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15 Books You Hated Reading As The Only Black Person In Class

Class discussion? How about not, though?

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These are all great books and the value of teaching them is vast, but discussing them in a class where you're the only black student is a much different experience. It can lead to embarrassment and moments where you become the teacher yourself, and may inspire unintentional aggression in defending your POV.

1. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain

Any black student whose first introduction to literature also coincided with attending a predominantly white educational setting, more often than not meant they read Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. This would also be your first experience of a teacher asking people to read aloud passages so your classmates saying the n-word could be forever burned in your mind.

2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

Tom Sawyer is basically a walk in the park compared to having to be the only black person in class when it's time to say "N****r Jim" all seven hundred thousand times it's in this book.


3. Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Everyone loves a story about kind and gentle slaves! So much, that The Economist had to pull a review of “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” by Edward Baptist, because the reviewer stated: "Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains."

It's really hard to talk about slavery in general in a class discussion, especially when books go to great lengths to whitewash its evils.

5. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison

Most kids actually just don't understand this book at a high school level, so you're pretty safe unless you have an overzealous English teacher who is determined to make this THE book that defines your life. Be prepared to duck out of class early so you don't get caught up in "a quick chat" to see how you're digesting the material.


6. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Wherein you wonder whether most of your classmates and their parents have more in common with the townspeople than they do Atticus Finch. There will also invariably be one student who continues to think that Boo Radley is black... even after watching the movie.

8. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner

There's a tendency among white male writers who want to adequately represent the characters they're writing about to use every racial slur imaginable. The "That's how my characters would talk!" defense is always front and center in any class discussion where you'd like, sure, but can we not?

9. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway

This could be swapped out for any number of books, but The Sun Also Rises belongs in the category of "books you really enjoy until a black person shows up for one page and he's referred to by the n-word!"


10. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston specifically wrote this book to combat the Racial Uplift movement, which proposed that books about African-Americans present them in a positive light to engender favor among white audiences. Hurston had zero time for that, but if you're not aware of the context, it becomes a very awkward class discussion about black people behaving poorly. Sorta like how you side-eye anyone who thinks Olivia Pope having an affair on Scandal means "black women be sexing."

11. A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry

On the flip side, Lorraine Hansberry's play about a black family living in the South Side of Chicago has an uplifting message, but also embraces a rejection of assimilating in to white culture in order to succeed. It can be very disheartening talking about the book's message with a classroom of students who may view YOU as assimilating since you've managed to make it into their all-white educational setting.

13. The Crucible, by Arthur Miller


Tituba, the role you've been waiting for! Stop looking at Maria in West Side Story, you can't pass for Puerto Rican. This white girl next to you can, though, with a little stage makeup.

14. The Story of Ruby Bridges, by Robert Coles

The meta-ness of being the only black person in an all-white class, READING a book about the first black student to enter an all-white elementary school is enough to make anyone's heads spin. It's a breaking of the fourth wall that's all too real and you can't simply pretend you've but slumber'd here while these visions did appear.

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