The African American Experience: A Reading List for Antiracism

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What is antiracism? What does it mean to be antiracist in America? The following list contains works focused on recognizing, acknowledging, and addressing racism and white supremacy. 

 

How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

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. 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.

 

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

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? 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 impact almost every aspect of American life.

 

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad

When Layla Saad began an Instagram challenge called #meandwhitesupremacy, she never predicted it would become a cultural movement. She encouraged people to own up and share their racist behaviors, big and small. She was looking for truth, and she got it… Thousands of people participated in the challenge, and over 80,000 people downloaded the supporting work Me and White Supremacy. Updated and expanded from the original edition, Me and White Supremacy teaches readers how to dismantle the privilege within themselves so that they can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too

 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow is a stunning account of the rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status—denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness.

 

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

Carefully linking historical flashpoints when social progress for African Americans was countered by deliberate and cleverly crafted opposition, Anderson pulls back the veil that has long covered actions made in the name of protecting democracy, fiscal responsibility, or protection against fraud, rendering visible the long lineage of white rage. Compelling and dramatic in the unimpeachable history it relates, White Rage will add an important new dimension to the national conversation about race in America.

 

Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, From Ferguson to Flint and Beyond by Marc Lamont Hill

To help us understand the plight of vulnerable communities, Hill examines the effects of unfettered capitalism, mass incarceration, and political power while urging us to consider a new world in which everyone has a chance to become somebody. Heralded as an essential text for our times, Marc Lamont Hill’s galvanizing work embodies the best traditions of scholarship, journalism, and storytelling to lift unheard voices and to address the necessary question, “how did we get here?”

 

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

A classic, originally published in 1963, this book galvanized the nation and gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement. At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document. It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism.

 

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race by Jesmyn Ward (editor)

This book takes James Baldwin’s 1963 examination of race in America, The Fire Next Time, as a jumping off point for this groundbreaking collection of essays and poems about race from the most important voices of our time. It is divided into three parts that shine a light on the darkest corners of our history, wrestle with our current predicament, and envision a better future. n the fifty-odd years since Baldwin’s essay was published, entire generations have dared everything and made significant progress. Baldwin’s “fire next time” is now upon us, and it needs to be talked about. 

 

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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, 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? Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son.

 

Chokehold: Policing Black Men by Paul Butler

Cops, politicians, and ordinary people are afraid of black men. Butler uses new data to demonstrate that white men commit the majority of violent crime in the United States. For example, a white woman is ten times more likely to be raped by a white male acquaintance than be the victim of a violent crime perpetrated by a black man. Butler also frankly discusses the problem of black on black violence and how to keep communities safer—without relying as much on police. Butler’s controversial recommendations about how to crash the system, and when it’s better for a black man to plead guilty—even if he’s innocent—are sure to be game-changers in the national debate about policing, criminal justice, and race relations.

 

Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice by Paul Kivel

Uprooting Racism offers a framework around neoliberalism and interpersonal, institutional, and cultural racism, along with stories of resistance and white solidarity. It provides practical tools and advice on how white people can work as allies for racial justice, engaging the reader through questions, exercises, and suggestions for action.

 

Charleston Syllabus: Readings on Race, Racism, and Racial Violence by Various Authors

A collection of new essays and columns published in the wake of the 2015 Charleston, SC, massacre, along with excerpts from key scholarly books. It draws from a variety of disciplines–history, sociology, urban studies, law, critical race theory–and includes discussion questions and a selected and annotated bibliography for further reading.

 

What Does It Mean to Be White?: Developing White Racial Literacy by Robin DiAngelo

What does it mean to be white in a society that proclaims race meaningless, yet is deeply divided by race? In the face of pervasive racial inequality and segregation, most white people cannot answer that question. DiAngelo reveals the factors that make this question so difficult: mis-education about what racism is; ideologies such as individualism and colorblindness; segregation; and the belief that to be complicit in racism is to be an immoral person. Speaking as a white person to other white people, she clearly and compellingly takes readers through an analysis of white socialization.

 

Debating Race with Michael Dyson by Michael Eric Dyson

Whether chronicling the class conflict in the African-American community or exposing the failings of the government response in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Michael Eric Dyson has never shied away from controversy. No stranger to intellectual combat, Dyson has always been ready to engage friends and foes alike in open conversation about the issues that matter. Debating Race collects many of Dyson’s most memorable encounters and most poignant arguments. 

 

Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education by Mychal Denzel Smith

How do you learn to be a black man in America? Smith chronicles his own personal and political education during these tumultuous years, describing his efforts to come into his own in a world that denied his humanity. Smith unapologetically upends reigning assumptions about black masculinity, rewriting the script for black manhood so that depression and anxiety aren’t considered taboo, and feminism and LGBTQ rights become part of the fight.

 

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

Exploding the myth of de facto segregation arising from private prejudice or the unintended consequences of economic forces, Rothstein describes how the American government systematically imposed residential segregation: with undisguised racial zoning; public housing that purposefully segregated previously mixed communities; subsidies for builders to create whites-only suburbs; tax exemptions for institutions that enforced segregation; and support for violent resistance to African Americans in white neighborhoods. A groundbreaking, “virtually indispensable” study that has already transformed our understanding of twentieth-century urban history, The Color of Law forces us to face the obligation to remedy our unconstitutional past. 

 

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique W. Morris

Morris chronicles the experiences of Black girls across the country whose intricate lives are misunderstood, highly judged—by teachers, administrators, and the justice system—and degraded by the very institutions charged with helping them flourish. Pushout exposes a world of confined potential and supports the rising movement to challenge the policies, practices, and cultural illiteracy that push countless students out of school and into unhealthy, unstable, and often unsafe futures.

 

No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America by Darnell L. Moore

When Darnell Moore was fourteen, three boys from his neighborhood tried to set him on fire. They cornered him while he was walking home from school, harassed him because they thought he was gay, and poured a jug of gasoline on him. He escaped, but just barely. It wasn’t the last time he would face death. Now, Moore is an award-winning writer, a leading Black Lives Matter activist, and an advocate for justice and liberation. Moore reminds us that liberation is possible if we commit ourselves to fighting for it, and if we dream and create futures where those who survive on society’s edges can thrive.

 

“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”: And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum

A classic, bestselling book on the psychology of racism. Walk into any racially mixed high school and you will see Black, White, and Latino youth clustered in their own groups. Is this self-segregation a problem to address or a coping strategy? Beverly Daniel Tatum, a renowned authority on the psychology of racism, argues that straight talk about our racial identities is essential if we are serious about enabling communication across racial and ethnic divides. 

 

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. He uses the life stories of five major American intellectuals to drive this history: Puritan minister Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, and legendary activist Angela Davis. Kendi shows racist ideas did not arise from ignorance or hatred. They were created to justify and rationalize deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and the nation’s racial inequities. A National Book Award winner.

 

We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation by Jeff Chang

Through deep reporting with key activists and thinkers, passionately personal writing, and distinguished cultural criticism, We Gon’ Be Alright links #BlackLivesMatter to #OscarsSoWhite, Ferguson to Washington D.C., the Great Migration to resurgent nativism. Chang explores the rise and fall of the idea of “diversity,” the roots of student protest, changing ideas about Asian Americanness, and the impact of a century of racial separation in housing. He argues that resegregation is the unexamined condition of our time, the undoing of which is key to moving the nation forward to racial justice and cultural equity.

 

For White Folks Who Teach In The Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education by Christopher Emdin

Drawing on his own experience of feeling undervalued and invisible in science classrooms as a young man of color, Emdin offers a new lens on, and approach to, teaching in urban schools. Putting forth his theory of Reality Pedagogy, Emdin provides practical tools to unleash the brilliance and eagerness of youth and educators alike–both of whom have been typecast and stymied by outdated modes of thinking about urban education.

 

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

In 2014, journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote on her blog about her frustration with the way that discussions of race and racism in Britain were being led by those who weren’t affected by it. Her words hit a nerve. The post went viral and comments flooded in from others desperate to speak up about their own experiences. Galvanised, she decided to dig into the source of these feelings. Exploring issues from eradicated black history to the inextricable link between class and race, Reni Eddo-Lodgehas written a searing, illuminating, absolutely necessary examination of what it is to be a person of colour today.

 

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins

Doubly disenfranchised by race and gender, often deprived of a place within the mostly white mainstream feminist movement, black women are objectified, silenced, and marginalized with devastating consequences, in ways both obvious and subtle, that are rarely acknowledged in our country’s larger discussion about inequality. Whether she’s writing about Sailor Moon; Rachel Dolezal; the stigma of therapy; her complex relationship with her own physical body; the pain of dating when men say they don’t “see color”; being a black visitor in Russia; the specter of “the fast-tailed girl” and the paradox of black female sexuality; or disabled black women in the context of the “Black Girl Magic” movement, Jerkins becomes both narrator and subject to expose the social, cultural, and historical story of black female oppression that influences the black community as well as the white, male-dominated world at large.

 

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

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.

 

How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide by Crystal M. Fleming

Combining no-holds-barred social critique, humorous personal anecdotes, and analysis of the latest interdisciplinary scholarship on systemic racism, sociologist Crystal M. Fleming provides a fresh, accessible, and irreverent take on everything that’s wrong with our “national conversation about race.” Drawing upon critical race theory, as well as her own experiences as a queer black millennial college professor and researcher, Fleming unveils how systemic racism exposes us all to racial ignorance—and provides a road map for transforming our knowledge into concrete social change. 

 

Looking for more reading suggestions? Visit What Do I Read Next? to receive personalized recommendations from JMRL librarians.

 

About JMRL Central Reference

Librarians in the reference department at the Central Library of JMRL.

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