Racism and Antiracism Resources for White People
The most valuable, foundational antiracism resources for White readers will come from authors and artists of color. Here, I am hoping to mention some works that I see listed slightly less often as I also highlight some that were especially helpful for me. Works are listed in order of author’s last name.
“America, This is Your Chance.” Michelle Alexander, The New York Times, 8 June 2020. In just one opinion piece, Michelle Alexander, the eminent legal scholar, tells the story from start to finish. She cites many other outstanding works along the way, and ends with the vision of promise that she sees in the nationwide protests that followed the murder of George Floyd. Now back up and read The New Jim Crow (2011), Alexander’s brilliant, thorough analysis of the criminal justice system’s targeting of communities of color.
The Fire Next Time. James Baldwin (1963). Also, anything else by James Baldwin. There is no better author on the topics of racism and Whiteness in America. These two essays take the form of letters written on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Searing, incisive analysis; elegant beyond words.
Racism Without Racists. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2017). How is it that we still have racism if everyone is so sure that they aren’t racist themselves? Some of the clues are found within White people’s everyday conversational stylings, as Bonilla-Silva’s research and theorizing reveals.
“The Case for Reparations.” Ta-Nehisi Coates (2014). Yes, I understand that you never owned slaves, et cetera. Set all that to the side for a minute and read this even though you have a reaction to the title. Just do it. You just might find yourself wanting to read everything else you can find by this author, including the stunning Between the The World and Me (2015).
Don’t Touch My Hair and Twisted. Emma Dabiri (2019; 2020). You may know that asking to touch a Black woman’s hair is completely outside the realm of acceptable behavior — but here, Dabiri connects the dots from that issue to pop culture, colonial history, Black scholarship, and more. A fascinating read.
“13th.” Ava DuVernay (2016). Ok, this is one that you’ve probably heard about, and it’s not a must-read, it’s a must-see — but you really must. It is a both a drill-down on the the 13th Amendment and its implications as well as a sweeping, compelling analysis of systemic racism and how we got here. If you have ever wondered exactly what is meant by the systemic part of that term, you can get your schooling here.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. (2017). Reni Eddo-Lodge. This award-winning British author bases her exploration of contemporary race relations in the experience of trying to communicate with us about something that we are unwilling to hear. Her precise, insightful, deep analysis will show you yourself and your White world with a new clarity.
The 1619 Project (2019). Nikole Hannah-Jones and contributors. The New York Times Magazine’s interactive project comprised of essays, poetry, and photography traces the legacy of slavery within contemporary America.
Code Switch, a podcast from NPR. Smart, sparkling conversation about race, racism, and Whiteness from a team of reporters of color. Politics, pop culture, sports, history, music, film.
They Were Her Property. Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers (2019). White women’s racism as demonstrated by their voting patterns in recent national elections surprises only other White women. As documented by Jones-Rogers, a historian at UC-Berkeley, White women’s full participation in the operations of racism dates back to their roles as “mistresses of the market” in the slave-holding South.
Stamped from the Beginning. Ibram X. Kendi (2016). Kendi’s premise seems counterintuitive at first: “Hate and ignorance have not driven the history of racist ideas in America. Racist policies have driven the history of racist ideas in America.” Huh? Haven’t we all learned that racism comes from hateful prejudice and ignorance regarding Black people? Stick with it, and when the light bulb comes on, you will see the history of race and racism illuminated with a new clarity.
How to Be an Antiracist. Ibram X. Kendi (2019). See above. Kendi conveys his vision of the path ahead in this follow-up to Stamped from the Beginning.
The Color of Wealth. Meizhu Lui, Barbara Robles, Betsy Leondar-Wright, Rose Brewer, and Rebecca Adamson (2006). An extremely readable and engaging exploration of the inextricably intertwined history of race and wealth-creation in the United States.
Sister Outsider. Audre Lorde (1984). The first encounter with this timeless, fierce, poetic book of essays is remembered as a life-changing experience by generations of readers. Brilliant structural and intersectional analysis explored with courage, humanity, and love.
My Grandmother’s Hands. Resmaa Menekem (2017). Menakem, a psychotherapist, juxtaposes the physiology of trauma with the intergenerational nature of racism in this body-centered exposition and workbook. Deeply affecting and blazingly original.
The History of White People. Nell Irvin Painter (2011). In this extensively researched and best-selling account, the emeritus Princeton University historian documents the history of the invention of Whiteness.
Vexy Thing. Imani Perry (2018). Welcome to the mind palace of Imani Perry, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. Scholarly, beautifully written, and stunning in its scope, it is difficult to describe all that Perry has accomplished in an analysis that interweaves the analysis of patriarchy and racism with portraiture, narrative, and Cardi B. Take it slow and just read that paragraph over again.
So You Want to Talk About Race. Ijeoma Oluo (2019). Straightforward, clear, and generous, Oluo walks you through the issues and the language that will help you have the conversations that White people so often avoid. A good first antiracism read.
Me and White Supremacy. Layla Saad (2020). If you’re asking what you’re supposed to do with your White self now that you’ve done some reading, this might be just what you’re looking for: it’s a workbook plus. Saad’s approach is direct, practical, patient, and action-oriented.
Decolonizing Methodologies. Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999). Science is science, right? How can it be racist? In this pathbreaking book, the Maori anthropologist traces the theoretical and pragmatic reasons that research is “one of the dirtiest words in the indigenous world’s vocabulary.” A scholarly read. Slow down and study it. Don’t skip the introduction.
Just Mercy. Bryan Stevenson (2015). Bryan Stevenson is the executive director of Alabama’s Equal Justice Initiative, a professor of law at New York University, and a MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient — and his account of front-line experiences in the justice system will earn him a place in your mental pantheon of real-life heroes.
Overcoming Our Racism and Race Talk. Derald Wing Sue (2003; 2015). If you’ve heard the term “racial microaggressions,” you’ve already been introduced to the distinguished work of psychologist Derald Wing Sue. In the first of these two books, Dr. Sue comprehensively addresses racism and where it lives in each of us; in the second, he helps us learn to participate in the conversations about race that most White people have learned to avoid.
Medical Apartheid. Harriet Washington (2007). The Tuskegee experiments are only the most well-publicized instance of scientific racism within the field of medicine. Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid, the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award winner for Nonfiction, documents the history of medical and experimental abuse of African Americans since the American colonial era.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Malcolm X and Alex Haley (1965). As though he is speaking directly to you, Malcolm X recounts his life’s journey from the streets to national prominence as a Black activist and leader in global movements for racial justice. Suffused with integrity and humanity, the memoir of this “stormy, controversial and bold young captain” (as he was called by his eulogist, Ossie Davis) is one of the most important books that you’ll ever read.