As we prepare to welcome the first Black woman VP vice president, expectations will be extremely high for Kamala Harris. Although she is praised by author Bettina Love for talking truth to power – like when she challenged Joe Biden on his bussing record – Love predicts Harris will not have a “honeymoon period” simply because “she’s a Black woman in a racist and sexist country.” Even the Black Lives Matter movement struggles with this reality. How can we assure that Black voices, particularly those of visionary activist women, are heard and respected?
Toni Morrison suggested literature. She explained, “I thought it was important for people to be in the streets, but they couldn’t last. You needed a record. It would be my job to publish the voices, the books, the ideas of African-Americans and that would last.” Good literature can help maintain focus on creating needed lasting political and cultural change. As Morrison explained, “The best art is political and you ought to be able to make it unquestionably political and irrevocably beautiful at the same time.”
Combining activism and aesthetics is one reason for the growth in popularity of Well-Read Black Girl (WRBG), a reading network created by Glory Edim. Currently its 400,000 online members amplify the voices of women of color addressing “the inequities in the publishing industry and education,” according to Edim. WRBG also promotes women writers of color, creates healing space for victims of racism, and educates the next generation. Genie Lauren, founder of a similar Black reading network (#BlackLibLit) explains how prose can liberate: “Black literature is the key to undoing our indoctrination…. The clubs serve as reminders that our oppression requires collective forgetfulness from one generation and complete ignorance from the one that follows.”
Literature, especially fiction, opens possibilities. Octavia Butler liked science fiction because it “was so wide open.” She explained that, “I was able to do anything and there were no walls to hem you in and there was no human condition that you were stopped from examining.” Butler aimed at hierarchical thinking and structures that disadvantage Black women and threaten our species. As organizers of the WRBG festival that concluded last month explained, “We cannot think of a better way to mold our collective fears, anger, and anxieties than to take up every literary tool we have and build something new, beautiful, and enriching.”
Consider these actions. Do they seem reasonable and/or effective examples of anti-racism activism?
Action #1 – Read books by women of color, and order them from POC owned bookstores. You can find a list of POC owned bookstores on the website Literary Hub. There are many good recommendations available online, including those offered by President Barack Obama, The Oprah Magazine, and The New York Times.
Action #2 – Support organizations that promote the voices of Black women writers including the following: Well-Read Black Girl, Noname Book Club, Black Girls Read Too, Black Girls Lit, and the Black Feminist Bookmobile.