Hive Scholars Celebrate Black History Month with Book Recommendations

October is ‘Black History Month’ in the UK! For the remainder of this month, each of the Hive scholars will be releasing weekly book recommendations on different themes in relation to Black History month! For this introductory blog, Hive Scholar Nathali Arias shares her thoughts on Black History Month and offers a selection of great literary, historic, and artistic recommendations for Black History Month.

Black history month reflects different types of Black Art, culture, languages, music, histories, sexualities, gender expressions and intellectual contributions. The variety of gender expressions across the Black diaspora contributes to strong arguments in opposition to gender binarism — historically and contemporarily, providing rich accounts of people with a wide variety of gender expressions and sexualities that defy/resist Western categories (look up the work of Nigerian gender scholar, Oyèrónké˙ Oyěwùmí’s work, such as “The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses“).

There are several overlaps between colonial enforcements of gender and the violent myth of the ‘gender binary’. Such historical revisions benefit from racist divisions that separate and pit marginalized groups against each other. Let’s not let them succeed at the University of Sussex. The Hive is proudly an inclusive LGBTQIA+ space, especially for Trans and nonbinary colleagues of all backgrounds. — Nathali Arias

Artwork title: Broom Jumpers, by Bisa Butler (2019); Image from: https://www.selvedge.org/blogs/selvedge/bisa-butler-portraits  
(Follow Bisa Butler on social media)

Black History Month is a time to explore our individual and collective memories in relation to the Black experience. No, you don’t need to identify as Black to take part!

This month is an excellent time for us to all educate ourselves, and actively reflect on the past, present, and future of the ‘Black experience’ and its diaspora. You could listen to some great podcasts such as this BBC sounds episode by Akala, or an NPR episode exploring Afrofuturism.  If you’re more of a visual, laid-back kind of learner you can watch an old classic film, like ‘Cairo Station’ (1958), or a docuseries on Black Hollywood!

Still, when people hear about ‘Black History Month’ their minds tend to do two things.
First, they recall the one or two prominent Black figures that they likely learned about in school – maybe Martin Luther King Jr. (“MLK”), Nelson Mandela, Harriet Tubman. This year, let’s expand our knowledge of Black leaders. Let’s expand our internal recollection of Black leaders by learning about other, less remembered, but equally crucial heroes in the Black diaspora! Heroes like Claudia Jones, Mama Tingó, Frantz Fanon, Marielle Franco, Nzinga Mbande of Angola, Marsha P Johnson, Lorraine Hansberry, Walter Rodney and so many others.

Secondly, folks tend to think of “Black History Month” in narrow relation to UK or US context. Let’s also remember that the Black experience is not solely an English-speaking one! As a Spanish speaking Afro-Latina migrant from the Caribbean, I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend you of some great reads from other (thankfully translated) parts of the Black collective for our wonderful community here at Sussex. So, without further ado, here’s a list of my book recommendations covering themes of queer love, black migrants, colourism and mental health in the Black diaspora.

Nathali’s Black History Month Book recommendations…

1. Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta (2015)

Without giving away the goods, I’ll say this: I wish I had read this book back when I was a seventh-day Adventist teenager, struggling to come to terms with my sexuality and the violence around me. This book would have saved me a lot of heartache and undue anxieties. The book stands out for its outstanding ability to reconcile queer Nigerian identities with Christianity. Growing up, many folks around me would wrongly use religion to justify their homophobia or transphobia. This book has a fantastic critical response, and what’s more – it’s an adorable love story.

2. Don’t call us Dead by Danez Smith (2017)

What is Black joy? Grief? Queer black love?

How can we describe nostalgia for lost lovers, friends, family?

How does police brutality affect certain communities? -Emotionally? Psychologically? Intergenerationally?

This book helped me fall in love with poetry. Danez Smith is a queer nonbinary legend living, a poet, a writer, and lives with HIV in the US. Their poetry is accessible, visual and emotionally-charged. Some of these poems make me cry, others laugh, and others feel like a soothing embrace. This book is beautiful. Danez Smith gets to the heart of so many issues which affect queer folks of colour, in just a few words. I cannot recommend it enough. It’s changed me. Please read and tell your friends about it. Thank you, Danez!

3. The Fat Lady Sings by Jacqueline Roy (2000)

I don’t say “classic” lightly. Hearing folks say “brilliant” so often remains a culture shock to my ears. This book is a Black British classic from 2000 which beautifully handles issues relating to LGBTQIA+ identities and mental health in the Black British community.

This book came out twenty-one years ago yet so much of the main character’s struggles resonate as strongly as ever today.

4. How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez (1991)

Four sisters from the Dominican Republic (where I am from) move to New York City in the 1960s, shortly after the revolution of dictator, and mass murderer, Rafael Trujillo. They find themselves grappling with their new racialization and shifting identities as poor migrants in New York. This book is a good exploration of anti-blackness within Latin American communities (note – most Dominicans are Black, and we share a border with Haiti). Racial politics are messy and entangled, and this novel helps us have more nuanced conversations of race and violence in our communities. The story follows generations of the family as they settle and feels all too familiar to my own background. It’s well written, timeless literature that more folks in the UK should know about when they refer to Black history Month.

5. The Vanishing Half by Britt Benet (2019)

This book is getting a lot of press right now and I think it’s because of how it realistically handles issues of ‘colourism’ in the US Black community. Sadly, colourism is not something unique to the English-speaking Black experience. Themes explored in this novel include queer and Black Trans love, co-dependency, and family trauma, in a manner that is nuanced enough not to be a ‘heavy/depressing’ read. I think many BIPOCs (‘Black, Indigenous People of Colour’) will read this and strongly relate to the lives and struggles of the main characters.

This wraps up the Hive’s introductory blog post on Black History Month. Feel free to borrow these wonderful texts from the library.

Solidarity once again with our Black, Trans and nonbinary students at Sussex.

– Nathali Arias

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