Book list for black girls: promoting self-love and empowering young black women

by Christina Fonthes [twitter-follow screen_name=’CongoMuse’]

It is 2014; Nicola Adams is the first (black, lesbian) woman to win an Olympic boxing Gold medal. Michelle Obama is the first black woman to occupy the White House. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Joyce Banda are Africa’s first women Presidents. Malorie Blackman is Britain’s first black, Children’s Laureate. Hope Powell is the first ever black person to manage an England side. Yet, despite these feats by black women, my eleven-year-old sister still thinks that her skin is too dark and that her hair isn’t “nice” enough.

yolo_logoMy sister is a typical inner city kid; she can send a BBM faster than any audio typist, her Facebook and Instagram are constantly being updated with ‘high-angle selfies’  and she knows ALL of Beyoncé’s dance routines. As a child of the digital age, she is constantly exposed to the YOLO culture. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, YOLO is an acronym for You Only Live Once. It was coined by a member of the American label company Young Money Entertainment (I’m not making this up – it’s actually called Young Money Entertainment).YOLO promotes the capitalist ideals of individualism, hyperconsumerism, and our favourite friends misogyny, racism, shadism and homophobia. It is no surprise then that when I asked my sister the “what do you want to do when you grow up” question (in hindsight, I realise that this question is problematic – questioning a child on their career aspirations is inappropriate, unhealthy and further normalises and encourages capitalist tendencies) the answer I got was “make lots of money”. It was shocking to hear this from my baby sister, but this is not an attempt to analyse the detrimental affects of capitalism on black youths – bell hooks, Angela Davis and a number of academics have written extensive amounts on the subject already – nor is this a platform for reiterating old problems. This is about creating new solutions.

After a number of conversations with my sister, it became clear that there aren’t enough people who look like her, let alone people who look liker her for her to aspire to. This is no surprise. Black women and girls are, literally, running the world and breaking records but the reality is unless they’re singing and dancing half-naked with a lace wig, they are still invisible in the media and in text books.

As an advocate and lover of social media , I’d forgotten that waking up to images of black women with natural hair; tweets from Nigerian lesbians; and articles by Afrofeminist writers is not the norm – it is a world that I have constructed in order to survive and heal from the multiple oppressions I face as a black lesbian woman.

mufaro's beautiful daughtersIn an effort to instil some self-love into her and tear her away from her Blackberry, I decided to buy my sister books and DVDs where black women and girls are protagonists, heroes/heroines as opposed to the magical negro.

The first book I ordered was Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters – although the book reinforces the notion that women and girls have to be beautiful and have virtuous qualities (it was written by a man so this no surprise) – the images of black girls is something that is not commonplace. My sister’s face lit up as she turned the pages and saw beautiful images of black girls. She sat quietly reading and rereading the book for about thirty minutes – thirty minutes without a single BBM, FB or IG status update.

Again, it’s not about reiterating problems, it’s about finding ways in which we can inspire and empower black girls by showing them that they don’t have to follow that one narrative. This book list is just a start and is by no means an exhaustive list. Ideally, the list will be extended to films, artists, and TV/online shows. As important as books are for educational development, we must recognise that we are living in a digital age and we need things that are not only accessible but also appealing to girls and young women.It is easier and more practical to watch a show on Youtube than it is to go the library and take out a book – if it’s a book about black girls and women that’s not about slavery, the chances are, probably won’t be in the library anyway.

powerful

So, here is the list in no particular order. Please feel free to contribute.I’d like say a big thank-you to all the contributors, especially Gindro Gill and #Afrifem fam.

Young readers

Older children

At least aged 14 -16

 

If you would like to contribute suggestions to this book list, please email blackfeministsmanchester@gmail.com This post was originally published by Black Feminists Manchester

All work published on Media Diversified is the intellectual property of its writers. Please do not reproduce, republish or repost any content from this site without express written permission from Media Diversified. For further information, please see our reposting guidelines.


 Christina Fonthes is a Manchester-based translator, and Afrofeminist blogger. Born in Kinshasa, Congo and raised in London, she is an advocate for LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer) rights. She is  a founding member of Rainbow Noir, a safe space created for and by Queer People of Colour in Manchester. Christina is a regular contributor at Black Feminists Manchester She can be found on Twitter at @CongoMuse and Musings of a Congolese Lesbian blog

 

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35 replies

  1. The fact that you did this for your little sister just warmed my heart! I am teaching a Belly Dance & African Reading Circle for young ladies in Phoenix, AZ and your website is indispensable for our nation and to my class! Thank you thank you THANK YOU!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Check out books for middle/high school readers by Sharon Flake (The Skin I’m In, Money Hungry, Who Am I Without Him), Sharon Draper (Fire from the Rock, Out of My Mind, Panic, Darkness Before Dawn, Battle of Jericho Trilogy), and Kekla Magoon (How It Went Down, Rock and the River, Fire in the Streets) . They are fantastic, and my students love them!

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    • Jacqueline Woodson is s great author as well. Check out her website. She has books for all different ages. Feathers is a great book of hers.

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  2. Just finished reading this — it’s is empowering for the reader as much as it is for your sister. The writing here, and the stories referenced, open up a path not only to resist traditional narratives that have been written and believed about blackness and black girls in particular, but it encourages girls to make a new path, their own path. And I think it is through the project of path-making that young people can be the hero or heroine of their own stories. It is so rotten that YOLO culture is so visible, yet remains distinctly out of reach for the majority of young people who ascribe to its practices. I think this goes back to one of my big concerns which is that there are not many children’s books or even YA novels representing or as I like to say, “starring children of color” doing things that children of color do in the 21st century. How do children of color really live? And what are their aspirations? How can we use the real stories to resist the ones we see in the media that are exaggerated derogatory non-narratives about people of color? Real narratives, in my opinion, have to have to joyous turn or the good catastrophe as Tolkien would say. I see in the list of books you’ve offered here for instance that while they are brilliant award winning stories and authors, many of them star children of color who are in peril or who are living in times of social struggle. They are heroes and heroines in their own moment, but there are many others like them, who look like them, who will not and who did not overcome the oppressors in times of social struggle. I’m thinking specifically about the Roll of Thunder books, as well as a number of books in the 14-16 year old reader range. Don’t get me wrong. Those stories are absolutely necessary. They contribute to the work of empowerment, they are as hopeful as they are accurate in representing fear and triumph. But I like very much the idea of using materials like your blog post here to begin conversations with young girls (I’m a teacher) and boys, too, about the stark differences in, let’s say, YOLO world and our own world. And then once that conversation is started, let them choose a real issue in their school or community to address. And if there are not books about that topic, abou that narrative that they see unfolding in front of them, then we get the awesome job of inviting them to write that narrative. And then to make it visible, so their words and their lives push back against the mainstream. That is what this blog post does for me — it gives me a piece of literature, real and true literature about a topic of interest in your immediate life — and then it empowers me with resources and it empowers me to believe other narratives can be performed and written to resist YOLO. Thank you so much.

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  3. Such a wonderful list! Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp was always a favorite for my daughter and I, the book portrays a clever, inventive little brown girl who is her own heroine. Also, Lucy, Annie John and At The Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid.

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  4. this is a wonderful and very rich list. I’m afraid I don’t understand Amy Tan’s book being listed in this context. It’s kinda feel -good book and from Asian community – which is not a crime but just maybe a wrong list 🙂 = my opinion.
    I’d like to add for instance: Unity Dow: Juggling truths (from Botswana) and Tsitsi Dangerembga: Nervous conditions (Zimbabwe) and also Rayda Jacobs: Midnight Children and Sachs street .. and and and, the list could go on and on!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I would also recommend Dawn Rider and Sweetgrass by Jan Hudson. They are both about Native American women and the themes are about following your own path. I loved them when I was about 11 or 12.

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  6. It’s been a few years since I’ve reread this book, but I remember “The Skin I’m In” being a very powerful book when I read it as an eleven or twelve year old and later when I reread it to see whether or not it would be worthwhile to read with my high school students. I didn’t end up bringing it because I felt that it wouldn’t have translated well to my context (a village in the Iringa region of Tanzania), but I’d love to have read it–particularly with my girls–when I student taught fifth grade.
    Thank you for including the list of books for younger students as well. Other than the Grace books from Mary Hoffman, I’ve had some difficulty finding books that had characters who look like my students. For the very itty-bitties, I’d suggest “I Like Myself” by Karen Beaumont. It’s a lighthearted story, but the images of a black child with text that continuously returns to the affirmation that she likes herself is a powerful one.

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    • For picture book age, may I recommend the Jamaica books by Juanita Havill – JAMAICA’S FIND, JAMAICA TAGALONG, JAMAICA & BRIANNA and others – which I illustrated. Jamaica is a black girl with everyday 6-yr-old challenges.

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  7. I don’t know if this belongs on your list, because the author is not a person of color, but many of Nancy Farmer’s books have People of Color protagonists. She lived for a long time in Zimbabwe, and so her book “The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm” is a YA science fiction novel set in Zimbabwe, with three black children being the protagonists. She also wrote a book with a black girl protagonist called “A Girl Named Disaster,” and a book set in Mexico with a latino protagonist called “House of the Scorpion.”

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  8. Reblogged this on Corner Store Press and commented:
    “As an advocate and lover of social media , I’d forgotten that waking up to images of black women with natural hair; tweets from Nigerian lesbians; and articles by Afrofeminist writers is not the norm – it is a world that I have constructed in order to survive and heal from the multiple oppressions I face as a black lesbian woman.”

    Like

  9. I had mufaro’s beautiful daughters as a child and the amazing grace series( about a young British-Nigerian girl) I loved them as a child and still do, you’re right to point out the problematic elements of the way women’s roles are represented but as an adult I realise how important it was to me to see stories told about women like myself. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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    • Thanks for the suggestions. I’ve never read Toni Morrison but (PoC) friends have recommended her so will definitely be adding her to the list.

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  10. NOT “The Joy Luck Club” at all (did anyone ask an Asian lit professor what they think of Amy Tan?) and not “The Color Purple” for that age group (presenting 14-year-olds with stories of rape, incest, adultery, casual girl-girl sexual contact with a mentor figure, and tolerance for domestic violence? I would say 16 and up for that one, for sure). Consider “The Poisonwood Bible,” which is by a white author (Kingsolver) but illustrates the arrogance of white missionaries in Africa and the people’s superior knowledge of their own land. My son had to read it as a high school freshman and got a lot out of it.

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    • Thank you for your comments Ariake. I am open to your thoughts about Amy Tan as well as suggestions of Asian authors. I will definitely change the age range for the Colour Purple.
      I decided to leave out Kingsolver, as a Congolese person I think she uses Congo as a backdrop for her story about a white American family.
      Thanks again for your comments and hope to hear from you soon.

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  11. for older elementary – middle school:
    The Mighty Miss Malone
    One Crazy Summer
    Ninth Ward
    and my favorite: The True Meaning of Smekday

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  12. Black Women For Beginners by S. Pearl Sharp

    The Complete Collected Poems- Maya Angelou

    Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography- Zora Neale Hurston

    Maud Martha – Gwendolyn Brooks

    This Bridge Called my Back- Cherrie Moraga

    Sojourner Truth autobiography

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