Reading is key to learning and understanding. As the conversation around racial injustice continues, we turn to books to learn more and guide us in the process of understanding systemic issues and the lived experiences of communities of color. As readers and citizens, we believe that educating ourselves is essential to understanding the present moment and equipping ourselves to help create future change. If you’ve been wondering where to start or what resources are out there to help better understand racism in America, check out these nine titles we recommend – nine books we are also reading ourselves so we can learn and engage in becoming anti-racist. This is by no means an complete or definitive list, but rather a few titles we recommend to begin. Thank you for joining us on this incredibly important reading journey!
In her collection of essays and poems, Jesmyn Ward has gathered some of our most original thinkers and writers, including Carol Anderson, Jericho Brown, Edwidge Danticat, Kevin Young, Claudia Rankine, and Honoree Jeffers, to discuss contemporary racism and our collective futures. Through impactful thought pieces and beautiful language, she is able to show that we are far from living in a post-racial society, while also imagining a better future.
A surprise New York Times bestseller, these groundbreaking essays and poems about race—collected by National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward and written by the most important voices of her generation—are “thoughtful, searing, and at times, hopeful. The Fire This Time is vivid proof that words are important, because of their power to both cleanse and to clarify” (USA TODAY).
In this bestselling, widely lauded collection, Jesmyn Ward gathers our most original thinkers and writers to speak on contemporary racism and race, including Carol Anderson, Jericho Brown, Edwidge Danticat, Kevin Young, Claudia Rankine, and Honoree Jeffers. “An absolutely indispensable anthology” (Booklist, starred review), The Fire This Time shines a light on the darkest corners of our history, wrestles with our current predicament, and imagines a better future.
Envisioned as a response to The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin’s groundbreaking 1963 essay collection, these contemporary writers reflect on the past, present, and future of race in America. We’ve made significant progress in the fifty-odd years since Baldwin’s essays were published, but America is a long and painful distance away from a “post-racial society”—a truth we must confront if we are to continue to work towards change. Baldwin’s “fire next time” is now upon us, and it needs to be talked about; The Fire This Time “seeks to place the shock of our own times into historical context and, most importantly, to move these times forward” (Vogue).
Dr. Robin DeAngelo explains ‘white fragility’ as the emotional reactions white people have when placed in uncomfortable situations or dialogues about race: fear, anger, and guilt, which then inhibit any meaningful exchange about racial issues in America. DeAngelo spends much of the book exploring how this concept develops and protects racial inequality. If you’re wondering where to start, and how to explore how you can better discuss race, this book is a great step in educating yourself on underlying biases and the ways in which society can react more constructively to racial issues.
In this hard-hitting book, largely drawn from her own experiences, Ijeoma Oluo discusses everything from privilege and police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, and the Black Lives Matter movement, to the "N" word. Perfectly positioned to bridge the gap between people of color and white Americans struggling with race complexities, Oluo answers the questions readers don't dare ask, and explains the concepts that continue to elude everyday Americans.
SURVIVAL MATH is a vibrant and compelling memoir written by Mitchell Jackson that explores the burdens and tragedies passed down through generations of an American black family. The primary narrative, which centers around the antecedents of Jackson’s family’s experience, is complemented by survivor files—photographs and riveting short narratives of several of Jackson’s male relatives.
“A vibrant memoir of race, violence, family, and manhood…a virtuosic wail of a book” (The Boston Globe), Survival Math calculates how award-winning author Mitchell S. Jackson survived the Portland, Oregon, of his youth.
This “spellbinding” (NPR) book explores gangs and guns, near-death experiences, sex work, masculinity, composite fathers, the concept of “hustle,” and the destructive power of addiction—all framed within the story of Mitchell Jackson, his family, and his community. Lauded for its breathtaking pace, its tender portrayals, its stark candor, and its luminous style, Survival Math reveals on every page the searching intellect and originality of its author. The primary narrative, focused on understanding the antecedents of Jackson’s family’s experience, is complemented by survivor files, which feature photographs and riveting short narratives of several of Jackson’s male relatives.
“A vulnerable, sobering look at Jackson’s life and beyond, in all its tragedies, burdens, and faults” (San Francisco Chronicle), the sum of Survival Math’s parts is a highly original whole, one that reflects on the exigencies—over generations—that have shaped the lives of so many disenfranchised Americans. “Both poetic and brutally honest” (Salon), Mitchell S. Jackson’s nonfiction debut is as essential as it is beautiful, as real as it is artful, a singular achievement, not to be missed.
In this excellent exploration of our society and the criminal justice system, author Michelle Alexander argues that, while many believe Jim Crow-era discriminations have ended, we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. The U.S. criminal justice system at large functions as a contemporary system of racial control by targeting black men and communities of color, using them as fuel for the prisons. THE NEW JIM CROW challenges the civil rights community--and all of us--to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.
STANDING OUR GROUND is a riveting and heartbreaking memoir by Lucia MacBath about the loss of her son due to gun violence. After seventeen-year-old Jordan Davis was shot by a man who thought the music playing on his car stereo was too loud, the nation grieved yet again for the unnecessary loss of life. MacBeth writes about her grief, and her fight for justice. Her emotional story is a faith-based exploration of the social and political evolution of America’s gun control policies and serves as a powerful statement about how America’s system puts a target on black lives.
From the national spokesperson for Everytown for Gun Safety and leading gun violence prevention advocate comes the riveting memoir of a mother’s loss and call to action, as well as a faith-based exploration of how the nation’s gun laws put a deadly target on American lives.
Lucia Kay McBath knew deep down that a bullet could one day take her son. After all, she had watched the news of countless unarmed black men unjustly gunned down.
Standing Our Ground: Putting Faith in God Over Faith in Guns is McBath’s memoir of raising, loving, and losing her son to gun violence, and the story of how she transformed her pain into activism. After seventeen-year-old Jordan Davis was shot by a man who thought the music playing on his car stereo was too loud, the nation grieved yet again for the unnecessary loss of life. Here, McBath goes beyond the timeline and the assailant’s defense—Stand Your Ground—to present an emotional account of her fervent fight for justice, and her awakening to a cause that will drive the rest of her days.
But more than McBath’s story or that of her son, Standing Our Ground keenly observes the social and political evolution of America’s gun culture. A must-read for anyone concerned with gun safety in America, it harkens back to such bestsellers as The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace and Nobody.
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? Ta-Nehisi Coates attempts to answer these questions in a prolific letter to his adolescent son, published as BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME. Between beautiful personal narratives, reimagined history, and emotionally charged prose, Coats shares a series of experiences that both illuminate the past and share a vision for a step forward.
This profound winner of the National Book Award, hailed by Toni Morrison as “required reading,” explores the biggest questions about America’s racial history through the intimate lens of a father’s concern for his son.
Throughout history, each time African Americans have made advances toward asserting their full participation in democracy, white reaction fuels a deliberate halt on their progress. Spanning the 150 years following the abolishment of slavery, this powerful book outlines the continued struggle black Americans have faced with regards to being treated as full US citizens with rights granted by the Constitution. This book helps us to better understand the national conversation about race and our role in hindering progress.
Written in 1963, this literary classic is as relevant now as it was on publication. If you haven’t read any James Baldwin, we highly recommend changing this. His writing is moving, provocative, and inspiring, and this book is an incredible piece of nonfiction that profoundly encapsulates race in America. It comprises of two sections, the first a letter to his nephew, and the second an essay about Christianity and its negative impact on the Black community. At the time of its publication, it gave a voice to the burgeoning civil rights movement, and still today it is a passionate, personal examination of racial injustice in the United States.