The Fourth of July is often the highlight of the summer; great food, great weather, fireworks…these are ingredients for an amazing party. Whether you’re celebrating at a family barbecue or walking on Coney Island’s famous boardwalk, the purpose of the holiday is to reflect our nation’s history and how we acquired our freedom. However, oftentimes when people discuss America’s independence they forget that many black people were still slaves when the Declaration of Independence was signed. This concept of freedom and equality we see are brought up during today’s Black Lives Matter protests. So let’s look at some books that paint a fuller picture of the history of America, and the hunger for true freedom.
1. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
In a nutshell: this is a book everyone from every walk of life should read. I’ve read it several times in my life and each time I learn something new; Douglass’ memoir shows me how far we’ve come, but yet how much we have left to do. Definitely a staple. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is an 1845 memoir and treatise on abolition written by famous orator and former slave Frederick Douglass. It recounts Douglass’ life as a slave and his ambition to become a free man.
2. Home to Harlem
Home to Harlem is like your favorite pair of jeans, it only gets better with age. Oftentimes when discussing racism against the black community, groups like Afro-latinx, Afro-caribbean and Africans are left out. Not to mention the xenophobia they face from various angles. As an Afro-Carribean-American woman this book spoke to me; it highlighted the turmoil many West Indians face and the tensions between the African American community that are overlooked. It’s a masterpiece. Plus it takes place during the Harlem Renaissance? Add it to your cart folks.
I could’ve focused this entire list on the Harlem Renaissance, and still the books would’ve been both informative and enriched with beautiful culture. Even though that time period is often romanticized, it’s important to remember the racism, sexism, colorism and xenophobia those people had to endure. A lot of those forms of discrimination still exist today; if we’re honest a lot of those people are still around today. Nella Larsen’s Passing is another timeless piece. In this famous novel, we see that not everyone is free and that many hide their true selves to be treated fairly. Clare Kendry is living on the edge. Light-skinned, elegant, and ambitious, she is married to a racist white man unaware of her African American heritage, and has severed all ties to her past after deciding to “pass” as a white woman. Clare’s childhood friend, Irene Redfield, just as light-skinned, has chosen to remain within the African American community, and is simultaneously allured and repelled by Clare’s risky decision to engage in racial masquerade for personal and societal gain. After frequenting African American-centric gatherings together in Harlem, Clare’s interest in Irene turns into a homoerotic longing for Irene’s black identity that she abandoned and can never embrace again, and she is forced to grapple with her decision to pass for white in a way that is both tragic and telling.
4. Dear White People
If you know me, you know I had to put a new kid on the list. Dear White People, A Guide To Inter-Racial Harmony in ‘Post-Racial’ America is the guide I’ve been looking for my entire life. Maneuvering this country without tips as a person of color can be confusing; situations like school, work and social gatherings all require a different process than your non-black peers. It’s stressful to say the least. However, this guide is everything I wish I had going into college and more. To feel like someone understands you, doesn’t go unseen.
Not to mention it was adapted into the brilliant Netflix show, Dear White People. The show is funny, relatable and most importantly does a great job capturing the black experience (and teaching it beautifully to those outside of that community). It’s a great show to educate yourself during these tense times. So if you need me I’ll be waiting for season 3.