ZAMI: A NEW SPELLING OF MY NAME
BY AUDRE LORDE
Audre Lorde would have been 80 on the snowy day I started reading this book in February, 2014. Zami is a revelation. Lorde's descriptions of making love to women are revolutionary. Her prose reads like poetry. I found particular meaning in Lorde's struggle with loving white women - the unsophisticated racial politics of bohemian 1960's New York made for a strange space to explore a black lesbian identity. Lorde has incredible patience and grace when navigating intersectional love.
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America
by Melissa V. Harris-Perry
MHP is brilliant, obviously. I'm with Ta-Nehisi on this one. (And everything.) Sister Citizen is a thorough examination of the structural and persistent oppression of black women. It's an academic text written accessibly and for a wide audience, informed equally by literature, personal narratives, and original research. I occasionally get the feeling that some of the points MHP makes throughout the book would be less than revelatory to communities experiencing the types of discrimination she highlights, particularly black folks.
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
by Audre Lorde
Classic, moving, powerful. I find Lorde's grace in the face of anger to be particularly stunning. Love and forgiveness are so central to her philosophy of change. That's challenging for me. But that makes her work even more crucial. Plus, there's something for everyone in the particular perspective of a black lesbian mother who often discusses the politics of being with a white partner. Lorde uses her intersectional identities to make room for anyone in her approach to the struggle for equality.
Feminist Theory from Margin to Center
by bell hooks
This was the first book on feminist theory I ever read. It took me about a month. This is not a long book, but every sentence challenges what I have been implicitly and explicitly taught by a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (bell's words) for 21.5 years. I came out of it worried, confused, inspired, furious, and disappointed. But also equipped with the vocabulary and frameworks to push back. bell will stick with you through your self-education. But you have to put in the damn work.
The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
I'm not shy in expressing my love for Ta-Nehisi Coates' writing. He's such an important and visionary voice. You should read his blog at the Atlantic, please. Coates' style provides the pure pleasure associated with reading great fiction - words washing over you, etc - complemented by the sharp eye and acute analysis of an experienced cultural critic and essayist. In this memoir, he digs deep to explore his years growing up in one of the harder parts of Baltimore. His father, a former Black Panther, pushed the Knowledge on his sons relentlessly and to much protest. His educational efforts were hit-and-miss until Coates' slow ascension to Consciousness in his late teens opened his eyes to the burden, history, and potential of his identities. Coates portrays his success narrative as being in some ways just one among many, calling out how the futures of black boys are so often subject to a particular cocktail of luck and circumstance. Read this.
Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics
by bell hooks
Written in 2000, this is bell's attempt at an introduction to feminist principles. It's stunning. She accomplishes her goal of describing and explaining all the major pillars of her brand of feminism. I often recommend this book to folks - especially men - just starting out in feminist pursuit. However, I do think readers are in danger of taking this book too lightly. bell is fucking tough. Her theory is deep. And just because this is a short book, it shouldn't be read quickly or without full attention. It's chewy. Get down to it.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander
This book is revolutionary. If you are at all interested in how the US government has been consistently and unapologetically violating the human and constitutional rights of millions of black men - and you should be - Michelle Alexander will illuminate the cruelest aspects of our justice system that white people would generally rather ignore. While some have critiqued Alexander for primarily focusing on the impact of the drug war on black men, she makes a good case in her introduction for why she limits her scope. Rather than critique, we should see TNJC as an invitation to continue the research trajectory she helped to pioneer.
High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Knew About Drugs and Society
by Dr. Carl Hart
Yeah, the title kinda says it all. Dr. Hart has done extensive and groundbreaking research challenging the general public's assumption that drug addiction is a) an inevitability of drug use, and b) causes irrational and/or violent behavior among addicts. Full of accessible brain talk, High Price is both politically and scientifically important. Dr. Hart incorporates poignant tales of his own adolescent experiences with drug use and users, maintaining dignity, perspective, and respect when discussing those involved in the drug trade. Dr. Hart is also featured in the movie The House I Live In, which is a cornerstone of the public conversation about the war on drugs.