15 Books to Help You Understand Racism

whistling vivaldi book cover

Antiracism books are flying off the shelves, and with good reason — education is the best way to better understand racism in general, the Black Lives Matter movement, why people are protesting, and how you can be an ally.

You’ve likely seen lists of books about racism making the rounds online. We’ve pulled some of our favorites from those lists and added some staff picks, including one from PTK alumnus Wes Moore.

The 2020/2021 Honors Study Topic, To The Seventh Generation: Inheritance and Legacy, also includes some resources, particularly in Theme 4, “Expressions of Truth,” Theme 5, “Resistance — Reform, Rebellion, Revolution,” and Theme 6, “Perceptions of Progress.”

Click on the titles to purchase these now on Amazon, or pick them up at your favorite local bookstore. *All book descriptions are from Amazon.

1. Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D.

“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. These topics have only become more urgent as the national conversation about race is increasingly acrimonious.”

2. What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays by Damon Young

“What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker chronicles Damon Young’s efforts to survive while battling and making sense of the various neuroses his country has given him … at its most devastating, it provides him reason to believe that his mother would be alive today if she were white.”

3. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

“Austin Channing Brown’s first encounter with a racialized America came at age 7, when she discovered her parents named her Austin to deceive future employers into thinking she was a white man. In a time when nearly all institutions (schools, churches, universities, businesses) claim to value ‘diversity’ in their mission statements, I’m Still Here is a powerful account of how and why our actions so often fall short of our words.”

4. Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (Issues of Our Time) by Claude M. Steele

“Claude M. Steele, who has been called ‘one of the few great social psychologists,’ offers a vivid first-person account of the research that supports his groundbreaking conclusions on stereotypes and identity. He sheds new light on American social phenomena from racial and gender gaps in test scores to the belief in the superior athletic prowess of black men, and lays out a plan for mitigating these ‘stereotype threats’ and reshaping American identities.”

5. White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White by Daniel Hill

“(Daniel Hill) is an active participant in addressing and confronting racial and systemic injustices. And in this compelling and timely book, he shows you the seven stages to expect on your own path to cultural awakening. This book will give you a new perspective on being white and also empower you to be an agent of reconciliation in our increasingly diverse and divided world.”

6. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

“Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.”

7. How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

“Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and reenergizes the conversation about racism — and, even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi takes listeners through a widening circle of antiracist ideas — from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilities — that will help listeners see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves.”

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

(Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race) is a searing, illuminating, absolutely necessary exploration of what it is to be a person of colour in Britain today, covering issues from eradicated black history to white privilege, the fallacy of ‘meritocracy’ to whitewashing feminism, and the inextricable link between class and race. Full of passionate, personal and keenly felt arguments, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is a wake-up call to a nation in denial about the structural and institutional racism occurring in our homes.”

9. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

“In So You Want to Talk About Race, editor-at-large of The Establishment Ijeoma Oluo offers a contemporary, accessible take on the racial landscape in America, addressing head-on such issues as privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the ‘N’ word. Perfectly positioned to bridge the gap between people of color and white Americans struggling with race complexities, Oluo answers the questions listeners don’t dare ask and explains the concepts that continue to elude everyday Americans.”

10. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“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? Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. 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.”

11. This Book is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work by Tiffany Jewell

“Gain a deeper understanding of your anti-racist self as you progress through 20 chapters that spark introspection, reveal the origins of racism that we are still experiencing, and give you the courage and power to undo it. Each chapter builds on the previous one as you learn more about yourself and racial oppression. Twenty activities get you thinking and help you grow with the knowledge. All you need is a pen and paper.”

12. 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.

13. 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. In the second edition of this seminal text, Robin 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. These factors contribute to what she terms white racial illiteracy.”

14. The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

“Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence?”

15. Chokehold: Policing Black Men by Paul Butler

“In this explosive new book, an African American former federal prosecutor shows that the system is working exactly the way it’s supposed to. Black men are always under watch, and police violence is widespread — all with the support of judges and politicians. Chokehold powerfully demonstrates why current efforts to reform law enforcement will not create lasting change. Paul 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.”

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