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Decolonising Our Own Canons

MUSE provides a list of literature, cinema and podcasts to help diversify your reading

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Image Credit: Phil Roeder

“The opposite of racist isn't 'not racist.' It is 'anti-racist.' What's the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of 'not racist.” - Ibrahim X. Kendi (How To Be An Antiracist)

Over the past week, we at MUSE have had to ask ourselves some tough questions. Recent events surrounding the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have forced us to consider our relationships with BAME culture. Our brilliant Arts editor Jenna recently informed me that out of all of our book reviews from the two years, only 12 per cent were by BAME writers. While this is likely not dissimilar to other publications, it is a statistic we at MUSE hope to change.

As an arts and culture publication, we must strive to do better, and to better represent the work of creatives from black and minority backgrounds and cultures. One way we can achieve this is to decolonise our own canons.

This week has illustrated to me just how eurocentric and overwhelmingly white my own cultural knowledge can be, particularly in terms of art, literature and film. I like to think I have an appreciation and understanding of this culture and history, but in reality I need to broaden my reading. Maybe some of you do too.

While trying to decide how to write about this issue in MUSE, I decided it would be a good idea to share some things I have been reading to expand my cultural knowledge and to decolonise my own canon. Now more than ever, it is important to shine a spotlight on black writers, artists, and journalists because these are the voices we need to learn from.

You may have heard of some of these suggestions, others you may not have. Each and every inclusion is worth a read, watch or listen, and I urge you to go and seek out materials, not necessarily from this list, that will broaden your knowledge of black history and black culture. If some of these make you feel uncomfortable or ask yourself tough questions - good. The murder of George Floyd was not an isolated incident and if we don’t begin to ask ourselves some tough questions then we are doomed to repeat it.

We all have a duty to educate ourselves.
It should not have taken us until 2020 to realise this.

This list is by no means exhaustive or extensive, but the aim is to offer some jumping off points to explore the diverse and fascinating work of black writers, directors and creatives. I cannot claim to be someone with a deep knowledge of black history and culture, but someone who wants to learn more, as we all must become.

(MUSE Editor)


Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Delivering incisive, potent commentary on what it means to be black in modern Britain, this is a must-read for anyone interested in the complex history of race in the UK and globally. This book is available online to all York student, I strongly recommend you give it a read.
Currently available as an ebook from the University Of York library.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Equal parts shocking and fascinating, The New Jim Crow shines a light on why America’s prison population is disproportionately made up of minorities.
Currently available as an ebook from the University Of York library.

How To Be An Anti-Racist by Ibrahim X. Kendi
Ibrahim X Kendi asks how we can all be a part of reshaping attitudes and ideologies to do with race in the modern age. An essential read in the anti-racist canon.

Natives by Akala
Blending autobiography and social history to create a book that challenges institutionalised and internalised racism at the heart of Britain, Natives tackles race, ethnicity and colonialism.

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
Providing a queer, black perspective on political and social injustice, Sister Outsider is a collection of notable essays and speeches from one of the most important voices of the civil rights movement.
Currently available as an ebook from the University Of York library.


13th (Ava DuVernay)
Ava DuVernay’s brilliantly made and incredibly powerful documentary examines the issue of race in America’s prisons and justice system.
Currently streaming on Netflix.

I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck)
Based on the unfinished memoirs of James Baldwin, this documentary looks at the lives of figures in the civil rights and black power movements from Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. to Medgar Evers.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (Göran Olsson)
Offering a European perspective on the American civil rights movement,The Black Power Mixtape acts as a time capsule of an era, capturing the moods, attitudes and unrests of the 1960s and 70s.

Do The Right Thing/ Jungle Fever/Malcom X/ BlackKklansman (Spike Lee)
I struggled to pick one Spike Lee film because they are all excellent. Brilliantly crafted, well-told narratives that incorporate issues of institutionalised racism, police brutality and black resistance.

Get Out (Jordan Peele)
Jordan Peele’s stunning Get Out might be an obvious inclusion, but it's an essential one. One of the most potent depictions of the insidious nature of racism, this is a must watch.


1619 (The New York Times)
A deep dive on historical contexts, social histories and uncomfortable truths, this podcast examines troubling colonial pasts and how they helped shape modern Britain and America.

Have You Heard George’s Podcast?
Mixing poetry, fiction and social history, George The Poet’s podcast is one I keep coming back to, tackling many of the struggles minorities face in the UK and how prejudices are fuelled by misinformation and stereotypes.

About Race With Reni Eddo-Lodge
From the author behind Why I’m Not Longer Talking To White People About Race, About Race is a series of vital conversations about race, ethnicity and nationalism.

Code Switch (NPR)
Code Switch is a podcast created by a multi-racial team of journalists that looks at race, ethnicity and culture. Episodes excellently dissect how race and culture intersect and clash in modern life.

RTJ4 (Run The Jewels)
The only album on this list, the latest album from Run The Jewels mixes uncomfortable truths and increasingly relevant politics with some truly brilliant hip hop. Visceral, violent and uncompromising - this is the soundtrack to resistance.

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