12 Books You Need to Read This Black History Month

The Pioneer Staff

This year, our staff members here at the Pioneer each read a book or article that discusses the Black experience. Take a look at our 2021 Black History Month recommended reads!


The Birth of Black is Beautiful Movement by Precious Adesina (Recommended by Sam Nunez)

The article “The Birth of Black is Beautiful Movement” by Precious Adesina looks into the life of Black photographer, Kwame Brathwaite, and how his group of models were the face of the Black is Beautiful movement during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Brathwaite and his brother, Elombe Brath, were a part of the African Jazz-Art Society and Studios, who organized a fashion show in Harlem on January 28, 1962. Black women modeled and strut on stage showing their natural afro hair, clothing from Africa, and embracing their bodies. They were known as “Grandassa Models” (taken from Grandassaland, a word referring to Africa by Black Nationalist Carlos Cooks). After the success of the fashion show, Brathwaite took the Grandassa Models to more events spreading the idea of “Black is Beautiful,” through their style, outfits and expressions, which is what he incorporates in his photos. Today, there are many Black photographers who are inspired by Brathwaite’s work and capture Black men and women’s beauty right in front of us. 

It’s important for one to read this article because of value the Black is Beautiful Movement has on the Black community. It was created to highlight Black beauty in magazines that were usually not shown, and make others take pride in themselves and feel confident. The Grandassa Models are one example of representation of their self-pride and confidence that comes from the natural side they express in pictures. The photos were taken from the 50s through the 70s, leaving an impact on Black culture since it encourages to show their true identity that defines them through fashion, art, achievements, culture and appreciation. 


Stars and The Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus (Recommended by Tyra Hughes)

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them , by Junauda Petrus is a beautiful depiction of Black queer love, quilted between the perspectives of 16 year old Trinidadian immigrant, Audre, and 16 year old Mabel who is trying to understand her own sexuality and her illusive illness at her home in Minneapolis. When Audre is forced to come live in America with her dad after being caught with her secret girlfriend, she at first detests the idea of leaving behind her unfinished relationship and grandmother Queenie behind. While Mabel acquaints herself with Audre and realizes that her feelings for her run deeper than a surface level friendship, back home Queenie maintains a close relationship with Audre, assuring her that she’ll never lose touch of her Trinidadian roots in America. As her best friend and confidante Queenie helps ground Audre into her own roots through her strong spiritual background, using her memory of Trinidadian beach as her religion. 

Petrus, a self-described “writer, astro lover, soul sweetener”, further expands upon Queenie’s spiritual background and Audre’s personal spiritual journey by naming each chapter one of the 12 astrology signs, and prefacing them with a poem about each sign. Junauda Petrus’ debut novel uses cultural references to astrology, the Black experience in America and the immigrant narrative, all wrapped up into a gut-wrenching coming of age queer love story. For me, that’s everything and more, that I look for in literature.

Petrus perfectly represents genuine love, mentorship and friendship in a story of what it’s like to be Black in America from various perspectives: teenagers, incarcerated Black men, immigrants and queer women. When I read this book, I was immediately drawn to how Petrus so beautifully depicts an authentic immigrant voice in the chapters written from Audre’s perspective. When she writes in the Caribbean tongue that my Guyanese background could easily detect, I felt seen in literature in a way that no other book has ever made me feel. This was the first book I read that gave homage to Caribbean immigrants, and I loved that. It also gives representation to Black queer love, unapologetically at that, and all of the awkward ins and outs of coming of age love stories.

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them is available to purchase on Amazon for $13


All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (Recommended by Paige Palent)

All American Boys isn’t just a book, I learned after reading it. I’ve owned it since December, but I have never had the chance to read it; when someone finally recommended it in class, I knew I just had to read it, especially after enjoying Jason Reynold’s Ghost and Patina so much. I think this is one of the best books I’ve ever read. This book is incredibly powerful and realistic and it focuses on racism and police brutality. It is a double-pov type of book; it shows Quinn and Rashad’s point of view, Rashad being the victim of police brutality and Quinn being a bystander. Throughout the book, we can see both of them develop and grow as people, Quinn especially. First, Quinn believes that the cop was simply doing their job, but as the book progresses, Quinn starts to deeply think and realize that it was an act of police brutality, and no longer wants to be a bystander and joins protests and marches. 

Rashad is an artist, and a majority of his POV is him in the hospital. Rashad is constantly having a crisis within himself, realizing that he will never be the same once he gets out of the hospital. Even though Quinn is impacted by Rashad immensely, they never cross paths in the book. 

Why is this book so immaculate and most of all, important? I would say it’s important to read because it tackles real-life issues from a point of view that may be relatable to some, but later relatable to others. In short, it’s realistic and it doesn’t sugarcoat anything. It teaches readers that you should never be a bystander during any situation of police brutality or anything like it; because you’ll end up also being the oppressor. This book reminds it’s readers that you should always speak up when you believe something is not right if you have the capability to, and that you should always fight for what is right, even if it may go against your own moral compass. 

Nonetheless, this book is absolutely breathtaking (even though I’m sure you’ve read it — we can talk about it sometime!) and it’s beautifully written. I’m not one who usually reads realistic fiction, usually reading historical fiction because of one particular book that stole my heart, but Jason Reynolds is still one of my favorite authors. 


Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? By Beverly Daniel Tatum

(Recommended by Jillian Russell)

For Black History Month, and in general, a book that I would highly recommend is Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum. This is a classic and best selling book on the psychology of racism. Beverly Daniel Tatum, a psychologist and educator, discusses the dynamics of racism in America, racism in the eyes of the youth, and how our racial identities are essential. This book provides an examination of racial experiences in America. Dr. Tatum’s purpose of the book is to help others move beyond the fear, anger, and denial to a new understanding of what racism is, how it impacts all of us and ultimately what we can do about it.

This book is an absolute must read! I suggest reading this book as it serves as a guide towards how to have an effective and healthy conversation on the topic of racism. Essentially, it’s a 101 on how racism exists and how we could all do and be better. With this book being 20+ years old, there are some new factors that have to be taken into consideration. However, this book has a purpose that has yet to be implementented. These intended conversations are needed now, more than ever.  Although this book is targeted towards parents and teachers, I definitely think everyone can benefit from the conversations found within.

This book is available to purchase on Amazon and Barnes & Noble


Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Recommended by Kaya Schultz)

Synopsis: Americanah is centered around Ifemelu, a Nigerian immigrant who leaves Nigeria in hopes of a better education at Princeton in New Jersey. The novel highlights Ifemelu’s struggle with finding her true identity in a racist country. After growing up in Nigeria, a country where everyone looks like her, Ifemelu is shocked by how her race affects her in America. In fact, she even goes as far to state, “I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America”(359). Despite being very intelligent, Ifemelu immediately struggles with life in America and fails to find a job and ultimately falls into depression. She then resorts to conforming to white American culture in which she finds success as she starts dating Curt, a wealthy white man, and gets a decent job. However, she later realizes that this is not who she truly is so she breaks up with Curt and chooses to embrace her Nigerian culture. She later returns to Nigeria and rekindles her childhood relationship with Obinze, her true love. 

Why you should read this book: I read this book this summer and I absolutely loved it. Besides it being beautifully written, there is so much to take away from it. Following Ifemelu’s journey is so eye opening and really gives you a first hand impression of racism in America. There are the clearcut racist encounterments such as Ifemelu having to relax her hair for job interviews but there are also little things that Ifemelu picks up on. When she is dating Curt, someone who is trying to be as racially sensitive and aware as possible, she still claims that “there were, simply, times that he saw and times that he was unable to see”(364). Also following Ifemelu through her battle with conformity or authenticity is something that I am unfamiliar with so it was really eye opening to see her personal development and how she ultimately embraces her true self. There is also a fascinating love story that takes place throughout the novel which adds more insight into the Nigerian culture and the true meaning of love. 

Americanah can be purchased on Amazon through this link .


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Recommended by Ben Albert)

When it comes to works of literature discussing the black experience in America, the book Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is one that cannot be ignored.  The book is written by Coates as a letter to his teenage son in order to give his son insight into the harsh realities of being black in America. The book is divided into three parts, and each part Coates discusses different aspects of his life and the black experience. In part one, Coates discusses his childhood years growing up in the dangerous West Baltimore area. It is during this time where he first notes the division between black and white people in his neighborhood and begins to explore his African heritage through the teachings of many different writers. He then goes on to attend Howard University where he begins to further his knowledge and beliefs regarding black history and the black experience in America. Part two discusses a police murder of a black man Coates knew from Howard, which leaves him furious with police and white people in general. He begins to struggle with the fear of being black in America, but a trip to France gives him some perspective on what life is like outside of America. Finally, part three acts as a kind of reflection of many different things discussed in the book such as police brutality, the civil rights movement, and Coates’ time at Howard University. He ends by reminding his son that he must fully embrace not only being black, but the struggle and tribulations that come with it. 

This is a very important book for someone to read in order to gain some understanding of what it is like to be black in the United States. The book provides genuine and real-life insight into not only how difficult it is to be black, but the thoughts and experiences of a black man as well. Coates’ words will truly change your perspective on these issues and there is no doubt that you will learn some things about the black experience that you did not know before. Given the current social climate, it is important to be conscious and aware of what black people go through every day, and this is a book that will show you that. Overall, it is an incredibly well written book that has the potential to change not only your perspective, but your life as well. If you give it a read, you may become a better person for it. 


Parent Like It Matters: The Essential Read for Caregivers Everywhere

(Recommended by Marley Dias)

Parent Like it Matters: How to Raise Joyful, Change Making Girls is a go-to guide for parents everywhere. With a powerful combination of social science research, honest and hilarious anecdotes, and some great tips and guiding questions, Dr. Janice Johnson Dias gives her all to parents. I have had the privilege to be an early reader, but when the book releases on March 2nd, it is a definite great gift for mother’s day, baby showers, and birthdays of all kinds. After years of experience in both academia and a daughter who has found success with her #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign, Dr. Johnson Dias shares her stories of triumph and failure openly. With a beautiful book like this, there will be so many more joyful, change-making girls within our communities. 

I chose to highlight this book because of its boundless potential and personal connections to the author. This was written by my mom, Dr. Janice Johnson Dias, and I am so immensely proud of her I knew it was only fitting to share it with others. Although I am slightly biased, it is clear from the early reviews and blurbs that the book has been well received, and I want to celebrate my mom’s successes. As an immigrant who moved to the United States at 12, I know that her life has been full of her stories being muted and having to fight back, but she proves with this book that by sharing your story you can motivate others to do the same. I am full of pride, and she has achieved a feat that should not go unnoticed. 


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (Recommended by Royson Folas)

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an autobiography that describes the early life of poet and writer, Maya Angelou in the 1930s. Written in 1969, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, shows that with perseverance and determination anyone can overcome even the most difficult adversities. Throughout her book, Maya experience countless hardships such as rape, racism, and trauma. Many of these instances leave her physically and mentally depleted. But instead of crumbling in the face of misfortune, she displays her resilience and uses her love for literature to grow. In the end, she is able to use her experiences to become a strong individual and graduate high school. 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the perfect coming of age story for all teenagers around the world, but especially for American teens, as it highlights the reality of African American lives in the 1900s. The traumatic instance of Maya being raped by her own family member followed up with the numerous occurrences of racism in her life should be too much to bear for one person. But Maya exemplifies resilience as she is able to become successful despite everything life throws at her. Not only does I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings summarize the African American experience in the 1900s, it also teaches readers that when life knocks you down, it shows strength to stand up and fight back. 

This book can be purchased on Amazon.


The Importance of Black History and Why It Should be Celebrated (Recommended by Matthew Iannone)

“The Importance of Black History and Why It Should Be Celebrated” talks all about how important Black History Month is in America. It goes on to say how the month of February keeps Americans informed about tragedies of the past, and it allows others to celebrate how far they have come. The article also goes on to talk about the impactful role Black History Month is to black-owned businesses as well as how Black history is the driving force of American culture.

This article is important for people to read because it informs you on how important Black History Month is for this country. It gives people background as to why Black History Month was started, as well as reasoning as to why it should be celebrated. The article also provides a look at some notable figures in the black community. These people include Carter Godwin Goodson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and Noelle Trent.


The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (Recommended by Devin Wilkes)

Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, exposes the cruel impact of white beauty standards through the tragic life of Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl living in Lorain, Ohio during the late-1940s. The events of The Bluest Eye are not told chronologically and are instead a combination of the voices and stories of two narrators. The first narrator is Claudia MacTeer, who reminisces on her childhood as she tells the story of what happened to Pecola when they were little girls, and her chapters are marked by seasons. An omniscient narrator weaves their narratives with Claudia’s as they introduce people and events that helped to mold Pecola’s desolate life. Influenced by popular white culture and advertising, and the nasty words she hears from those around her, Pecola believes that she is ugly, and if she had blue eyes, her problems would be solved. 

Morrison juxtaposes the experiences of several characters and describes the harshness of Pecola’s environment, ultimately leads to a tragedy that reflects the impact of racism within white America as well as within the black community. As the novel unfolds, the author exposes the deep, psychological damage that white supremacy has done to African-Americans, whether through beauty standards or the mentalities carried throughout history from as early as the slave trade.

Despite the fact that The Bluest Eye was written in 1970 and takes place in the years following the Great Depression, the novel’s themes are still relevant in the present day. While the media is much more diverse today than it was several decades ago, the consequences of white America’s definition of beauty can still be seen. For example, almost every Netflix show that centers around teenagers features a “token black girl,” and she is usually a reflection of white standards; light skin with loose curls and Eurocentric features. Growing up watching shows on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, it was rare to see black female characters that looked like me and were not used as comedic side characters who portrayed problematic stereotypes. 

Luckily, I was surrounded by beautiful black women who reminded me of my beauty and self-worth, so I did not suffer the trauma that girls like Pecola Breedlove go through. Many black girls, however, do not have this luxury. The Bluest Eye is an important piece of literature because it presents an overlooked aspect of the African-American experience; the psychological burden of racism, colorism, and misogyny on black women. The novel does not only discuss the friction between black and white America, but also the friction among black people, a product of self-hatred that stems from the influence of white supremacy.  Morrison’s novel emphasizes the weight of these issues, and that as long as they are ignored, they will continue to permeate within every generation.

This book can be purchased on Amazon through this link.


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Recommended by Marissa Edelman)

The Hate U Give, written by Angie Thomas, is a realistic fiction novel published in 2018. The book follows the protagonist, Starr Carter, a young black woman as she learns to use her voice against the institutional racism that she begins to realize is around her. Starr began going to a prep school outside of her urban neighborhood that begins to reveal the contrast between the opportunities she is afforded in her neighborhood versus the opportunities the white students are afforded. At the same time as starting a new school, she goes to a party with a friend from her neighborhood. At the party, she sees a childhood friend, Khalil. After hearing gunshots, Khalil offers her a ride home, during the drive they are stopped by a police officer with badge number #115. The police do not give them a reason why he was pulled over and begin to search him. Khalil tries to open the door to check on Starr when he is fatally shot by the police officer. Throughout the book, the plot follows Starr, her family and friends along Khalil’s trial, and the aftermath of Khalil’s murder. Along the way, Starr struggles to have her voice, which society tries so hard to silence, be heard yet she preserves and emphasizes the importance of using her voice for people like Khalil, whose voice was taken away too soon. 

This novel reveals the corruption within society, and how it keeps black people in America oppressed. Revealing, how our institutions were made and maintained in a way that keeps black people from having the same access to opportunities. At the beginning of the book, Starr feels out of place in her neighborhood while getting opportunities they were not getting while being at a predominantly white school. When she goes back to her school, after the shooting of her friend she feels out of place there. An important lesson for all readers to understand, even when getting the opportunities that white students were getting she is not getting the same opportunities. She still lives in a system meant to repress the voice of black America. Yet, even though efforts are made to repress her voice and the government does not always listen to her. She continues to use her voice to help change the system. 

This book can be purchased on Amazon here.


A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (Recommended by Justin Peters)

A Raisin in the Sun is about the Youngers’ family, a small working-class family dealing with many obstacles such as racism and economic problems. When Mr. Younger dies, an insurance check for $10,000 comes, and everyone has some different ideas about what they should do with the money. Ruth discovers that she has become pregnant, but doesn’t want the baby to become a burden for their family and is considering having an abortion. Walter Lee has nothing to say about this matter, but before Ruth makes her decision, Mama decides to put a down payment on the house of their dreams in Clybourne Park, the middle of an all white neighborhood. When their soon-to-be neighbors learn that a black family will be moving next door, they try to bribe them to leave and send Mr. Lindner, from Clybourne Park Improvement Association to do it. Of course the Youngers refuse, because they have finally found the house of their dreams! Unfortunately, Walter loses the rest of the money not spent on the down payment to his “friend” Willy Harris who had run off with their $6,500 that Walter had wanted to invest in a liquor store. Beneatha is proposed to by Joseph Asagai who wanted her to get her medical degree and then move with him to Africa. The Youngers eventually decided that they would move out of the apartment and into their dream home.

 

This book/play is an important staple in black culture for three main reasons. The first reason is to emphasize the value and importance of dreams. The book/play is about dreams, as the main characters struggle to deal with the oppressive circumstances that rule their lives. The title of the play references a conjecture that Langston Hughes famously posed in a poem he wrote about dreams that were forgotten or put off. He wonders whether those dreams shrivel up “like a raisin in the sun.” Every member of the Younger family has a separate, individual dream. The second reason is to emphasize the need to fight racial discrimination. Mr. Lindner and the people he represents can only see the color of the Younger family’s skin, and his offer to bribe the Youngers to keep them from moving threatens to tear apart the Younger family and the values for which it stands. Ultimately, the Youngers respond to this discrimination with defiance and strength. The book/play powerfully demonstrates that the way to deal with discrimination is to stand up to it and reassert one’s dignity in the face of it rather than allow it to pass unchecked. The third and final reason is to emphasize the importance of family. Mama strongly believes in the importance of family, and she tries to teach this value to her family as she struggles to keep them together and functioning. They are still strong individuals, but they are now individuals who function as part of a family. When they begin to put the family and the family’s wishes before their own, they merge their individual dreams with the family’s overarching dream.

This book can be purchased on Amazon here.