As you may know, I have been working on educating myself on being actively antiracist, and for me that begins with reading. On this list, I am sharing the books I have already read, as well as those I am hoping to read, that are on my antiracist reading list. Today I am focusing on non-fiction, although I do have some fiction books in mind to recommend on a future list. I hope that you will consider reading some of these books as well. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you choose to make a purchase after clicking on my link, I may receive a small commission.
Firstly, what is antiracism? Also written as anti-racism, it refers to “a form of action against racial hatred, bias, systemic racism, and the oppression of marginalized groups. Anti-racism is usually structured around conscious efforts and deliberate actions to provide equitable opportunities for all people on an individual and systemic level. As a philosophy, it can be engaged with by acknowledging personal privileges, confronting acts and systems of racial discrimination, and/or working to change personal racial biases.” These books are meant to help us learn about systemic bias, race consciousness, and take action against racism.
Title: White Fragility
Author: Robin Diangelo
Publisher: Beacon Press, 6/26/18
File Under: Start here, for those who think they aren’t racist
Originally Reviewed in July
I had this book on my list for awhile thanks to hearing about it in an episode of Good Trouble. I somehow missed my library download window, but when the most recent protests began and this book hit the news again, I decided it was time, and I was luckily able to snag the download right away.
“In this ‘vital, necessary, and beautiful book’ (Michael Eric Dyson), antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo deftly illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility and “allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people’ (Claudia Rankine). Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue. In this in-depth exploration, DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively.”
This book was extremely eye opening for me. White fragility means the defensiveness white people feel when it comes to discussing racism. It brought up a lot of things I had never really considered and although I felt like I could relate to some things because I grew up as the only Jewish student in my class and it is hard to see myself represented (no Jewish teachers till middle school, etc), I am still white. I have been recommending this book whenever I see racist comments on Facebook, etc. I have heard some say that you should not read this book because the author is white. However, as a starting point for white people, I feel it is helpful to be addressed by someone who has experienced being a white person and has come to her own understanding of white privilege.
Title: So You Want To Talk About Race
Author: Ijeoma Oluo
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, 1/16/18
File Under: Start here, easy to understand
Originally reviewed in October
This was an easy to understand book with well explained issues such as the treatment of black students in the classroom, affirmative action, the politics of hair, microaggressions, the N word, etc.
“Widespread reporting on aspects of white supremacy — from police brutality to the mass incarceration of Black Americans — has put a media spotlight on racism in our society. Still, it is a difficult subject to talk about. How do you tell your roommate her jokes are racist? Why did your sister-in-law take umbrage when you asked to touch her hair — and how do you make it right? How do you explain white privilege to your white, privileged friend? In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to ‘model minorities’ in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life.”
I would recommend this book as an important one after White Fragility, as this one is written by a Black author who explains thing in a way that is helpful to white people in making steps towards antiracism.
Title: How To Be An Antiracist
Author: Ibram X Kendi
Publisher: One World, 8/13/19
File Under: Read with a group
I started reading How To Be An Antiracist in December, using both the print book and the audio, which is read by the author. I found it to be both poetic and educational, and while I don’t agree with all of Kendi’s points, he is obviously extremely smart and a wonderful writer.
“Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and reenergizes the conversation about racism—and, even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. At its core, racism is a powerful system that creates false hierarchies of human value; its warped logic extends beyond race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities, and body types. Racism intersects with class and culture and geography and even changes the way we see and value ourselves. In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas—from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilities—that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves.
Kendi weaves an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science with his own personal story of awakening to antiracism. This is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond the awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a just and equitable society.”
I used the Be Antiracist journal along with reading this book. I really think I would benefit from discussing this book in a class or reading group, as it was somewhat dense with information. The journal “helps you reflect on topics such as body, power, class, gender, and policy, as well as specific questions like, ‘Who or what scares you the most when you think about race?’ and ‘How can we go about disconnecting Blackness from criminality?’ and ‘What constitutes an American to you?'”
Title: Between The World and Me
Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Publisher: Random House Audio, 7/14/15
File Under: What it means to be Black in America
Originally Reviewed in September
Between The World and Me is a short book, written as a letter to the author’s teenage son about growing up Black in America. I listened to the audio, which is read by the author.
“In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of ‘race,’ a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?”
It is so sad to me that this was written five years ago and nothing has changed. A friend of the author’s was killed by the police and this is one of the major things addressed in the book. He also talks about the idea of race and refers to people that think they are white. It was an interesting and important listen which I probably did not benefit from as much as I should have.
Title: The New Jim Crow
Author: Michelle Alexander
Publisher: Recorded Books, 4/3/12
File Under: Mass Incarceration
Originally reviewed in November
This is a long book that is very relevant today even though it was published 10 years ago. The new introduction took over an hour to listen to! While I felt that this book did a good job of helping me to look at my own biases when it comes to the “war on drugs,” I found it too long and I had a hard time concentrating on the audio.
“Seldom does a book have the impact of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Since it was first published in 2010, it has been cited in judicial decisions and has been adopted in campus-wide and community-wide reads; it helped inspire the creation of the Marshall Project and the new $100 million Art for Justice Fund; it has been the winner of numerous prizes, including the prestigious NAACP Image Award; and it has spent nearly 250 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Most important of all, it has spawned a whole generation of criminal justice reform activists and organizations motivated by Michelle Alexander’s unforgettable argument that ‘we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.’ As the Birmingham Newsproclaimed, it is ‘undoubtedly the most important book published in this century about the U.S.’ Now, ten years after it was first published, The New Press is proud to issue a tenth-anniversary edition with a new preface by Michelle Alexander that discusses the impact the book has had and the state of the criminal justice reform movement today.”
This book discusses the racial caste system in the US, the way drug penalties have affected Black communities, the problem with harsh drug sentencing, and the way that drug arrests lead to the prison system having control over people’s lives long after they leave prison. I agree with the argument that the system of mass incarceration needs an overhaul and this is something I would like to continue learning more about. My next book on this topic will be Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.
Title: Hood Feminism
Author: Mikki Kendall
Publisher: Penguin Audio, 2/25/20
File Under: Feminism, Intersectionality
Originally reviewed in October
The author narrates this audio book in which she makes the argument that main stream feminism needs to address the issues that effect women of color before they can claim any issues as feminist.
“Today’s feminist movement has a glaring blind spot, and paradoxically, it is women. Mainstream feminists rarely talk about meeting basic needs as a feminist issue, argues Mikki Kendall, but food insecurity, access to quality education, safe neighborhoods, a living wage, and medical care are all feminist issues. All too often, however, the focus is not on basic survival for the many, but on increasing privilege for the few. That feminists refuse to prioritize these issues has only exacerbated the age-old problem of both internecine discord, and women who rebuff at carrying the title. Moreover, prominent white feminists broadly suffer from their own myopia with regard to how things like race, class, sexual orientation, and ability intersect with gender. How can we stand in solidarity as a movement, Kendall asks, when there is the distinct likelihood that some women are oppressing others? In her searing collection of essays, Mikki Kendall takes aim at the legitimacy of the modern feminist movement arguing that it has chronically failed to address the needs of all but a few women. Drawing on her own experiences with hunger, violence, and hypersexualization, along with incisive commentary on politics, pop culture, the stigma of mental health, and more, Hood Feminism delivers an irrefutable indictment of a movement in flux. An unforgettable debut, Kendall has written a ferocious clarion call to all would-be feminists to live out the true mandate of the movement in thought and in deed.”
This was an interesting and thought provoking listen, although the audio itself wasn’t wonderful, as you could tell when the reader’s voice was strained and when a new section began in her actual recording of the book. In any case, it is something to add to your list if you are on an antiracist journey and interested in how feminism and antiracism intersect.
Title: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You
Author: Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 3/10/20
File Under: Read with your kids, history of racism
Originally reviewed in September
I read this book out loud to my kids to start talking to them about history and how it is taught in America. There were a lot of very interesting parts and parts that left me confused and wanting to know more.
“This is NOT a history book.
This is a book about the here and now.
A book to help us better understand why we are where we are.
A book about race.
The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped From the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited.”
I liked the voice of Reynolds in this book and it was easy to read aloud. It was especially interesting to read history that I remember and think about how I had seen it just as I was taught to. There were things that were in the news that were problematic and I hadn’t understood why. There is much more work to be done but this book is a good place to start a re-understanding of American history with regards to race. A lot of this book had me wanting more, and a much larger book meant for adults on this topic is the original Stamped From The Beginning.
Title: I’m Still Here
Author: Austin Channing Brown
Publisher: RandomHouse Audio, 5/15/18
File Under: Personal essays, What it means to be Black in America
Originally reviewed in September
Listening to this book made me want to tell my own story, as I kept comparing the writer’s experiences to my own growing up Jewish in a world made for Christianity. A lot of the book focused around the writer’s experience as a Christian.
“Austin Channing Brown’s first encounter with a racialized America came at age seven, when she discovered her parents named her Austin to deceive future employers into thinking she was a white man. Growing up in majority-white schools and churches, Austin writes, ‘I had to learn what it means to love blackness,’ a journey that led to a lifetime spent navigating America’s racial divide as a writer, speaker, and expert helping organizations practice genuine inclusion. In a time when nearly every institution (schools, churches, universities, businesses) claims to value diversity in its mission statement, Austin writes in breathtaking detail about her journey to self-worth and the pitfalls that kill our attempts at racial justice. Her stories bear witness to the complexity of America’s social fabric—from Black Cleveland neighborhoods to private schools in the middle-class suburbs, from prison walls to the boardrooms at majority-white organizations.”
There was an eye-opening description about what daily life in an office setting is like for the writer. There is much to learn about Black life in America from this book.
Title: The Black Friend
Author: Fredrick Joseph
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 12/1/20
File Under: Read with your kids, personal essays
Originally reviewed in November
Written for a younger audience, this book does a great job explaining things that white people shouldn’t do and say. With stories from his youth, the author points out racism he has experienced and makes mention of ways to stand up against racism.
“‘We don’t see color.’ ‘I didn’t know Black people liked Star Wars!’ ‘What hood are you from?’ For Frederick Joseph, life as a transfer student in a largely white high school was full of wince-worthy moments that he often simply let go. As he grew older, however, he saw these as missed opportunities not only to stand up for himself, but to spread awareness to those white people who didn’t see the negative impact they were having. Speaking directly to the reader, The Black Friend calls up race-related anecdotes from the author’s past, weaving in his thoughts on why they were hurtful and how he might handle things differently now. Each chapter features the voice of at least one artist or activist, including Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give; April Reign, creator of #OscarsSoWhite; Jemele Hill, sports journalist and podcast host; and eleven others. Touching on everything from cultural appropriation to power dynamics, ‘reverse racism’ to white privilege, microaggressions to the tragic results of overt racism, this book serves as conversation starter, tool kit, and invaluable window into the life of a former ‘token Black kid’ who now presents himself as the friend many readers need. It includes an encyclopedia of racism, providing details on relevant historical events, terminology, and more.”
One issue I had with this book was a personal one – while he makes mention of other marginalized groups, Jewish people aren’t mentioned at all. Other than that minor complaint, I found this book well worth reading and including in your antiracism reading.
Title: You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey
Author: Amber Ruffin & Lacey Lamar
Publisher: One World, 8/13/19
File Under: Humor, personal essays
I’m sure we’ve all witnessed racist actions or heard racist comments and You’ll Never Believe What Happened To Lacey addresses all the crazy, hilarious, and unbelievable things that Lacey and her sister Amber Ruffin have experienced first hand.
“Now a writer and performer on Late Night with Seth Meyers and host of The Amber Ruffin Show, Amber Ruffin lives in New York, where she is no one’s First Black Friend and everyone is, as she puts it, ‘stark raving normal.’ But Amber’s sister Lacey? She’s still living in their home state of Nebraska, and trust us, you’ll never believe what happened to Lacey.
From racist donut shops to strangers putting their whole hand in her hair, from being mistaken for a prostitute to being mistaken for Harriet Tubman, Lacey is a lightning rod for hilariously ridiculous yet all-too-real anecdotes. She’s the perfect mix of polite, beautiful, petite, and Black that apparently makes people think “I can say whatever I want to this woman.” And now, Amber and Lacey share these entertainingly horrifying stories through their laugh-out-loud sisterly banter. Painfully relatable or shockingly eye-opening (depending on how often you have personally been followed by security at department stores), this book tackles modern-day racism with the perfect balance of levity and gravity.”
From those that think all Black people look alike (I was dying when she told the story of a store clerk who seemed super excited to see her but was actually shouting whoopee! because she thought she was Whoopi Goldberg) to racist teachers and bosses who treat Black people unfairly at school and in the workplace, this book was jaw dropping and eye rolling and amusing all in one. I read the whole thing in a day!
This is obviously not a full antiracist reading list and there are many other books that I hope to read and review this coming year, including:
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
The Purpose of Power by Alicia Garza
Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum
Do you have any further recommendations for me and for others?