Not-to-Miss Books for Black History Month

by | Feb 1, 2023 | Art, blog

Since the long-ago historical era of 1986, February has been federally designated as Black History Month. Though corporations love to use this time to slap trite slogans on sweatshirts and photograph their Black employees for social media, there are lots of real, helpful ways to celebrate Black Excellence in the month of February.

Being an avid reader, one of my favorite ways to honor this month is by reading books written by Black authors. Though I try to do this all year long, this month is a helpful reminder to make sure that your books come from a variety of perspectives. You don’t have to take college courses or memorize historical dates to empathize with your BIPOC neighbors (though doing those things doesn’t hurt). Reading books, both fiction and nonfiction, from the Black perspective can give you key insight that is otherwise lost or misunderstood.

Black History Month Book Recommendations

If you’re ready to jump into February as an ally who is committed to listening, learning, and supporting the Black community, here are a few books I would recommend.

Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto by Tricia Hersey

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Tricia Hersey is an insightful writer who has gained a following through The Nap Ministry. Though she began the project as an immersive art experience, Ms. Hersey has devoted her life to using rest as a way to dismantle the violent systems of white supremacy, racism, sexism, and grind culture.

Capitalism, she points out, began during the years of slavery in America. To this day, our economic system relies on the underpaid and underappreciated work of oppressed people, specifically Black people, women, and individuals facing poverty. When these groups refuse to sacrifice their bodies and time to a system that was not built for them, it is the ultimate form of resistance.

This book opened my eyes to the possibility of a new world without grind culture and capitalism. To get there, though, we must first face and dismantle the racist, white supremacist society that we have been clinging to for so long. Definitely an apt lesson for Black History Month.

We Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza

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This novel centers on the story of two lifelong best friends, one White and one Black, who grow up avoiding the tough discussions surrounding their racial differences. When the police in their hometown murder an unarmed Black boy, the two have to reckon with their different perspectives and move forward in an impossible situation.

This book kept me up at night while I read it. Though it is a novel, it presented so many poignant and real scenarios that really made me think. Reading this book is a prime example of how fiction can teach us lessons just as frequently as nonfiction can when it is executed well.

You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi

On a (slightly) lighter note, this novel centers around a recently widowed Black woman who begins to explore dating and sexuality following her husband’s death. She vacations to a tropical island where she indulges in good food, self-reflection, and some X-rated shenanigans.

I liked this book for a lot of reasons, but I think it’s an appropriate reminder that the Black experience is not all about the big issues. If we do not acknowledge moments of Black joy, grief, frustration, loneliness, excitement, confusion, sexuality, etc., we are ignoring the depth and humanness of the Black community and doing everyone a grave disservice by reducing our friends and neighbors to two-dimensional caricatures of their race.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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In this debut novel, Yaa Gyasi explores how the slave trade affects two African girls over generations. Seeing how each of their families develops in the wake of their different scenarios provides an insightful read about the burden of generational trauma and the lasting impact of the slave trade. This is a great choice for those who wonder why we still talk about the slave trade and a testament to why insisting that the Black community should “get over it” is ignorant and racist.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Though I read this book many years ago, it was an instant favorite when I did. The story follows a Nigerian woman as she immigrates to the United States to attend college. As she remains in the country and grows up, she has sharp insight into American culture and the challenges that Black people face that often go unnoticed by the White community.

This book provides great examples of micro and macroaggressions that happen in everyday life, whether White people notice them or not. Some of these offenses are still second nature to most of us, preventing us from moving forward in dismantling racism and white supremacy.

Hood Feminism: Notes From the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Kendall, Mikki - 0525560548 by Viking | Thriftbooks.com

This book talks about the many issues that impact Black women and the ways in which White feminism has left the Black community behind. It is a strong testament to intersectionality and the powerlessness of all marginalized groups when we fight against each other. This book raised issues that had never crossed my mind, which is usually the sign of a good book. If you are a woman, love a woman, or have a heart, you should pick this one up.

Black Writing Isn’t Just for February

Though I focused on contemporary writers here, there are countless Black writers throughout history that provide insight, perspective, and entertainment through their writing: Zora Neale Hurston, Octavia Butler, August Wilson, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Langston Hughes, to name a few.

I know that no matter how much I read, I will never know what it is like to live in the American system as a Black person. The above are books that helped me learn big lessons, and those lessons would not be possible without the generosity, talent, and patience of Black writers. The American literary community (and all the other communities, too, let’s be honest) owe so much to the history of Black people in this country. May we make time, especially this month, to honor their impact and listen to their perspectives.

If you have a hard time telling your story on your own, our writers are here to help.

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Gabby Vandenavond