You can find all these book on Amazon. That does not mean you need to buy them there. Check out these independent book store sites:
Stamped from the beginning, Ibram X Kendi (2017)
In this book, Kendi goes after one of the most insidious lies in American thinking about racism: that seeing an “other” whose skin is a darker color than one’s own automatically translates into fear and then into racism. Like it’s all just a natural, inevitable result of human difference. Kendi disproves that whole idea by providing a compelling historical map, tracing how elaborate racial theories were concocted to justify slavery alongside white freedom, and to perpetuate suppression of free black people. Kendi shows that racism was a choice, a creation – so we can choose to un-create it.
How to be an anti-racist, Ibram X. Kendi (2019)
Follow-up to Stamped from the Beginning, this book examines the beliefs that protect the “mirage” of race and the structures and policies that support a racist society that assigns identity by skin color and then ignores or blames those harmed by that racism. Kendi’s key point: saying “I am not a racist” is just not enough. The situation demands that we be anti-racist in our thinking and actions.
White Fragility: Why it’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo (2018)
Close-up analysis of the many ways that white people – including well-intentioned white people – defend themselves when challenged about race. DiAngelo shows how those defensive moves shut down any candid exchange between white people and people of color about how to face and deal with racist attitudes. DiAngelo’s book includes a chapter on “Racial Triggers for White People,” another on “White Fragility and the Rules of Engagement,” and concludes with a chapter titled “Where Do We Go From Here?” Before reaching that last chapter, DiAngelo serves up a powerful set of insights.
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015)
Framed as a letter to his teenage son, this intensely personal, intellectually expansive memoir traces how the big lie that “race” is real and can be identified by skin color has been used to exploit, threaten, rape, beat, imprison, and demean human beings who inhabit black bodies – including Coates and everyone around him. Coates is uncompromising in his analysis of the trouble Americans have created with the big lie of race. Because his writing is so riveting you won’t want to look away from his hard truths, but you will have to put the book down occasionally just to absorb the impact of his message and the beauty of his language.
The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin, 1963
Don’t let the word “classic” scare you off. In 128 pages that grabbed America by the throat in 1963, these two essays deliver a message that still resonates today with writing that is stunning. From Amazon review: “Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?” Baldwin demands, flicking aside the central race issue of his day and calling instead for full and shared acceptance of the fact that America is and always has been a multiracial society. Without this acceptance, he argues, the nation dooms itself to “sterility and decay” and to eventual destruction at the hands of the oppressed: “The Negroes of this country may never be able to rise to power, but they are very well placed indeed to precipitate chaos and ring down the curtain on the American dream.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates “Basically the finest essay I’ve ever read. . . . Baldwin refused to hold anyone’s hand. He was both direct and beautiful all at once. He did not seem to write to convince you. He wrote beyond you.”
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, Jesmyn Ward, 2017
Excerpt from Amazon description: In this bestselling, widely lauded collection, Jesmyn Ward gathers our most original thinkers and writers to speak on contemporary racism and race, including Carol Anderson, Jericho Brown, Edwidge Danticat, Kevin Young, Claudia Rankine, and Honoree Jeffers. . . . Envisioned as a response to The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin’s groundbreaking 1963 essay collection, these contemporary writers reflect on the past, present, and future of race in America. We’ve made significant progress in the fifty-odd years since Baldwin’s essays were published, but America is a long and painful distance away from a “post-racial society”—a truth we must confront if we are to continue to work towards change. Baldwin’s “fire next time” is now upon us, and it needs to be talked about; The Fire This Time “seeks to place the shock of our own times into historical context and, most importantly, to move these times forward” (Vogue).
How We Fight White Supremacy: A Field Guide to Black Resistance, Akiba Solomon and Kenrya Rankin, 2019
Ten chapters, ten candid conversations with African American artists, activists, professionals, and community leaders about how they manage the micro- and macro-aggressions in American society.
So You Want to Talk About Race? Ijeoma Oluo, 2019.
Oluo took on the task of writing 17 chapters, answering 17 different questions that white folks often ask. For example, “What if I talk about race wrong?” “What is intersectionality and why do I need it?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “I just got called ‘racist,’ now what do I do?”
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, Beverly Daniel Tatum, 1997, 2017.
This was a best-seller 23 years ago because it was such an informed, honest analysis of the ways schools avoid any discussion of race and racism – and the ignorance that results from this dangerous gap in American education. Now considered a “classic,” Tatum updated it in 2017 for a 20th anniversary edition, including reflections on how 9/11 and anti-Muslim rhetoric reshaped white supremacist attacks and affected children growing up after 9/11.
Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom, Lisa Delpit, (1995, 2006)
Delpit analyzed, back in 1995, the destructive effects of teaching methods and school curricula that fail to address the attitudes, prejudices, stereotypes, and cultural assumptions that insidiously shape students’ experience in every classroom. Delpit’s book won numerous awards and praise from teachers when published 25 years ago. Tragically still relevant, it was re-published in 2006 with Delpit’s updated Introduction and two scholars’ powerful new “framing essays.” Maybe now, 16 years after the second edition, Other People’s Children can be part of defining the change we seek in our schools.
Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, Debby Irving (2014)
Amazon description: For twenty-five years, Debby Irving sensed inexplicable racial tensions in her personal and professional relationships. As a colleague and neighbor, she worried about offending people she dearly wanted to befriend. As an arts administrator, she didn’t understand why her diversity efforts lacked traction. As a teacher, she found her best efforts to reach out to students and families of color left her wondering what she was missing. Then, in 2009, one “aha!” moment launched an adventure of discovery and insight that drastically shifted her worldview and upended her life plan. In Waking Up White, Irving tells her often cringe-worthy story with such openness that readers will turn every page rooting for her — and ultimately for all of us.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander (2010, 2020)
This book provides a clear, hard-hitting analysis of the racism embedded in America’s judicial and prison systems. Alexander was not the first person to publish solid research on this topic, but she was the writer whose book inspired a whole spectrum of Americans – from street activists to U.S. senators — to give mass incarceration the attention it has long deserved. Alexander’s blunt argument is that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” Her evidence and analysis demonstrate the layered ways in which black incarceration perpetuates white supremacy in the U.S.
Chokehold: Policing Black Men, Paul Butler, 2017
The review in the Washington Post said “This is a meditation, a sonnet, a legal brief, a poetry slam and a dissertation that represents the full bloom of his early thesis: The justice system does not work for blacks, particularly black men.”
Amazon summary of all the reviews: “With the eloquence of Ta-Nehisi Coates and the persuasive research of Michelle Alexander, a former federal prosecutor explains how the system really works, and how to disrupt it.” Three years before the George Floyd murder and BLM protests, Butler was writing about the way to make communities safer by relying less on the police. His work underlies much of the policy changes we are hearing about.
The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein, 2018
Rothstein takes on the myth that residential segregation in American cities is a regrettable product of individuals’ prejudice or the unintended result of free market forces. He shows that systematic government policies consciously, purposely imposed segregation and then protected it. From racist zoning laws to subsidies and tax exemptions for whites-only communities to support for white resistance when blacks move into “white” neighborhoods, Rothstein lays out in painful detail exactly how to create a structure to support racism and why it must be torn down.
High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery that Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society, Carl Hart, 2014
The title tells a lot about this book. Hart grew up rough in an African-American community in Miami, Florida where he witnessed the savage effects of crack cocaine on neighborhoods that had once been poor but functional. Hart weaves his research on the neuroscience of drug use and the fundamental fallacies in drug treatment with his own fascinating journey from the basketball courts to a Ph.D. to becoming the first African American tenured in any of the sciences at Columbia University. It’s an honest, poignant memoir and a hard-hitting argument about drugs and drug use.
Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the Twenty-first Century, Barbara Ransby, 2018.
This book tells the story of how anti-racist activists have been able to create and sustain a movement since the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012. Ransby traces the recent history of black murders by police alongside the growth of a movement to protest those murders. As a participant-observer, Ransby talks about how a coalition of over 50 social justice organizations, many led by women, have drawn on traditions of black protest to work effectively together, build a national movement, create nimble protest strategies, and develop a platform of policy demands around race and gender that officials in many communities are considering in response to George Floyd’s murder.
Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., June, 2020
Excerpt of Amazon summary of this new book by Chair of African-American Studies at Princeton and frequent guest on MSNBC: Glaude traces Baldwin’s life and work . . . from the publication of The Fire Next Time in 1963 to that of No Name in the Street in 1972 Baldwin transformed into a more overtly political writer, a change that came at great professional and personal cost. But from that journey, Baldwin emerged with a sense of renewed purpose about the necessity of pushing forward in the face of disillusionment and despair.
In the story of Baldwin’s crucible, Glaude suggests, we can find hope and guidance through our own after times, this Trumpian era of shattered promises and white retrenchment. Mixing biography—drawn partially from newly uncovered interviews—with history, memoir, and analysis of our current moment, Begin Again is Glaude’s endeavor, following Baldwin, to bear witness to the difficult truth of race in America today. It is at once a searing exploration that lays bare the tangled web of race, trauma, and memory, and a powerful interrogation of what we all must ask of ourselves in order to call forth a new America.
Three classic memoirs (and there are so many more)
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou, 1969
Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.
Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide.
(Note that this is the first of Angelou’s six autobiographies. You can get them in one volume: The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou, 2004)
Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X, 1964
In this classic autobiography, originally published in 1964, Malcolm X, the Muslim leader, firebrand, and anti-integrationist, tells the extraordinary story of his life and the growth of the Black Muslim movement. His fascinating perspective on the lies and limitations of the American Dream, and the inherent racism in a society that denies its nonwhite citizens the opportunity to dream, gives extraordinary insight into the most urgent issues of our own time. The Autobiography of Malcolm X stands as the definitive statement of a movement and a man whose work was never completed but whose message is timeless. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand America.
Coming of Age in Mississippi, Anne Moody, 1968
Born to a poor couple who were tenant farmers on a plantation in Mississippi, Anne Moody lived through some of the most dangerous days of the pre-civil rights era in the South. The week before she began high school came the news of Emmet Till’s lynching. Before then, she had “known the fear of hunger, hell, and the Devil. But now there was . . . the fear of being killed just because I was black.” In that moment was born the passion for freedom and justice that would change her life.
A straight-A student who realized her dream of going to college when she won a basketball scholarship, she finally dared to join the NAACP in her junior year. Through the NAACP and later through CORE and SNCC, she experienced firsthand the demonstrations and sit-ins that were the mainstay of the civil rights movement—and the arrests and jailings, the shotguns, fire hoses, police dogs, billy clubs, and deadly force that were used to destroy it.
A deeply personal story but also a portrait of a turning point in our nation’s destiny, this autobiography lets us see history in the making, through the eyes of one of the foot soldiers in the civil rights movement.
Thanks to the Penncrest High School Equity Team for contributing suggestions to this list.