How white is your bookshelf?

The recent events in the US have had me thinking a great deal about a lot of things, but specifically, white privilege, police brutality, and the systemic oppression of Black people not just stateside, but all over the world. Not just in 2020, but historically, century upon century. And then I started thinking about what I could do as an individual and as an ally.

So I thought about this blog. Books. Reading. The thing I, like so many of you, turn to when I’m not sure what else there is to turn to. The place we go to learn, to reflect, to think, to live, and quite significantly, to listen to the stories those pages have to tell. And I’ll be damned if this isn’t a time to do all of those things with more intention and vigour than ever before.

How white is your bookshelf?

Let’s do a little experiment together, booklings. Take a look at your bookshelf, and either lay your trusty tomes out in piles or make a list according to these two groups:

  • Books written by white authors
  • Books written by Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) authors

If, like me, you were raised in a predominantly white country and went to a predominantly white school with an overwhelmingly white reading list, then the first category will more than likely dwarf the second.

And look, when you’re a kid, you basically read whatever you’re given. In my case, that was a lot of Enid Blyton, Beatrix Potter, and JK Rowling. The important thing here is that as we get older, it’s up to us to read across different groups, different experiences, different cultures.

During my undergraduate degree, two amazing lecturers taught me about postcolonial and world literature. They helped me realise that there was a whole universe of authors out there for me to discover. Authors beyond the literary canon which is essentially a series of choices made by generations of white males.

And in retrospect, I feel a bit silly. Precisely because it took me so long to realise. Because I didn’t see how narrow my reading had been until then. It became very clear, very quickly that I couldn’t broaden my mind and really grow as a person without reading, hungrily, from a diverse range of voices.

Since then, I’ve made a conscious effort to make sure my reading is more inclusive. It’s only enriched my life.

I will never understand, but I stand

I will never be able to understand the suffering, the struggle, of being Black in a world broken by systemic racism. By people who see differences as a means to control others, to divide, to hurt, rather than something beautiful that has the power to make communities richer, happier, healthier, kinder.

But it is within my power to be a better ally, and there are many ways to do that, but today we’re talking books and the book industry because, well, that’s what we do here.

So, I’d like to share a few different resources and recommendations to help us support Black writers, bookshops, and publishers not just right now but indefinitely as we move forward, because it’s not enough to post a hashtag and be sad or angry.

We need to do the work, as Layla F. Saad so rightly put it in her recent article in the Guardian.

Books to help you be a better ally

Before moving on to the non-fiction section, I thought we could start with the historical, political, and social facts to help provide some much-needed context to the issues of racism that persist today. Enter, these titles:

  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • Chokehold: Policing Black Men by Paul Butler
  • The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
  • Black Skin White Masks by Frantz Fanon
  • How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  • Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain by Trevor Phillips and Mike Phillips

Books by Black authors you need to read

Next, we’ll talk about fiction. If you’re looking for a few recommendations to get you started, here are some fantastic reads. Quick disclaimer here: this list is FAR from exhaustive, of course, but this wouldn’t be a book blog without me sharing some favourites, would it?

  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Recitatif by Toni Morrison (short story)
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • We Should all be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler
  • The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes
  • Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

For a more extensive list of literature by Black authors, check out Penguin’s list of contemporary writers and this compilation by The Oprah Magazine.

Black-owned bookshops to support

I live in England, so I thought I’d cover the UK here primarily because there are people beyond these shores who know infinitely more than me about Black-owned businesses in their country. I’ll link to some other resources below if you’re looking for places to support in the US, and if you have any great resources to share, drop me a comment and we’ll add that in! Again, this list needs to be alive, it needs to grow; if you know of any Black-owned bookshops in the UK, drop me a link in the comments and I’ll add it to the list!

Additional resources

There’s so much to read around this topic, I couldn’t possibly hope to include it all in one little blog post. Besides, there are a lot of folks out there doing this with more authority and experience than me, so be sure to check these out!

Bookworms, if you have any additional books to recommend or resources to add to this list, let me know!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Comments (



%d bloggers like this: