If you are a social media user, it is likely that you have seen activist reading lists doing the rounds. These tend to collate a combination of non-fiction and fiction works by Black authors, deemed to be good starting points in educating oneself. Many of these reading lists, however, do not explain in-depth the importance of reading as a form of anti-racist education.
One of the most significant tenants of active anti-racism is listening to the voices of Black people, and their lived experiences. It is important to recognise that these voices are not homogenous. Non-fiction books provide a long-form approach to listening; there’s only so much that you can garner from an Instagram caption or a Twitter thread, and while it is important that voices on social media are heard and amplified, books can be one of the most effective ways of deepening your understanding. If you are British, Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is a great starting point, combining anecdote with reams of research. This is another way that non-fiction can aid in anti-racism: it becomes much easier to challenge racist rhetoric in conversation when you are armed with data and facts.
Beyond explicitly activist works, making a commitment to reading fiction by Black authors is imperative. If you consider yourself to be well-read, I would challenge you to sit and work out how many novels you have read by Black and other Non-White authors. You may find that you are not quite as well-read as you think. It is important to consider Black authors outside of the post-colonial spaces that they are often relegated to: while texts such as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart are excellent, and essential reading, Black voices exist across the entire spectrum of the human experience and human interests. One novel that I’ve recently started is An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, which follows a complex love story, and is a truly compelling novel.
The British education system has not done wonders in making space for Black voices, and my experience of English Literature up to A-level was one that was resoundingly white. Even continuing into higher education in this subject at one of the world’s leading universities has proved to be disappointing in this regard. Consider how you can challenge the underwhelming presence of Black authors in the curriculum: if you are a secondary school student, can you request that you study more of these texts? As a university student, I have found that sending a co-signed email requesting specific course changes has proven promising.
Besides challenging the canon on an institutional level, make a commitment to reading and discussing Black voices on a personal level. One way to do this could be to join a discussion group; through Twitter, I was able to join a group that recommends and discusses one Fiction and one Non-Fiction book a month. It can be difficult to know where to start, and reading groups, alongside the aforementioned reading lists, can help you navigate the multitude of books out there.
Ultimately, anti-racism is a continuous process. Reading one book will not give you all of the knowledge that you need, but making a commitment to this form of education is a great place to start.
Words by Sasha Mills
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