Aptly, March 21st is a day of new beginnings for a few symbolic reasons. Not only does it mark the first day of Spring, it is also the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In honor of this worthy occasion, we’ve put together a short list which highlight a few of our favourite books which encourage readers to question biases, confront discrimination, and end intolerance.
For more information about the day, visit the UN’s site here.
For Ta-Nehisi Coates, history has always been personal. At every stage of his life, he’s sought in his explorations of history answers to the mysteries that surrounded him — most urgently, why he, and other black people he knew, seemed to live in fear. What were they afraid of? In Tremble for My Country, Coates takes readers along on his journey through America’s history of race and its contemporary resonances through a series of awakenings — moments when he discovered some new truth about our long, tangled history of race, whether through his myth-busting professors at Howard University, a trip to a Civil War battlefield with a rogue historian, a journey to Chicago’s South Side to visit aging survivors of 20th century America’s ‘long war on black people, ‘ or a visit with the mother of a beloved friend who was shot down by the police. In his trademark style — a mix of lyrical personal narrative, reimagined history, essayistic argument, and reportage — Coates provides readers a thrillingly illuminating new framework for understanding race: its history, our contemporary dilemma, and where we go from here. (From the publisher)
A 2016 Canada Reads, Governor General’s Literary Award, and Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize finalist (among many other awards), Vermette’s debut novel is a startling look into the lives of First Nations women in Winnpeg’s North End.
“When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break — a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house — she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.
In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim — police, family, and friends — tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Metis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed. ” (From the publisher)
Hidden Figures; The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
Now a major motion picture, this phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA at the leading edge of the feminist and civil rights movement, whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space–a powerful, revelatory contribution that is as essential to our understanding of race, discrimination, and achievement in modern America as Between the World and Me and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. (From the publisher)
The National Book Award Winner and #1 New York Times bestseller from Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad is a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave’s adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South.
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood–where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned–Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor–engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom. (From the publisher)
A searing new novel, at once sweeping and intimate, by the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun: a story of love and race centered around a man and woman from Nigeria who seemed destined to be together–until the choices they are forced to make tear them apart. Ifemelu–beautiful, self-assured–left Nigeria 15 years ago, and now studies in Princeton as a Graduate Fellow. She seems to have fulfilled every immigrant’s dream: Ivy League education; success as a writer of a wildly popular political blog; money for the things she needs. But what came before is more like a nightmare: wrenching departure from family; humiliating jobs under a false name. She feels for the first time the weight of something she didn’t think about back home: race. Obinze–handsome and kind-hearted–was Ifemelu’s teenage love; he’d hoped to join her in America, but post 9/11 America wouldn’t let him in. Obinze’s journey leads him to back alleys of illegal employment in London; to a fake marriage for the sake of a work card, and finally, to a set of handcuffs as he is exposed and deported. Years later, when they reunite in Nigeria, neither is the same person who left home. Obinze is the kind of successful “Big Man” he’d scorned in his youth, and Ifemelu has become an “Americanah”–a different version of her former self, one with a new accent and attitude. As they revisit their shared passion–for their homeland and for each other–they must face the largest challenges of their lives. Spanning three continents, entering the lives of a richly drawn cast of characters across numerous divides, Americanah is a riveting story of love and expectation set in today’s globalized world. (From the publisher)
Saul Indian Horse is dying. Tucked away in a hospice high above the clash and clang of a big city, he embarks on a marvellous journey of imagination back through the life he led as a northern Ojibway, with all its sorrows and joys.
With compassion and insight, author Richard Wagamese traces through his fictional characters the decline of a culture and a cultural way. For Saul, taken forcibly from the land and his family when he’s sent to residential school, salvation comes for a while through his incredible gifts as a hockey player. But in the harsh realities of 1960s Canada, he battles obdurate racism and the spirit-destroying effects of cultural alienation and displacement. (From the publisher)