I’ve been asked a lot lately about what folks can read to learn more about race, justice, ethnicity, etc. so I’ve decided to collect together what I’ve read, what I’m reading, and what I hope to read next.
I’ve read a lot of articles and summaries and read very, very few actual books. I’m hoping to fix that in 2018-2019.
Skip ahead to sections:
- Books I read when I first started thinking about race, justice, ethnicity, and anti-racism
- Books I’m reading now or have read very recently
- Books on my list
- Books I’ve had suggested but haven’t vetted yet
Books that were important to me when I first started thinking and learning about race, justice, ethnicity, etc. (2003-2007):
I don’t remember a ton about this, but what I do remember is: it was the first time I ever realized the need for and value of affirmative action. This is big, from someone who grew up in the shadow of the University of Michigan and was applying to colleges right around the time they were embroiled in legal issues around their affirmative action policies.
Divided By Faith
I remember this book blew my mind in college. It is a collection of statistics and sociological studies about the history of race in American religion (primarily Christianity), and as someone who grew up in the white Evangelical church, it really changed my perspective on a lot. This book probably shook me more than anything in my earliest days of learning about race.
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
Reading this book took many of the conversations I’d had and the things I’d begun learning implicitly as I started to develop my first real relationships with Black Americans and turned those subconscious communications or imperfect conversations and made them into academically described, universal truths. I learned a good amount reading it, but more importantly, it gave me language to talk about and a broader understanding behind the circumstances of so many things I had been either learning from Black friends or feeling in conflict with them about.
Black Like Me
This is a classic but I didn’t read it until after college, I think. White guy goes around the American South in (believable, not caricatured) blackface and writes about his experiences with Black and white Southerners. It’s a bit less poignant because it’s easy to say “that’s just the past” but still a really powerful read.
I read this book in college–I think the class may have been about post-apocalyptic novels, which, if I remember Kindred well, isn’t totally a good fit, but hey, I got to read a good book out of it. The constant juxtaposition between the modern world and the past and how (no spoilers) they interact was, whether or not it was intended this way, a really powerful metaphor and forced my brain to connect them in ways it hadn’t before.
I’m going to be honest. I love the authors of the book and consider them both personal friends. But it’s really been hard for me to remember much about this book. I know it has to do with what it looks like to be white in cross cultural settings and it’s religiously-minded. I know they donated the profit of the book to Native American organizations. I know they’re amazing people. I don’t remember much beyond that. I think it deserves a re-read.
Books I’m Reading Or Have Read Recently (2018):
The Fire Next Time (completed 12/4/2018)
I’m still processing how this book made me feel and what my takeaways are. I both appreciate his love and pity for white people and also am so caught up in his pain and anger and the awfulness he’s describing that I almost wish he weren’t so generous.
There was a part of me that heard his visit with the Nation of Islam and almost wanted him to conclude that white people are terrible and evil, purely–almost like I would rather that be true than just that we’re pitiful.
Some of his descriptions–empathetic, but pitying–of white people have put words to some ways I’ve felt in conflict with my Black friends and family, and some of them are still now causing me to try to dig deeper into what whiteness is and what is good and what can be reclaimed and what a good white person even looks like.
Between the World and Me (completed 12/11/2018)
As of writing this I’m just starting his section about New York (however far that is into the book–I’m listening on Audible) and I’m floored by so many things.
His descriptions of the mecca; the way I want to think how he thinks, even when he’s describing a way he used to think that’s no longer right; the incredible amount he has learned and consumed (each time he would reference a learning, mentioning a dozen almost entirely unfamiliar names I felt I needed to go read all about). I’m struck so much by how the book is in the context of his son, and I’m following along with his every word as he balances between fear and … not hope, but other things than fear. I don’t want to be as full of rage as he describes himself as being and yet also feel like in some ways I’m supposed to be. It’s going to take a lot of processing.
He also constantly refers to white people with some phrase, something like “people who want to be seen as white,” which absolutely continues some of those feelings I was feeling from Fire Next Time, and really makes me confident that I need to dig deeper into the history of whiteness books.
After finishing it: Watching his feelings change over the span of the book… seeing how he reflected later on his original attitudes toward civil rights protestors… the last section talking about how the end will need to be the “dreamers” taking the step of understanding and fixing their own issues, and no one else can fix them… left me with a lot to think about.
The New Jim Crow (started 12/11/2018, completed 2/5/2019)
I’ve read a ton of commentary about this book, and reviews and discussions and summaries, but never the book itself. Fixing that now.
Notes as I read: she uses such precise language. It’s hard to really internalize her exact language when I’m listening to it as an audio book, but there’s one phrase she keeps using–I think it’s something like “racialized social control”, or something like that–that really sticks with me. Slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration–they’re all tools to an end, and the people enforcing and perpetuating that control know when their tools are on the way out and are getting better each time around.
One key point, which I think may have been from the intro or definitely no later than the first chapter, is that you can’t just battle the tool–it’ll go away and then we’ll have to find and fight the next, better tool. You have to effect change in the people. I hope she goes into this more.
It’s incredible how surprising it can be that things like Jim Crow were explicitly, intentionally, over time, engineered, with a goal: to regain the racialized system that allowed poor whites to regain their not-at-the-bottom-of-the-totem-pole status, and that that concern was manufactured by the elite property owners after Bacon’s Rebellion with the specific intent of protecting them against the power of a united poor white and Black front. Reading it makes it so clear and so obvious, but then, why is this a surprise to me? To anyone? How are we telling stories about post-slavery America that don’t include this?
Every new section of this book has taught or reiterated some new aspect of how awful our system is–how hopeless so much of it feels, how many angles of hope have been covered by hope-squashing litigation after hope-squashing system after hope-squashing record of unjust legal decision.
I’ve known for a long time that one of the inherent problems with how most white Americans think about racial injustice is an unexamined assumption that Black people are inherently more criminal (because why else would they be so much more present in prison?) But this book is next level in its examination of how, and why Black Americans are laragely in poverty, out of power, in prison, still under oppression, all in ways that are directly in line with intentional and still-present broken systems.
I don’t really have any interest in having a conversation about race and justice with anyone who hasn’t read the book. It’s that foundational and transformative.
The Bluest Eye
I started listening to this, and the combination of the intensity of this book and the intense, gentle voice of Toni Morrison as she reads the Audible book has made it hard for me to listen to without giving it my full attention. Most things I read these days are on Audible while I’m driving or at the gym, and I just can’t do that. I think I need to set some time aside to sit in a chair, close my eyes, and just listen.
Books On My List In No Particular Order:
- Go Tell it on the Mountain
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
- Invisible Man
- So You Want to Talk About Race
- The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
- The Half Has Never Been Told
- A Taste of Power
- The Mis-education of the Negro
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass An American Slave
- Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written By Herself
- Life Upon These Shores
- Autobiography of Malcolm X
- The Warmth of Other Suns
- The Color Purple
- Native Son
- A People’s History of the United States
- Critical Race Theory: An introduction
- The Cross and the Lynching Tree
- My Bondage and My Freedom
- Their Eyes Were Watching God
- The Souls of Black Folk
- Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lies
- If Beale Street Could Talk
- Notes of a Native Son
- I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
- Jesus and the Disinherited
- The Color of Compromise
- For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf
- What Does It Mean To Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy