The other day, my boyfriend asked: “Why do we have Black History Month and not any history months for other ethnic groups?” For my boyfriend, and anyone else that is unaware, here is a quick list of heritage months in America to which I will feature book recommendations for:
- Black History Month – February
- Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month – May
- Hispanic-Latinx Heritage Month – September 15 – October 15
- Native American Heritage Month – November
As your tour guide to all things bookish, I will also be respecting culture and ethnicity in this space. So, in each of these months, I will work to bring book recommendations from Authors of Color so that we can work together to be more mindful, accepting, and appreciative of the diversity in our lives.
The [Brief] History of Black History Month
Black History Month began as Negro History Week, developed by Carter G. Woodson, the son of former slaves and one of the first black men to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. When Woodson realized that his history books completely ignored the existence of black people, he established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History which founded the Journal of Negro History. He then developed Negro History Week, in 1926, which later became Black History Month in 1976. February was specifically chosen by Woodson because of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and the “accepted” birthday of Frederick Douglass.
Black Lit Recommendations
(followed by their descriptions)
Note: There are TONS of good Black Lit reads that are appropriate to name and read this month (and until the end of time), but these are a few that are on my list that I’m super excited about.
Well-Read Black Girl by Glory Edim
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.
This book includes classic and modern book recommendations by black female authors and I am HERE. FOR. IT. (I won’t list those recommendations here because I strongly encourage you to buy these books and support the authors!)
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
In this groundbreaking history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein, a leading authority on housing policy, explodes the myth that America’s cities came to be racially divided through de facto segregation―that is, through individual prejudices, income differences, or the actions of private institutions like banks and real estate agencies. Rather, The Color of Law incontrovertibly makes clear that it was de jure segregation―the laws and policy decisions passed by local, state, and federal governments―that actually promoted the discriminatory patterns that continue to this day.
I recommend this to anyone interested in the history behind not only segregation, but the lasting effects of it as well as what systematic oppression looks like in today’s world.
Black Enough by Ibi Zoboi & more
Edited by National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi, and featuring some of the most acclaimed bestselling Black authors writing for teens today—Black Enough is an essential collection of captivating stories about what it’s like to be young and Black in America.
Black is…sisters navigating their relationship at summer camp in Portland, Oregon, as written by Renée Watson.
Black is…three friends walking back from the community pool talking about nothing and everything, in a story by Jason Reynolds.
Black is…Nic Stone’s high-class beauty dating a boy her momma would never approve of.
Black is…two girls kissing in Justina Ireland’s story set in Maryland.
Black is urban and rural, wealthy and poor, mixed race, immigrants, and more—because there are countless ways to be Black enough.
I’m so excited about this book! As a girl who growing up was never “black enough” for the black kids or “too black” for the white kids, having a book that showed that there wasn’t a list of prerequisites that came with being black would have been such a benefit to my own confidence and comfortability in my own skin. I can’t wait to read this!
A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney
A Blade So Black delivers an irresistible urban fantasy retelling of Alice in Wonderland . . . but it’s not the Wonderland you remember.
The first time the Nightmares came, it nearly cost Alice her life. Now she’s trained to battle monstrous creatures in the dark dream realm known as Wonderland with magic weapons and hardcore fighting skills. Yet even warriors have a curfew.
Life in real-world Atlanta isn’t always so simple, as Alice juggles an overprotective mom, a high-maintenance best friend, and a slipping GPA. Keeping the Nightmares at bay is turning into a full-time job. But when Alice’s handsome and mysterious mentor is poisoned, she has to find the antidote by venturing deeper into Wonderland than she’s ever gone before. And she’ll need to use everything she’s learned in both worlds to keep from losing her head . . . literally.
Debut author L.L. McKinney delivers an action-packed twist on an old classic, full of romance and otherworldly intrigue.
I just finished this novel and will be posting my review soon, so I wont give too much away. BUT, it is everything my Disney-loving melaninated soul needs and have needed! I strongly recommend this read!
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Ghana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.
Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.
The description alone gives me chills! I cannot wait to dive into this parallel.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
“Jarvious Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Klu Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation; his father was barred by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole.”
As the United States celebrates the nation’s “triumph over race” with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of young black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or have been labeled felons for life. Although Jim Crow laws have been wiped off the books, an astounding percentage of the African American community remains trapped in a subordinate status–much like their grandparents before them.
In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community–and all of us–to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.
As I said before, this is just a short list of recommended reads from my current list. I encourage you to look at other lists out there or do some research to find works by Black authors that may interest you.
How You Can Observe BHM, Regardless of Your Ethnicity
Melanin is not a requirement to celebrate BHM. If you’re looking to observe BHM, here are a few ways:
- Contact your local Black Chamber of Commerce. See what they and other local organizations are doing to celebrate. Take part and bring your friends!
- Support Black-Owned Businesses! BoBs are everywhere and will welcome your support! Learn about how long their business has been around and why they started it.
- Read Black Lit: Because of the erasure of black culture in America, the roots of black literature are where many go to find glimpses of their heritage. If you want to know more about first hand accounts of the effects of slavery or the civil rights movement, find black authors from those eras.
- Dedicate yourself to learning a piece of black history that isn’t about slavery or the civil rights movement. Yes, it exists.
- Be a good ancestor. Our world, and especially our country, still has lots of healing and correcting to do. Be a good ancestor by being kind and generous to those that do not look like you. Learn more about other cultures, listen to opinions that do not match your own, and learn how to have positive civil discourse.
- Lastly, do all of these things without seeking help from a black friend or colleague. Do the work! It’s so much more meaningful and authentic that way.
As always, feel free to leave a comment below. Tell me how you’re observing BHM, what you’re reading, or what you’re hoping to learn.