October is a huge month for the publishing industry, with an actual gazillion books being published to time well with Christmas shopping plans. There is also the king of all book fairs, Frankfurt Book Fair, as well as Halloween and a slew of other holidays like World Vegetarian Day, United Nations Day, Ally Week and Diwali, and “holidays” like International Frugal Fun Day, Dictionary Day, Be Bald and Free Day, Evaluate Your Life Day and National Tell a Story Day. We know about all of the wacky dates from doing a bit of quick googling to see what’s going on this month, with the aim of planning some goofy tweets – you know, the spice of life.
So if it is so easy to discover that the 28th of October is Plush Animal Lover’s Day (I kid you not!), my question is this: why was it not far, far easier to discover that October is Black History Month here in the UK?
I don’t doubt that the organisers of Black History Month have done their fair share of promotion; thousands of people are involved in events and other activities to celebrate this month. So why are mainstream media outlets, or even book trade magazines, not shouting about it? Why, at a time such as this – in which racism, xenophobia and jingoism seem to be the prevailing attitude; in which so-called micro-aggressions against people of colour are being called out and then trampled down under the guise of Political Correctness Gone Mad – why is this celebration of Black culture and achievement in Britain not given more importance than ever?
Being an American expat, my erstwhile excuse for being unaware was that we celebrate Black History Month in February, not October. However, I’ve been in the UK for over five years now, and had never once heard anybody mention it in my personal or professional life. So imagine my surprise when I happened across just one lone tweet from an author I follow mentioning Black History Month, the “nationwide celebration of Black History, Arts and Culture throughout Britain… an acknowledgement and celebration of diversity and the richness it brings to our society”. My first thought was that we should be talking about it here.
I truly hope this doesn’t leave a bitter taste in any mouths, given that I am in fact the dreaded white, middle-class girl from a white, middle-class town living a quite privileged life and working in an industry that is frequently called out for its shocking lack of diversity; its mono-culture; its use of unpaid interns, furthering excluding non-middle class talent from getting a foot in the door. Yes, I am all of these things. However, my time working at Turnaround, a company with a rich history of selling diverse books of all varieties, has opened my eyes to many walks of life unlike my own. Reading, promoting – and even just being aware of – books about other peoples and cultures has helped me shed the ignorance that came with growing up in a town where something like 94% of all people were white. And we all know that ignorance is the root of fear, which is in the turn the root of hate.
We have searched through our archives to compile a list of some of our most influential and most important books by or about celebrated Black icons and the Black experience, as well as discussions of race relations in today’s political climate. We’ve also tried to flag up some interesting titles about Black artists and excellent fiction by Black authors. This is an incredibly small list compared to everything that’s out there, all of which deserves to be shouted about, but we think it makes a great start (presented in no particular order, but with an attempt at categorisation):
Do you think we’ve missed anything? What books do you think should be celebrated during Black History Month? Tell us in the comments below, or tweet us @turnarounduk.
Post by Sarah Wray.