Deputy Editor Charlie O’Keeffe recommends her favourite fiction and non-fiction books for learning about structural inequality
Trigger warnings for this article include: inequality, racism, misogyny
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
Parable of the Sower (1993) is part of a series of books which was sadly never able to be finished due to Butler’s death. However, for me, the novel worked perfectly as a standalone book, exploring an apocalyptic future for the US where climate change and inequality have brought society to a halt.
Butler balances the gritty realism of what food scarcity, racial tension, and economic pressures would do to the world, with the inclusion of more fantastical elements. She describes dystopian ‘company towns’ which she directly compares to slavery. The protagonist’s father calls them ‘half antebellum revival and half science fiction’. These feel like an all too possible kind of abuse, extending already exploitative practices in factories and integrating practices that we know go on in the Global South. On the other hand, the protagonist, Lauren, has a supernatural capacity for what is called ‘hyper-empathy’, meaning she literally feels the pain of others. This is less grounded in gritty realism but does put an emphasis on pain which is ever-present in the novel. This is a fascinating device to explore the importance of empathy, particularly in the face of so much structural inequality.
What impressed me most about Butler’s novel is her ability to build such a convincing dystopian world. For example, the adults tell the children about a time when the stars were not visible, since the book imagines a somewhat post-urban world where there is no longer so much light pollution.
Feminism Interrupted by Lola Olufemi and Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
As an English literature student, I’m predominantly used to reading fiction, but I wanted to learn more about inequality within society. The books that have most helped me do this are Lola Olufemi’s Feminism Interrupted (2020) and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (2017). I particularly appreciated that both Olufemi and Eddo-Lodge are British writers, since so often, even in the UK, we hear about issues of inequality with a focus on America.
Feminism Interrupted is really enlightening. She breaks down her book into chapters covering distinct issues, and it is definitely a piece of writing I would recommend to someone looking to start learning about intersectional feminism who isn’t sure where to begin. Olufemi does not shy away from controversial topics – I found her chapter on prison abolition and its relation to violence against women particularly interesting, as these were not issues I had heard discussed in conjunction before.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race similarly covers various topics, exploring race’s intersection with class, gender, and much more. The device that stuck out to me most was when Eddo-Lodge constructed a hypothetical Black man to humanise statistics and make evident the structural barriers that exist within UK society. One part of this that I found very impactful and that is perhaps less talked about is mental health’s relationship with racial prejudice; Eddo-Lodge explained how racism can lead to worse outcomes in the mental health system.
Overall, if (like me) you are looking for accessible books to educate yourself, I would strongly recommend Olufemi and Eddo-Lodge’s work. The language used is not overly academic and they give clear and concise explanations of all the points they make.
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