13 Best Books About The Black Experience Update 05/2022

A lot of African Americans have been asking white people to stop asking them to help them understand what’s going on because of the killings of black people by police. This has led to protests all over the country and around the world. A wide range of tools, lists of anti-racist groups, locally focused syllabi, and concrete steps you can take to support racial justice are available on many different platforms.

Roxane Gay has said many times that literature can help people become more empathic. In the United States, black people face a lot of pressure every day. As a white woman, I haven’t had to deal with these things. Listening and reading a lot, I can learn about that feeling the poet Claude McKay called “sharp as steel with discontent.” In college, I taught nonfiction for more than 10 years. Each semester, I put together a set of readings that I use to show my mostly white students how to write well, but also to help them think about things from a different angle. A list of memoirs and essay collections that have made us better listeners follows, with links to four dozen more writers. This is a “starter syllabus” of the black experience that will help us all become better listeners.

Men We Reaped

Jesmyn Ward

Jesmyn Ward has won many awards and honors for her beautiful novels. This memoir is her response to the “silence… of our subsumed rage, our collective grief.” When she talks about the lives of five young men from her community, she compares her own to theirs. All of them have died because of the way things work in a racialized country. One of them was her favorite brother. Ward’s puts on a requiem for the people who died.

Survival Math

Mitchell S. Jackson

In his book, “The Residue Years,” Jackson took readers to a Portland that was very different from Portlandia. Every day as a young man, he made a lot of calculations. The title of this memoir refers to that. Jackson tells the stories of his family and how they survived the Great Migration and the justice system, as well as how he became a writer and how he came to be a writer.

Brothers and Keepers

John Edgar Wideman

There are 21 books by Wideman about the black experience that are both fiction and nonfiction, and they are all about the experience. Racial prejudice never goes away from his story of growing up in Pittsburgh and how he went to school. His story shows how he and his brother, Robby, took different paths.

How We Fight For Our Lives

Saeed Jones

The feelings Jones had about other men’s bodies when he was a teenager in Texas were hard for him to deal with at first. People who killed James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard taught him that being a black gay boy is a death sentence. Yet Jones stayed strong and embraced his sexuality. His relationship with his Buddhist mother is the heart of this moving story.

Hood Feminism

Mikki Kendall

Black feminists have said that mainstream feminism focuses mostly on the lives of white women. This is a claim that goes back to the Combahee River Collective. Kendall, who lives in Chicago, talks about how feminism doesn’t talk about things like food insecurity and violence. She has chapters after chapters that show how black women have responded to culture. This shows not only what they have been through, but also how they can help.

Busted in New York

Darryl Pinckney

Pinckney has been writing for the New York Review of Books for a long time and is also a novelist. In this collection of essays, there are cultural critiques and in-depth looks at the black experience. He talks about the genius of being black, what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, and President Obama’s legacy. He also talks about his own experiences as a black intellectual.

Things That Make White People Uncomfortable

Michael Bennett and Dave Zirin

“I must also be a witness for those who didn’t make it,” Angela Davis said to Michael Bennett, the NFL player who played for Davis for many years. His book talks about how he grew up in Louisiana, how he went to college, and how he found brotherhood in the NFL during the 2017 protests.

Sleepaway School

Lee Stringer

Stringer wrote about homelessness in “Grand Central Winter,” but in this book, he talks about his early life with his mother and his struggles in the classroom, where he was called a “child at risk.” He does this with surprising and refreshing humor.

Citizen

Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine says that “(B)ecause white men can’t control their imagination, black men are dying.” This is one of her best poems and short stories. When I read “Citizen,” I found myself gasping for air because the writing was so beautiful that my breath was caught in my throat. The book includes personal stories about racism, Hurricane Katrina, Serena Williams, police killings, and more.

The New Jim Crow

The laws known as Jim Crow created a caste system that made it illegal for white people to have more rights than black people did. If you want to know how mass incarceration and courtroom inequality have led to a new caste system, legal scholar Alexander has written a book about it.

Heavy

Kiese Laymon

In 2011, Laymon wrote an essay called “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America,” which shook me to the core. I’d never heard of him before then. When he wrote “Heavy,” he talked about how people can get fat, how sexual violence can happen, and how family ties can make it hard for people to change. Many of the chapters speak directly to his mother and say things that are hard to say.

The Brother You Choose

Susie Day

They met as young men in Baltimore when they were in the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. When Conway was sent to prison in 1970 because of very weak evidence, Coates tried to help him. When Ta-Nehisi Coates’ father, Coates, started Black Classic Press, he kept in touch with Conway, even though Conway was in prison for 44 years. Day has put together and edited their many conversations.

So You Want to Talk About Race

Ijeoma Oluo

Oluo is grateful for the things that black culture has given her, like jazz and the cookout. Then, she also talks about the racism she got in Seattle, where few black people lived. As Oluo talked about the different kinds of discrimination that had happened to her, white people were uncomfortable and left her alone.

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