More Black Books you Must Read to Reverse Brainwashing
Last year I wrote a post: Black Books you Must Read to Reverse Brainwashing
After Malorie Blackman’s appointment as the new Children’s Laurate 2013 -2015, I’ve been inspired to give you some more book recommendations.
Fela: This Bitch of a Life – Fela Kuti
“Fela was possessed by an apocalyptic vision, wherin he saw how tall were the walls that had to be broken down”
Forward, This Bitch of a Life.
Having seen the musical Fela! I got a good sense of the spirit of Fela’s existence. Vibrant, energetic, indulgent but above all, in spite of the Nigeria of his time, completely free. His book is even more revelatory. It is an insight into a traditional African view of masculinity, an un-traditional African view on democracy and a totally agreeable view on the power of music.
This Bitch of a Life is really an authorised biography of the man, his politics, his music, his lifestyle and his international influence. It’s fascinating and inspiring. And it is also the book that informed me he is Wole Soyinka’s cousin. Which I found to be a nice fact.
You don be slave from before
Dem don release you now
But you never release yourself
“Colonial Mentality” Fela Kuti
The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin
This is a short book consisting of two letters; one from James Baldwin to his nephew, the second more of an essay on Baldwin’s encounters with religion.
In this book Baldwin undertakes ‘the talk’ with his nephew. This is the talk in which he reveals to his nephew to be black in America is a terrible thing. He speaks of his own father (his nephew’s grandfather):
“Well, he is dead, he never saw you, and he had a terrible life; he was defeated long before he dies because, at the bottom of his heart, he believed what the white man said about him.”
The letter is an urgent plea, and angry and emotional request to all of black America to not accept the same fate. He positions America as a threat: (“it [is] intended that you perish”) for no other reason that he is black.
I could quote all day from this book. Save me the trouble and read this succinct, frank and totally truthful text. It’s a book that will make you realise, whatever your background, what America did and still endavours to do, to it’s black citizens.
The European Tribe – Caryl Phillips
Caryl Philips did not know he could become a writer. Having been raised in England, he was never offered a book authored by a black person and received no hint or suggestion such a thing would be possible. The state of Britain corrupted him so much, it was inconceivable. A journey to America fixed this. Thank goodness it did because his sharp, observational focus, that highlights not only difference but the absurdity of it all, is in full flow in this book.
Feeling both ‘of, and not of Europe’ Phillips travels Europe in the 1980s, and identifies white Europeans as a funny old ‘tribe’, on a relentless journey for power over others, denying equality with persistent fervour and at any opportunity. And he hangs out with James Baldwin! It’s a satisfying read that people of minority ethnic backgrounds in Europe could certainly relate to.
Negro with a Hat – Colin Grant
I read this book in about a week, I inhaled its words. It is an in depth biography of one of the most famous black men to have lived, Marcus Garvey. A Richard Branson of his time, he united black people across the globe in a way that is staggering to read. It is almost a fairy tale. The most amazing thing is not the fame, the influence or the power, it’s the thing he motivated black people around the world to do. He motivated the planet’s black citizens…to INVEST. His great venture, the Black Star Line, eventually failed. But in many ways, it succeeded. The fact it ever existed, was a success. The fact the American government became terrified of his existence, was a success. And in my opinion, only for the corrupt actions of a few and the interference of an oppressive state, the Black Star Line so nearly became more than a tragic icon black power. The black star lives on in the flag of Ghana, and his words live on in the music, art and other creativity of black people who study him and feel motivated to continue his message. If you want to know more about the man, this book is a excellent, well researched and fantastically neutral way to start. It is not full of hero worship. It is full of facts. Marcus Garvey is indeed, laid bare.
Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This is a phenomenally famous book so including it seems a bit patronising. But I’m sure there is some out there that hasn’t read it. There were aspects of this book I didn’t like. A participant in a gang rape is redeemed, for example. I found some of the characters verged on the stereotypical. However, who am I to judge? This is a book that wants the reader to reimagine Nigeria – to see it as a state constructed by Europeans, suffering from the conflicts artificial borders create. It is set during the Biafran war, the most tragic war many people have never heard of. It’s a nice representation of middle class Nigeria (yes, African countries have always had a well fed middle class- who knew?), has some gripping story lines related to the topics of love and loss and is part of a much needed cannon of modern African literature; a representation of an African country’s history by an African person.
Richard Pryor – Pryor Convictions and other Life Sentences
Richards Pryor’s memoirs are a must read for any comedian. With passages written from the point of view of Pryor’s alter-ego Mudbone, this book is another one I could quote all day from. Here’s some, just from the introduction:
On MS: “It don’t kill you, it just makes you wish you were dead”
On Love: “Some people fall in love. Others fall in shit.
On his marriages: “When God makes a fool, he makes a perfect one”
On comedy: “You start telling the truth to people and people look at you like you’re trying to fuck their mama or somthin’”
(I’ve especially found the last point to be true).
There is a strong connection between Richard Pryor’s life and the cautionary tale of Baldwins’ The Fire Next Time; I wish Pryor had read that book every morning of his life. I can’t help but think his self-destruction was down to one thing: helplessness. He exposed the flaws of race relations in America in the most public way possible but he was still treated like Mudbone.
Extraordinary talent, addiction, a breakdown, destructive health problems and a bevy of white women who he loved so very much make for a eye-opening and engrossing memoir of a life excessively lived.
The Last Holiday – Gil Scott Heron
When Gil Scott-Heron died his memoirs were not complete and alas, this book unsatisfyingly omits swathes of his life story. Yet it’s included because it’s easy to understate his fame and popularity in the 1970s (he was Clive Davis’ first signing to his Arista) and his talent as a songwriter, author and musician. It also tells of his self belief; he dropped out of college to write his first book The Nigger Factory, so in many ways he was the original College Dropout, a notion much appreciated by Kanye West as shown by Heron’s presence in his albums.
Above everything, I like Heron’s message. His questioning not only of white America, but black America’s response to it, his thirst for knowledge and his unnerving desire to communicate through art.
Nicknamed ‘Aries’ by Stevie Wonder, this book is billed as a journey towards Heron’s 40 date tour with the superstar in the 80s but I found this to be a bit inconsequential. It’s really about Heron’s life. If you want to know how far political consciousness, art and a strong family background can take you, then do read.