If You Want to Learn About Anti-Racism, These 10 Books Are a Start

From James Baldwin's 1963 treatise on the "racial nightmare" of life in America to contemporary writers who have taken up his mantle, here's where to start educating yourself.

antiracism books
Elaine Chung

If the nationwide uprising following the horrific murder of George Floyd has left you eager to actively dismantle racism in your community and learn more about the ideology and practice of antiracism, one of the best things you can do to educate yourself is crack open a book. You’d be forgiven if you’re unsure of where to start, since there are truly hundreds of compelling books available on the subject. Don't sweat it too much. The important thing is to start: Here are a few books we deem essential reading on this subject, from memoirs to essay collections to poems.

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How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi
Ibram X Kendi bookshop.org
$24.30

With groundbreaking vision and revelatory clarity of purpose, Kendi argues that to reject racism is insufficient--rather, one must practice antiracism, which demands “persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.” Racism, as Kendi illuminates in these pages, is not simply a matter of hatred and ignorance; rather, it’s a vicious structural force rooted at the bedrock of American society, infecting everything from community policing to housing policy. Pick up this book for a necessary lesson in unlearning everything you think you know about racism, as well as an essential education in how each and every one of us can play an active role in building the just and equitable world we want to live in.

The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin
James Baldwin bookshop.org
$19.95

In this landmark meditation on race and religion in America, published to immediate acclaim in 1963, Baldwin makes a fervent and unsparing plea to “end the racial nightmare” of life in America. Structured as a letter to his fourteen-year-old nephew, Baldwin’s visionary words are a scorching indictment of a country in moral bankruptcy, yet also a galvanizing call to political action for Americans of every race. Arguably the most staggering thing about this staggering book is how little has changed in the many years since it arrived in 1963.

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates bookshop.org
$28.00

Named Esquire’s best book of the 2010sBetween the World and Me is the spiritual successor to Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, with Coates structuring the book as an impassioned letter to his teenage son. Coates recalls his gradual awakening to the bitter truth of racism and dissects the trauma of inhabiting a persecuted body, while also eloquently voicing the concern of parents everywhere who fear that their children of color will inherit a world broken beyond hope of redemption. In heralding Coates’ arrival as one of our most gifted and necessary public intellectuals, Toni Morrison put it best: “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates.”

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward
Jesmyn Ward bookshop.org
$25.00

In this searing anthology edited by two-time National Book Award winner Jesymn Ward, who dedicates the collection to Trayvon Martin, literary luminaries wrestle with what Ward calls “the ugly truths that plague us in this country.” Envisioned as a contemporary response to James Baldwin’s The Fire Next TimeThe Fire This Time assembles essays and poems from brilliant writers including Jericho Brown, Edwidge Danticat, and Kevin Young, who dissect the historic legacy of structural racism in America, unpack the violent inequities of our contemporary moment, and envision a brighter future for people of color.

Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine
Claudia Rankine bookshop.org
$18.39

In this gutting and formally audacious collection of poems, Rankine gives a master class in poetry’s ability to disorient and shock, with each poem-length account of day-to-day racist interactions culminating into a collective howl of pain, rage, and grief. With powerful lyricism, Rankine investigates the pervasive evil of racism in American life, yet she also calls on us to reimagine our tired ideas of belonging and identity, with an eye toward a richer understanding of what it means to be a citizen.

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo
Robin Diangelo bookshop.org
$14.72

An integral part of anti-racism is introspection--taking a long, hard, unsparing look inward at one’s own complicity in our broken systems. In this urgent and compassionate book, DiAngelo, an antiracist educator, offers actionable guidance on how to dismantle the defensive reaction white individuals often experience when faced with challenges to their racial ideologies--what DiAngelo calls “white fragility.” This indispensable book is a must-read for white Americans, who stand to gain new tools for honest, productive conversations about race and privilege.

They Can't Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America's Racial Justice Movement, by Wesley Lowery
Wesley Lowery bookshop.org
$35.00

If you’re seeking to understand today’s protests in the context of other flash points in recent history, They Can’t Kill Us All is the book for you. They Can’t Kill Us Allim电竞官网- is a titanic achievement of reporting, featuring hundreds of interviews conducted over the course of one year, which Lowery spent traveling to heavily policed cities like Baltimore, Cleveland, and Ferguson. What emerges is a piercing analysis of how racist policing rots community life from the inside out, as well as a poignant portrait of the new generation of activists fighting for a better future. 

Heavy: An American Memoir, by Kiese Laymon
Kiese Laymon bookshop.org
$34.99

In this harrowing and courageous memoir, Laymon explores the multifold traumas of inhabiting a black body, as seen through the lens of his complicated and abusive upbringing in Jackson, Mississippi. Yet the great miracle of this memoir isn’t its evocation of the Deep South, its exploration of trauma, nor its condemnation of our fat-phobic culture--rather, the great miracle is Laymon’s ability to bear love and light toward all the complicated sources of pain in his life, making for a searing and cathartic read.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Michelle Alexander bookshop.org
$25.19

If you’re looking to expand your knowledge of our broken criminal justice system, pick up The New Jim Crow, a groundbreaking polemic on the American epidemic of mass incarceration. Alexander’s work tore open a hole in our nation’s understanding of criminal justice, leading to the creation of The Marshall Project and a $100 million investment in the nascent Art for Justice Fund. In a new introduction prefacing the tenth anniversary edition, Alexander’s condemnation of how little progress this nation has made rings truer than ever: “We find ourselves in this dangerous place not because something radically different has occurred in our nation’s politics, but because so much has remained the same.”

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, by Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson bookshop.org
$16.98

im电竞官网-In this deeply researched history of black advancement in the United States, Anderson lays bare the despicable efforts of white Americans to roll back black progress. Beginning with the Jim Crow laws that followed Reconstruction and ending with the racist backlash to Barack Obama’s election, Anderson’s keen analysis presents a powerful portrait of white rage and entitlement--two shameful forces that continue to characterize our national conversation about race.

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