August 1, 2016

Exploring the books of #BlackLivesMatter


Arundhati Roy.

Arundhati Roy.

In War Talk, her account of racism, war, and empire, author and activist Arundhati Roy writes, “Another world is not only possible, she’s on her way. Maybe many of us won’t be here to greet her, but on a quiet day, if I listen very carefully, I can hear her breathing.”

This year hasn’t seen much in the way of quiet days. According to the Washington Post’s “Fatal Force” feature, as of July 27, 544 people in the US have been killed by police in 2016. Of that number, 132—or approximately 24%—were black. With black citizens making up only 13.3% of the country’s population, that number is hugely disproportionate.

This is hardly cause for surprise: American racism is pervasive, subtle, and devastating (and old-fashioned, blatant racism certainly isn’t a thing of the past).

Of those killings, UC Berkeley professor Jerome Karabel concludes, “Extra-judicial killings by the police, the all-too-common practice that ignited the current [Black Lives Matter] movement, now number more than 1,100 per year — more than four times the number of people lynched or executed by capital punishment in the worst of years.”

How, in the face of this, do we make a better world? Activists and scholars haven’t stopped writing on building the Black Lives Matter movement and pushing forward. If you want those things—and you should—read their words. Here’s a short list of some good places to start:


Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement
by Angela Y. Davis

CoverIconic activist Angela Davis (founder of Critical Resistance, an organization for the abolishment of the prison-industrial complex) published a new collection of essays in February. She writes about connecting the current Black Lives Matter movement to history and to the fight for Palestinian liberation, highlighting individualism as a key danger in both. She urges readers to look at social justice movements in a historical context to learn from the past, and to view that past through a critical and intersectional lens.


From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

cover_0Collaboration is a prevalent theme in Taylor’s new book, which identifies three forms of racism: biological, or the belief that some (read: white) races are naturally superior to others; color blindness, or the attempt to eliminate race as an issue while leaving structural factors tying race to inequality intact; and a “culture of poverty” narrative that dissuades other racial groups from joining black movements opposing white supremacy. Taylor would have her readers look beyond President Obama and towards the fact that black median income has fallen disproportionately steeply over his presidency, or away from progress in representation among elites and towards solidarity and liberation for all black people.


Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond
by Marc Lamont Hill

51fGz82+DEL._SY346_In this book, Marc Lamont Hill tackles the threat to the vulnerable (in his words, those who are “Black, poor, trans, queer, or otherwise marked as disposable within the public imagination”) from American capitalism and social policy. He adduces the deaths of Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, and Freddie Gray to demonstrate the severity of that threat. Hill also turns to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan (which, though now largely absent from the news, remains ongoing.) Nobody has been praised by activist figures from Dr. Cornel West to Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza.


Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education
by Mychal Denzel Smith

51289pwLLgL._SY346_Part memoir, part political treatise, Mychal Denzel Smith’s Invisible Man traces the author’s personal journey towards radical activism, writing on everything from his ambivalence towards Obama’s presidency to the deaths of black men and boys like Trayvon Martin. Smith’s ultimate turn is, like others on this list, towards intersectionality—focusing on how misogyny and homophobia mold the contemporary oppression of black men. Kirkus Reviews calls it “a useful blueprint for radical and intersectional politics in a country where a black child can grow up to be president but where living while black is still dangerous.”


Lastly, Black Lives Matter released a ten-point plan to curb police killing, as well as an official list of demands.



Hannah Koerner is an intern at Melville House.