The month gives us the opportunity to delve deep into the past to find out about forgotten pioneers, leaders and visionaries whose achievements stand tall over the racial discrimination they faced throughout their lifetimes.
As part of the celebration, here at Earnest we’ve enjoyed a series of discussions about black history, led by our very own Innovation Executive, Sonia Marange. Sonia is also the owner of a successful Instagram page called The Black History Lesson, which is set out to teach the public more about black history. Sonia’s talks have brought us a number of recommended reading and viewing materials that reveal key perspectives on black history and the civil rights struggle – and we’ve collected some of the best (and a few little extras) below:
Black stories on screen
We learnt about Madam C.J. Walker, an iconic African American entrepreneur who is widely regarded as the first female self-made millionaire. You can find out more about Walker’s life in Self Made: Inspired by the life of Madam CJ Walker, available now on Netflix. It’s closer to fiction than a biography, but it’s still more than worth a watch.
Just Mercy is a biographical film that presents the true story of Walter McMillian, an African American worker who was wrongfully jailed for murder in 1987. Starring Jamie Foxx and Michael B Jordan, it follows the legal case as the defence attorney Bryan Stevenson attempts to appeal the racially motivated and entirely fabricated murder conviction.
If you’re in the mood for something more informative however, take a look at I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary based on an unfinished book by James Baldwin, exploring the lives and assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr, as well as showcasing the work of civil rights activists and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Another interesting documentary on the civil rights movement is The Freedom Riders. The film tells the true story of a group of black and white civil rights activists travelling the southern states of America in order to challenge segregation in the 1960s.
Black history on paper
For those who’d prefer to swap a screen for a book instead, we’d recommend The Fire Next Time by Baldwin, an essay about the black and white segregation in the 1960s and the struggle for equal rights. While we’ve got Baldwin on our reading list, we’d also recommend his powerful Notes of a Native Son which has essays on everything from the white emulation of the black press to his own experiences with Jim Crow laws.
Brit(ish): On race, identity and belonging, by Afua Hirsch is also well worth a read. Looking at the identity crisis that many Brits face due to skin colour, this deep dive into the black experience is broadly a memoir and reflection on historical events in Britain that have shaped the way Brits of colour feel about their identity and roots.
For a younger perspective, The Freedom Writer’s Diary is a collection of essays written by the culturally marginalised students of an English teacher. The teacher was given a class of supposedly ‘unteachable students’ who she encouraged to write about their struggles, hopes and feelings in the face of a society that had given up on them. The result is a unique look at the racial struggle from the desks of a school classroom.
British rapper Akala contributes to the discussion on race with the excellent Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire. The British Empire still casts a shadow over both recent British history and the present day, and Akala’s book explores how inequalities in race and class have played out through the empire and beyond, all displayed through the prism of Akala’s own memoirs.
Throughout history, the law has, often intentionally, contributed to racial discrimination across all parts of black people’s lives. The Colour of Law exposes this in great detail, exploring the policies that shaped segregation in American society. Of particular interest is the practice of redlining, urban planning that placed black communities at a significant societal disadvantage.
Another book that delves deep into history to confront the impact of racial discrimination is the seminal Black Skin, White Masks by Martiniquais psychiatrist Frantz Fanon. Written back in 1952, when concepts of racial dehumanisation were still in their infancy, Fanon’s book uses psychoanalysis to establish the connection between the black psyche and centuries of colonial cultural aggression.
Black voices on record
If you’re more of a listener than a reader, there’s a treasure trove of different tales to be told and discussions to be had through the medium of sound.
You Had Me at Black is a podcast covering stories from different black millennials in America on general topics such as church, breakups, queer relationships, mental health struggles and so on in the context of black culture. The aim? To show a real, unfiltered narrative – one that is often watered down in film and television.
Taking its name from the iconic poem and Billie Holiday recording, Strange Fruit holds and encourages discussion around black gay culture. Topics cover all kinds of activism in all walks of life, from black body positivity and LGBTQ allies, through to transracial adoption and the role of storybooks in tearing down bias – guests often include actors, authors, professors, and models.
Another two podcasts well worth a listen are Witness Black History, a BBC show that covers a wide range of different topics within Black History, both historical and recent, and About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, a series that follows on from her book Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race.
For quickfire content, BLAM UK offers up quick bitesize black history lessons each week, teaching about black cultures from around the world and the history that defines them. Recent topics include the Haitian Revolution, black British vernacular, African architecture and the Garifuna people of Saint Vincent. Each podcast is just ten minutes long, ideal for a quick top up on a short commute.
Finally, For those who just want to lie back and put a record or two on, we’ve created a tailor-made Earnest playlist full of music by our favourite black artists of all eras. There’s a little bit of something for everyone in here, featuring Outkast, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Etta James, Prince, Akon, Tracy Chapman and many, many more.
Those are just some of our picks for Black History Month, but backed by the internet, we’ve got more access to black voices, culture and history than ever before. Learn more about the observance and the people behind it on the Black History Month website or our Earnest curated Black History Lessons YouTube playlist.