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If you’re looking for a way to celebrate Black History all year long, vote with your wallet or cultivate a more informed and relevant understanding of how health intersects with race in our culture (or, better yet, all all three!), filling out your bookshelf and your to-read pile with books by Black authors who are experts on the subject is the logical first step.
Whether it’s through talking about medical bias, mental health, combining activism with self-care or some thorough introductions and studies of reproductive justice — the Black woman-led movement that encompasses not only abortion access but access to all resources for raising happy, healthy kids — these are a few titles that can help you dig a bit deeper and give a more thorough foundation for being able to talk about health equity in the United States (and around the world).
Now, to be clear, you should always prioritize a reading list that includes authors from all different backgrounds. Think: If every POV you take in about health, about sex, about gender, about politics comes from someone who is white or from one (hyper-privileged) socioeconomic background — you’re getting a fraction of a fraction the story and a fraction of the information you need to form a solid understanding.
For readers who are non-Black POC and white readers especially, these are also great tools for lifting your own weight and doing your own research instead of asking your Black loved ones to shoulder any of that burden for you. So if you’ve noticed your reading list has felt a bit homogenous and more than a little incomplete, take this moment to make a lasting change and support Black authors who are telling necessary stories and contextualizing important information.
Reading, listening and learning won’t replace taking necessary actions to dismantle white supremacy, but it’s a good start to making yourself the most informed and empathetic person you can be.
A version of this story was published June 2020 and updated in February 2023.
The Strong Black Woman: How a Myth Endangers the Physical and Mental Health of Black Women
The myth that Black women are stronger, more resilient by nature undoubtedly harms Black women and girls by making it seem less likely that they are deserving or in need of help — as well as contributing to medical inequality in the physical and mental health spaces. Marita Golden explores the all too real harms of this myth in The Strong Black Woman and unpacks how we can better support Black women and give them access to resources they need.
Self-Care for Black Women
Okay, I know every single person in 2023 is absolutely bone tired of being told to practice self-care (in the capitalist, consumerist, exhausting way that doesn’t account for being a real person with real responsibilities). But Oludara Adeeyo’s Self-Care for Black Women: 150 Ways to Radically Accept & Prioritize Your Mind, Body & Soul is a great resource for Black women who want a self-care book that speaks specfically to their own lived experiences and offers real exercises to embrace self-love and self-care for real.
Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good
Health reading doesn’t need to be all about pain. Author and editor adrienne maree brown explores how Black feminist approaches to healing and happiness can redefine the “work” of activism to inspire joy and healing.
‘Birthing Justice: Black Women, Pregnancy, and Childbirth’
An important part of conversations about reproductive justice is all the ways Black mothers/people giving birth are given less control over their bodies during their birthing processes — often finding themselves subject to “policing, coercion, and disempowerment” at the hands of medical professionals, social services and community resources that should be there to help. Looking to mother, scholar and activist perspectives, Birthing Justice considers what birthing. pregnancy and childbirth can and should be for Black moms.
‘I’m Telling the Truth But I’m Lying’
A collection of essays from Bassey Ikpi, a Nigerian American, writer, mental-health advocate and founder of the Siwe Project (a non-profit promoting mental health in the global Black community), that tackles her experiences with Bipolar II disorder and the experience of how you relate to your own mental health, how you want the world to see you and all the ideas we have of what “normal” is supposed to feel like.
‘Reproductive Justice: An Introduction’
Centering the experiences of Black women and other WOC, scholar-activists Loretta J. Ross and Rickie Solinger give an intersectional analysis of how gender, class and race factor into how women understand and access healthcare and what it means for the fight for equality.
‘Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, And Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements’
As activism and community organizing is essential for equality in the health space, this book on how organizing informed by healing justice, long-term commitments, cultural sensitivity, creative strategizing, and collaboration between intersectional identities can make for a better world.
Policing the Womb: Invisible Women and The Criminalization of Motherhood
A more big-picture look at the systemic ways pregnant people are policed, surveilled and denied basic rights, Michelle Goodwin’s Policing the Womb looks at how the U.S. came to be so dangerous for pregnant people (particularly low-income and Black pregnant people).
‘Medical Bondage: Race, Gender and the Origins of American Gynecology’
Exploring how the history of gynecological medicine is deeply intrenched in racism, violence and misinformation at the expense of Black women’s bodies, Deirdre Cooper Owens tackles how the effects of that exploitation are still felt today.
‘Killing the Black Body’
A 1997 book that is recognized for disrupting racist and biased media messages about Black Women and how racism and coercion has affected Black motherhood.
‘Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present’
Exploring the history of western medicine experimenting on Black bodies, this book shows how bias, pseudoscience and social Darwinism has lead to exploitation and mistreatment of Black individuals in medicine.
‘Just Medicine: A Cure for Racial Inequality in American Health Care’
Dayna Bowen Matthew unpacks how the racial and ethnic biases in the medical community lead to institutional inequality and ultimately the major disparities in healthcare that disproportionately harm Black and brown individuals.
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