Welcome to The Black Experience, a month long blog series through February, in honour of Black History Month, which features Black bloggers, booktubers and authors. This project aims at highlighting Black stories and experiences both in real life and in publishing, as well as showing our individual and collective struggles.
Today’s post is by Lane Clarke and Faridah Àbíké Íyímídé. Lane and Faridah talk about some books with Black characters that they made them feel seen.
If you had asked me even five years ago to write a post about books with Black characters that made me feel seen, I’m honestly not sure I could come up with a single book. Not one. It’s been so incredibly exciting to watch publishing recognize, to some extent, the importance of representation, and now I have a plethora of characters who look and interact with the world like I do. And while we can ALWAYS have more, and should, I’m excited to discuss a few that really changed my life and outlook.
THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo
There’s a reason this is my favorite book, and that’s because it’s perfect. From the very first few pages, I knew Xiomara was going to feel so much like me it would be scary. The visceral reaction of sitting on a stoop and being creeped on by older men, because Black girls get sexualized at such a young age, makes Xiomara either feel like a close friend or the mirror image of yourself. Her struggles with her mother felt personal. Her coming to terms with her faith, or perhaps lack thereof helped me sort my own feelings. Her diving into a new passion, slam poetry, helped me take the leap into writing myself. This book feels deeply personal and there’s something for everyone to feel seen.
THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas and DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone
I’ll address THUG and DEAR MARTIN together because they make me feel seen in very similar ways. In fact, these two books were so pivotal to YA publishing when released that not only did they make Black kids feel seen by ourselves, but for once, we felt seen by others. Star and Justyce represented a growing fear that I carried around in my gut – that either I or someone I loved dearly would be killed or severely hurt by police brutality. And not only that, but both attended mostly white schools where even best friends could not relate and had the luxury of not caring that much, which was so incredibly relatable that it honestly caused me to withdraw from many I loved. But that self reflection of friendships is healthy and I think these books showed why and gave you a roadmap on how to take care of yourself when it felt like the world didn’t care. I read these books at a time when feeling lost and hopeless was prevalent and it dug me out by depicting characters who looked like me and made it, while also making even a small amount of difference. Also, professionally, Thomas and Stone showed me that our stories had a place in publishing!
COLOR ME IN by Natasha Diaz
From the moment I heard about Color Me In, I knew this was going to be a book for me and about me. Neveah is a biracial teen who feels that she is both not white enough for her peers nor Black enough for her family. When I say her storyline hit home for me in every possible way, I mean it. This book is brave in its approach, discussing what that otherizing feeling can look like, without ever making anyone come across as demanding of her to make a choice. As someone who has struggled sometimes with recognizing the ways in which privileged, this aspect of Neveah’s growth expertly portrays the push and pull of what it means to be biracial and what it means to understand ones blackness in a world where colorism and privilege are harmful components of racial tension.
It is rare when I read a book and I feel seen. Mostly because there is still an overwhelming lack of books written by and about Black characters. However, despite this, there have been a few books I have felt seen in!
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
This book is about a Black queer boy from London, and as a Black queer person from London, reading it was an emotional experience. I felt so seen and it has become one of my favourite books of all time as a result.
Rise Up by Stormzy
This is a book written by UK rapper, Stormzy, who I’ve been a fan of since 2015. He’s from Croydon – my area in London – and his book discusses growing up in the hood and feeling this sense of hopelessness but needing to overcome feeling powerless and stuck, in order to rise up. I’m from an area where people don’t go to university, where they are so poor and so hopeless, where there is no map of how to get out and rise up. Stormzy drew a bit of that map with this story.
Look Up by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola
This is a story about a little girl named Rocket who is obsessed with outer space. When I was a kid I was the same, I was obsessed with the moon and the stars and travelling to space. I used to think that if I took a plane, I could go to mars. This was something it took an embarrassing amount of time to realise that this wasn’t possible. But reading about Rocket’s story as an adult I saw child me clearly.
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o and Vashti Harrison
This book was so difficult to read. It’s a picture book but as an adult I am still going through what Sulwe our young protagonist is going through. Needing to accept my dark skin wholly. I read this and cried, it is a story that discusses how painful it is to live in a world where light and white skin is celebrated and dark skin shunned. I really saw myself in this book, and I know Black girls all over the world will too. There’s a scene where Sulwe tries erasing her skin with an eraser and I broke down in tears. The way we learn to hate ourselves so early on is criminal. One of my friends told me a story about realising when she was around 8 years old that dark skin was seen as ugly and so when she got home she had an idea. She knew that bleach helped her mum wash the stains out of her clothes when she did the laundry and so she got bleach, ran a bath and sat in it. Hoping it washed away her dark skin and made her “pretty”. I’m so happy Lupita wrote this book. I think teaching black girls early to love themselves is so important, so that they don’t get to my age and still struggle as much.
Those are my picks for the books that made me feel seen!