Honestly my heart hurts. Although I’d normally try and keep a balanced approach to political and social issues. This is not possible in light of recent (and not so recent) events. George Floyd is dead. Ahmaud Arbery is dead. Breonna Taylor is dead.
There are thousands upon thousands of others dead in from similar events. These are not separate events characterised by accidents, but a genocide of systemic portions. I am more concerned by the murdered man George Floyd than a burned down Target.
I am a white European, and I am extremely privileged. I have security, education, and a skin colour that doesn’t endanger me. Although I could never possibly understand what it is like to suffer as people of colour do, it doesn’t mean I don’t have a responsibility to try.
What I have found has helped me understand throughout my life, is to read books written by people of colour. I have listed some of the ones which have made the most impact on me.
Always Reading, Always Learning.
I remember a conversation I had with a dear friend, who said he didn’t bother reading fiction because it didn’t teach him anything. However I convinced him why he couldn’t be more wrong. (Don’t worry he’s also convinced me of new things too).
Reading fiction allows me to spent some time in the shoes of the protagonists. I am always surprised. This surprise is consistently distressing. I learn more about black history by reading these fiction books (and some autobiographies of course) then I learned in school.
I would like to point out that I studied history for my leaving certificate (final school exams), and I did not learn anything about these issues. I learned them while reading books during my undergraduate English course in Maynooth University.
I was terribly sad at times, extremely uncomfortable constantly, and inspired by the resilience displayed in these narratives. I won’t go into too much detail, just a line or two on each. They are worth the time.
Toni Morrison – Beloved
Just read any of Morrison’s books. I’ve read all of them. She is one of my favourite authors. I read this particular book in college though back in 2008, and it was a painful experience. It awakens you to your privilege, and that’s so important.
Set in post-civil war America, it follows the story of former slaves Sethe, and her daughter Denver. This book is distressing, but I’ve always been of the opinion that sometimes you need to feel this way. So you can understand.
Zadie Smith – White Teeth
Another book assigned to me in college and I read it all in one day. I was astounded by the writing, and I really enjoy novels with interlocking stories. These happen to be from the perspective of British families of African, Asian and Caribbean decent.
Toni Morrison – The Bluest Eye
Yes I told you that she was my favourite and this was another book assigned to me in college. According to Wikipedia there has been multiple attempts to ban this book from schools due to the content related to racism, incest and child molestation.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah
This book is Poetry. It’s even better served as an audiobook. I listened to Adjoa Andoh’s narration and it was fantastic. Read this book, but if you can listen to it as well. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I looked forward to my morning and evening commutes so I could hear more about the lives of Ifemelu and Obinze.
It’s written from the perspective of a Nigerian women who immigrates to America to attend university, leaving her family and friends behind.
Zadie Smith – Swing Time
Yes I know, but if I like an author, shock horror, I’ll read more than one of their books! Again, Smith’s protagonists are always intricate, flawed and interesting. She lives in a poorer neighborhood, and she wants to be a dancer. She wants a better life. Yet throughout the novel we grapple with the idea of what a ‘better life’ is. By whose standards?
Oprah Winfrey – The Path Made Clear
I recommend listening to this on audiobook if you can. It has audio from many well known figures, who speak about their experiences finding their way in life. Including Oprah herself.
Barack Obama – Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
This candid account of Barack before he became Mr President gives you the parts of his story the media left out. The accusations of his citizenship were addressed eloquently well before his presidential campaign. You see the formation of a man who is forced onto the high road due to the colour of his skin.
Olaudah Equiano – The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano
Not for the faint of heart both this and the following book (Mary Prince) was assigned to me in college. It was published in 1789 and focuses on the Atlantic Slave trade. It is considered to be the first narrative from the perspective of a slave.
Mary Prince – The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave Narrative
As with the above book, this is written from the perspective of Mary Prince. Born into enslavement in the West Indies, she escaped to London where she wrote her story.
Chinua Achebe – Things Fall Apart
I cried. My heart hurt for days. Often I remember this book and the impact it had on me. My fragile bubble burst in those days. Although I understood what colonialism meant, I never understood how it felt.
I also recommend Achebe’s “The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays.”
Maya Angelou – I know Why The Caged Bird Sings
If you have never read any Maya Angelou then I am genuinely shocked. Her semi-autobiographical approach to narratives give the stories a dimension other authors can only dream of. Read this book, if none of the others.
Angie Thomas – The Hate U Give
So finally this is my current read. Although I’m only a few pages in I’m already hooked. It has excellent reviews for a reason.
Other Actions You Can Take
- Donate to the following charities or find ones that you are comfortable with.
2. Follow black authors, creators, artists, YouTubers etc… on social media to get a new perspective.
3. Share your support if you have a platform.
4. Sign any of the following petitions or find others.
BLACK LIVES MATTER
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