An Anti-Racist Reading List

June 4, 2020 | 15 books mentioned 1 3 min read

There been no shortage of excellent anti-racist reading lists circulated in recent days, as the nation has been convulsed by mass demonstrations and protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

We’re going to add another—which is, of course, far from complete—to the mix. What follows are recommendations for recent nonfiction books—with quotes from Publishers Weekly reviews—about white supremacy and institutional racism, police brutality, mass incarceration, and anti-racist political activism.

And, while you’re here, check out this list of social justice resources.

Being Black in America

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates 
“As a meditation on race in America, haunted by the bodies of black men, women, and children, Coates’s compelling, indeed stunning, work is rare in its power to make you want to slow down and read every word.”

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Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson 
“Perceptive, specific, and powerful, Jefferson’s work balances themes of race, class, entitlement, and privilege with her own social and cultural awakening.”

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No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black & Free in America by Darnell L. Moore
“Moore’s well-crafted book is a stunning tribute to affirmation, forgiveness, and healing—and serves as an invigorating emotional tonic.”

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On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope by DeRay Mckesson
“[A]ctivist and podcaster Mckesson reflects on what he’s learned from protest, family upheaval, racial inequality, homophobia, community organizing, abuse, and love.”

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What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays by Damon Young 
“Young uses pop culture references and personal stories to look at a life molded by structural racism, the joy of having a family that holds together in a crisis, and the thrill of succeeding against difficult odds.”

Civil Rights Activism

A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History by Jeanne Theoharis
“Theoharis’s lucid and insightful study …[offers] a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the civil rights movement’s legacy, and [shows] how much remains to be done.”

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How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
“Kendi follows his National Book Award–winning Stamped from the Beginning with a boldly articulated, historically informed explanation of what exactly racist ideas and thinking are, and what their antiracist antithesis looks like both systemically and at the level of individual action.”

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They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement by Wesley Lowery
“Digging beneath the news headlines of police killings and protests, Lowery’s timely work gives texture and context to a new era of African-American activism.”

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When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
“This is an eye-opening and eloquent coming-of-age story from one of the leaders in the new generation of social activists.”

Institutional Racism and Police Brutality

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The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement by Matthew Horace and Ron Harris
“Horace, a former agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and a CNN analyst, explores the ‘implicit bias’ and overt racism that makes black people the targets of profiling, harassment, beatings, and unjustified gunfire from cops.”

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Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips
“This is a gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism, and Phillips tells it with rare clarity and power.”

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The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
“Rothstein’s comprehensive and engrossing book reveals just how the U.S. arrived at the ‘systematic racial segregation we find in metropolitan areas today,’ focusing in particular on the role of government.”

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Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights by Gretchen Sorin 
“Lucidly written and generously illustrated with photos and artifacts, this rigorous and entertaining history deserves a wide readership.”

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Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City by Wes Moore, with Erica L. Green
“Moore provides important context in the history of Baltimore’s racial and income inequality and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Readers will be enthralled by this propulsive account.”

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Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
“Stevenson, a professor of law at New York University and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal firm providing services for the wrongly condemned, describes in his memoir how he got the call to represent this largely neglected clientele in our justice system.”

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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
“Legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that ‘[w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.’ ”

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Open Season: The Legalized Genocide of Colored People by Ben Crump
“Civil rights attorney Crump, who has represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, delivers a forceful debut exposé of America’s ‘legalized system of discrimination.’”

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo
“This slim book is impressive in its scope and complexity; Diangelo provides a powerful lens for examining, and practical tools for grappling with, racism today.”

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

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One comment:

  1. I participated in a group reading session of “Just Mercy” at Williams College a couple of years ago. The book helped me to understand the unfairness built into the system.

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