These 5 books by Black women are must-reads this month – and any month

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Author bell hooks explores the complicated nature of Black womanhood.

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Black women were expunged from the suffrage movement and overlooked during the civil rights movement. Naturally, written works are a direct and succinct way to write ourselves back into history.

These five classic literary works – from bell hooks, Joan Morgan, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Brittney Cooper, and Audre Lorde – serve as manifestoes by Black women when it comes to articulating our unique experience. They are also must reads, especially during Black History Month.

Why We Wrote This

Understanding America’s past requires listening to those who have been denied a place in the historical record. Black women writers have confronted marginalization, our columnist notes, to build a fuller picture of the nation’s past – and present.

Black feminist thought has become crucial to how we navigate the social, economic, and political currents in America. To understand the consequences of pervasive racist narratives that seep into mainstream media – as well as into public policy and legislation – we must first examine how these narratives affect one of this country’s most vulnerable populations: Black women. 

Too often, the societal contributions of Black women are erased, undervalued, or credited to others. We are forced to be our own biggest advocates and we are compelled to fight for the opportunity to express our truths, all while educating folks who are ignorant of our realities. 

Black women were expunged from the suffrage movement and overlooked during the civil rights movement. Naturally, written works are a direct and succinct way to write ourselves back into history. These five classic literary works serve as manifestoes by Black women when it comes to articulating our unique experience. They are also must-reads, especially during Black History Month.

Why We Wrote This

Understanding America’s past requires listening to those who have been denied a place in the historical record. Black women writers have confronted marginalization, our columnist notes, to build a fuller picture of the nation’s past – and present.

“Ain’t I a Woman” by bell hooks

This 1981 book by feminist icon bell hooks is named after a famous speech given by Sojourner Truth at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. It examines the complicated nature of Black womanhood, especially as it pertains to the legacy of slavery, fetishization of Black women’s bodies, and sexism as it related to the Black nationalism movement. A strong and sobering read, “Ain’t I a Woman” grapples with a disturbing history that has always worked to degrade Black women.

“When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down” by Joan Morgan 

Hip-hop is often regarded as the most powerful genre of music on the planet. However, the women who support it are often the subject of its vitriolic lyrics – so where do they find safety? Joan Morgan’s book examines this complexity through a series of essays that deconstruct the “strong Black woman” archetype. At first glance, the concept of hip-hop feminism – women of color enjoying frequently misogynistic music – would seem to be a paradox. However, hip-hop feminism empowers Black women to acknowledge this and actively participate in the culture while embracing their identity. Ms. Morgan explains the importance of this concept with wisdom, power, and grace.

“On Intersectionality: Essential Writings” by Kimberlé Crenshaw

Not only did Kimberlé Crenshaw coin the word “intersectionality,” a framework that describes how compounding marginalized identities can either help or harm someone, but she also composed an anthology of essays that explore its prevalence. Published in 2017, “On Intersectionality: Essential Writings” is a comprehensive look at how discrimination and racism have beleaguered the United States – and Black women – for centuries. Ms. Crenshaw is a critical theorist whose work has aided in the normalization of radical feminism.

“Eloquent Rage” by Brittney Cooper 

The most captivating element of this book is the way that it explains how anger can be a vital attribute yet is almost always condemned in a Black woman. Brittney Cooper puts things into political perspective by examining the dangerous shortcomings of white feminism and how it leaves out Black women. “Eloquent Rage” intertwines lived experience with faith, friendship, and fiery resolve. Her book is a reclamation of Black fury and informs readers – specifically Black women – that passion does indeed have a purpose.

CSU Archives/Everett Collection/Newscom
Poet Audre Lorde’s identity crossed multiple categories.

“Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches” by Audre Lorde 

Audre Lorde’s identity has always consisted of many components: Black woman, lesbian, mother, poet, and feminist. Finding her place in a racist, capitalistic, and patriarchal society is the very core of her work. “Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches” is a strong example of this: She focuses on communal ills such as homophobia, ageism, police brutality, and violence against women. When it comes to studying Black feminism, this canonical book is foundational in unpacking critical social issues. 

Candace McDuffie is a cultural columnist and author of the recently published book “50 Rappers Who Changed the World.”

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