Black History Month Reading List for 2021
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Black History Month holds special significance in the United States. It's an annual celebration in the month of February that honors the historic, artistic, intellectual, and cultural achievements made by African Americans.
The monthlong observance was first conceived by Black faculty and the Black United Students group at Kent State University in February 1969. Six years later, Black History Month became a national celebration, and many educational institutions and community centers hold commemorative events to recognize the momentous achievements of Black Americans.
This year's Black History Month takes on a unique significance and calls for a continued understanding of not simply the personal and professional accomplishments of Black Americans, but also an acknowledgment of their ongoing strife and adversity.
Black History Month is a great opportunity to learn about the contributions of Black Americans and expand your understanding of issues related to equity, diversity, and inclusion.
As our country celebrates Kamala Harris, the first Black and Indian American vice president, we must also recognize the incredible amount of work left to do to ensure that Black and brown Americans have access to all social, political, and economic opportunities.
With publicized incidents of police brutality against Black men and women, and continued public displays of racism, Black History Month is a great opportunity to learn about the contributions of Black Americans and expand your understanding of issues related to equity, diversity, and inclusion.
In that sense, it's also critical to celebrate the literary contributions of Black authors. In honor of Black History Month this year, we've compiled a list of 11 notable books by Black authors.
11 Books to Read for Black History Month
Published in 1965, this autobiography was voted one of Time's 10 most important nonfiction books of the 20th century. Journalist Alex Haley co-authored the book, which is based on a series of in-depth interviews he conducted between 1963 and Malcolm X's 1965 assassination.
This autobiography chronicles the life and contributions of civil rights activist Malcolm X, an African American Muslim minister who advocated for Black economic and political autonomy. In contrast to Martin Luther King Jr.'s strategy of nonviolence and civil disobedience, Malcolm X urged Black people to engage in self-defense if met with resistance or opposition.
Malcolm X's memoir does an extraordinary job of articulating the trials and tribulations of Black Americans in the 1960s, while also advocating for Black nationalism and supremacy. Haley wrote the book's epilogue after Malcolm X's death.
Released in 2010, "The New Jim Crow" was named one of the most influential books of the last 20 years by The Chronicle of Higher Education. In this book, Michelle Alexander — a civil rights advocate, legal scholar, and New York Times columnist — effectively debunks the myth that racial discrimination was eradicated with the end of the civil rights movement and the Jim Crow era.
With the 2008 election of Barack Obama and now the election of the first Black and Indian American vice president, there's a widely held belief that America is finding itself in a post-racial or colorblind society, in which race no longer impacts one's chances in life. Alexander argues that the war on drugs, as well as the mass incarceration of primarily low-income African American men, has created a racial caste system and led to decreased opportunities for social and economic advancement for Black Americans.
This book challenges our conventional thinking about race and sheds light on how institutions continue to disempower Black and brown communities.
Fans of Marvel Studios' action-packed film "Black Panther" will love the 2019 book "War Girls." Set in the year 2172 in a world ravaged by climate change and nuclear disaster, this unique tale chronicles the lives of two sisters, Onyii and Ify, who are separated by war. Despite the violence and political unrest that fill their lives, they long for a future of peace and prosperity. Using bionic limbs, artificial organs, and advanced technology, the two sisters must fight their way back to each other in a futuristic Nigeria.
This book is a great read for young adults, as it provides them valuable insight about the impact of war on children and families. With its wild imagination and inspirational themes of hope and perseverance, "War Girls" is bound to leave every reader satisfied.
"Eloquent Rage" (2018) is an ode to both Black history and women's history, highlighting the singular focus of modern-day feminism and how women of color have reshaped the mainstream feminist movement. Author Brittney Cooper — who is also a professor, pop culture critic, social activist, and expert on intersectionality — explores how sexism, racism, and classism work together to produce cumulative disadvantages for Black women.
The book provides a vivid and brilliant portrayal of Black womanhood, examining how Black women must deal with the racism perpetuated by white society while also encountering sexism and misogyny. Cooper does a profound job connecting her personal stories to the larger social and political realities of the United States; her ancedotes include experiences with racial discrimination, attending predominantly white schools, and relationships with Black men and women.
"Eloquent Rage" validates the experiences of Black women, while giving other racial groups a comprehensive understanding of the complexity of Black womanhood.
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates — who is arguably one of our country's most talented Black male writers and race and cultural analysts — "The Water Dancer" (2019) is both a New York Times bestseller and Oprah's Book Club selection. In this poignant debut novel, Coates provides a moving account of the emotional and psychological toll of slavery on families.
The story centers on Hiram Walker, a fugitive slave who possesses a mysterious power that allows him to transport people over long distances. Hiram serves as an agent in the Underground, an organization committed to the eradication of slavery in the United States during the mid-1800s. Hiram attempts to defeat slave owners, rescue slaves, and reunite with his family in this compelling tale that not only highlights the atrocities of enslavement, but also restores the humanity of those who have been enslaved.
Michelle Obama is an icon and inspiration to women all around the world. Having served as the first Black woman in a first lady role, she made the position uniquely her own. Named the most admired woman in America three years in a row by Gallup, Obama remains a tenacious and strong advocate for women, as well as a role model for young girls.
Her 2018 memoir, "Becoming," is an honest and intimate narrative of hope, tragedy, and triumph, from the perspective of a young girl growing up in the South Side of Chicago to that of the nation's first Black first lady. Obama is more than just a wife and former first lady, though — she is the daughter of working-class parents, a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, a lawyer, and a mother.
Her bestselling memoir candidly retells her life story and explores the complexities of motherhood, work, and relationships, while giving readers nuggets of wisdom related to finding yourself and your voice.
Acclaimed writer and professor Roxane Gay is an expert on topics like Black womanhood, LGBTQ+ rights, body image, racial inequality, and sexual violence. Her 2014 debut novel, "An Untamed State," illuminates women's experiences with sexual assault, trauma, and patriarchy, with Gay challenging the "strong Black woman" trope by demonstrating the complexities of the relationships between romance, vulnerability, forgiveness, and betrayal.
The book centers on Mireille Duval Jameson, the daughter of a wealthy construction businessman from Haiti, who is kidnapped while visiting family in Port-au-Prince and held for ransom. Her father refuses to provide aid to her, leaving Mireille to endure and fight her way out of continuous assault and torment.
This suspenseful novel leaves readers on edge as we learn the power and strength of a woman's body and how much women endure bodily harm for the misdeeds of men.
Last year bore witness to the continued devaluation of Black bodies at the hands of law enforcement in the United States. "The Hate U Give" (2017) is a young adult novel, inspired by the police shooting of Oscar Grant and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The story follows Starr Carter, a 16-year-old Black girl from a low-income neighborhood who attends an elite, predominantly white private school in an affluent part of the city. As Starr balances her two conflicting worlds, she becomes the primary and only witness in the death of her childhood friend, Khalil, who is shot by a white police officer.
Chronicling the internal and public battle Starr must face as she learns to speak her truth and share her story despite public judgment, "The Hate U Give" is riveting and suspenseful, and an extraordinary tale of contemporary race relations.
In this 2016 autobiography, famed comedian and "The Daily Show" host Trevor Noah details his trials and tribulations of growing up during apartheid in South Africa. The son of a white Swiss father and a Black South African mother, Noah was born at a time when interracial unions were illegal. The book elucidates Noah's challenging childhood — he spent most of his early years in hiding and in fear that at any moment he could be separated from his family.
It's an extraordinary tale of how Trevor and his mother navigated tyranny, poverty, violence, and abuse, and how they ultimately learned to live openly and embrace new opportunities.
Named one of Time's most influential people of 2020, Ibram X. Kendi is a professor, a historian, an antiracist activist, and the author of the New York Times No. 1 bestseller "How to Be an Antiracist" (2019).
This nonfiction book is one of the most honest and compelling analyses of race and race relations to date. Geared toward those looking beyond understanding racism and social inequality, Kendi's work focuses on cultivating allies and activists who are committed to building a just and equitable society.
The premise of "How to Be an Antiracist" is simple: Everyone possesses the capacity to be racist, regardless of their position in society. Through this book, Kendi instructs readers to develop an understanding of what racism is and how it has evolved over the years. He also discusses how in order to be antiracist, you must be aware of your own racism, as well as your participation and perpetuation of it, and actively promote antiracist policies.
Published in 2020, "The Vanishing Half" is a New York Times bestseller and was also a Good Morning America Book Club selection. The novel, which centers on the lives of two light-skinned Black sisters, does a phenomenal job stringing together multiple characters with contrasting experiences.
At 16, identical twins Desiree and Stella run away from home. But while Desiree marries a Black man and chooses to maintain her Black identity, Stella elects to live as a white-passing woman. The book chronicles the sisters' uniquely different lives and the struggles they face as they navigate and define their identities.
A powerful, moving tale, "The Vanishing Half" highlights the complex relationships between identity, race, and learning to embrace your authentic self.
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