Usually, during the week of the Fourth of July, I'd post a list of Americana books or something (what's Americana anyway, really?), but I'm not feeling especially patriotic right now. We have a president with zero prior political experience who's constantly embroiled in scandal, a Congress who's drafting bills to deprive millions of healthcare in addition to defunding environmental and artistic causes, and police killings of unarmed people of color are rampant.
So, yeah, I'm mad and no, I'm not feeling patriotic right now. And I don't know when, or if, I will again. You can love your homeland and still criticize it. I would be leery of anyone who thought this country was truly "great" or who wanted to make it "great again." (If it was great at one time, who was it great for?)
In times like these, reading as a form of resistance is a powerful way to arm yourself with knowledge. I've been committing myself to reading more social justice-centric books, so here are some I read and loved:
- Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
Ever wondered why people don't report rape? This book explains it. The "justice" system is set up to protect the rapist rather than the survivor.
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
No amount of black friends or creative imagination could possibly prepare you for the realities and constant injustice people of color face. Coates tells it like it is in poetic, concise, and gripping language. This book should be required reading for humanity.
- Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine DeLandro
Yes, it's a comic and therefore fiction. However, despite it being set in the future, the oppression the characters face won't be too far from our reality if we don't check ourselves before we wreck ourselves. The whole time I was reading it I kept shuddering and saying to myself, "too real, too real."
- I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Got Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
Despite what dystopian novels and TV shows would have you believe, being an activist isn't always glamorous. It's often a thankless job and could even cost you your life. Fortunately for everyone, Malala survived being shot in the head by the Taliban and has continued her crusade to educate girls in developing countries. Her memoir details the trials, tribulations, and trauma she experienced simply for standing up for girls' right to go to school.
- Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Being a feminist isn't just about advocating for gender equality for some women. It's about advocating gender equality for all women––that includes black, brown, trans, disabled, impoverished, uneducated, of all (or no) faiths, young, old, immigrant, everyone. And sexism exists as small daily frustrations that add up over time and as life-altering assaults on the body and women's way of life. Feminism is varied, nuanced, and complicated, but Roxane Gay knows how to ground readers in a story to explain it all.
- The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler
In a world where women's sexuality is secondary to men's and is discussed in terms of what men want rather than what women want and feel, The Vagina Monologues is a classic––always relevant. There are stories of women overcoming shame, abuse, and finding pleasure for themselves and no one else.
- Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
There's a widespread phenomenon of men feeling the need to interrupt and explain things to women, even if she has the same or higher qualifications. As if women couldn't possibly be an expert on a subject. This book discusses why this phenomenon occurs and how the author has experienced it in her personal life, which included having her own book explained to her. Yes, a man explained a book she wrote to her, even after she told him she was the author. **eye roll**
- George by Alex Gino
The beauty of kids' books is that they have the uncanny ability to explain concepts in terms that anyone can understand. So for all the people who say they just can't wrap their mind around being transgender and genderqueer because it's "unnatural" to want to change the sex you were born with, I'd encourage them to read George.
- Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy
If you thought feminism was complicated, wait until you introduce Middle Eastern politics and Muslim culture! Speaking of which, Islam has just as many sects as Christianity, so if you have one view of what Muslim culture looks like, you need to read this.
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This novel illustrates systemic racism better than just about anything else I've read on the subject before. By following a family through the generations––where some descendants end up in the US and others stay in Ghana––you see how the oppression suffered by one generation carries over to the next. This novel completely shuts down the whole "but slavery was back in the 1800s, what's black people's excuse now?" bullshit.
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
If you look at the media coverage of police killings of unarmed black people and are honestly confused about why people of color respond the way they do, this book is for you. It's an artful navigation of the sadness, anger, and fear that come with black people feeling like it's open season on their race. This book is fiction, but the emotions are all too real.
- The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
A collection of essays on race in America from the brilliant and distinguished writer, James Baldwin. Though the collection was written over half a century ago, they're still frighteningly relevant, which goes to show there's still much more work to be done.
- The Fire This Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward
Inspired by Baldwin, young, living writers of color explore race in America today in this anthology. It's a stark modern look at what James Baldwin might be writing today if he were still alive. And when read immediately after The Fire Next Time, it tells an even more terrifying truth: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
- We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement by Andi Zeisler
If you've looked around recently and thought about how feminism is trendy now and it's what all the cool kids are doing, this book will tell you why. It explains how marketing and capitalism work to co-opt progressive political movements to water them down and turn a profit by stepping on the backs of the marginalized. One the one hand, marketplace feminism can be an entrypoint for people new to the movement, but on the other hand, marketplace feminism can be damaging to the movement because it avoids serious issues in favor of easy talking points and money is made by first negating the work of activists, then embracing it only when there's potential for profit.
These are just a sampling of books among many books that are worthy of your time and attention. I'm always looking for recommendations, so leave a comment with your favorite social justice-centric books!