In the Glow of Black Excellence and Change: A Black History Month Reading List
February 08, 2021
Is the coast clear? Any instances of blackface or diversity snafus on the horizon to mar Black History Month? Any of that nonsense to call out? Only last year and the year before did rashes of both spread in news headlines. But not this year. We’re conditioned to anticipate them like clockwork, but it’s a relief not to see them. Too soon to call it?
Anyway, this year’s Black History Month is starting on a more auspicious note. Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first Black and South Asian woman vice president. The Reverend Raphael Warnock was elected as Georgia’s first Black senator. And Stacey Abrams was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. We can never get enough Black excellence and change! To celebrate, we’re sharing a list of selected Black history titles by our Black writers. These are books that uphold the excellence of the Black literary tradition, that document the many legacies of excellence and change, that can make change happen.
Anarcha Speaks: A History in Poems
you are a house
of too many hands.
how else do
but by blood?
A Black Women’s History of the United States
“To write a history about the United States from the perspective of Black women is to chart a course where the incredible, the fantastic, and the triumphant meet, mix, and mingle, often simultaneously, with hardship, and terror. Although it largely defies uniformity, African American women’s history is marked by the ways that we have marched forward, against all odds, to effect sustained change, individually, locally, and nationally.”
—Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross
Dance We Do: A Poet Explores Black Dance
“There are so many Black dancers who have gone unnamed and unrecognized and hopefully we will meet some of them in this book. We are fleeting in our knowledge of who our dancers are, how hard they work, what it takes to keep a company together, what it takes to make a dance, and what it takes to make a dancer is unknown to us because we do not write it down. I have tried to capture some of this mystery, this rugged creativity that informs Black dance.”
The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism
“The omnipresent racial and class divisions and creeping authoritarianism embedded within sporting events in post-9/11 America would collide with the most powerful black employees in the country recognizing their political power and showing a willingness to use it. Through the great unifier of sports, with the black players kneeling, the white players standing, the police heroes to one, center of protest to others, America would discover explosively and definitively just how severe its fractures truly were.”
Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry
“Ahead of her time, Lorraine’s witness and wisdom help us understand the world, its problems and its possibilities. In her lonely reckonings, her impassioned reaching for justice, and the seriousness of her craft, she teaches us how to more ethically, more lovingly, witness one another today.”
“You might be able to go through this whole experience as an observer . . . . I can understand that because most of the time, I’m still an observer. It’s protection. It’s nineteen seventy-six shielding and cushioning eighteen nineteen for me. But now and then . . . I can’t maintain the distance. I’m drawn all the way into eighteen nineteen, and I don’t know what to do.”
—Octavia E. Butler
Loving: Interracial Intimacy in America and the Threat to White Supremacy
“I believe that rising interracial intimacy, combined with immigration and demographic and generational change, will contribute to the rise of what I call the culturally dexterous class. From cross-racial marriage, adoption, and romance to the simple act of entering the home of someone of another race or ethnicity to have a meal, the dexterous cross different cultures daily and are forced to practice pluralism . . . . In this case, integrators are spreading the social epidemic or virus of cultural dexterity—an enhanced capacity for intimate connections with people outside one’s own tribe, for seeing and accepting difference rather than demanding assimilation to an unspoken norm of whiteness. For whites in particular, intimate contact reduces prejudice and anxiety about dealing with an out-group.”
“Americans attempt until today to make an abstraction of the Negro, but the very nature of these abstractions reveals the tremendous effects the presence of the Negro has had on the American character.”
—James Baldwin, from “Stranger in the Village”
On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-First Century
“There is unﬁnished business in communities throughout this country, where the reality of lynching and racial pogroms has never been fully confronted, where the historical complicity of ordinary citizens in condoning racial terrorism continues to undermine the chance for trust and racial reconciliation, and where the participation of local institutions in upholding violent white supremacy continues to taint their legitimacy. I believe that communities can themselves take charge of the project of healing, reconciliation, and reparation.”
—Sherrilyn A. Ifill
One Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race
“If we can recalibrate our lenses to see Blackness as a broader category of identity and experience, perhaps we will be able to see ourselves as part of a larger global community. As a professor of Africana Studies in the United States, I believe that it is becoming increasingly important for all people, not just people of African descent, to recognize the existence of a global Black community. In my experience teaching students about issues related to the African Diaspora, I find that they have a particular level of difficulty assigning the category and thus the identity of Blackness to people throughout the world, even when those people themselves identify as Black . . . . [T]here are Black people all over the world. We are not a minority—we comprise a global community.”
The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome
“Combating color-blind racism requires the restoration of color-vision—that is, the return to visibility of historic and continued racial inequalities. Genetic ancestry testing is being used to make this case. In this “post-racial,” post-genomic moment, therefore, DNA further offers the unique and somewhat paradoxical possibility of magnifying issues of inequality in order to bring them into view, both literally and figuratively. Social inequities may then be challenged using other strategies such as the courts and social movements.”
Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?
“For its very survival’s sake, America must re-examine old presuppositions and release itself from many things that for centuries have been held sacred. For the evils of racism, poverty and militarism to die, a new set of values must be born. Our economy must become more person-centered than property- and profit-centered. Our government must depend more on its moral power than on its military power.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.