As a black woman, I feel inspired by the important conversations the world is beginning to have about authentic representation, diversity, and race; but at the same time, I am filled with anguish at the length of time that it has taken, and the price we — black people — have paid to start this much-needed dialogue on and around anti-racism. Over the past few days, I have had many non-black people reaching out to share their support, genuine sentiments of solidarity, and annoyingly — their shock about the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police in the US, and similar incidents that have been happening to black people around the world for years. That shock stems from privilege — in 2020 there is no room, and no excuse, for not educating yourself on realities beyond those of your own, and I too am challenging myself to know better, be better, and do better. If you are keen to get started on your journey to getting clued up, here are five books to add to your June reading list. In a bid to support, not only BIPOC authors but also enterprise, I encourage anyone interested in these books to buy them from BIPOC or independent bookstores, or your local library.
By Ony Anukem
For multiple perspectives…
EDITED BY MARGARET BUSBY
New Daughters of Africa is the follow up to Margaret Busby’s internationally acclaimed Daughters of Africa, originally published in 1992. Margaret struck gold again with her latest anthology. She brings together fresh and vibrant voices that have become prominent around the world in the past two decades, from Antigua to Zimbabwe and Angola to the United States. Over 200 women writers celebrate in the heritage that unites them; key figures include Margo Jefferson, Nawal El Saadawi, Edwidge Danticat, Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Chinelo Okparanta. Their writing takes many forms: speeches, journalism, poetry, extracts from longer works, and short stories arranged in order of the women’s birth decades — a chronological reminder that African women have been creating art for many centuries. Each piece exhibits an uplifting sense of sisterhood, honouring the strong links that endure from generation to generation, and addresses the common obstacles women writers of colour face as they negotiate issues of race, gender, and class and address vital matters of independence, freedom, and oppression.
BY MEENA HARRIS
Now more than ever, it’s important to be having conversations and teaching children about diversity and race. Last week, Meena Harris, the niece of former 2020 US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris, released an empowering picture book about two sisters who work with their community to effect change, inspired by a true story from the childhood of her aunt and mother — lawyer and policy expert, Maya Harris. One day, Kamala and Maya have an idea, a very big idea: they would turn their empty apartment courtyard into a playground. This is a story of children’s ability to make a real difference, and about the power of a community coming together to transform their neighbourhood. Wondering how to broach a conversation on diversity and race with little ones? This children book is an excellent start, particularly for children ages four to six.
For insight into the cultural genocide against Indigenous peoples in Canada and beyond…
BY TANYA TALAGA
It’s important to realise that in Canada, we cannot bring about meaningful anti-racism reform without addressing the historical and current treatment of Indigenous communities. Award-winning author Tanya Talaga explores the startling rise of suicide among youth in Indigenous communities in Canada and beyond. From Northern Ontario to Nunavut, Norway, Brazil, Australia, and the United States, the Indigenous experience in colonized nations is startlingly similar and deeply disturbing. As a result of this colonial legacy, too many communities today lack access to the basic determinants of health — income, employment, education, a safe environment, health services — leading to a mental health and youth suicide crisis on a global scale. But, Talaga reminds us, First Peoples also share a history of resistance, resilience, and civil rights activism, from the Occupation of Alcatraz led by the Indians of All Tribes, to the Northern Ontario Stirland Lake Quiet Riot, to the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which united Indigenous Nations from across Turtle Island in solidarity. This book serves as a powerful call for action, justice, and a better, more equitable world for all Indigenous Peoples.
For the untold story of Canada’s involvement in Slavery…
BY AFUA COOPER
When asked where the transatlantic slave trade took place, the first countries that most people would think would be the US, Caribbean, and Latin America. Afua Cooper’s The Hanging of Angelique completely demolishes the myth of a benign, slave-free Canada, revealing a damning 200-year-old record of legally and culturally endorsed slavery. Afua tells the astonishing story of Marie-Joseph Angélique, a slave woman convicted of starting a fire that destroyed a large part of Montréal in 1734, and condemned to die a brutal death. In a powerful retelling of Angélique’s story — now supported by archival illustrations — Afua builds on 15 years of research to shed new light on a rebellious Portuguese-born black woman who refused to accept her position as a slave. Afua takes Angélique’s hidden and marginalized story, and places it at the centre of Canadian national consciousness.
For a critique of heteronormative and patriarchal structures…
BY DIONNE BRAND
In telling this story from the perspective of an unnamed, ungendered narrator, Dionne Brand uses Theory to make a bold statement about love and personhood, and the intersectionality of race and gender. The story begins when its narrator sets out, like most graduate students, doe-eyed and naively ambitious about writing a thesis on the past, present, and future of art, culture, race, gender, class, and politics. A transformative body of work, that its author believes will integrate and thereby revolutionize the world. While trying to complete this huge undertaking of a dissertation, three lovers enter the story. Each galvanizing love affair — representing, in turn, the heart, the head, and the spirit — shakes up and changes the narrator’s life and, inescapably, requires an overhaul of the ever larger and more unwieldy dissertation, this book promises to make you laugh, cry, and reflect.