#ColorlinesReads: 6 Books That Complicate the Idea of ‘Independence’

By catherine lizette gonzalez Jul 05, 2019

When the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, its authors meant to exclude anyone who wasn’t a White man. Cemented in its pages were ideas of freedom and democracy secured at the expense of the genocide and enslavement of Black and Indigenous people. Although we have seen the gradual expansion of rights for people of color, throughout our nation’s history, pockets of freedom have come at a cost. So, for many, the Fourth of July represents a contentious observance.

In lieu of celebrating “Independence Day,” we present a selection of titles that explore the idea of liberation via the lives, poetry, history and art of people of color.


1919,” by Eve Ewing (Haymarket Books)

One hundred years after the 1919 Chicago race riots, sociologist and author Eve Ewing presents a poetry collection that reflects on the Great Migration, anti-Black racism and segregation in her beloved hometown. In conversation with the Chicago Commission on Race Relations, the state-sanctioned report that followed the riots, her poems demonstrate how freedom from racist violence can begin with understanding the cycles of oppression that reverberate through time.


An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People,” by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese (Beacon Press)

Historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s incisive documentation of 400 years of Indigenous people’s legacy and resistance in the United States returns in a new young adult edition. In it, you’ll find educational tools to illustrate America’s freedom myth as a product of thievery, genocide and settler colonialism. 


Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of Fashion,” by Tanisha C. Ford (St. Martin’s Press)

Professor and cultural critic Tanisha C. Ford narrates her life from Black girlhood to fashionista through her most iconic looks: her “one part Black militant, one part bohemian” parents’ dashikis, oversized lime-green BOSS jeans, AOL-era “coochie cutters” and her first designer purse. She writes, “Through our clothes we can do our own form of world-making, imagining possibilities beyond what our current status says is our reality.”


Patsy: A Novel,” by Nicole Dennis-Benn (Liveright)

Patsy, living in Kingston, Jamaica, longs to reunite with her childhood friend and lover in New York City. But her pursuit of love and an openly queer life comes at a cost: leaving behind her 5-year-old daughter and working as an immigrant of undocumented status in the United States. Nicole Dennis-Benn’s novel paints a compelling portrait of a queer Black woman centered on motherhood, choice and autonomy.


The Wall: A Timeless Tale,” by Giancarlo Macri and Carolina Zanotti (Fox Chapel Publishing)

This colorful interactive children’s book set in a fictional kingdom helps children understand borders—and the importance of tearing them down.


While They Sleep (Under the Bed is Another Country),” by Raquel Salas Rivera (Birds LLC)

Philadelphia Poet Laureate Raquel Salas Rivera’s latest collection uproots the imperialist language that obfuscates the ongoing, living devastation of Puerto Rico. Two discourses occur at the same time in English and Spanish, respectively, with the former representing the vacant soundbites manufactured by empire. “Under the bed” are Puerto Rican lives post-Maria, the corporeal consequences of colonialism and a call to end one of the great barriers to independence: racist capitalism.