You could do worse than to start with some of these bestsellers:
As you might guess, though, some of these books are selling out and hard to find, and publishing houses are not considered “essential” in these pandemic times (with which I could quibble, but that’s a different post…). You might have to dig deeper, so here are some additional lists compiled by other people:
Several Antiracist Books Are Selling Out. Here’s What Else Black Booksellers and Publishers Say You Should Read, by Suyin Haynes
Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist, Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race are just a few of the titles that have sold out on Amazon in the U.S. What else could you be reading?
Anti-Racist Reading List from Ibram X. Kendi and the Chicago Public Library
“This anti-racist syllabus is for people realizing they were never taught how to be anti-racist. How to treat all the racial groups as equals. How to look at the racial inequity all around and look for the racist policies producing it, and the racist ideas veiling it. This list is for people beginning their anti-racist journey.” — Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist
5 Books To Read On Social Justice That Go Beyond The Instructive
Laymon says his reading recommendations “if you give yourself an opportunity, will make you feel feel good about the work we have to do, which can sound oxymoronic. But I think that’s what these books do. We want to feel like we’re being taken care of artistically. And I think these books do that.”
Understand Black Movements & Systemic Racism Book List, from the Haverhill Public Library
disclaimer: My cousin may or may not have compiled this list….
13 Books You Should Read About Black Lives, by the Cut
By no means a comprehensive list, these titles include memoirs, practical guides to talking about race, in-depth reporting on police brutality, and groundbreaking works of intersectional feminist theory.
A Reading List For Learning About Anti-Black Racism and Food, by Emily Johnson and the Editors of Epicurious
Black people experience racism and exploitation on farms, in restaurants, and in grocery stores. This racism is systematic, ingrained in centuries of discrimination and disempowerment. Includes cookbooks from Black authors.
And if reading isn’t really your thing, or your preferred thing:
12 Documentaries You Should Watch About Racism and Police Brutality in America, by Jason Bailey
10 Documentaries About Being Black and Queer in America, by NewNowNext Editors
TED Talks to help you understand racism in America
5 Podcasts To Listen To If You Really Want To Know About Race In America, by WBUR
Listen to What They’re Saying, by Phoebe Lett Learn to see through protesters’ eyes with these podcasts.
But also remember….
The False Promise of Anti-racism Books, by Saida Grundy
Raising awareness about racism is not a means in itself of correcting injustice. And while the crafters of anti-racist reading lists are mostly making an earnest effort to educate people, literature and dialogue cannot supplant restorative social policies and laws, organizational change, and structural redress.
Now onto individual books:
I haven’t read all (or even most) of these, but they come highly recommended by the activists I respect most.
The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
A civil-rights-lawyer-turned-legal-scholar takes aim at the “war on drugs,” mass incarceration and their impact on Black men. With this book, which became hugely popular at the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, Michelle Alexander became a nationally renowned expert on racism in the criminal justice system.
There are many studying and organizing guides available to accompany this book, including this one from the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A meditation on race framed as a letter to the author’s Black teenage son. The Atlantic has expanded on his book with a series of response articles called The Brutality of a Country.
Winner of the 2015 National Book Award for nonfiction.
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele
Championing human rights in the face of violent racism, Patrisse is a survivor. She transformed her personal pain into political power, giving voice to a people suffering inequality and a movement fueled by her strength and love to tell the country—and the world—that Black Lives Matter.
How to Be an Anti-Racist, by Ibrahim X. Kendi
A primer for creating a more just and equitable society by not merely identifying racism, but becoming an active part of the fight to oppose and dismantle systemic racism.
With a discussion guide for your book club.
Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibrahim X. Kendi
The entire story of anti-Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. The life stories of five major American intellectuals show how and why some of our leading proslavery and pro-civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America.
Winner of the 2016 National Book Award for nonfiction and many other prizes.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson
The book and the movie (currently streaming free).
Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, has dedicated his legal career to defending those who are trapped by an often capricious, political, and willfully unjust criminal justice system – poor people, people of color, children, and others.
There are many study guides available for this book, including this one from the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Becoming, by Michelle Obama
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address.
With a Reading Guide for your book club, and watch the heart-rending, heart-warming Netflix documentary of the same name about her book tour, too!
Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations, by Joe R. Feagin and Kimberley Ducey
This one’s an undergraduate textbook, but a solid account of how centuries-old racist ideas and practices of people of European descent shaped the racially-segregated, color-coded US society Americans live in today.
Letters from Black America: Intimate Portraits of the African American Experience, Pamela Newkirk, ed.
The first-ever narrative history of African Americans told through their own letters. My English professor friend who will be using it for her class this semester says, “It’s also a great book to pick up if you are, like me, having “pandemic brain” that makes it next to impossible to make it through a longer narrative.”
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents – Isabel Wilkerson
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration – Isabel Wilkerson
Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America – Patrick Phillips
Open Wide The Freedom Gates: A Memoir – Dorothy Height
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
Laboring Women by Jennifer Morgan
Praying for Sheetrock – Melissa Fay Greene
How We Get Free by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
From # Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements by Charlene Carruthers
Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America, by Laila Lalami
Because racism is not just about Black people, but also encompasses other people of color, I’m also putting this title on my own personal To Read list.
And of course, if you’re able, buy from Black– or minority-owned bookstores! Many of them will ship to your door.
My friend says this list is missing a crucial bookshop — Hakim’s Bookshop in West Philadelphia, one of the oldest Black-owned bookstores in the country, currently owned by Hakim’s daughter. It and Harriett’s are both owned by women.