5 books that remind us why #BlackLivesMatter in the US and beyond
From Martin Luther King Jr to Mikki Kendall, here’s a list to help you better understand how seeds of discontent are sown in society
Over the last few days, cities across the US have been up in flames, with millions of citizens marching on the streets to protest against the recent brutal killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement is hardly new. It has a long life online and off it. But at the moment it seems to have reached an inflection point—such that in spite of the threat of the covid-19 pandemic, people are out in large numbers, in different parts of the world, brushing aside physical distancing norms and any fear of contracting the disease. While it may be too early to speculate if this is a turning point for US society, there’s a compelling reason to get better informed about the movement’s origins and evolution.
Going back to the civil rights campaign of the 1950s and 1960s, the #BlackLivesMatter movement speaks for the oppressed, downtrodden and disenfranchised. But its message can be extrapolated to nations across the world. In India, for instance, where systemic cruelty against the vulnerable—discriminated on the basis of caste, religion, gender, and sexual identity—has for long been pervasive, the situation in the US should act as a warning sign.
The literature on black identity and protest culture is diverse and voluminous, but these five books provide helpful entry points to understand the issues at stake.
A Gift Of Love: Sermons From 'Strength To Love' by Martin Luther King Jr. (Penguin Classics): Any discussion on black rights is incomplete without a mention of Martin Luther King Jr and his iconic legacy as a defender of civil rights. His activism was a synthesis of his training as an American Christian minister and the lessons he imbibed from figures of world peace, such as M.K. Gandhi. This volume collects some of his best-loved sermons, delivered before his assassination at the untimely age of 39 in 1968. More than half a century later, his words remain urgent and resonant.
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (Penguin): Published in 2014, this unique book of prose poems focuses on the realities of the black citizenry in 21st century America. It dissects the myth of a “post-race society" with powerful rhetoric and caustic arguments. From casual racism in everyday speech and pop culture, to its aggressive expression in words and deed, Rankine combs through public discourse in the US clinically. These poems will alert you to the miasma of prejudice—spoken and unspoken—that lingers even in this day and age.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (Vintage International): Doubly marginalized by his homosexuality and race, James Baldwin is a legend of American letters. A poet, novelist, playwright and essayist, his manifold legacy is hard to match, whether for the strong political underpinnings in his writings or their aesthetic appeal. The Fire Next Time collects two of his public letters, written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1962. Baldwin appeals to fellow Americans, irrespective of ethnic and racial identities, to reject the evil of racism. A national best-seller at the time, this short book is a timely reminder of the battles America is yet to win.
Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Oneworld): Praised by Toni Morrison as a worthy successor of James Baldwin, Coates is one of the most compelling literary voices in contemporary America. This book, addressed to his young son, is at once his personal reckoning as a black man and the society that future generations will inherit. The question that animates his account goes to the heart of identity politics: what is it like to inhabit a black body in a world that is programmed to thwart it? Whatever race you belong to, his answers are going to make you reflect on your life and of those around you.
Hood Feminism by Mikki KendalL (Bloomsbury): Subtitled Notes From The Women That A Movement Forgot, this collection of essays is essential reading for anyone invested in questions of intersectional gender justice—or not. In sharp and affecting prose, Kendall argues that the dominant narrative of feminism in the US has failed to take into account women marginalized by racial politics. From gun violence to eating disorder, she covers a wide ground to reveal the way seeds of discontent are sown, leading to eruption of anger against the establishment—realities that are not always evident from media reports.
FIRST PUBLISHED02.06.2020 | 06:00 PM IST