Hi Guys and a happy Monday to you! I am particularly happy today because this weekend my brother visited my family and I from Long Beach. I also turned the television off and blocked out the horrible, tragic event of last week. Now, I have come back with fresh ideas to tackle some important issues that need to be addressed. Hope I have your support.
As many of you know, February is Black History Month. I shed a little light on the matter in a previous post HERE. Blacks have one of the most rich, unique and tragic histories of all races. From being royals and conquerors and worshipped in ancient times to being slaves in the cotton industry, from being victims of modern-day apartheid to being President of the United States, through it all or because of it all they are one of the most diverse groups the human kind has ever seen. However, in the last 500-600 years or so their mistreatment has been based on nothing, but the color of their skin. And in many opinions that has affected their identity more than even they think. Yes, we assume the basis of their plight are social and economical, but I think this could be as deep as their sources of identity. From centuries of oppression and history books written about it, it is no wonder that blacks are among the poorest and ill-fated races history has seen. Today, I hope to change just that.
I see blacks as one of the most diverse races around. Blacks can be dark, they can be light, they can have light-colored hair and eyes, they can be rich and they can be poor, but they are always black. Moving further, defining blacks as part of one religious group is short-sighted as well. There are black Christians, Muslims, and Jews, and maybe even Black Hindus and Buddhists; however, they all share experiences where their identity has been given TO them for centuries without any explanation or tools to investigate it. I think the reality somewhat changed in the 20th century due to the Black Renaissance movement of the 1920’s. I studied Black Renaissance in college and learned that during this era blacks really carved their own niche and consequently their identity with music, art, literature, and film. Since I am a literature major, I will focus on some of my favorite books to explore black identity with.
The books I selected are varied based on different black experiences. Some novels listed are written by blacks and some are not. They are meant to be celebrated rather than be a source of anger. So please read these books as pieces of anthropological relics all telling stories important to the black identity.
Langston Hughes (See HERE): His poems were some of the most personal poems I connected with in college. To be a minority in your birthplace and then on top of that be made to feel oppressed is a human condition not many of us experience. Langston Hughes poignantly uses beautiful imagery and symbolism as self-expression of what black identity in Harlem and in America really was. He does a brilliant job illustrating a colorful life as being the African-American experience.
The Bluest Eye (See HERE): “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison was one of the most endearing and at the time scariest books to read. Endearing because its main protagonist is a little black girl who thinks having blue eyes is a sign of ultimate beauty. Being engrained that being light-skinned is a source of power and affluence, she thinks if she had blue eyes, it would solve all her problems of not “fitting in”. I think drawing parallels between Pecola’s insecurities and my insecurities as a young teenage girl at the time was the scary part. I think anybody who deems themselves a “misfit” can relate to the protagonist’s plight.
Roar of Thunder, Hear My Cry (See HERE): I read “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” by Mildred D. Taylor in 8th grade and learned so much about the American history. Set in the deep South during the Depression era, this is the story of one family’s struggle to maintain their integrity, pride, and independence in the face of racism and social injustice.
To Kill a Mockingbird (See HERE): “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee was a book that made me cry on several occasions. This masterpiece delves into the complicated and unjust legal system of the deep, racist South and the heroism of one white lawyer who refuses to turn the blind eye in the face of hatred. It is a chilling social commentary based on real-life events.
I Know Why The Caged Birds Sing (See HERE): You can not talk about the black identity without mentioning “I Know Why The Caged Birds Sing” by Maya Angelou. This novel takes on another angle of the black experience as it explores bigotry and racism an African-American girl feels after being raped by her mother’s boyfriend. I remember asking myself if the rapist was white or african american and the fact that it wasn’t clear in the book shows that Maya Angelou was commenting on women issues just as much on racial issues. I think I cried during this one too.
Heart of Darkness (See HERE): Upon conversations with many, I know “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad is a book title known only to literature buffs and blacks. The tone of the story is pretty angry and anguishly intense as Conrad paints with words imagery of wild Congo jungles and the wild black experience. Not for the faint hearted for sure.
Cry, The Beloved Country (See HERE): I cried several times while managing to get through this book. I read this in high school and was appalled by the feelings of loneliness and destitution, blacks felt in South Africa under the institution of the “White Man’s Law”. It’s truly a classic and a must read in my opinion (and Oprah’s!).
Gone With The Wind (See HERE): I have read this book twice, I think, and even devoured the sequel which was not written by Margaret Mitchell (See HERE), but someone related to her. If you haven’t read “Gone With The Wind” written by Margaret Mitchell, I promise you will not put it down. The books that ignite the same level of interest in me are the books in the Harry Potter series. Although racism in Harry Potter is not discussed as obviously, “Gone With the Wind” has the same level of mysticism when illustrating life in the pre- and post-civil war South. There was no violence against slaves mentioned, but instead the slaves were shown to be an integral part of the Southern life. The novel paints almost a very romantic racial story, hidden by the romance between Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’ Hara, of what life was like during the pre-civil war era and how it was turned upside down after the “Yankees” came in. Although, not written by an African-American author, this book is a wonderfully written piece of literature that shows life in the South a long time ago.
Well guys, here are my recommendations for books to read on black identity. I hope you comment and leave messages telling me how much you loved these books. Happy Reading!