The death of George Floyd and countless other people of color in our country has left many of us feeling helpless, angry, and sad. Words matter, and I believe books are one step we can take to help educate ourselves, gain compassion, and enact change.
Below is a preliminary list of titles we recommend on this very important topic.
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
Antiracist educator DiAngelo explains what white fragility is, how it furthers racial inequality, and what we can do to more constructively engage in preventing racism.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The late Toni Morrison called this National Book Award-winning book “required reading,” but do not approach this as boring schoolwork: these are riveting, heartrending stories of how racism is the filter through which the rest of the world regards a Black man. Told as a letter to his son, Coates’ short but powerful book explores the history of race through personal narrative, history, and reportage.
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Kendi looks to history, ethics, law, and his own personal history to talk about the concept of antiracism, which he defines as an actionable plan for defeating racism. This book is for anyone who wants to know how to enact change in today’s world. If you want to travel deeper into the history of racism, pick up Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which won the National Book Award.
For those who think racism can’t be eradicated, King offers a place to start: with yourself. A meditation teacher, King offers her experience in how to recognize fear, trigger points, and opportunities for mindfulness while navigating and changing the world.
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
For the reader who wants to start an honest conversation about race and racism but is afraid to offend, this best-selling book is the answer. Oluo fearlessly dives into how to improve communication, no matter how uncomfortable, and also offers encouragement for taking the next step: walking the talk.
How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide by Crystal M. Fleming
Sociologist Fleming uses straight talk and humor to discuss racism, recognize systemic injustice, and ignite meaningful societal change.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Through his work with the Equal Justice Initiative, attorney Bryan Stevenson would take the case of Walter McMillian, who was falsely accused of murdering a white woman. It would take six years to secure McMillian’s release, and neither person would emerge from the experience unscathed. Just Mercy is a powerful indictment of a broken system that disproportionately impacts the marginalized. —Erin Kodicek
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD
Beverly Daniel Tatum’s book about racial identity, self-segregation, and the realities of racism in the public school system was groundbreaking in 1997. More than 20 years later, despite being a more diverse society, self-segregation in schools remains entrenched, and this updated anniversary edition explores why and what to do about it. —Vannessa Cronin
Getting clear-eyed about one’s relationship to white supremacy, racism, and privilege are essential first steps. Saad’s 28-day workbook helps readers travel that path as well as the journey toward recognizing stereotypes, becoming an ally, and losing privilege. Perfect for those who want to do the work. —Adrian Liang
Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward
In searing, eviscerating prose Jesmyn Ward recounts the four years when she lost five important men in her life—to drugs, suicide, accidents, and murder. As she wrestles with her grief, she grapples with the chilling reality that these men, and so many more, have died because of who they are and where they’re from. She pulls apart the nexus of racism and economic injustice in her home in the South. As she writes, “By the numbers, by all the official records, here at the confluence of history, of racism, of poverty, and economic power, this is what our lives are worth: nothing.” —Al Woodworth
When I first started reading Wilmington’s Lie, I kept thinking How did I not know about this before? After the Civil War, Wilmington, North Carolina, was the state’s largest city, and it was prospering. It had a busy port and a mixed-race community that featured a burgeoning black middle class. But in 1898, a group of white supremacists decided to do something to turn back the page—and the violence that followed was covered up as “a race riot.” We can look to history, much of which has been buried, to help us better understand what is happening today. Wilmington’s Lie is a good place to start. —Chris Schluep
Books to help educate, gain compassion, and enact change.