Up to now, I have chosen to share information about the Black Lives Matter movement and racial justice on my other social media accounts. I try to take some time to read, listen, and reflect before I make more personal statements here at Postcards, because I want to say something that’s meaningful and helpful, rather than just saying something for the sake of saying something. I certainly don’t want to engage in what Holiday Phillips calls “Performance Allyship” — that is, making shallow statements just for the sake of looking good, and without having put much actual thought into it.
I will admit right now that I am one of those people who’s been alternating between messages about racial justice and unrelated, trivial photos of my summer shenanigans, and this can definitely look like shallow activism.
In my mind, the more trivial posts were not meant to distract from the fight, but to:
- Give readers and viewers a chance to rest and recharge for a few seconds, so we don’t get burned out too quickly or fall into despair.
- And to show how integral the fight for justice should be to a person’s life. Justice work should be as natural, personal, and everyday as sharing photos of a pedicure or a mermaid smoothie.
As Phillips says, true allyship needs to be an ongoing phenomenon, not just a temporary trend whenever something terrible happens.
Another way we, as readers and book bloggers, can contribute to long-term justice is to support stories that show what a just society actually looks like — a society in which Black protagonists can have adventures that either have nothing to do with their race, or that acknowledge race but focus primarily on other themes, or that begin from a historical standpoint but move far beyond it to an optimistic future. See, for example, Nnedi Okorafor’s definition of Africanfuturism. Because, as @athenakugblenu says, one great way to “decenter whiteness” is to “read happy Black books, too” — books about subjects other than just racism and slavery.
I’m currently reading the following two books:
N. K. Jemisin’s short story collection, How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? As the title says, the whole point of studying the injustices of the past is to create a better present and future…so let’s imagine a future in which Black protagonists can participate in all the variations of fantasy and sci-fi! Because, when you portray people as worthy of being heroes in fantastic literature, you teach people to treat them as heroes in real life.
On a side note, if I hadn’t already filled the “Beautiful Cover” square on my bingo card, I might’ve chosen this one, too. That gorgeous portrait was taken by CreativeSoul Photography, as part of their AfroArt Series that highlights the diversity of Black hair.
On a second side note, this collection is great from both a Black Lives Matter standpoint and from a Pride perspective, since several of the stories feature queer protagonists.
Bethany C. Morrow’s urban fantasy novel, A Song Below Water. It’s about two Black mermaids fighting for their right to exist — both as mermaids and as Black women — in an alternate universe where merfolk have been openly part of American history for decades, at least. So far, it’s a fintastic story that raises questions about (1) how myths develop and how closely they align with reality; and (2) how the victims of crime are portrayed and honored (or not), depending on their identities.
I’m planning to count this as a “Book I saw someone else reading” (in this case, I saw a screenshot of someone’s audiobook on Instagram, under the #amreading tag…because what better way to people-watch readers during a quarantine?).
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Speaking of #merfolkforblacklives (a movement started by Mermaid Chè Monique), I highly recommend checking out this conversation with Mermaid Chè and other Black Merfolk on Facebook video (the fun starts at 2:30). They discuss their experiences, both good and bad, as mer-formers and as two-legged humans. The talk will also be broadcast in a condensed form on The Mermaid Podcast. Besides Mermaid Chè, these are the other participants (plus two more marvelous mers whom I follow on Instagram):
- Mermaid JessaLee
- Mermaid Caribbean Pearl
- Nando D of the Deep Blue Sea
- The Blixunami
- Keeva Queen Mercorn
- Merman Maui
- Mermaid Aziza
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Finally, if you’re looking for more feel-good fantasy/sci-fi/Juv-YA/LGBT stories with Black protagonists, I recommend the following. Oh, and if you’re a fan of adult rom-coms, see this lover-ly list!
Each title links to the Goodreads page.
Zahrah the Windseeker, by Nnedi Okorafor
Fantasy, Solarpunk, Africanjujuism
Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor
Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor
The Deep, by Rivers Solomon, et al.
The Egypt Game, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste
Shake dem Halloween Bones, by W. Nikola-Lisa
Hurricane Child, by Kheryn Callender
Our Own Private Universe, by Robin Talley
All of the Jessi books in the Babysitters Club series
Ok, this last one’s a TV show, but it teaches literacy by way of supernatural hijinks with a diverse cast of pre-teens who are portrayed as 3D humans rather than tokens or types. Plus, the 90stalgia is hilarious. See (almost) all the episodes on IBeGhostwriter’s YouTube channel (the correctly-numbered Slime Monster ones are here).
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Sound off, Bookwyrms! What are some of your favorite stories that model a more optimistic future? Know any more mer-formers I should follow?
They don’t show a future that makes a reader immediately optimistic, but I love Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents because of the hope she sees in dreaming big (you have to read the second one to get the full import of how big the protagonist dreams and what comes of it).
Those are definitely on my TBR list! I tried reading Parable of the Sower in high school, and although I immediately related to the highly sensitive protagonist, I was a little too quick to put the book down because of the very dystopic beginning. I think knowing there’s optimism in the distance will help me pick it back up.