To Be Young, Black, And Feminist

Even before Lorraine Hansberry's To Be Young, Gifted, and Black, African American women have been writing their own truths. With hate crimes on the rise and a volatile political situation, young black women have answered the call. Most of these books are at least part memoir, and all deal with social issues. If you wish to understand the deleterious effects of racism and misogyny, as well as what to do about them, these are recommended reading.

Morgan Jerkins has written an insightful collection of essays in This Will Be My Undoing, all the more impressive as she is not yet out of her 20's. Loosely following the course of her life, Jerkins not only explores what it is to be black and feminist, but high-achieving and a woman of faith as well. Whether writing of Beyoncé and Michelle Obama or the cheerleaders in her elementary school, Jerkins turns her sharp eye to the personal and social forces that shape them and others' reaction to them.

Personal also meets political in Tressie McMillan Cottom's Thick. A sociologist at University of Virginia, Cottom takes a more academic approach, but is still highly readable. She deals with the idea that African American women with equal education as their white counterparts are not considered capable of being experts at anything or competent to manage their own lives. This is most heartrendingly illustrated by the death of Cottom's premature daughter and Cottom's treatment at the hands of the medical establishment. Footnotes (don't be scared) and quotable passages abound.

Deceptively brief, prize-winning Kendra Allen's When You Learn the Alphabet blends genres of nonfiction to describe the black female experience. The essay "How to Workshop N-words" may only be ten pages long, but it packs a punch. Allen also confronts her own "straight privilege" in a community that does not always accept gayness as compatible with blackness and sometimes uses God as an excuse for their own prejudices. Like Jerkins, a young writer to watch.

Brittney C. Cooper writes of Eloquent Rage, but there is plenty of humor, too, in this memoir. Cooper was the only girl of color in most settings in her childhood and adolescence. Subjected to racism and misogyny both at church and school, Cooper starts out as a skeptic of feminism, partly because of mainline feminism's complicity in oppression. Her thinking turns around, though, and Cooper celebrates rage as a transformative force, not to be written off when its face is black and/or female. 

So You Want to Talk About Race? Ijeoma Oluo has a road map. As she points out, you will fail, numerous times, but it is still important to talk about this fraught subject. Oluo explains terms like white privilege and intersectionality while taking an ax to various social and racial myths. What to talk about and why, without demanding credit for one's good intentions, forms the center of this book. Definitely a good handbook for combating institutional racism through conversation.

In Reclaiming Our Space, Feminista Jones advocates for a highly digital approach to dealing with racism, through hashtags, annotated Twitter threads, and other tactics. Jones interviews other African American feminists who are prominent online and also includes stories from her life. Written to afflict the comfortable, Jones also gives tips on being an ally in this timely volume. 

Have more books about fighting racism and misogyny? Tell us in the comments.

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