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The Importance of Black Literature in Learning and Understanding Black History

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

In 2020, there finally came a demonstrable and global confrontation of racism impossible to ignore. Following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, protests meandered through cities across the world demanding reform to the systems that were constructed by whites, served whites, and overtly upheld racial injustices against non-whites. It was unmissable, universally.

Alongside the protests, the anger and the outrage, there also came a loud curiosity to learn. Insight into black history (that school classrooms never came close to addressing) was sought. Interest for how non-performative allyship could be performed vastly increased. And, important conversations involving confronting ignorance and unconscious bias were ubiquitous. In light of this, black literature was launched into focus.

Quite appropriately, in this limelight, were narratives surrounding discrimination and pain. Appetite for wider knowledge was so high that records were literally broken; Reni Eddo-Lodge achieved what no British Black author had ever done before by topping the UK literature charts with her novel: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. In many ways, everything that was happening felt like a revolution.

The unprecedented demand for Black authored books arrived concurrently with interest in Black art as a whole. Films and documentaries by Black directors and about the Black experience detailed important histories of slavery, and addressed associated themes that linger today, segregation and oppression. Being anti-racist was the conversation, in person and online. And quite rightfully so.

Whilst I believe that these books and films remain essential resources, and the importance of demonstrations in highlighting the reality of injustices experienced throughout Black lives’ past and present should not be undermined – there is also a rich array of books celebrating joyful Black lives to be explored. Stories of love, of family, of joy and colourful culture – that should not be overlooked or ignored. Afterall, isn’t it just as important that together with a much-needed increased awareness of the systematic injustices at large, we also nurture an interest and appreciation in the culture as a whole?

In my view, respect can additionally be practiced by welcoming art that demonstrating how Black lives are so much more than suffering. We can immerse ourselves into narratives that capture everyday chronicles of Black lives in which there is a vivacity in spite of rampant prejudice. This, of course, benefits us as readers who get to explore wonderful stories of experiences that go beyond our own. But in addtion to this, the more we of this literature we consume, the more freedom BIPOC authors will have to go beyond the marketable (and hence, profitable) generics of a trauma-rooted story.

Black History Month’s conclusion does not signify that the conversation and learning about Black culture should stop. If you’re in search of a way to continue your learning journey, or simply want to immerse yourself in beautiful literature, here are 3 titles I loved, written by Black Authors, accompanied with a short description why:

Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun

This short story, set in San Francisco, follows the life of a wonderfully compelling English professor called Morayo as she prepares to celebrate her 75th birthday. Full of life and energy, this novella is beautifully uplifting as it moves between past and present and touchingly recounts experiences of ageing in a dreamlike prose. I feel sure that I will come back to this book in a few months and find new things I love about it.

My sister, the serial killer

Despite the title, this novel is as much about sisterhood, friendship and loyalty as it is about murder itself. Although shy of 250 pages, it closely and intricately captures the details of Korede’s life, a young Nigerian Nurse whose sister has an interesting tendency to kill her ex-boyfriends. Rammed full of incredibly dark wit, this book is entirely unique, smart, and sarcastic. It ticks all my boxes.

Love in Colour 

In my eyes, this complication of short stories perfectly explores the theme of love from varying angles and through various lenses. These beautifully written reimagined myth and folklore tales, from West Africa to the Far East, back to Ancient Greece, are a true celebration of romance. I have no hesitancy saying that it is one of the best anthologies I have read, and certainly the one I have thought back to most in the weeks since reading. The multiple perspective approach is one I truly love.

Hannah Eva

Nottingham '22

Hi, I'm Hannah. I'm studying English at the Uni of Nottingham. I am interested in sports, travel, sustainability and raising awareness about mental health!
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