As February comes to a close, so does Black History Month. If you’re like me, your list of articles to read included several notable historical figures––from Martin Luther King Jr. to Katherine Johnson, whose trailblazing work for NASA, which inspired the film “Hidden Figures,” and who sadly passed away yesterday. But before the month winds down, I wanted to compile a list of the best nonfiction books on race that look at the past, present and not-so-distant-future for African Americans and race in America. I recommend the following books to anyone and everyone. I hope you gain as much from these as I did.
Black Present/Future Reading List
1. Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L Eberhardt, PhD
How do we talk about bias? How do we address racial disparities and inequities? What role do our institutions play in creating, maintaining, and magnifying those inequities? What role do we play? With a perspective that is at once scientific, investigative, and informed by personal experience, Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt offers us the language and courage we need to face one of the biggest and most troubling issues of our time. She exposes racial bias at all levels of society—in our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and criminal justice system. Yet she also offers us tools to address it.
In Biased, Eberhardt shows us how we can be vulnerable to bias but not doomed to live under its grip. Racial bias is a problem that we all have a role to play in solving.
As the former president of the student group Uncomfortable Learning at his alma mater, Williams College, Zachary Wood knows from experience about intellectual controversy. In Uncensored, he reveals for the first time how he grew up poor and black in Washington, DC, where the only way to survive was resisting the urge to write people off because of their backgrounds and perspectives.
In Uncensored, Zach makes a compelling argument for a new way of interacting with others and presents a new outlook on society’s most difficult conversations.
3. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell
How did Fidel Castro fool the CIA for a generation? Why did Neville Chamberlain think he could trust Adolf Hitler? Why are campus sexual assaults on the rise? Do television sitcoms teach us something about the way we relate to one another that isn’t true? Talking to Strangers is a classic Gladwellian intellectual adventure, a challenging and controversial excursion through history, psychology, and scandals taken straight from the news.
Something is very wrong, Gladwell argues in Talking to Strangers, with the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don’t know. And because we don’t know how to talk to strangers, we are inviting conflict and misunderstanding in ways that have a profound effect on our lives and our world.
4. How to be Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
At it’s 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.
5. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson, PhD
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.
6. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder.
Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.
7. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
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, The New Jim Crow 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.”
8. 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?
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.
9. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
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 White Fragility, DiAngelo’s in-depth exploration examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively.
What books on race have you read this month? Please let me know in the comments.
Til next time,