After engaging with each one of these texts, I was fully reminded that the United States still functions off of hate for Black people. I was aware of it, yes, but I often felt like many of the challenges Black people face were due to apathy. People simply did not care to fix the issues facing Black people that had been created out of a system based on profit ― but no.
Hatred is a part of the active maintenance of the oppressive systems that exist today. These sources explore a range of Black experiences in a variety of mediums including biography, documentary, realistic fiction, fantasy and memoir. They deserve to be seen and read on both the merit of the works themselves as well as their relevance to present day U.S.
Watch: “When They See Us”
The indelible link between hatred and the U.S. is undeniable as we watch children being sent to jail for a crime they did not commit because of the color of their skin. Even at age 20, I still consider myself a kid in many ways, which made watching children between the ages of 14 and 16 wrestle with a centuries-old-hate all the more heartbreaking. When I learned of the story years ago, I was distraught. But watching people embody the pain and suffering as the events played out in front of me made my feelings even stronger. All of the grief and outrage ripped through my body like a tornado. I am not usually one to cry, let alone admit it, but when I was watching this, I couldn’t help it. I probably could have given Viola Davis a run for her money. Watch this mini series, and do not forget for a second that you are watching something based on a true story of persecution and injustice. As Kevin Richardson, one of the men who became known as the “Central Park Five,” said of watching the series, it is “painful, but necessary.”
Watch: “Fruitvale Station”
This biographical film is also based on the story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old who was murdered on New Year’s Day 2009 by a transit police officer. Over the 85 minute run time, a complicated portrait of a man, a father and a son unfolds. Audiences follow Oscar’s last day and see how he struggles to provide for his family while trying to be the best version of himself. Many of his challenges and triumphs are relatable in the grand scheme of things. The film communicates Oscar’s full personhood and the complexities that can make up a human life. Most of the film shows Oscar as a young man who had a life to live, even if he did not know what it would look like. He never got to find out, and neither will we. This film takes one of the many figures whose name has been in headlines and explores who he might have been other than someone who was murdered. When so many Black people’s lives have been and still are being stolen, it is important to remember that they are more than names on a list of tragic events.
“13th” tracks the evolution of slavery through the history of the U.S. The film deftly explains the way slavery has persisted since it was institutionalized in the U.S. Any notions you may have learned in AP Government or your political science course regarding the thirteenth amendment abolishing slavery are quickly dispelled upon watching this. This documentary was made for anyone who wants to understand what mass incarceration really is and where it came from. One of the mechanisms that have allowed an act as morally reprehensible as U.S. slavery is the way that slavery was rebranded, fooling people into thinking it had disappeared. This means that, in addition to revealing how we came to have the current U.S. prison system, the film arms viewers with the knowledge they need to reexamine how far the U.S. is from true criminal and racial justice. Watching the film alongside people who were less familiar with the ways that slavery in the U.S. has transformed, I was able to see how much they felt they had learned in such a short period of time. “13th” teaches you what our education system should have.
Read: “Between The World And Me”
I could not help but think of water. The prose is like poetry, yes, but more like a rushing current than anything else. I was swept up, at times supported and others submerged, fighting hard not to sink. The book confronted me with what I felt were the limits of my own intelligence as I attempted to translate the profound truth of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s words; something felt into something understood. I will let you know if I ever manage it.
One thing I can say for certain about the book is that through every syllable, Coates’s love for his son was present. His earnest desire to impart the wisdom he gained through 40 years of life and study as a black man drive the work. As Coates suggests, many of his revelations raise more questions, which is part of the point. Wrestling with the ideas in the book is only appropriate since the book is born of a struggle for Coates himself to unpack weighty ideas including race and class. This book bears multiple readings and some quiet contemplation.
Read: “The Hate U Give”
While “Fruitvale Station“ follows the story of a specific man before his life is taken by the police, “The Hate U Give” follows a teenage girl who could represent numerous people after their friends are murdered by law enforcement. Starr Carter, a 16-year-old girl, takes us through her life at an incredibly difficult time. After seeing her childhood best friend get shot by a police officer, her world changes forever. She is forced to reckon with the forceful and uncomfortable collision of the two separate versions of herself that she has created, the one she needed in her suburban prep school and the one from her neighborhood. This book communicates the experience many Black people have of trying to succeed with expectations of who they should be weighing on them. The honest portrayal of that challenge is made all the more impressive by the fact that author Angie Thomas balances it with the story of a community that is hurting after losing a member to premature and senseless death.
Read: “Children of Blood and Bone”
This book explores a magical world inspired by West African culture. If you’re not familiar with the Afrofuturism genre, this book is an amazing introduction, and lovers of fantasy and epic quests have a great deal to enjoy. As someone who is of Yoruba heritage, the book spoke to me in a special way. It was amazing to see the food, the fashion and the language reflect things that I have seen all my life but have not necessarily been represented in popular culture, let alone in my favorite genre: fantasy. Not only does the book represent one of the many vibrant cultures of Nigeria, it serves as an allegory for the racial oppression found in the U.S. Tomi Adeyemi felt compelled to write the book largely in response to the instances of police brutality that have been widely publicized in recent years. The book recontextualizes the struggles of Black people to make strides toward equity, equality and justice in a system designed to work against them.
Engage with these stories with an open mind. There are no excuses to be uneducated right now.