You would think that after attending primary through secondary school with a 95% black student population, my black history education wouldn't have been so severely lacking. To be fair, my education regarding women in history and feminism was almost nonexistent. My freshman year English teacher was unmarried, owned her own home, and drove herself all over the country to see her favorite bands in concert. She was my epitome of cool. Not once did I think of her as a feminist. I mean, she wasn't angry all the time, nor did I believe she hated men. I'd never even heard of a black woman being referred to as a feminist. Like most first-generation college students, I didn't know how much I didn't know until someone made me read a book about the gaps in my learning.
I was hooked.
I devoured book after book about the history of my race and gender. Some books relied heavily on scholarly research, others weaved tales from personal experience, or were inspired by women they knew. It did not bother me that I needed to do reading outside of the classroom to truly understand how racism and sexism play a role in the subjugation of women like me, but it did upset me that my history had been rendered practically invisible in all my pre-university education. Who knew I came from such complexity?
My hope is that this list will reach a girl (or a teacher with the foresight to pass it on) long before these titles reached me. With stories like these in my head, I imagine I could have faced certain insecurities about myself with more confidence in my path and purpose. I would like to see that happen for more young black women who find blank spaces where their history should be. I hope they find power between these pages.
1. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
2. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
3. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
4. Divided Sisters: Bridging the Gap Between Black Women and White Women by Midge Wilson and Kathy Russell
5. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment by Patricia Hill Collins
6. Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Hips, Lips, and Other Parts edited by Ayana Byrd and Akiba Solomon
7. When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost by Joan Morgan
8. Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks
9. Women, Race & Class by Angela Y. Davis
10. Mama Day by Gloria Naylor
11. Redefining Realness by Janet Mock*
12. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange
13. Ain’t I A Woman? Black Women & Feminism by bell hooks
Ashley C. Ford has has publications in PANK Literary Magazine, The Rumpus, Necessary Fiction, and other places. She likes Kenny Loggins, ginger ale, and trees. She is writing a book.