9 Important Books to Read on Anti-Racism

Following the horrific death of George Floyd, many of us are wondering what we can do to help. From protesting to signing petitions, and from contacting our representatives to donating, there are a lot of things that we can do to dismantle racism in our communities. Another essential thing that we can do from home is to educate ourselves—we can learn about the systemic racism and structures of oppression, and we can address our own privileges and complicity. There are many, many resources on this topic, so it can seem overwhelming, but these nine books are a place to start. 


Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”—Zora Neale Hurston. Though Hurston is typically known for her fiction, this work of nonfiction is equally brilliant. She interviewed the last person alive who had been transported from Africa along the Middle Passage and sold into slavery. This work illustrates the tragedy of slavery as well as its lifelong impact and its lasting legacy. The story is both incredible and immensely impactful and is crucial for understanding America’s abhorrent past.


How to be an Antiracist—Ibram X. Kendi. Kendi brilliantly weaves together his own personal experiences with history, morality, science, and so much more in this book. He guides the reader to a deeper understanding of racism and its consequences, and leads them through a series of anti-racist ideas. It also provides the information about how to go beyond simply learning about racism and towards eliminating systemic racism in our society. It is a must-read book when it comes to anti-racism.


Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race—Derald Wing Sue. This book in particular is about how to handle racism in day-to-day life. The author delineates how to have difficult and meaningful conversations about race. He insists that we need to drive through the resistance facing these conversations because remaining silent is being complicit. Derald Wing Sue gives realistic examples and his advice will stick with the reader and aid them in helping to produce an anti-racist society.


A Black Women’s History of the United States—Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross. Just as the history of black people is glossed over, the history of black women in particular is often outright ignored. This wonderful book centers on the stories of black women and their successes, despite their existing in a racist and patriarchal culture. Berry and Gross tell the history of many different types of women, from slaves to artists and activists. The authors present a complex and nuanced portrait, full of richness and detail. Understanding the history of oppression of black women will help create a fuller picture of the scope of racism in the U.S.


White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide—Carol Anderson. Following the 2014 riots in Ferguson as a result of Michael Brown’s death, many were critiquing the outpour of “black rage.” This is what inspired this book, in which Anderson responds to the idea of “black rage,” posing instead the idea of “white rage”—the response to major advances in civil rights, which frequently results in violence, backlash, and attempts to repeal the progress towards equality. Anderson examines important events in history to illustrate this concept, and it is particularly timely during this new time of protest after the death of George Floyd.


Ain’t I A Woman?: Black Women and Feminism—bell hooks. Of course, this list would not be sufficient without anything by bell hooks on it. The author examines the intersections of race, gender, and class in this critical piece of feminist history. In particular, it examines the effects of racism and sexism on black women in contrast to white society. Additionally, hooks examines how feminism has ignored BIPOC women and women of lower socioeconomic statuses and the effects of doing so. Ain’t I a Woman? is critically acclaimed and necessary to read.


The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther—Jeffrey Haas. This book is about the murder of a young, prominent leader within the Black Panthers. The lengths that the FBI, led by J. Edgar Hoover, and the Police Department went in order to obscure how they murdered Hampton and to portray the Black Panthers as violent extremists is horrifying. This assassination was wildly influential in shaping how we view protests to this day, so reading this book will help to combat our unconscious assumptions.


Black Marxism: The Making of a Black Radical Tradition—Cedric J. Robinson. In this work, Robinson criticizes the inadequacies of the Marxist lens in understanding the history of black people. He also analyzes the development of black radicalism through lenses that are more appropriate, because they better take into account cultural and historical contexts. It is more academic than some of the other books on this list, but it is equally important.


The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit From Identity Politics—George Lipsitz. This book addresses the history of the category of whiteness and its cultural significance. He discusses how whiteness has been used to ensure dominance—both socially and economically—as well as how our society encourages people to invest in whiteness in order to maintain their status. Though it was originally written over 20 years ago, Lipsitz has updated it to include more recent statistics and topics, ranging from Hurricane Katrina to Trayvon Martin. He also includes his potent analyses of domestic terrorism and ethnonationalism and their causes, making it just as relevant today as it was in 1998.


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