13 Nonfiction Books About Race, Written By Women Of Color
In the months since Donald Trump has become president, more and more people have become inspired to join the Resistance — whether that means volunteering, campaigning, donating, making calls, educating themselves and others on the issues, or otherwise. Bustle's 31 Days of Reading Resistance takes a look at the role of literature and writing in the Resistance, both as a source of inspiration and as a tool for action.
It's not exactly a rarity for us to talk about race these days; and in fact, it is a crucial conversation in the U.S. and around the world during this age of resistance. You don't need me to tell you the many, many reasons we need to listen to Black, Latinx and other non-white voices. Some of those people are the authors on the list below.
All of these 15 women of color have written extensively about race in a America and elsewhere, some with humor, some with heartache, but all with unflinching intelligence in the face of racism, sexism, loss, violence... and yes, joy and triumph.
And while the voices of male writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Sherman Alexie and other non-white authors are illuminating and necessary, it's incredibly important sometimes to zero in on female voices, bringing their stories and experiences to the forefront when they are so often swept under the rug and ignored. While some of the books below are essay collections, and others are memoirs and broader ranging nonfiction, each speaks to race relations right now and are must-reads for any resistance TBR.
In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life — to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses made Jesmyn ask the question: Why? And as she began to write about the experience, she realized the truth — her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Now, in Men We Reaped, she is writing their stories, and her own.
Citizen recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in 21st century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams, online, on TV-everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person's ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named "post-race" society
In One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, Scaachi deploys her razor-sharp humor to share her fears, outrages, and mortifying experiences as an outsider growing up in Canada. Her subjects range from shaving her knuckles in grade school, to a shopping trip gone horribly awry, to dealing with internet trolls, to feeling out of place at an Indian wedding and exploring the strict gender rules in both Western and Indian cultures, forcing her to confront questions about gender dynamics, racial tensions, and ethnic stereotypes.
Phoebe Robinson has experienced her fair share of absurdity as a black woman over the years: she's been unceremoniously relegated to the role of "the black friend," as if she is somehow the authority on all things racial; she's been questioned about her love of "white people music" U2 and Billy Joel; she's been called "uppity" for having an opinion in the workplace; she's been followed around stores by security guards; and yes, people do ask her whether they can touch her hair all. the. time. Now, in You Can't Touch My Hair she takes these topics to the page and she's going to make you laugh as she's doing it.
Diane Guerrero was just 14 years old on the day her parents and brother were arrested and deported while she was at school. Born in the U.S., Guerrero was able to remain in the country and continue her education, without the support system of her family. In the Country We Love is a moving, heartbreaking story of resilience in the face of the nightmarish struggles of undocumented residents in this country; it also casts a much-needed light on the fears that haunt the daily existence of families likes the author's and on a system that fails the over 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. over and over.
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé uses political and pop-cultural references as a framework to explore 21st century black American womanhood and its complexities: performance, depression, isolation, exoticism, racism, femininity, and politics. The poems here weave between personal narrative and pop-cultural criticism, examining and confronting modern media, consumption, feminism, and Blackness. This collection explores femininity and race in the contemporary American political climate, folding in references from jazz standards, visual art, personal family history, and Hip Hop.
Vivek Shraya's powerful debut collection of poetry is both a bold and timely interrogation of skin: its origins, functions, and limitations. The poems here range in style, but all seek to break down the barriers that prevent understanding of what it means to be racialized, painting the face of every day modern racism with words, and rendering it visible, tangible, and undeniable to the reader.
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem in Brown Girl Dreaming is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world, and each piece of racial history hauntingly familiar in our modern world.
This part-memoir, part essay collection, part creative manifesto explores the early life of late Chicana writer Michele Serros. How To Be a Chicana Role Model focuses in on feelings of inadequacy within the Latinx community, not being able to speak the language fluently and feeling "not Latina enough" to claim your heritage. From working multiple jobs while struggling creatively, dealing with a family that doesn't quite understand, and being snubbed by other Latinx for her less than stellar Spanish speaking skills, Cerros's experience will be familiar to many Latinx young adults in the U.S. today.
In The New Jim Crow, 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.
At nine years old, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh watched from her home in New Jersey as two planes crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. That same year, she heard her first racial slur. At age 11, when the U.S. invaded Iraq and the television was flooded with anti-Muslim commentary, Amani felt overwhelmed with intense alienation from American society. At 13, her family took a trip to her father’s native homeland of Jordan, which changed her life. This is the account of Amani’s journey through adolescence as a Jordanian-American Muslim girl, from the Islamophobia she’s faced on a daily basis, to the website she launched that became a cultural phenomenon, to the nation’s current political climate.
The Sisters Are Alright exposes anti–black-woman propaganda and shows how real black women are pushing back against distorted cartoon versions of themselves. Fighting against the persistent stereotypes of servile Mammy, angry Sapphire, lascivious Jezebel, and the willfully unmarried baby machine leeching off the state, Tamara Winfrey Harris delves into marriage, motherhood, health, sexuality, beauty, and more, taking sharp aim at these harmful stereotypes about black women. She counters warped prejudices with the straight-up truth about being a black woman in America.
Ordinary Light is a moving memoir that explores coming-of-age against a complex backdrop of race and faith. King was brought up in a family of five children raised with affection and faith. But after spending a summer in Alabama with her grandmother, she returns with a new sense of what it means for her to be black: from her mother's memories of picking cotton as a girl, to her parents' involvement in the Civil Rights movement. These juxtapositions between her family's past and her future compel her to act on her desire to become a writer. But when her mother is diagnosed with cancer, King must learn a new way to love someone whose beliefs she has outgrown.
Follow along all month long for more Reading Resistance book recommendations.