It's a year since the massive Black Lives Matter protests of 2021, and now is an excellent time to take stock: how are we doing with our anti-racism? Reading is a great way to learn more about other people and the issues they face, and these are all great examples.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ifemelu left Nigeria years ago, and with it her high school sweetheart. On the verge of returning, she sits in the hairdresser’s and reminisces about how they drifted apart, about the years since and about the harshness of her first few years in America, and wonders if she has forever lost the chance to be with Obinze. This book was deservedly praised for all kinds of reasons, from the skillful prose to the important things it has to say about race in America. If, like for me, phrases like “were lovers long ago” and “…years later, they reconnect”, make a book an auto-buy for you, you might want to add this to your list.
Don't Touch My Hair, by Emma Dabiri
From pre-colonial Africa to today’s Natural Hair Movement, this book is an exploration of all the ways that black hair matters. From styles that served as secret code to lead enslaved Africans to freedom to an exploration of cultural appropriation, Emma Dabiri shows us how “black hairstyling culture can be understood as an allegory for black oppression and, ultimately, liberation”.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, by Balli Kaur Jaswal
Cash-strapped Nikki takes a job teaching creative writing at the local community college. “The proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn English, not short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories… She teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected — and exciting — kind”. But it’s never that simple, is it? Unintended consequences, and all that…
The Jungle, by Pooja Puri
This is a novel of hope in the most desperate of situations. Mico is an unaccompanied minor in what became known as “The Jungle”, a camp near Calais in France where many refugees gathered after fleeing their war-torn homeland. He is tempted to stow aboard a train and illegally enter the UK, only remaining option. But then he meets Leila, and things begin to change.
Good Talk, by Mira Jacob
This graphic memoir was written by Mira Jacob in response to her 6-year-old son’s myriad questions about his half-Jewish, half-Indian identity in the wake of the 2016 election — questions that led her to think hard about race, colour, sexuality, love, and where she got her own answers. Celeste Ng called it “exactly the book America needs at this moment”.
This Green and Pleasant Land, by Ayisha Malik
The author of Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged, now has a book that’s on the more literary end of the spectrum and was called “the standout book of the year” by Abir Mukherjee when it was published. This Green and Pleasant Land follows Bilal and Mariam, who’ve been contentedly living in the village of Babbel’s End but find all that threatened when, on her deathbed, Bilal’s mother asks him to build a mosque in the village. I bet this book would make a great book club pick, too.
Who Am I, Again? by Lenny Henry
My fellow Gen Xers know Sir Lenny Henry best as one of the founders of the charity Comic Relief, which he launched in 1985 alongside Richard Curtis, the screenwriter of Notting Hill and Love Actually fame. The charity has raised well over £1 billion since then, primarily through Red Nose Days, national TV events that makes us laugh and raise money to alleviate poverty in the UK and Africa. But before all that, Lenny Henry grew up in the Midlands with his Jamaican parents and found that his humour helped subdue racist bullying and enabled friendships and snogs – then a successful career in show business. But 1970s Britain was a complicated place for a black teenager, even a successful one – and Who Am I, Again? tells of Lenny Henry’s coming of age against that backdrop.