Black History Month is often a time of multitasking. While we reflect on decades of racial and social justice advancements, we must think forward.
For inspiration, as we often do, we can look to civil rights giants of the 1960s. It is during this decade of struggle and triumph that Black Americans understood what it meant to have power.
Dr. King said that “power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
Black communities across the country and across decades would come to find their power in protest, in politics, in resistance, and even in simply existing with joy.
Last year I talked about the exploitation of incarcerated workers at a time when Nebraska was, and still is, home to one of the most overcrowded prisons systems in the country. I also talked about Nebraska’s ludicrously high Black incarceration rate. The year before that, we talked about the violence against Black bodies at the hands of law enforcement.
Yet, amid all the violence and oppression, we still celebrate. To be Black and breathing in America is to be in a chronic state of resistance and resilience. This is fact. A fact that, as we continue to make progress the systemic beast of oppression is ever changing.
This year, one clear racist attempt to dilute and dull our power comes to us in the form of erasure. Black history, stories, experiences and narratives are being removed from school bookshelves across the country. In Nebraska, we face LB 374, which includes provisions related to history, race, ethnicity and national origin that would deny Nebraska students in public schools an accurate and comprehensive education. We will fight tooth and nail to ensure the stories and histories of all communities of color remain proud and prominent on our schools' bookshelves.
And as we do the work, we must continue to read, understand and enjoy what it means to be Black in America.
Enjoy my top five Black History Month non-fiction and fiction books.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander
At a time when America was rejoicing over the election of the first Black president, millions of Black Americans were relegated to second-class status in prison. Alexander gives readers a stunning account of the rebirth of caste-like systems in the United States that have resulted in the millions Black and Brown people behind bars.
Black Visions: The Roots of Contemporary African- American Political ideologies, Michael C. Dawson
Dawson gives a comprehensive breakdown of the relationship between Black political thought and Black political identity.
Harlem is Nowhere, by Sharifa Rhodes Pitts
Rhodes Pitts beautifully captures the essence of Harlem at a crucial juncture: at the tail end of history and on the verge of gentrification.
The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime and the Making of Modern Urban America, Khalil Gibran Muhammad
This book tells a coming-of-age story of the use of Black criminality in the making of modern urban America.
The 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones
The 1619 Project is a long-form journalism endeavor developed by Nikole Hannah-Jones, writers from The New York Times, and The New York Times Magazine which "aims to reframe the country's history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States' national narrative."
Invisible Man, Ralph Elison
The story tells of a naive and idealistic (and, significantly, nameless) Southern Black youth who goes to Harlem, joins the fight against white oppression, and ends up ignored by his fellow Black Americans, as well as white Americans.
Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo
This novel follows the very different lives of 12 characters. Mostly women, Black, British and queer.
Native Son, Richard Wright
It tells the story of 20-year-old Bigger Thomas, a black youth living in utter poverty in a poor area on Chicago's South Side in the 1930s. While not apologizing for Bigger's crimes, Wright portrays a systemic causation behind them.
Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora
This volume introduces black science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction writers to the generations of readers who have not had the chance to explore the scope and diversity among African-American writers.
Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise
These three are listed in one grouping because they have long been debated as a secret trilogy of Toni Morrison’s; listed in suggested reading order.
Beloved tells the story of a dysfunctional family of formerly enslaved people whose Cincinnati home is haunted by a malevolent spirit. Jazz takes place in Harlem during the 1920s; however, as the pasts of the various characters are explored, the narrative extends back to the mid-19th-century American South. And Paradise It tells the story of Ruby, a town of 360 Black people who have chosen isolation for themselves in the face of pervasive racism, hoping to preserve the purity of their utopia.