We have once again found ourselves in a moment of severe injustice. With the deaths of George Floyd, Regis Paquet, and subsequent demonstrations protests, many are becoming aware of violence faced by Black men and women at the hands of the state. There is this new feeling though, that perhaps this moment is different, and sustainable changes are possible. I've compiled a reading list with beautifully written and eloquent books about justice, the experiences of Black people, and books that remind us that the fight for a better world is indeed, a long one. This list of books is for those who are both new and familiar to social justice, those who want to do better. They are books that tell us a lot about who we are, and make us think about what can come next.
Books That Give Us Context:
1. The Skin We're In by Desmond Cole
Canada's most celebrated and uncompromising writers, Desmond Cole writes in The Skin We're In, a story about the injustices faced by Black Canadians on a daily basis- particularly at the hands of the Toronto police force.
Taking aim at the Canadian myth of being "post-racial" and smugness regarding our position relative to our American brothers and sisters, Cole chronicles just one year—2017—in the struggle against racism in this country. In that year, we saw calls for tighter borders when Black refugees braved frigid temperatures to cross into Manitoba from the States, Indigenous land and water protectors resisting the celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, police across the country rallying around an officer accused of murder, and more.
Each chapter of the book is a month in the year, with time moving to create a picture of systemic inequality. The book is an incredibly urgent and honest call for Canadians, particularly white Canadians, to understand and take responsibility for their relationships with the police and carceral state. The Skin We’re In is an accessible read and a vital anti-racist text for everyone's bookshelf.
2. Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present by Robyn Maynard
Delving behind Canada's veneer of diversity and tolerance, Policing Black Lives takes a historical approach to understand that the systems of prison, police, and oppression that we have now are not new, but rather modern incarnations of incredibly old institutions. Maynard traces the legacy of slavery and it's effects on our current circumstances such as poverty and unemployment, racial profiling, incarceration, immigration detention, deportation, and exploitative migrant labour practices.
Policing Black Lives is a book that asks us to think bigger about our current context, and urges readers to work toward dismantling structures of racial domination and re-imagining a more just society, for Black people, and for all.
Books That Are Love Letters To Black Life:
1. Scarborough: A Novel by Catherine Hernandez
Scarborough is a novel that reads almost like a symphony, a multitude of voices in a beautiful concert with each other. The story centers the residents one of Ontario's most diverse neighbourhoods, among them Victor, a black artist harassed by the police; Winsum, a West Indian restaurant owner struggling to keep it together; and Hina, a Muslim school worker who witnesses first-hand the impact of poverty on education, and others.
Scarborough is an empathetic documentary-esque look into the lives of the people most overlooked, who built a community that refuses to be forgotten.
2. Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta
Set in “Little Jamaica,” Toronto’s Eglinton West neighbourhood, Frying Plantain is a gorgeous portrait of living and growing up between two worlds as a Black girl. In her brilliantly profound debut work of fiction, Zalika Reid-Benta artfully portrays the main stresses between families, second-generation Canadians and first-generation cultural expectations, and Black identity and predominately white Canadian society.
Books That Remind Us We’re Never Alone:
1. Freedom Is A Constant Struggle, Ferguson, Palestine, and The Foundations of a Movement by Angela Y. Davis
In this recent collection of essays, speeches, and interviews, iconic activist and scholar Angela Y. Davis illuminates the connections between struggles against state violence and oppression throughout history and around the world.
From Ferguson to Palestine, Davis reflects the importance of black feminism, intersectionality, and prison abolitionism for today's struggles. She recalls the legacies of previous liberation struggles, from the Black Freedom Movement to the South African anti-Apartheid movement, reminding us that no matter how bleak the moment, we have been here before.
While challenging us to think more imaginatively about the world we can build, she prompts that "Freedom is a constant struggle."
2. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
The prophetic Audre Lorde's essays written between 1976 and 1984 tell us everything about her anxieties, hopes, and dreams. Lorde was concerned with attaining power for Black, Brown, and queer women writers, and acknowledging their identities and capabilities. She calls on us to investigate our differences- according to sex, race, and economic status so that we may properly know how to defeat structural inequalities.
Books That Ask You To Be Better:
1. Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad
When Layla F. Saad began an Instagram challenge called #meandwhitesupremacy, it went viral, encouraging everyone to examine their own bias and racist behaviours. Me and White Supremacy, asks us to do the work to be better in our own personal lives so that it can lead us to to take greater action. The book provides us with historical and cultural contexts, moving stories and anecdotes, developed definitions, and further reasons in hopes that awareness leads to action, and action leads to change.
2. How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Ibram X. Kendi's book reimagines the conversation about racial justice in the American context, however, his concepts can definitely be applied everywhere. In this book, Kendi weaves together ethics, history, law, and science, along with a personal narrative of his own awakening to antiracism. Fundamentally, his work points us toward liberating new ways of seeing ourselves, and each other, going beyond the concept of awareness in the fight for a better world.
In How to be an Antiracist, Kendi asks us to think about what an antiracist society might look like, and how we all (especially those with white privilege) have the ability to play an active role in building that world.
For some other essential reading, you can check out bilphena's online library for free PDFs of some iconic books: