Owing to a recent sequence of unspeakable travesties, culminating with the killing that shook the US, the Black Lives Matter movement and unified anti-racism efforts have gained new levels of support throughout the world. And rightfully so. But this is a trenchant journey that it is certainly not over, and we’d all be wise to continue to show our support wherever possible. This includes, of course, reading the important books, educating ourselves and practicing all the empathy available to us.
Obviously, the racial experiences of authors in Africa go a long way toward communicating the challenges and impacts that still exist, and the forces that keep the world unjustly separated. So, here are some books written by African writers (many of whom are from South Africa – one country among many that has witnessed far more damage to black lives than any ought to). We would all do well to read and digest them.
Run Racist Run: Journeys into the Heart of Racism by Eusebius McKaiser
McKaiser is well known for his strong societal observations and ability to argue persuasively and philosophically. In this book he seeks to get to the bottom of racism in contemporary South Africa — where colonialism still pulls some strings, where even the most liberal still grapple with “imbedded” prejudices and where anger wields significant psychological heft. In also acknowledging events in the US, he explores the unequal structuring of society, identifies the un-healing pain that racism inflicts and highlights our potential, and our responsibility, to be a part of the solution.
Run Racist Run is an excellent step toward understanding the ongoing struggle for race equality. Be aware, though, that McKaiser is fairly uncompromising in his narrative, and is not afraid to call out those who perpetuate stereotype and prejudice.
Always Another Country by Sisonke Msimang
Sisonke Msimang is a respected writer for whom no particular country called ever truly be called home. Throughout her peripatetic life, which led from Zambia, the country of her birth in exile, to Kenya, Canada and South Africa, among others, finally landing her in Australia, where she is now based, Msimang has repeatedly faced the prospect of outsider-hood. Moving as a child, from one society to another, and living among many different people, Msimang gathered a plethora of perspectives on racism and xenophobia as she grew into a woman.
This memoir is the moving and inquisitive result of a shifting lifetime. It’s a coming of age story in two senses. In the first, it is an intensely personal account of an early life typified by transitions. And in the second, it tells the tale of two continents’ gradual political and racial awakening. Msimang tells too of her initial joy at being able to return to the new democratic South Africa only to become disappointed and concerned.
Due to its warmth and reflection, Always Another Country is essential to BLM as it impels all of us to remember that a person can find oneself in a place through a myriad of ways, and encourages the empathy that this should inspire in every one of us.
I Write What I Like by Steve Biko
A classic within the Black Consciousness Movement and in many ways a key catalyst for change, these selected writings of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko demonstrate the passion of his early years and offer a glimpse into the mind of a man who would become one of the movement’s most powerful figures, and one of the world’s most legendary activists.
The articles, lectures and correspondence (from 1969 to 1972) contained herein are uncompromising in their criticism of various elements of society, notably including the church and “white liberals”, and several serve to illuminate the black consciousness philosophy while unequivocally calling for black people to cast off their oppression. Inflammatory? Possibly. Still relevant? Certainly. At a time when activism looks quite different, and many of the freedoms once denied are now available, Biko’s writing effectively reminds us that today’s resistance is the successor to the revolutions that paved their way.
The Way I See it: The Musings of a Black Woman in the Rainbow Nation by Lerato Tshabalala
Racial and societal discourse can just as easily be fuelled by humour as by other means, and columnist Tshabalala’s first book highlights this in controversial, often hilarious and irreverent fashion.
Unabashed honesty is a trademark of Tshabalala’s writing, which also seeks to illuminate the eccentric, sometimes exasperating, mechanics of South African society in all its political, cultural and emotional complexity. No subject is left untouched upon – regardless of whether it is likely to offend. Spoiler: it probably is.
From inequality in its many forms to gender and stereotypes, from daily annoyances to corporate power, The Way I See It is a portrait of a country whose triumphant adoption of democracy left it with more than a few knots to untangle and rifts to repair. It’s a light read, but one that is surprisingly thought-provoking and insightful; it’s humour, but it’s examination too.
Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a Brown Woman in a White South Africa By Haji Mohamed Dawjee
Another example of witty racial dialogue that is as likely to make you laugh as to cringe, its salt and vinegar observations sketch a country still very much divided by colour-specific lines. With an emphasis on modern topics, Sorry, Not Sorry scrutinises the finer points, and the subtler gestures, of pretended wokeness and ingrained ignorance.
From the publisher: “Why don’t white people understand that Converse tekkies are not just cool but a political statement to people of colour? Why is it that South Africans of colour don’t really ‘write what we like’? What’s the deal with people pretending to be ‘woke’? Is Islam really as antifeminist as is claimed? What does it feel like to be a brown woman in a white media corporation? And what life lessons can we learn from Bollywood movies?
In Sorry, Not Sorry, Haji Mohamed Dawjee explores the often maddening experience of moving through post-apartheid South Africa as a woman of colour. In characteristically candid style, she pulls no punches when examining the social landscape: from arguing why she’d rather deal with an open racist than some liberal white people, to drawing on her own experience to convince readers that joining a cult is never a good idea. In the provocative voice that has made Mohamed Dawjee one of our country’s most talked-about columnists, she offers observations laced with an acerbic wit. Sorry, Not Sorry will make readers laugh, wince, nod, introspect and argue.”
Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature By Ngugi Wa Thiong’o
It’s a simple truth, but possibly not one to which many of us pay that much attention: linguistics and language play a huge part not only in the propagation of cultural and political dominance, but also in the continuation of similar mechanisms. Decolonising the Mind is a read that appeals to the more intellectual facets of racial dialogue, and one that is very clear about the need for African language and a de-Euro-centricised outlook. Through four essays, the book highlights the role that language plays in both combatting and perpetrating imperialism.
Ngugi Wa Thiong’o is one of the greatest novelists ever to emerge from Africa as a whole, and is also a leading post-colonial theorist and critic. His work, which ranges from fiction and experimental theatre to ideological argument and children’s stories, is profound in its scope and this encapsulating introduction to his leading ideas is as essential to our understanding of a post-colonial Africa as are Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and Biko’s I Write What I Like.
Other Suggested Reads:
If you’ve read all of these, or if none of them particularly take your fancy, there are still plenty of other books and authors you can check out as we support our ongoing journey toward true equality. As with those above, these are all by African authors.
- Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
- Call Me Woman by Ellen Kuzwayo
- Wrestling with the Devil – A Prison Memoir by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
- The Love Diary of a Zulu Boy by Bhekisisa Mncube
- A manifesto for social change by Moeletsi Mbeki, Nobantu Mbeki
- Odyssey of a Woman: Coloured Diaries : “experiences of an Eastern Cape ‘mixed-breed'” by Brenda Wardle
- Breaking a Rainbow, Building a Nation: The Politics Behind #mustfall Movements by Rekgotsofetse Chikane
Happy Reading. Be Wonderful to Each Other.