15 Black Feminist Books for Everyone

Sister Citizen, Melissa Harris-Perry; Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde; Black Girls Are From the Future, Renina Jarmon (Amazon.com)
Sister Citizen, Melissa Harris-Perry; Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde; Black Girls Are From the Future, Renina Jarmon (Amazon.com)

(The Root) — White feminism's disregard for black women's issues is nothing new, and sexism in black power movements from the United States to South Africa is also well documented. So it was no surprise when Twitter exploded on Monday with the #solidarityisforwhitewomen trending topic. Writer Mikki Kendall started the tag in response to the insensitivity of some noted white feminists toward victims of writer Hugo Schwyzer's vicious attacks on feminists of color.


On Tuesday, Ebony's Jamilah Lemieux's #blackpowerisforblackmen continued the conversation, this time focusing on the plight of black feminists within the black community. With these hashtags, black feminists used Twitter to revisit discussions that are often ignored in both mainstream feminist media and historical accounts of black liberation struggles. Unsurprisingly, by the end of the night, the #solidarityisforwhitewomen stream was full of tweets from people who clearly don't read books about black feminism. The #blackpowerisforblackmen hashtag was filled with comments from those who refused to acknowledge black male privilege.

It's not a good idea to tell black feminists anything about black feminism if you don't know what you're talking about. Or, as my grandmother always tells me, don't open your mouth if you don't have anything intelligent to say. While I'm tempted just to tell everyone to Google this information on their own, I've also compiled a list of black feminist books that everyone should read before entering conversations like the ones these hashtags started.

1. 'Feminism Is for Everybody,' by Bell Hooks

Feminism Is for Everybody (Amazon.com)

Feminism Is for Everybody — which explores topics such as reproductive rights, violence, race, class and work — is essential reading by Bell Hooks, one of the most prominent black feminist writers. Her book proves that feminism is, in fact, for everybody.

2. 'Sister Citizen,' by Melissa Harris-Perry

Sister Citizen (Amazon.com)

I am a "stan" for Melissa Harris-Perry. In this book, she delves into the four tropes of black women — Jezebel, Mammy, Sapphire and Strong Black Woman — and presents her thesis of the "crooked room" that black women live in because of the multiple oppressions they face. This is an important read for contemporary feminists.


3. 'Blacks,' by Gwendolyn Brooks

Blacks (Third World Press)

Gwendolyn Brooks' collection of poems explores the everyday life of black Chicago. It also includes her novel "Maud Martha," in which readers are introduced to a self-aware and determined black woman facing the realities of being black in 1940s Chicago.


4. 'Black Girls Are From the Future,' by Renina Jarmon

Black Girls Are From the Future (Renina Jarmon)

Renina Jarmon coined the term #blackgirlsarefromthefuture. Her first book is a collection of essays on the digital humanities and the intersection of race and gender. I'm sure her work will enter the canon of black feminist writing.


5. 'Their Eyes Were Watching God,' by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God (Wikipedia Commons)

Often lauded as the first black feminist work of fiction, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, a love story between Janie and Teacake, shows that black women can make their own decisions, unapologetically.


6. 'Black Feminist Thought,' by Patricia Hill Collins

Black Feminist Thought (Amazon.com)

Patricia Hill Collins' book is a standard text for anyone studying black feminism. Black Feminist Thought explores black women's double burden of racial and gender discrimination and sets a framework for understanding the issues they face.


7. 'Killing the Black Body,' by Dorothy Roberts

Killing the Black Body (Amazon.com)

Dorothy Roberts' work focuses on the impact of social policy on black women. From reproductive issues to "welfare reform," black women have often suffered the brunt of these political decisions.


8. 'To Be Young, Gifted and Black,' by Lorraine Hansberry

To Be Young, Gifted and Black (Amazon.com)

If I could invite anyone to dinner, it would be Lorraine Hansberry. Hansberry was an ardent feminist way before the Second Wave. This collection of her writing and letters is an important look into the mind of a young, black and feminist woman ahead of her time.


9. 'This Bridge Called My Back,' by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa

This Bridge Called My Back (Wikipedia Commons)

Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa edited this collection of writings by feminists of color. My favorite line in the book comes from poet Kate Rushin: Women of color "do more translating than the gawdamn UN."


10. 'Black Feminist Politics From Kennedy to Obama,' by Duchess Harris

Black Feminist Politics From Kennedy to Obama (Amazon.com)

Professor Duchess Harris' book explores the political gains of black women from the 1960s to 2001. She determines that black women still have a long way to go to achieve political power.


11. 'Sula,' by Toni Morrison

Sula (Wikipedia Commons)

In this novel, Toni Morrison delves into the life of Sula, a pariah in her community for her interracial relationships and her affair with her friend's husband. The work focuses on the friendship between Nel and Sula and the bonds that black women create.


12. 'When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost,' by Joan Morgan

When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost (Amazon.com)

Joan Morgan's book is essential to understanding the place of the hip-hop generation within modern feminism.


13. 'In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens,' by Alice Walker

In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens (Amazon.com)

In Alice Walker's first nonfiction book, she explores the civil rights movement and black motherhood. Alice Walker is credited with coining the term "womanism" — essentially, feminism that is concerned with black women and the black community.


14. 'Sister Outsider,' by Audre Lorde

Sister Outsider (Amazon.com)

Audre Lorde's essential writings are compiled in this book. The celebrated black lesbian writer's work explores the lives of black women and the sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia and class discrimination they face.


15. 'All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave,' by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott and Barbara Smith

All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave (Amazon.com)