It is crucial that we are equipped with the concepts and language necessary to execute Black freedom. It’s all to easy to believe we are entering uncharted territory, and there’s no pre-existing literature to guide us. But there are a plethora of critical theorists who spent their lives paving the way, and we would be remiss if we didn’t look to their work.
For this list of revolutionary must-reads, GU collaborated with Jaimee A. Swift, the founder of Black Women Radicals. She is a Ph.D candidate at Howard University, and her dissertation is about radical, Black feminist politics and fighting against state, structural, and symbolic violence in Brazil. The Black Women Radicals platform is a “Black feminist advocacy organization dedicated to uplifting Black women and non-binary people in Africa and in the African Diaspora.”
Each odd numbered recommendation came from Swift, each even numbered one is from GU. Check out our list of radical reads below.
1. A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story by Elaine Brown (1992)
“A Taste of Power is a memoir written by Elaine Brown, a former Black Panther Party (BPP) leader, who served as the Minister of Information. Brown was also the Chairman of the BPP, which made her the highest-ranking woman in the Party. Documenting her childhood growing up in poverty in North Philadelphia and the emergence of her radical activism, A Taste of Power gives insight to Brown’s trials and triumphs, and how important Black women were to the success of the Black Power Movement.”
2. Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis (1981)
Prolific activist and educator Angela Davis was first published in 1972, for her autobiography detailing her 1970 imprisonment. Nearly a decade, (and several other culturally relevant written works) later, Davis shared her take on how class and race have affected Black women —and thus hampered inclusive feminist progress— since slavery.
3. Left of Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones by Carole Boyce Davies (2007)
“Caribbean-American writer and professor, Carole Boyce Davies, writes a powerful biography on the life and times of Black feminist, Communist, activist, journalist, and community leader, Claudia Jones.
Born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1915, Jones and her family emigrated to New York City when she was very young. Experiencing first-hand poverty and racial injustice, Jones would join the Communist Party and was later deported for her involvement. In 1949, Jones wrote the essay, An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!, which provides an intersectional analysis of Marxism that centers the politics of Black women. Left of Marx is an incredible book that everyone should read.”
4. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics” by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw (1989)
Kimberlé Crenshaw is the woman behind the term intersectionality, which is how identity (race, gender, class, sexuality etc.) informs experiences and “relates to systems of oppression.” She first coined the phrase in 1989 in this essay, and has since dedicated her career to exploring how the various facets of Black women contribute to how they are treated.
5. Negras in Brazil: Re-envisioning Black Women, Citizenship, and the Politics of Identity by Kia Lilly Caldwell (2007)
“Did you know that Brazil has the world’s second largest Black population outside of Nigeria, and was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery in 1888? In conversations on race, gender, sexuality, class, and more, it is very important to highlight and center the voices, activism, and leadership of Black women in Brazil. In Negras in Brazil, academic Kia Lilly Caldwell does just that. Discussing the rise of the Black women’s movement in Brazil, Caldwell showcases how Black women have always been leaders in the movement for justice within the country.”
6. Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur (1987)
In 1973, Assata Shakur was riding with two fellow Black Liberation Army (BLA) members, when she was pulled over by a New Jersey state trooper. By the end of the exchange, one of the troopers was dead, as was one of Shakurs’ passengers, while Shakur, and the officer who pulled her over, were wounded. She was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, but was helped to escape from prison and fled to Cuba in 1979. Such is a large portion of Shakur’s legacy, but her autobiography focuses on her experiences of growing up Black in America, how she became an activist.
7. Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color by Andrea J. Ritchie (2007)
“Immigrant police conduct attorney and author, Andrea J. Ritchie, showcases how state violence impacts communities who are often overlooked in conversations on it: LGBTQ+ persons, Black women, Indigenous women, and women of color. Saying the names of Black trans folks, queer individuals, gender non-conforming and non-binary persons, and cisgender women who have been impacted by police brutality, immigration enforcement, and racial profiling, Invisible No More is an important book to read, as it gives provides an intersectional, Black feminist lens on state violence.”
8. “Abolition And Reparations: Histories of Resistance, Transformative Justice, And Accountability” by Patrisse Khan-Cullors (2019)
In 2018, Patrisse Cullors wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times about how her older brother’s experiences while imprisoned tied into her co-founding the Black Lives Matter movement. When Cullors was 14 years old, her 19-year-old brother, Monte, was sentenced to 32 months in jail. While incarcerated, Monte (who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder while in prison) has said he was severely beaten, tased, and choked by deputies. The result of that encounter, and others like it, is Cullors’ lifelong dedication to the eradication of prisons.
In her 2019 essay, “Abolition And Reparations: Histories of Resistance, Transformative Justice, And Accountability,” Cullors gives a history of prison abolition, and discusses how people can “incorporate an abolitionist praxis in all aspects of our work and lives.”
9. To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe edited by Akwugo Emejulu and Francesca Sobande (2019)
“It is important that our activism has a global view and the book, To Exist is to Resist, highlights the power of Afro-feminism and Afro-feminist activists in Europe. The editors, Akwugo Emejulu and Francesca Sobande, bring together powerful voices who are on the frontlines of Black feminist change in Europe, and beyond, such as the Mwasi Collectif, an Afro-feminist political organization in France.”
10. “What the Black Woman Thinks About Women’s Lib” by Toni Morrison (1971)
The late Toni Morrison began this New York Times essay by talking about segregational public signs (reading “Colored Only” and “Colored,) and quickly points out the use of “White Ladies” vs. “Colored Women.”
“White females were ladies, said the sign maker, worthy of respect,” Morrison wrote. “And the quality that made ladyhood worthy? Softness, helplessness and modesty—which I interpreted as a willingness to let others do their labor and their thinking.” She spends the essay elaborating on how this school of thought had infiltrated the Women’s Liberation movement, the alienation of Black women and how (white) feminism was more about attaining the same rights as white men.
Photo credit: Pinterest/Amazon/Brooklyn White