Black History Month reads

When learning about the history of Black Americans, it’s easy to fall into the misconception that racism is a thing of the past, but complacency is a privilege. In honor of Black History Month, we have compiled a list of literature written by Black authors to provide insight and promote conversations on Black struggle.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Blue eyes, blonde hair, light skin. These are commonly sought after traits in Toni Morrison’s novel, “The Bluest Eye.”

From the third person perspective we watch the tragic downfall of Pecola Breedlove—a Black girl living through the Great Depression. As she comes of age, Pecola’s budding self-image is crushed under the weight of her mother’s insecurities and her father’s past sexual trauma and humiliation. Desperate to be seen as beautiful as her lighter-skinned peers, she hyper-fixates on blue eyes: a feature she thinks will allow the world to see and treat her as a White person.

Page by page, Morrison submerges readers into a confusing world that Black youth are too familiar with—one that teaches them, and the rest of society, to celebrate European features.

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

“It’s a miracle to realize that somebody loves you.”

Such a quote describes the love shared between Tish Rivers and Fonny Hunt—a Black couple living in 1970 Harlem. But the curtain is swiftly ripped away on the picture-perfect love story to reveal the revoltingly realistic picture that Baldwin paints: an America where being Black is a crime. 

After being falsely accused, by a white cop, of raping a woman, the justice system fails Hunt, leaving it up to the lovers’ families to clear his name.

While the overall premise might sound like a commonly depicted picture of modern America, Baldwin distinguishes his tale through the characters’ bonds. Tish and Fonny’s families are cruel in their own ways, but the ties that hold them together are not just familial. Rather, they extend to the hopes and dreams that held Black people together in a discriminatory system. Each character struggles to pull the curtain back over the stage, their voices coming together to chant, “We matter, too ,” even if the whole world seems to disagree.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

“There is a calm before a storm,” or so we like to think. In two-time National Book award-winner Jesym Ward’s novel, the author portrays how life does not always present us with a smooth journey toward our hardest challenges—shown through the eyes of a Black teenager.

“Salvage the Bones” is told through the perspective of 15-year-old Esch, who is in the early stages of motherhood. Alongside the tribulations of being a teenage mom, Esch is faced with a manipulative partner, alcoholic father and her family’s struggle with poverty—all while Hurricane Katrina threatens her hometown.

While a strong component of the novel is its portrayal of poverty, another aspect that stands out is the book’s commentary on the power of femininity, especially within the Black community. It’s no secret that society’s perceptions of Blackness have been crudely warped by racism, often associating Black people with masculinity and aggression. This same perception taunts Black women, making it difficult for them to express their femininity and is a source of insecurities for young Black girls in relation to their race. For Esch, who lives in a male-dominated world, her contorted perspective connects femininity through sexuality—eventually resulting in her early motherhood.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

 If there is one thing the media does best concerning social justice, it’s providing consumers with the news they want to hear—even if that means sugarcoating the racial discrimination present within society. 

Nic Stone’s novel “Dear Martin” strips its readers of this safety net, exposing the daily and real injustices in the lives of Black Americans. The book follows Justyce McAllister, a Black student attending a prestigious, affluent and predominantly white high school. As most seniors do, McAllister finds a newfound sense of confidence, becoming more vocal about the blatant racism and discrimination he receives from his classmates. Stone doesn’t feel the need to water down these interactions within the story, giving readers a more authentic look into the hardships of Black students, even in today’s more progressive society.