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For anyone who isn’t Black, to truly understand systemic racism and America’s enduring legacy of injustuce, they have to immerse themselves in the thoughts, feelings, and actual experiences of people of color. Education holds so much power, and if there was ever a time to step out of your comfort zone and learn something beyond your usual horizons, the time is right now. These anti-racism books are essential reading for everyone.
After the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many more Black people in America, I found myself feeling outraged yet, but not totally sure what I could do to help beyond donating, protesting, and speaking out against the acute injustices and police brutality I’ve seen for way too long. Enough is enough.
With the current state of affairs (I’m speaking specifically about the attempted military coup at the White House on Wednesday—in which hundreds of pro-Trumpers stormed The Capitol) it seems like a good time to revisit some of this critical literature. Given that the majority of the “rioters” (I’m sorry, but calling those inciting violence and proudly sporting racist organizations and figures can simply not be referred to as mere protestors), it’s hard to ignore the fact that if these “protestors” were Black or Brown police violence would have almost certainly exploded.
While donating and spreading the word in any way we can are essential actions we must take—whether there is an act of violence or not—another way I cope with any sort of tragedy that I’m not able to fully understand because of well, my white privilege, is by doing my best to, at the very least, properly educating myself. Frankly, the more I can learn about a topic, the more confident I feel in taking action that will actually be meaningful in the movement to put an end to our legacy of racism, discrimination, and injustice. So, I found myself turning to book recommendations so that I could dig deeper and truly examine how we got to this point in history—and how we let ourselves get to this point.
If you’re a white woman of privilege like myself, but hungry to educate yourself on how to aid the fight against anti-racism, and actually help those whom it affects every single day, these books are a good place to start your research. While you’re at it, get out there and protest (and please wear a mask), make donations to anti-racism organizations be vocal about racial injustice on social media—and while you’re doing so, don’t forget to educate yourself. There is always more to be learned, and there are always more stories to be heard.
From textbook-style reads such as The New Jim Crow to shorter, still incredibly informative books like Between The World and Me, scroll down for a list of educational books on racism that everyone should read. Don’t forget to check your local Black-owned bookstore to see if you can give them your business first before ordering online.
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1. The New Jim Crow
A heavy read, but also an important one. Civil-rights-lawyer-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander writes about how our legal system has turned into “a contemporary system of racial control,” focusing largely on the ways it discriminates against Black men. If you’ve never studied mass incarceration before, you’ll no doubt find it eye-opening.
2. White Fragility
Antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo’s book focuses on how & why non-POC react defensively when faced with discussions on racism. DiAngelo helps the reader understand that racism isn’t only displayed by outright “bad people,” and goes in-depth while explaining how white people can and should approach cross-racial dialogue to engage more constructively.
3. Women, Race & Class
Angela Davis’s Women Race & Class delves into the women’s movement in the U.S., tracking its progress from abolitionist days to the present. Upon reading, you’ll discover that the movement is and always has been hampered by the racist and classist biases of its leaders.
4. Between The World And Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates powerfully frames his memoir as a letter to his son, and his story looks back at his experiences as a Black man in America. Personal narrative drives this emotional story, which Toni Morrison once referred to as “required reading.” Enough said.
5. Black Skin, White Masks
In Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon shares his own experiences in addition to presenting a historical critique of the effects of racism and dehumanization on the human psyche. Yara Shahidi recommended this book on Twitter praising how Fanon eloquently “breaks down the global repercussions of racist infrastructure, the criminalization and weaponization of information, and contextualized the use & power of rioting.”
6. Just Mercy
Just Mercy is the true story of the foundation of the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those who may have been wrongly convicted of crimes, poor prisoners who may not have effective representations and those who have been denied a fair trial. This book follows lawyer Bryan Stevenson in one of his first cases, and will transform your understandings of mercy and justice forever.
7. Hood Feminism
Feminism isn’t feminism unless it’s intersectional, something Mikki Kendall’s book makes clear. Kendall calls out the issues women of color face on their own, and addresses how feminist movements have failed to acknowledge them. She also advises on how readers can move forward as more inclusive, intersectional feminists.
8. The Fire Next Time
A short but affecting read, James Baldwin’s book of two essays discusses both the role race & racism has had in American history as well as the relationship between race and religion. Baldwin pulls from his own experiences growing up in Harlem to deliver a powerful message on the Black American experience.
9. Assata: An Autobiography
If you’ve never heard of Assata Shakur, now’s the time to get educated. A longtime member of the Black Liberation Army, Shakur was imprisoned for being an accessory to murder, based on “flimsy” evidence. In her autobiography, she is able to tell her story in her own words, and we are eager to listen.
10. The Color Of Law
In The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein argues that the American government systematically imposed residential segregation. As he presents each piece of evidence—from public housing that purposefully segregated previously mixed communities to tax exemptions for institutions that enforced segregation—it becomes clear that it was no accident that caused our neighborhoods to look the way they do today.
11. So You Want To Talk About Race
So You Want To Talk About Race is a great starter book for anyone new to the anti-racism conversation. Oluo helps to give the reader the language they need to effectively and non-offensively discuss race and racism with white people, Black people and other people of color.
12. When They Call You A Terrorist
When They Call You A Terrorist is a powerful memoir about growing up Black in Los Angeles and the foundation of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s written by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, one of the founding members of the movement, and Asha Bandele, a journalist and activist.
A version of this article was published on June 3, 2020. It was updated on January 7, 2021.