There have been a lot of posts with anti-racist reading lists, which is great, and I appreciate people doing this work. In fact, my local independent bookstore posted such a list, and I wrote this response to their FB post since I have been thinking about this issue quite a lot.
I really appreciate this list, and I appreciate the inclusion of fiction, especially for young people here. I would like to remind you and your readers, though, that Black people think about things other than race and police/state violence and that adding in some fiction and nonfiction that show Black people just existing are also important. One of the issues Black people face is that we’re expected to constantly educate people about race and to exist as Black first, people second. Fiction books that don’t center race as the primary narrative are essential to building empathy in readers. Perhaps you can create a list that centers those fiction and nonfiction narratives–written by Black authors–as well.
Books by Brandy Colbert, Varian Johnson, Samantha Irby, Liara Tamani, and others would nicely fill a list of that sort. I also created a Twitter thread during Black History Month that has several of the types of books I’m thinking of. Black lives matter not just to address racism but also as fully lived lives.
I have also been thinking about this a lot because I’ve been disappointed in the Black TV shows I’ve seen (and that people have told me to watch!) that take the position of Black first, people second–by which I mean, there’s a hyperawareness of a white audience and those shows seem to be talking directly to that audience. The shows are about race first, and I know this because I got feedback on a script that I submitted for feedback that said, basically, one of the ways that my script could be improved is if my characters talked about what it meant to be Black–and the reviewer then name-checked a couple of these shows to give me some examples to refer to.
I was–as you can imagine–livid since my show was a family dramedy about a Black family who were preoccupied with their particular daily dramas and, contrary to what people may think Black people do when we hang out together, that meant they weren’t sitting around obsessing about their race. I won’t go into this any more because Zora Neale Hurston already addressed it in “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” in 1928, and there’s no need to mess with perfection.
So, anyway, here are some books, TV shows, and movies that show Black people existing without a race-first perspective. I will also note that when I say they don’t have a race-first perspective that I don’t mean the characters don’t mention race or deal with racism, etc. I just mean that they are not about the business of explaining Blackness or racism to the audience and allow the characters to just be Black.
Also, and of course, this is not an exhaustive list. This is just my list, based on what I know to be available and that I have actually read or watched.
Okay, of course, there’s the aforementioned Twitter thread that has a list of 28 books.
Also, while I did link to my local bookstore above, I would encourage you to support a Black bookstore if you would like to buy any of the books I mention. A Google search should turn up some lists, and most of the stores should also have a storefront on Bookshop if you’re unable to order from the store directly. If you don’t know which bookstore to support, consider Malik Books, which offers space for my book club to meet every month.
These are the ones I know about (and like) that are currently streaming. Of course there are tons of other TV shows and movies available on DVD (try your public library when they reopen).
- The Bernie Mac Show (Hulu)
- Living Single (Hulu)
- Grown-ish (Hulu)
- The Masked Singer (Hulu) — mostly for Nick Cannon, but also for many of the contestants
- Marching Orders (Netflix)
- Black Lightning (Netflix)
- The Carmichael Show (Hulu)
- That’s So Raven (Disney+)
- Insecure (HBO)
- Static Shock (DC Universe)
- A Different World (Prime)
- Scandal (Hulu)
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Netflix)
- Black Panther (Disney+)
- Waiting to Exhale (Hulu)
- What Men Want (Hulu)
- The Wood (Amazon)
- Little (HBO)
- 20 Feet from Stardom (Netflix)
Something I Want to Watch
- Great Performances – Much Ado About Nothing (PBS)
Most of these are old, I know, but they are still a start.
If you want more up to date recommendations, follow Black creatives, bloggers, Instagrammers, and YouTubers. Most of us do not solely focus on Black entertainment, but many do.