7 Books That Helped Me Understand Why Black Lives Matter

Two years after the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent birth of #BlackLivesMatter, the movement has remained a powerful way to bring awareness to police brutality and the institutional racism that continues to be waged against Black bodies. The question of “Do Black Lives Matter or do All lives Matter?” has even become a part of the campaign trail, with four out of five candidates stating that Black Lives indeed do matter during the recent Democratic Debate — for the record, here’s a good explanation of why the “All Lives Matter” slogan is counter-productive and derailing.

However, it seems there is still some confusion surrounding the purpose of the movement, as well as how one can become an ally. This is particularly true among non-Black PoCs, as many of us have been socialized into believing the nefarious and divisive Model Minority Myth.

As  uncomfortable as it is to check our own privilege, newly emerging allies should become educated on how deeply rooted anti-Black racism is in American history, and how it trickles down to life in 2015. This might be an overwhelming endeavor, given the vast resources out there.  So, I thought it might be helpful to share the books that helped me – a privileged, light-skinned Muslim American desi, understand why the Black Lives Matter movement is so crucial, and unlike any other kind of oppression faced by any other group in the United States. These are the books that helped me understand why no level of TSA profiling, masjid monitoring, or casual racism I will face will ever compare to the oppression and suffering placed upon Black Americans, throughout American history and today.

As  uncomfortable as it is to check our own privilege, newly emerging allies should become educated on how deeply rooted anti-Black racism is in American history, and how it trickles down to life in 2015. This might be an overwhelming endeavor, given the vast resources out there.

1. Black Boy, Richard Wright



This book is good for: Those who think that conditions of the Black community couldn’t have been “so bad” following the abolishment of slavery — cue statements about how anyone can achieve the American Dream with the right attitude and such. Reading this book will help you understand why separate was never equal, the poverty that post-slavery Black lives contained, and other harrowing details from life growing up in the 1920s South as a Black child, and then in 1940s North as a Black man.

2. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison



This book is good for: Those who don’t understand the literal invisibility that people within the Black community felt and still feel throughout American history. Ellison’s National Book Award-winning novel delves into how Black humanity was systemically erased to the point that Black Americans would often pit themselves against each other just to access whatever limited resources were made available to them.

3. Black Like Me, John Howard Griffith



This book is good for: People who, for whatever reason, are more comfortable hearing racial truths from non-Black minorities, even if it’s about the reality of Anti-Blackness — I know y’all are out there, unfortunately. In what is possibly the only instance of acceptable blackface, a white journalist shaved his head, darkened his skin, and set out to travel America to experience what life as Black man was like during the 1950s. His subsequent book was a breakthrough for those who wanted to better understand race relations in the U.S. and led to much support, but also led to death threats so substantial that Griffith moved his family to Mexico.

4. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Alex Hayley



Especially good for: People who want to learn about Black leaders of the Civil Right’s Movement beyond Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm X is an especially misunderstood figure who is often painted as violent and prejudiced against White people, but this book helps understand all of the nuances of his powerful personality, as well as how he went from  being a disaffected petty criminal to one of the Civil Rights Movement’s most seminal leaders.

5. Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol



Especially good for: Anyone who wants to better understand the difference between the education system of predominately white schools versus those that have predominantly Black/minority pupils. This book delves  into how deeply race is connected to economic status, which is linked to quality of education, which are then linked to the cycle of poverty and mass incarceration.

6. Beloved, Toni Morrison



Especially good for: Anyone who thinks that there could have been anything remotely tolerable about Slavery. The very plot of this book hinges on the story of an escaped slave who murders her own daughter rather than allow her to be forcibly taken back to the plantation on which they worked. Via this narrative, the book examines the psychological warfare of slavery, as well as the impact it left on families and relationships.

7. Oprah: A Biography, Kittle Kelley



Especially good for: People who use President Obama, Beyonce, and Oprah as examples of why racism doesn’t exist anymore. From having pet rats to exchanging sex for money, Oprah’s rags-to-riches story is anything but easy to digest, due in tremendously large part to her race.

Without a doubt, the best way to become an ally is to reach out to the Black community and ask what you could be doing to help. The BlackLivesMatter website even has resources available for those who would like to get involved.