I have some bad news for people who hope that 2021 will be a better year than the one we’ve had so far, especially for people of color who have been disenfranchised by police. If we do better, things will only get better.
A young black man living in a stressful world has found that reading books written by and for black people has had a huge impact on his outlook. Ten books written by African-American authors have given me the strength to keep going in the face of the huge challenges that our generation faces, and they can help you, too.
By Ralph Ellison
Ralph Ellison’s seminal 1952 book has been called a modern classic for a long time, and it’s right. Since I first read it in high school, I’ve been amazed at how Ellison’s portrayal of Black culture has stayed relevant over the years, especially with the recent Black Lives Matter protests taking place in major cities around the world.
In this story, an unnamed Narrator tells us the story of his life through language as rich as the sweetest of yams. He meets all kinds of vivid, sometimes darkly funny characters as he goes.
Their Eyes Were Watching God
By Zora Neale Hurston
The book Their Eyes Were Watching God was published in 1937, and it changed the world. It was unique, beautiful, and just a great read. She did an excellent job of looking at both the tensions between races in the South and rigid gender roles, as well as how that friction caused by those rigid roles can and did happen.
To understand Janie Crawford’s story, you need to know that as a Black woman in early 20th-century America, you can’t always do what you want because your husband is more likely to do it than you are. Every black man who wants to have a relationship with a black woman should read this book.
The Man Who Cried I Am
By John A. Williams
John Alfred Williams’ globetrotting postwar rumination on race and regret The Man Who Cried I Am was published in 1967, and is imbued with a powerful sense of frustration with racist institutions that continues to enlighten readers all over the world.
The story centers on expatriated Black journalist Max Reddick, who is dying of cancer. In his travels, he discovers a disturbing conspiracy to subvert the Civil Rights Movement, and along the way, encounters several (fictionalized versions of) major historical figures, including James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and Malcolm X.
Between the World and Me
By Ta-Nehisi Coates
For Black men, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates has been a must-read for a long time. Coates writes a letter to his son in which he talks about how the “American Dream,” which he says is a lie built on exploitation and slave labor, isn’t what it seems to be.
So much has already been said about this book, but I feel like I can add my own voice to the chorus of “YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK.”
By Alice Walker
Meridian, by Alice Walker, is set in the 1960s and 70s, during the Civil Rights movement. The book’s protagonist, Meridian Hill, sees the world through her own eyes as she deals with both the social turmoil of the time and a broken romantic relationship as well.
Alice Walker didn’t come up with the term “womanist” until 1979, three years after Meridian was published. This novel is based on the core ideals of that same theory, which is based on valuing the experiences of women of color.
By Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison is one of the true masters of the English language. She wrote Sula in 1973, and it was one of her best books. Only her second book, Sula is told from the point of view of the main character, Nel Wright. It looks at her long, complicated friendship with the main character.
As with Meridian and Their Eyes Were Watching God, Black men can learn to have empathy for Black women by reading a book written by a Black woman and immersing themselves in it. This will open their hearts and minds to things they may not have thought about before.
By Ishmael Reed
Ishmael Reed wrote a book about hoodoo and voodoo traditions in 1972. Reed directly contrasts the Afro-American narrative tradition with “the mainstream” (that is, literary works by white authors).
“Conventional” novel writing isn’t Reed’s style. He uses screenwriting elements, letters, drawings, photos, and more to make the text look more like a screenplay and less like a novel. You have to read this book to believe it, and it’s one that gives Black readers a place where their point of view is made clear.
Freedom Is a Constant Struggle
By Angela Y. Davis
Angela Y. Davis is a well-known activist for social justice, and this book is a must-read for anyone who is even a little interested in the subject. On the other hand, Davis has spent a long time fighting for what’s right. He shows how state-sanctioned violence and previous movements for Black liberation are linked.
For Black men who want to learn more about these increasingly important issues, this is just one of many good places to start.
Bud, Not Buddy
By Christopher Paul Curtis
Bud, Not Buddy might be aimed at kids, but readers of all ages will find Bud’s journey through Depression-era Michigan empathetic, funny, sad, and hopeful.
It was a very bad accident that left Bud Caldwell an orphan and on the run. He has to deal with the institutional racism and economic hardships that were common at the time. However, he finds love and friendship through jazz music, which is seen as an important part of his African-American identity.
When They Call You a Terrorist
By Patrisse Khan-Cullors & asha bandele
When They Call You a Terrorist is part autobiography and part sociological essay. It tells the story of Cullors’ life and how her personal tragedies and radicalization led to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Cullors gives her readers a chance to see how hard it is to change things for the better through Black activism. There are times when it is more important than ever for Black men to put their best foot forward. We should look to Patristee Cullors, and other women of color like her, to show us how we can do that.