YOU GUYS. This has been A Time. We are all having A Time right now, in various ways, reckoning with various things, and wow, there is a lot to reckon with. Enter: my friend, Ekho.
For this month’s Ten Things, Ekho is paying us another visit at Unquiet Things (you may remember them from their excellent 10 Things To Stop You From Burning It All Down guest post last year!) and we are always so thrilled and honored to host their knowledge, wisdom, and insights. I know that whenever Ekho and I have a conversation, I will always come away both energized and humbled, having learned more about, well, something (we have diverse and interesting discussions!) as well as learning something about myself. I honestly count them among the most brilliant and thoughtful humans I know! One of the things I love most about Ekho though is something I wish I could be better about myself–I can always count on them to tell me when I can do better. Discussions like that aren’t easy to have and they are not always easy to hear, but I do my best to always be open to learning how I have misstepped, and how I can get it right, I am so appreciative of people who will take the time and energy to broach those conversations with me.
In that vein, Ekho is here this month to help us build a better bookshelf.
Ekho lives on Wurundjeri land in the Kulin Nation in so called “Australia”. They write, read, study social anthropology, are committed to anti-racism, & believe in nonbinaryfuturism. Let a thousand genders bloom. During the pandemic they have been bed ridden like a Gothic literature protagonist, & have coped by burrowing under their one hundred odd unread books. Their IG is @_hex_libris
Hi there, what you are about to read is a shortlist of antiracist book recs. A few years ago, in a paradigm far far away, I became very frustrated with how many books I owned that were by cis-White-men. Libraries and bookstores in my corner of Australia were packed with them too. Franchises were predominantly written and directed by cis-White-men. This was in recent time but still feels aeons ago compared to Taika Waititi doing epic work with The Mandalorian, N. K. Jemisin bringing out Eldritch supernatural SFF to punch racist Lovecraft in the proverbial and literary face, Janet Mock directing a TV series about BIPOC queer and trans lives, and Alok Vaid-Menon getting published by Penguin to write a pocketbook for gender-expansive teens to help equip them for this not so welcoming world. Don’t know who these folx are? Well now you have read their names and you have 4 wonderful BIPOC folx to look up and consume what they create.
CONSUMING. CONSUMER. We are all consumers no matter how little waste we want to produce. I am a post-grad social anthropologist working on my honours thesis, and like many millennials, I have anxiety about what I consume. How much waste do I leave behind? What’s my carbon footprint? I need to stop shopping! Why did all my earthworms die? In one of the many wonderful textbooks on Indigenous peoples I read in my bachelor’s degree, I came across an Amazonian culture that viewed every single thing as a consumer because we literally need fuel to survive. This translated into cannibalism as well. You are a cannibal because you consume. You consume a thing with life force even if you are a staunch vegan. And the earth is a cannibal too, breaking down and consuming our bodies with the help of cannibal bugs and consuming bacteria. So I say CONSUME and be mindful of what you consume.
White folx, if you read, watch, listen, dance to, support, donate to, fund, and view, work by Black, Indigenous, people of Colour, then you will begin one of the many steps towards being antiracist. You will be funding their livelihoods and you will be supporting them with your dollary-doos. Your antiracism must be active. That includes, buying (or requesting your library to order it in) THEN READING, the book. Blog or review the book WHILE BEING MINDFUL that if you are White you will have been socialised to read and understand literature in a certain way. When an author who is Black/Indigenous/of Colour breaks White Euro literary conventions, learn from them, don’t police them. You are literally making your own life tasteless and empty by reducing the potentiality of literature to a mirror of yourself and your education and your Whiteness. Don’t be that person. I have read each and every one of these books that I am recommending. I read a lot, so 10 doesn’t mean much… I wish I could recommend 20. Or 100. What I have here is a mix of ethnicities and cultures, a mix of genders, a mix of sexual orientations, a mix of forms of literature. All the authors are BIPOC. The quick info-data-intro summarises what you are getting into and why I think you should get on in; but please do not let that limit your experience with it. Many of these authors are so expansive and multiplicitous that my mere words are not enough. Where possible I have recommended another form of media to consume when you read that book as a complimentary item.
In closing, before you jump into this list, me- a White nonbinary person living on Wurundjeri land in the country so-called Australia, is writing this list to direct you to books by BIPOC and also content by BIPOC creators because right now and forever, our bookshelves need to get decolonised, our minds and hearts need to as well, and White people who can, need to do this work to directing others to creations by BIPOC. I’ve read the books, I’ve watched the films, and I’ve danced my bod to the songs. I am not going to regurge yet another listicle of content from White creators. And if your listicles DON’T contain some work by BIPOC you need to ask yourself why because these folx work in every genre, in every medium, in every art form. Creation doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Don’t let Whiteness be the reason you consume something.
Title: Dark Emu.
Author: Bruce Pascoe.
Background: Nonfiction about Aboriginal Australian agricultural practices prior to and during early years of colonisation. Bruce Pascoe is an Aboriginal Australian writer who has done work across YA, children’s lit, historic fiction, literary fiction, and nonfiction. Dark Emu examines the colonial myth of Australia and how European colonisers have deliberately framed Indigenous Australians as lacking agriculture and forms of farming to perpetuate the idea of Aboriginal people having little to no culture, being nomadic hunter gathers who lived like cave people out of a DreamWorks animation. Sounds ridic but the plan worked for a very long time with many policies and racist White Supremacist laws paving the way for destruction of Aboriginal Australians. Bruce got sick of ALL THAT and went through the colonial archives reading essays and surveys and diaries by colonisers and found so much evidence of beautiful cultural traditions, bravery of Aboriginal people along with agriculture, aquaculture, and community. That is what Dark Emu is about, that journey into the archives to read firsthand accounts of a history that has been deliberately erased through White Supremacy, Imperialism, and greed.
Accompanying Media: Mystery Road, a crime/mystery series spanning 2 films and 2 tv series following the career of Detective Jay Swan, an Aboriginal Australian man, who investigates murders and mysteries that directly impact and pertain to Indigenous lives in Australia.
Author: Akwaeke Emezi.
Background: a short middle-grade novel about a utopian American antiracist society with a trans femme main character. Akwaeke Emezi is Black, nonbinary writer based in New Orleans. Their various IG accts are so wonderful and you can see facets of their physical and spiritual journey there. Pet is set in a utopia that SHOWS an imagining of how we could do things differently, no police, no crime, no violence. We get to read the transition of the main character and it is one of joy and love, part of her life but not central to the story (since when have any of us wanted to be reduced to just GENDER yet that seems to dominate media about transgender people). A monster crawls from a painting by Jam’s mother. Her town is supposed to be free of predators yet Pet is here because it is not, and they must be stopped before evil seeps back in. It is a truly chilling story relevant for any age despite the character being in their early teens.
Accompanying media: the amazing song Q.U.E.E.N by Janelle Monae featuring Erykah Badu released in 2013.
Title: Do Muslim Women Need Saving?
Author: Lila Abu Lughod.
Background: I studied a textbook by Lila Abu Lughod in first-year anthropology about Bedouin culture. The perspective she wrote it from was from that of the women within the society, revealing to her a very different world to how most of the world views not only Bedouin women but also Muslim women. Lila Abu Lughod is a biracial woman with a Muslim Middle Eastern background. Her research as an anthropologist and empathy for the different cultures and ethnicities that follow Islam led her to write various essays that challenge the social imaginary of what White people think about Muslim people, especially the narrative of ‘saving Muslim women’. Do Muslim Women Need Saving collects essays that directly challenge these notions and educate those not within those cultures.
Accompanying Media: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. A female vigilante vampire in Iran kills baddies, dances gloriously in her apartment, wears a chador, and falls in love.
Title: An Unkindness of Ghosts.
Author: Rivers Solomon.
Background: Rivers Solomon is a nonbinary Black person now residing in the UK with their family. They write wonderful speculative fiction that addresses intersections of body, race, culture, class, gender, sexuality, and what resides in our pasts. An Unkindness of Ghosts follows a highly intelligent gender nonconforming young female called Aster who assists a ship surgeon on a space station lost off course. Something is sending people within the space station crazy, and the racialized classism is claiming lives quicker than the mysterious “ghosts”. Aster must solve the puzzle to understand not only the death of her mother, but the root of the racism and classism in the space station and what is causing malfunctions and death and insanity.
Accompanying Media: Seji the Artisan Geek on Instagram @theartisangeek runs an amazing booktube, bookstagram and has made a database of Black authors as a resource for readers wanting to find specific themes, topics, genres, age groups and accessibility. You can find the google document at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ffsB6mzGd0IHztJOCyFjFLYcfpP7I6H5UrV45tz42eg/mobilebasic
Title: Ezili’s Mirrors, Imagining Black Queer Genders.
Author: Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley.
Background: Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley is a queer Black woman of Afro Caribbean descent. This book branches between academia, song, oral communications, and visual material that sublimates the concept of research into something new or perhaps, something very old, something pre-colonial. The book explores modes of Ezili, the many Ezili of the Voudoun pantheon and how these Ezili embody various forms of femme queerness and who then interacts with these queer Ezili. I hope through exploring this book you will understand part of the impact colonisation has had upon gender and how Black people, queer or not, live outside of the White gender binary and that it is something imposed on them, on us all; a violent liminality to control and minimise. If you are interested in different cultural practices, the influence Afro Caribbean culture has had upon queer communities, if you are enamoured with magic and spirituality like me, if you want a book celebrating Black women and girls and femmes (the answer is yes), then Ezilis Mirrors is waiting.
Title: Fabulous, the Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric.
Author: Madison Moore.
Background: Madison Moore is a gender-expansive queer Black man, an academic, a fashionista and, a DJ. Fabulous contains a collection of amazing essays exploring Black and Brown Fabulousness and its history in Afro American culture and in Queer culture. You will get to explore different art forms and expressions, be introduced to mythic sex clubs, groundbreaking film, the social media of the new generation of Fabulous BIPOC Queer folx, and my fav, and interview with the nonbinary fashionista/prophet/poet/artist/healer Alok Vaid-Menon. Focusing on the work and influence of Black and Brown people in not only Queer communities but the fashion world is so important and understanding the multiple modes of intellectual and cultural dispossession we enact towards Black and Brown queer folk is one of many steps towards anti-racism and changing our thinking and practices.
Title: Queen of the Conquered.
Author: Kacen Callender.
Background: Kacen Callender is a nonbinary Black person of Caribbean descent. They write across multiple genres and age groups and if I had my say, their Tweets would be bound and published by the Folio Society. Queen of the Conquered is as far as I can tell the first genre fiction book Kacen has had published (but far from the first they wrote, if their Tweets tell the truth). It is set in an alternate Caribbean Islands, heavily leaning into themes of Gothic Horror. The book is very much marketed as a Fantasy novel but I disagree with that, Gothic Horror is my toe-jam, and this book is GOTHIC AF. The mc Sigourney Rose seeks revenge for the slaughter of her family when she was a child due to running plantations on one of the Islands and as punishment for their Blackness. All the other Plantation owners are White with heavy Scandinavian vibes. Sigourney is biracial but very dark-skinned and adopted into a family sympathetic towards the slaughter of her kin. She vows to seek revenge and grows up entwined in the racist and brutal politics of the Islands. Full of ghosts, mind games, psychological terror, and whimsical women running through mangroves, yes this book feels very gothic horror to me.
It’s about time we have more gothic books with predominantly Black and Brown characters because the gothic subgenres have been built upon the suffering of Black and Brown bodies. Wuthering Heights to Dracula, the aspects of racialization are very difficult to ignore and many an academic essay will pop up discussing the value of race in these genres especially race and villain. This is a pull no punches book on colonisation in the Caribbean, the only fantastical elements is how magic manifests, but pull away the metaphor and that magic represents who has the right to live, who has the power to make others die, and who has the ability to inflict pain on others. Book two comes out in December and I am excited to read the next installment despite screaming at our unlikeable heroine the whole time, who cannot see revenge will never succeed when on the playing field of White Supremacy.
Accompany Media: https://www/fiyahlitmag.com/review/review-queen-of-the-conquered-by-kacen-callendar/ check out this #ownvoices review if you are still on the fence about this eerie and challenging book.
Title: The Land of Open Graves.
By: Jason de Leon
Background: Jason de Leon is a Latinx archaeologist who has done contemporary archaeology on people crossing the Mexico American border into the States. This is one of the most harrowing books I read, I learnt about the weaponization of nature and land against the people needing to journey into the US, their vulnerabilities, their hopes and dreams, the lies they are fed, and the very real reason why they would want to cross an imagined border into a different country to be able to provide for their families and change their opportunities. Mostly I learnt of the imagined concept of borders, their politicization and their role in upholding White Supremacy. I urge all people living on colonised land with govts not allowing refugees and asylum seekers in (or allowing them in but profiling them and leaving them in detention) to read this book.
Accompanying Media: Mayans MC TV show. This spin-off of Sons of Anarchy is far superior from the OG series and primarily focuses on Brown Lantinx and Indigenous bikers and the various social issues that are caused by Trumps’ wall, corruption, racism, and people trafficking. The show is very violent but highlights police corruption in the US, vigilantism, family bonds, and primarily Latinx actors.
Title: The Devourers.
By: Indra Das.
Background: This is one of my all-time favourite books which I have not read since my initial foray between the pages in 2017. I expected a South Asian Interview with the Vampire-esque story with shapeshifters and gore. I got that but I also got many openly queer characters, an examination of gender expansion and gender nonconformity in colonial India, racism and misogyny in India, and a lush AF heartbreaking story that is filled with longing and hope. Looking at this makes me want to reread it. Because there is a reason I keep gifting copies to folx and that I hold it so close to my heart.
Accompanying Media: I urge every reader to check out https://www.alokvmenon.com and explore the work of Alok, the wonderful Indian, nonbinary genderfluid writer and artist. They create exquisite fashion, have performances available on youtube, and have a pocket-book and poetry collection available in print to purchase. They have always been a huge inspiration and validation for me as a nonbinary trans person.
By: Stephen Graham Jones.
Background: Mongrels is a werewolf story and a coming of age narrative, in an urban horror setting that is analogous for being Indigenous in North America. Stephen Graham Jones is a Blackfeet Native American author with a prolific bibliography. Mongrels was an outstanding read, gritty, suspenseful, and examining the impact of blood quantum on a child growing up on the fringes, and how that affects their sense of self, their life choices, and indigeneity. I anticipate his newest release, The Only Good Indians, which comes out in a few months, and I have preordered a copy because in the publishing world preorders assist authors with getting better pay with their next book deal (pay in publishing is incredibly uneven for BIPOC authors). I wish I could say more about Mongrels but I actually read it a handful of years ago, but I did so in a buddy read and I remember both of us were blown away by how unputdownable the book was, and how heart-rending. Stephen Graham Jones books are tough to come by in Australia, but that’s the truth for every author who is BIPOC or queer, shops think we still want Tim Winton, or, the poisonous JKR.
Accompanying Media: I highly recommend @thunderbirdwomanreads on Instagram. This incredible bookstagram account run by Dani who is Anishinaabekwe; features beautiful posts and reviews of books by Indigenous authors. She is a skilled writer and through her posts she educates on social justice, and the importance of decolonizing your mind and bookcase. While her feed is full of amazing books, you can also pay her for her time and order specialised recommendations that she has created with her knowledge and time investment.
In conclusion, I can’t force you to become anti-racist. I cannot walk you onto the path of becoming that is unending, that is never-ending, that is unlearning, that is confronting your prejudice, confronting the racism you were socialised in, confronting the White Supremacy you benefit from. This is a journey we all embark on alone. But there is no reasons you cannot take a book with you, a book to teach you, to learn from, to develop your empathy, to unlearn false histories and become informed, to become a better ally, to actively work on being antiracist.
Reading and financially supporting creative endeavours by BIPOC people is only one facet of antiracism. But it is something you can continue doing as you learn, as you make mistakes, as you spread awareness in your communities, as your confront friends and family on their racism, as you unpack your shame and move into doing something constructive, something that actually benefits BIPOC lives. Don’t be too scared of getting it wrong that you do nothing. Don’t assume that everyone around you knows you are antiracist. If you are not active and present in your antiracism then you need to be, because racism doesn’t sleep or go on pause or just stop for BIPOC. It is constant– so antiracism must be constant in its various, myriad, shifting, and nebulous forms.
Dash Cooray says
Such a fascinating and exciting list of books! I know that my friend Ekho has great taste in books so I am super excited to add these to my TBR!