It is 2013; 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.
My 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’ (definition http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/S/selfie.html); 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 black lesbian woman.
In 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.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.
- Amelia to Zora: Twenty-Six Women Who Changed the World, Cynthia Chin-Lee
- Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale, John Steptoe
- Amazing Grace, Mary Hoffman
- I Can Do it Too!, Karen Baicker
- Noughts and Crosses, Malorie Blackman
- Checkmate, Malorie Blackman
- Roll of thunder hear my cry, Mildred Taylor
- Let the circle be unbroken, Mildred Taylor
- The midnight robber, Nalo Hopkinson
- Harriet’s Daughter, Marlene Nourbese Philip
- The Kayla Chronicles, Sherri Winston
- Annie Allen – Gwendolyn Brooks
- The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
- Anita and me, Meera Syal
At least aged 14 -16
- Tropical fish, Doreen Baingana
- The Other Side of Truth, Beverley Naidoo
- We Got Issues! A Young Woman’s Guide to a Bold, Courageous and Empowered Life, Edited by Rha Goddess and JLove Calderon
- Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Wide Sargaso Sea, Jean Rys
- Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
- The Color Purple – Alice Walker
- Annie John – Jamaica Kincaid
- Zami: A New Spelling of My Name – Audre Lorde
- Possessing the Secret of Joy – Alice Walker
- Assata : An Autobiography – Assata Shakur
- Aya de Yopougon, Marguerite Abouet and drawn by Clément Oubrerie
- We Sinful Women – Contemporary Urdu Feminst Poetry, Kishwar Naheed
- As a Black Woman, Maud Sulter
- The fat black woman’s poems, Grace Nichols
If you would like to contribute suggestions to this book list, please email firstname.lastname@example.org