An Anti-Racist Reading List
Below is a short list of books relating to race and racism in the United States. The complexity of these issues and their related matters–such as sexism, immigration, familial roles, and more–are expressed and examined in thought-provoking prose.
Though this list is certainly not all-encompassing, the following are some titles that stuck out to me, whether having read them myself or heard their praise sung in recent months. You can find many of these books (and more!) in local libraries, bookstores, or online.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Written by journalist Alex Haley and activist Malcom X and published in 1965 (the same year Malcom was assassinated), this autobiography details Malcom X’s “philosophy of black pride, black nationalism, and pan-Africanism” and reads as a sort of “spiritual conversion narrative”, summarizing Malcom’s life from his childhood in Michigan to his inception as the Nation of Islam’s national spokesperson.
In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens
One of my favorite recent reads, In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens is a collection of 36 essays, articles, and speeches written by Alice Walker between 1966 and 1982. Though Walker, in masterful prose, addresses topics from the Civil Rights movement to nuclear weapons, the book as a whole centers on her understanding of the “womanist” theory (Walker defines “womainst” as a “black feminist or feminist of color”).
The Color Purple
“Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of African-American women in the Southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture” (Wikipedia.theColorPurple). The book won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction as well as the National Book Award for Fiction.
The Hate U Give
Recently adapted into a movie, The Hate U Give follows the story of a 16 year-old black girl, Starr Carter, who witnesses a white police officer murder her childhood friend. As Starr goes on to speak up about this tragedy, Thomas works to expand the reader’s understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality.
Give Us the Ballot
In Give Us the Ballot, Berman explores how the struggle over voting in America continues to this day by
recounting the history of the 1965 Voting Act and how it has since impacted the rights of Americans.
Another one of my favorites, Just Mercy tells the tale of an actual case the author had taken on in 1988. In this legal battle, Stevenson, an “American lawyer, social justice activist, founder/executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and clinical professor at New York University of Law” (Wikipedia.JustMercy), contested Walter McMillian’s false conviction and death sentence.
Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower
Author, teacher, and activist Brittany Cooper explores black feminism and anger as “a basis for revolutionary action” in her 2018 novel, Eloquent Rage.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“Americanah tells the story of a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who immigrates to the United States to attend university” (Wikipedia.Americanah). It speaks to Americanization, gender and migration.
How to Be Anti-Racist
Ibram X. Kendi
Kendi–founder of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center and former assistant professor of African-American History–“relates his evolving concept of racism through the events of his own life, touching on observations from classes he has taught” (Wikipedia.HowtobeAntiracist) and contemporary and historical events. The author describes how such racism can manifest as, for example, “scientific racism” or colorism, and can intersect with demographics including class, gender, and sexuality.
Stamped From the Beginning
Ibram X. Kendi
Kendi’s 2016 non-fiction book chronicles the history of racism in America. Among many other accolades, the book is a NYT and Washington Post Bestseller and winner of the 2016 National Book Award for Non-Fiction.
So You Want to Talk About Race
In So You Want to Talk About Race, the author, a Nigerian-American, makes the argument that “America’s political, economic and social systems are systematically racist”. Oluo additionally offers advice to readers, explaining how to avoid getting off topic or acting defensive. “The book also covers topics including affirmative action, cultural appropriation, intersectionality, microaggressions, police brutality and the school-to-prison pipeline” (Wikipedia.SoYouWanttoTalkAboutRace).
Me and White Supremacy
Layla F. Saad
“Structured as a 28-day guide targeted at white readers, the book aims to aid readers in identifying the impact of white privilege and white supremacy over their lives. It contains quotations, terminology definitions and question prompts” (Wikipedia.MeandWhiteSupremacy).
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Though American poet, activist, and memoirist Maya Angelou received dozens of awards for her work throughout her life, she is best known for her seven autobiographies. Her first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, discusses her early years. It is described as a coming-of-age-story centered on topics such as racism, trauma, identity, and literacy.
The New Jim Crow
In The New Jim Crow, Alexander–a civil rights litigator and scholar–explores the mass incarceration of black males in the U.S. The author claims that America’s prison system is, metaphorically, “the New Jim Crow”.
Dear Martin follows “a high school senior in a predominantly white school who starts writing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after he has a dangerous encounter with racist police officers” (wikiwand.com/Nic_Stone). Stone’s inspiration for the novel apparently came from the death of Jordan Davis, a 17 year old shot and killed by a white man in a hate crime.
DiAngelo, an American author, lecturer, and academic, “coined the term ‘white fragility’ in 2011 to describe any defensive instincts or reactions that a white person experiences when questioned about race or made to consider their own race” (Wikipedia.WhiteFragility). In White Fragility (yet another one of my recent top picks), DiAngelo expresses how systemic racism is often perpetuated unconsciously by individuals and thus suggests that readers not view racism as solely being committed intentionally by “bad people”.
Beloved is set in Ohio after the Civil War. The book follows Sethe and her daughter after they escape from slavery. Some major themes include mother-daughter relationships, the psychological effect of slavery, and familial roles and relationships.
The Bluest Eye
Like Morrison’s Beloved, The Bluest Eye takes place in Ohio. The story describes the life of Pecola, a young African-American girl growing up in the years following the Great Depression, as well as those around her (her friends, her family, a wealthy and beautiful new girl, a pedophilic misanthrope, and more). Through her life, those around Pecola consider her dark skin unattractive and, thus, she learns to equate whiteness with beauty. The book examines internalized racism, black youth and girlhood, religion, and shame. I (quite literally) did not put the book down once while reading it.