Two books that changed the way I saw racism (and more you should read)

Black authors have always deserved recognition, they have always deserved being read, and they have always said something important. It is devastating that so many are only gaining the acknowledgement they rightly deserve because of such awful violence going on in the world around us. We should always be striving to read and learn from a diverse range of voices and cultures, but if you haven’t picked up a book that explores race and adversity, now more than ever is the time to start.

I’ve highlighted the two books that changed the way I saw racism and have given summaries of many more fantastic books you should add to your reading list. Black lives matter, so let’s make sure those black voices are heard for what they so deserve. These books are just a starting list to help broaden reading, and it would be fantastic for readers to share more books that we’ve missed or you’ve enjoyed. 

Noughts and Crosses – Malorie Blackman 

This is such an incredible book, and I’m still in shock when people tell me they’ve never read it. Aside from the fantastic plot which explores an interracial relationship between characters Sephy and Callum, Noughts and Crosses explores a world where black people are seen as higher in society, and white people are seen as lower. This was the first book I ever read which explored race, and I was so surprised at reading about a world where black people were seen as so high within society. That’s when I realised why it was so unusual to me, because I only ever saw white people in positions of power. Race was not something I’d ever considered before reading this book, but I’m so glad I read it because it changed the way I looked at the world. As a young white girl, I’d never raced any adversity for the colour of my skin, but Blackman’s exploration of how people are treated based on their skin colour, really opened my eyes and I’m so glad it was a part of my education as I grew up. If you haven’t read this, or even if you already have, you need to read it. Reading it in the lens of the world we live in today is even more heartbreaking, and this book offers a lot of food for thought. Noughts and Crosses has also recently been adapted by into a television series by the BBC. 

The Guardian ranked Noughts & Crosses #88 in its list of 100 Best Books of the 21st Century in 2019. 

From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream Janice S. Ellis

This nonfiction book tells the story of a black woman who was constantly beaten down in society yet worked her way up despite all that life threw at her. It is such an inspirational read, and the abuse and hardship Ellis had to go through is shocking. In the prologue of the story, Ellis makes it clear there is still a lot of progress to be made and that this is her story growing up as a black woman during the height of the civil rights movement. There is an extremely powerful line in the prologue which beautifully sums the story up; ‘This is the story of how I have triumphed even when, more often than not, ugly realities of racism and sexism tried to ensure I did not.’ Ellis had to fight so hard, much harder than her white peers, to get her success, and though she does find it, the book leaves readers painfully aware that many black women won’t get this success. One of Ellis’s final thoughts in the epilogue is ‘We must continue to be positive, hopeful, and determined with steely resolve to keep trying to make a difference.’ This has never remained more true than in this moment in time, and the messages in this book are so important. 

From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream received the Gold Award for nonfiction books, the highest award that the Non-Fiction Authors Association (NFAA) bestows. 

Other important books to start broadening your reading and read books by black authors or about racism and diverse culture: 

The Color Purple by Alice Walker 

  • This book goes through the life of black women, who are abused and forced into producing children. A powerful and fantastic read. 

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

  • A story about a trapped Nigerian woman who strives for escape and freedom and education. 

Fault Lines by Kendel Hippolyte 

  • Poems by a Caribbean playwriter and poet.  

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston 

  • The journey of a black woman through marriage and relationships who faces a lot of cruelness when looking for her dream of love and happiness. 

The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon

  • Explores the fascinating lives of black men as they work, converse, party, and socialise. There are such intricate relationships explored, and it is such an interesting read.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skoot 

  • Skoot herself isn’t black, but this is a nonfiction book about the exploitation of an African-American woman’s body in the name of science. 

The History of Mary Prince by Mary Prince

  • An honest and raw story about experiencing slavery. 

‘Beloved’ and ‘The Bluest Eye’ by Toni Morrison 

  • Morrison was a fantastic American novelist who sadly passed away in 2019. Her work looks at race and slavery. 

 I know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou 

  • A poetic memoir 

We Should All be Feminists and Dear Ijeawele by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

  • A fantastic powerful voice about feminism 

The Help by Kathryn Stockett  

  • This story is set in the 1960’s and explores the lives of 3 women and their working lives in Mississippi.  

Hunger by Roxane Gay 

  • A memoir about the traumas behind eating struggles and sexual abuse. 

Native Son by Richard Wright 

  • This story explores what happens when a corrupt society cruelty treats young black men and shows the dangers behind an unjust system. 

Queenie by Candice Carty- Williams 

  • This book is set in London and is about breakups and romance. It’s on my reading list for sure!

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

  • A nonfiction about being black in America. 

How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones

  • A memoir about growing up gay in the South. 

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

  • An increasingly popular fantasy soon being turned into a film! 

Well-read Black Girl by Glory Edim 

  • A collection of black women writing about the importance of their representation in literature. 

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid 

  • An interesting story and race and its impact on relationships. This is next on my reading list! 

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

  • A memoir about growing up multiracial in America. 

NW by Zadie Smith

  • This is a fantastic novel in four parts about young and vibrant characters and the way they live their lives. 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

  • Follows the story of a black girl who experiences extreme violence and trauma at the hands of a white police officer. 

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

  • Discusses social invisibility. 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

  • The novel explores the marriage of a middle-class African-American couple,, who experience extreme difficulty when one is falsely accused of rape. 

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead 

  • The journey of two slaves who seek freedom using an underground transport system. This is also very high up on my to-read list. 

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson 

  • This book discusses the author’s journey growing up as an African American. 

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi 

  • Follows the different journeys of two sisters in the 18th century and the two paths they take. 

Links to more reading lists:

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About Author

Leia Butler

Leia Butler

January 2021
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