Books have been banned and burned for as long as the written word has been circulating in print. That’s why you need to read each one of these — before you can’t.
Oppressive regimes control access to ideas because they know that knowledge is liberating and diversity is powerful. History has not been kind to those who ignore their pasts, which is why we must take threats of authoritarianism seriously.
To expand your world view and open your mind, read more. With Trump’s ban, on pretty much anything you need to read each one of these books before they are banned. Each one challenges harmful societal norms and i,s worth a read (or two).
1. Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio
In Inga Musico’s first book, she takes back the word “cunt” and celebrates sexuality. The book is snarky, in your face, and gives you no bullshit. She stomps on the angry woman rhetoric of anti-feminists. Muscio is an anti-racist activist and her later publications expand on the original work. Follow this read with Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Devil: My Life and Times in a Racist Imperialist Society.
“Women of color have no call to trust white women until white women take a gander at the world around them, investigate, learn and annihilate ignorance founded in being white in a society where the perspective and voice presented to the general public is white.”
2. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs
Harriet Ann Jacobs, a fugitive slave, published Life of a Slave Girl in 1861 under the pseudonym Linda Brent with the help of the abolitionist L. Maria Child. This memoir is a window into what it was like growing up a slave in America. Jacobs was born a slave and, at one point, had to spend seven years hidden in a cramped space in the roof of her grandmother’s home. It’s a raw and horrific story that everyone needs to read.
“What does he know of the half-starved wretches toiling from dawn till dark on the plantations? of mothers shrieking for their children, torn from their arms by slave traders? of young girls dragged down into moral filth? of pools of blood around the whipping post? of hounds trained to tear human flesh?”
3. Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire
Pedagogy of the Oppressed was originally published in Portuguese in 1968 under the title Pedagogia do Oprimido, and was translated into English in 1970. It is considered one of the most important texts in critical pedagogy and is an incredible argument on anti-oppressive learning. This book has been banned many times in many countries, during which it would be copied chapter by chapter and illegally distributed. It was banned from Arizona school districts in 2013.
“One cannot expect positive results from an educational or political action program which fails to respect the particular view of the world held by the people. Such a program constitutes cultural invasion, good intentions notwithstanding.”
4. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman
This non-fiction book recounts a tragic culture clash between a family of Hmong refugees and the American medical system. A young Hmong girl with seizures was caught in the cultural crossfires. The doctors failed to translate treatment concepts to the girl’s parents and the ideas could not transcend the cultural gap. Through forceful attempts to make the family to heavily medicate their daughter, the doctors prove that the healthcare system is broken in many ways and (dis)functions primarily as a system of control.
“If you can’t see that your own culture has its own set of interests, emotions, and biases, how can you expect to deal successfully with someone else’s culture?”
5. Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence — From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Herman
Judith Herman shatters every misconception about trauma that is perpetuated by the West. Her introduction makes it clear that she seeks to find an accessible way to talk about this social and psychological problem. She debunks myths about survivors by explaining tough issues like why some people retract abuse accusations (hint: it’s not because the accusations are false). She argues that psychological trauma cannot be examined without understanding the social conditions it (and recovery) occurs in. This book should be required reading for anyone who works with victims of trauma.
“The legal system is designed to protect men from the superior power of the state but not to protect women or children from the superior power of men. It therefore provides strong guarantees for the rights of the accused but essentially no guarantees for the rights of the victim. If one set out by design to devise a system for provoking intrusive post-traumatic symptoms, one could not do better than a court of law.”
6. The Woman Who Fell From The Sky: Poems by Joy Harjo
This is a collection of poetry written by Joy Harjo, a member of the Muscogee Nation, published in 1996. Pay special attention to the poem that gives its name to the title. Race, native rights, identity and politics are all integrated into The Woman Who Fell From The Sky. Identity politics are addressed through the embedment of undifferentiated social elements, conversations on internal and external borders, and an exploration of how personal and ancestral memory shapes life experiences. It is a powerful collection of poetic activism.
“The woman who was to fall from the sky was the girl with skinned knees whose spirit knew how to climb to the stars. Once she told him the stars spoke a language akin to the plains of her home, a language like rocks.”
7. “They Treated Us Just Like Indians”: The Worlds of Bennett County, South Dakota by Paula L. Wagoner
Geopolitical borders have been a tool of white supremacy for centuries. In this book, anthropologist Paula Wagoner writes an ethnography of racial tension in one of the poorest counties in the United States. The town grapples with many issues, including a racist school mascot, blood politics and an interracial murder. Even though it is an academic text, it is a must-read for anyone wanting to learn more about race relations and the cult of assimilation in America.
“The initial purpose of the allotting land to individual Indians may have been to protect them, but by the end of the nineteenth century the policy became a tool to break up tribal social structure and land holdings and a devise for assimilating Indians into the dominant culture.”
8. Consuming Life by Zygmunt Bauman
Want to understand consumerism, its history and its dangers? Then you need to read this book. Bauman paints a realistic and terrifying picture of consumer culture. Consumerism sustains itself on dissatisfaction and instability. If an individual feels stability, they no longer seek it through the economy. If the public has a sense of insecurity, they will continue to purchase and foster a false sense of stability. Bauman suggests the new way to be a patriot is through market consumption, and that there is more political power in purchases than in ballots. In the past, obligations were for the nation-state, today obligations are for the economy — it’s certainly food for thought.
“People are cast in the underclass because they are seen as totally useless; as a nuisance pure and simple, something the rest of us could do nicely without. In a society of consumers – a world that evaluates anyone and anything by their commodity value – they are people with no market value.”
9. The Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
This poetic novelette is one that explores themes of borders, abuse, sexuality and identity. The entire story explores a struggle with the notion of belonging. This book challenges traditional notions of relationships and continues to be more relevant every year as we become more deeply intertwined with social media and technology. The protagonist, Geryon, uses photography as a window, allowing him to stay inside while viewing the outside. He is constantly craving for a connection between himself and the outside world but it is only when he lets go of the camera that he finally succeeds in making that connection.
“…I will never know how you see red and you will never know how I see it.
But this separation of consciousness
is recognized only after a failure of communication, and our first movement is
to believe in an undivided being between us….”
10. Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives by Nia King
This project was developed by the queer art activist Nia King. King wanted to talk with other trans and queer artists of color to learn more about what it means to be successful and to survive. The book is a collection of interviews with people who are doing incredible things in art and activist spaces. This is a book for activists, artists, people across the gender spectrum, and anyone with a curious mind. It is truly an incredible and eye-opening journey through the lives of fascinating people who break the binary gender mold.
“When we don’t pay artists, we sentence ourselves to a life where there won’t be art by people of color, by queers, by women, and we know that it’s a struggle and critique and understanding and resilience that creates fantastic art.“
Featured Image: Flickr user Mark Taylor