We Should All Be Feminists
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In this personal essay adapted from the TED talk she gave in 2012, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie offers a new definition of mainstream feminism. Adichie defines feminism in the 21st century as someone who is rooted in inclusion and awareness, who understands that “there is a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.” Drawing on her Nigerian upbringing, Adichie explores what it means to be a woman thriving in the world today.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
In Angelou’s famed novel, Marguerite (or Maya, as she’s known) is a Black girl growing up in the prejudiced town of Stamps, Arkansas. Thoughtful and quiet Maya does not understand the adult world, including its racism, so she spends her time observing as opposed to engaging with it. After a devastating assault at the hands of a much older man, Maya stops talking. She eventually finds her voice again in a new city, surrounded by new people, and finally learns to trust herself.
A Taste of Power
It takes a lot of courage to incite change. Elaine Brown, the first female Chairman for the Black Panther Party, knows this firsthand. In her memoir, Brown explores every aspect of her self-discovery—from her upbringing in a Philadelphia ghetto to her college years working as a waitress—but it’s her later political awakening, marked by a feminist perspective, that will help you understand her eventual departure and exile from America during one of the most turbulent times in its history.
The Blacker the Berry . . .
When Emma Lou Morgan finally escapes her small-minded hometown and the cruelty of her classmates at college, she sets her sights on Harlem. Scorned for being darker than her parents and those around her, Emma Lou yearns to feel at home, not just in her community but in her own skin. In Harlem, her hope gradually dissolves amid the rent parties, jazz clubs, and lovers who fail to fully ease the pain of colorism. An unblinking critique of discrimination within the Black community and our nation’s legacy of prejudice, Wallace Thurman’s The Blacker the Berry . . . documents a woman’s journey toward self-acceptance and autonomy.
Nel and Sula’s friendship takes an ugly turn when they’re separated during young adulthood. After reconnecting years later, the once-inseparable friends quickly discover that they’ve both drastically changed. Nel, an outstanding member of her community, is a stark comparison to Sula, a woman who has rejected society’s norms to live an unconventional life. Nel and Sula’s bond is tested by the very challenges that once drew them together—family conflicts, societal expectations, and experiences of racism. While the duo remains loyal to their memories of each other, a secret from the past is revealed that could destroy all they cherish.
As a young girl, you could always find me with my face buried in a book. I used reading as a way to escape my routine life and meet characters who I simultaneously aspired to be like and also saw myself in. But the stories that featured Black heroines—both real and imagined—interested me the most. I was (and still am) drawn to their stories like a fly to honey, and the women in them are nuanced, unique, and smart. Though they experience trials and tribulation—trauma, racism, and misogyny—they face it all with a mix of sass, intelligence, and silent determination. You can’t help but root for them. In the spirit of Black History Month, here are my favorite literary gems starring fearless Black heroines.
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