A few year ago, the book club was a place where middle aged white women went to drink wine, gossip and occasionally mention the romantic novel that they may have read in the past month. The population of in-person book clubs historically skewed heavily toward college-educated women, and a large proportion of these groups are single-sex, either by default or design. But that has all changed. The rise of Zoom, google meets and teams in 2020 has meant that people who may have been unable to get out to book clubs have found a whole new world opened up to them.
There has been a rise in book clubs because of covid, with many discovering that here is something that can work on Zoom. But the biggest change in book clubs has been the rise of the anti-racist book club and book clubs that focus on making books by black and brown authors. Clare Fallon tells us “Anti-racist book clubs hold great allure, and potentially great power, at a moment when many, particularly white people, are becoming conscious of their own educational blind spots around Black history and racial justice. Book clubs sit at a slippery nexus between education and relaxation, radicalization and affirmation; there’s a vibrant history of reading groups expanding people’s political consciousness and moving them to action, but also a deeply entrenched tradition of book clubs for white women as social spaces. This tension likely makes them an appealing starting point for people who want to dip their toes into the struggle for perhaps the first time, in a setting that they’re familiar with. The real test, of course, will be what comes next, once the book club attendees have gotten their feet wet with some radical reading. “
So why bother to join a book club? If all white consumers do is a buy a book, it can become a way a way of staying self-centred, of focusing your newly aroused anxiety about racism back into spending money on yourself, spending time thinking and talking about yourself. Making it all about you and never making yourself accountable.
We asked some of our customers about their experience.
Carly spent most of 2020 on furlough and said she was reassessing how she used her time when she came across an online book club “Lockdown taught me to do more of what I love. I love books and so the thought of discovering new books, learning from them and talking about them was a win for me and I really don’t regret getting involved” For many discovering black authors is a whole new world which is difficult to navigate alone. With thousands of books of black authors out there, where do you begin.
An anti-racist book club is not just a place to read educational books, at Afrori we truly believe that just reading a book that has black characters in it will change your perspective.
I constantly hear people on book groups on social media stating quite proudly that they don’t ever look at the race of an author when they read a book because it just isn’t relevant. Without fail any further conversation with these people reveals that all of the authors on their shelves are white. Inevitably this means that all of the characters in their books are also white. Those that are black are often stereotypes, with very little research and understanding about the culture behind that character. When you read like this it is, of course, very easy to maintain the bigoted and racist opinions about other cultures and ethnicities.
Now consider the bookshelf of that person after being in an anti-racist book group. Suddenly they are seeing characters from different groups that are written about authentically and their stereotypes are being challenged. You see, we can teach someone to change their language, make it illegal to use racial slurs, but long-term change comes when white people begin to question their beliefs about black people. For those who don’t live in the major cities they may not have enough or any interaction with black people. (In the city I live in Black people make up less than 3% of the population) that may only come through the books they read and what they watch.
Here is a place the book club can bring about substantial change. Linda is very active on social media and wanted to be part of the change, but she lives in a rural village where she says many hold racist views. So, she gathered some friends and they joined a club that is nationwide “This is us playing our part in going against the encouragement of ignorance.” she says. “We have learnt so much, we (my friends and I) talk about the books we have read in our everyday conversations. Some of the books are tough, like This is why I resist, (by Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu) That was a real challenge, but others are fiction books that open up people and places that we have never seen written about in that way. We talk about privilege, but to be honest I have learnt that it’s not about talking about me, but learning about others and I think that has really impacted me the most”
Greg is part of a book club that pledges to read over 50% of books by black authors. “I have always been a big reader and like the idea of having a place to discover new books and talk about them. But that image of a group of old women sitting around drinking sherry put me off, so when a friend invited me to an online group, I was reluctant, but after she had been a couple of times and wouldn’t shut up about it, I realised I had got this whole thing wrong. Joining was definitely my best decision in 2020”
Book clubs are now a place for all genders, all ages, a place of challenge and learning. They are still a place of laughter and a great way to make new connections and friends.
Afrori Books has pledged to promote the growth of book clubs that promote black authors in Brighton and across the nation. As part of that pledge, we have a list of recommended books for book clubs with free additional resources available with those books. Find them here https://afroribooks.co.uk/collections/book-club