s had enough of the world telling her—and all women—they’re not enough. As she learns to rely on herself by looking both inward and upward, we’re ultimately reminded that we’re more than enough.“
5. Well-Read Black Girl by Glory Edim
“Well-Read Black Girl” was released in October of 2018. Glory Edim is actually the founder of a book club called Well-Read Black Girl. The book club is dedicated to literature written by Black women, and their mission is to introduce intersectional works by Black authors in order to address inequality and other social injustices. In “Well-Read Black Girl” the book, Glory Edim brought together a group of Black women authors to share their experiences with representation in literature through a collection of essays.
“Well-Read Black Girl” Summary
“Remember that moment when you first encountered a character who seemed to be written just for you? That feeling of belonging remains with readers the rest of their lives—but not everyone regularly sees themselves in the pages of a book. In this timely anthology, Glory Edim brings together original essays by some of our best black women writers to shine a light on how important it is that we all—regardless of gender, race, religion, or ability—have the opportunity to find ourselves in literature.
Contributors include Jesmyn Ward (Sing, Unburied, Sing), Lynn Nottage (Sweat), Jacqueline Woodson (Another Brooklyn), Gabourey Sidibe (This Is Just My Face), Morgan Jerkins (This Will Be My Undoing), Tayari Jones (An American Marriage), Rebecca Walker (Black, White and Jewish), and Barbara Smith (Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology)
Whether it’s learning about the complexities of femalehood from Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison, finding a new type of love in The Color Purple, or using mythology to craft an alternative black future, the subjects of each essay remind us why we turn to books in times of both struggle and relaxation. As she has done with her book club–turned–online community Well-Read Black Girl, in this anthology Glory Edim has created a space in which black women’s writing and knowledge and life experiences are lifted up, to be shared with all readers who value the power of a story to help us understand the world and ourselves.“
BOOKS I’VE READ!
1. Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
Perhaps best known for his work How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi provides another thought-provoking account of what it means to interact with race in this book. Kendi provides readers with a well-researched and incredibly revealing account of American history and the lasting power of racist ideas. He traces our history from the first European colonies in North America to modern times and demonstrates how racist ideas were not born through natural ignorance but rather intentionally constructed (and reconstructed) throughout history to maintain a racial hierarchy that benefits white people. Kendi’s examination of the racist & racial history of the United States offers an invaluable look at the creation and mutation of racist ideas on a global level.
“Stamped From the Beginning” Summary
“Some Americans cling desperately to the myth that we are living in a post-racial society, that the election of the first Black president spelled the doom of racism. In fact, racist thought is alive and well in America – more sophisticated and more insidious than ever. And as award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi argues in Stamped from the Beginning, if we have any hope of grappling with this stark reality, we must first understand how racist ideas were developed, disseminated, and enshrined in American society.
In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the life stories of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists. From Puritan minister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant scholar W.E.B. Du Bois to legendary anti-prison activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why some of our leading proslavery and pro-civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America.
Contrary to popular conceptions, racist ideas did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Instead, they were devised and honed by some of the most brilliant minds of each era. These intellectuals used their brilliance to justify and rationalize deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and the nation’s racial disparities in everything from wealth to health. And while racist ideas are easily produced and easily consumed, they can also be discredited. In shedding much-needed light on the murky history of racist ideas, Stamped from the Beginning offers us the tools we need to expose them—and in the process, gives us reason to hope.“
2. White Rage by Carol Anderson
In “White Rage,” Anderson argues that the cultural narrative in the United States focused entirely too much on the black response to racial injustice when the real issue was the white response to black progress. Anderson clarifies and extends her argument – that black rage toward centuries of discrimination, dehumanization, and injustice is justified and that white rage has been the overwhelming, and often shielded, response to any attempt at black progress. For the many of us whose educations provided only a sanitized version of the path toward racial equality, this book is full of stunning revelations about the undeniable white rage against black progress, tracing its path from Reconstruction, to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and finally to the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. Anderson offers a necessary understanding of how white rage has drastically hindered progress toward racial inequality and continues to do so today.
“White Rage” Summary
“From the end of the Civil War to our combustible present, an acclaimed historian reframes the conversation about race, chronicling the powerful forces opposed to black progress in America.
As Ferguson, Missouri, erupted in August 2014, and media commentators across the ideological spectrum referred to the angry response of African Americans as “black rage,” historian Carol Anderson wrote a remarkable op-ed in the Washington Post showing that this was, instead, “white rage at work. With so much attention on the flames,” she writes, “everyone had ignored the kindling.”
Since 1865 and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, every time African Americans have made advances towards full participation in our democracy, white reaction has fueled a deliberate, relentless rollback of their gains. The end of the Civil War and Reconstruction was greeted with the Black Codes and Jim Crow; the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision was met with the shutting down of public schools throughout the South; the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 triggered a coded response, the so-called Southern Strategy and the War on Drugs that disenfranchised millions of African Americans.
Carefully linking these and other historical flashpoints, Anderson pulls back the veil that has long covered actions made in the name of democracy, fiscal responsibility, or protection against fraud, rendering visible the long lineage of white rage. Compelling and dramatic in the unimpeachable history it relates, White Rage will add an important new dimension to the national conversation about race in America.“
3. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
Using a blend of personal and historical narratives, Isabel Wilkerson illustrates how American society has been shaped and defined by its hidden caste system. Through her analysis, Wilkerson moves beyond the traditional categorizations of race and class as a way to explain American racism. She explains how the creation and perpetuation of hierarchies can be used to subjugate any group of people in any culture. Race and caste are not synonymous, but they reinforce one another in the United States. According to Wilkerson, if inequality is a human body, race is the skin and caste is the bones. Race is simply the visible tool used to enforce the caste system. In Caste, Wilkerson finally peels back the skin and reveals the bones that uphold the systems of racial inequality in the United States.
“A book steeped in empathy and insight, Caste explores, through layered analysis and stories of real people, the structure of an unspoken system of human ranking and reveals how our lives are still restricted by what divided us centuries ago.
“Modern-day caste protocols,” Wilkerson writes, “are often less about overt attacks or conscious hostility. They are like the wind, powerful enough to knock you down but invisible as they go about their work.”
Wilkerson rigorously defines eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, heredity, and dehumanization. She documents the parallels with two other hierarchies in history, those of India and of Nazi Germany, and no reader will be left without a greater understanding of the price we all pay in a society torn by artificial divisions.“