Today I wanted to share a list of anti-racist book picks but I want to stress that this is my personal reading list. I am (obviously!) not an expert here but I’m using the next 12 months and beyond to LEARN and grow. And become a student of anti-racism and the best possible ally. I shared earlier that I am committing to read at least one anti-racist book a month for the next twelve months (ideally more than that!). And I struggled with whether I should share my own list, or just use my platform to amplify other resources but I decided to share my own list as I have found in the past that I influence more people sharing my personal picks vs. just linking to resources. Those resources are linked below (PLEASE read them first) but consider this list my required reading for 2020.
(Edited to add: I’ve removed White Fragility from this list as there are already so many incredible books written by Black authors to read.)
My Personal Anti-Racist Reading List
Unlike the rest of my book lists, this is (primarily) not a list of books I’ve read. But rather, a list of books I plan to read. There is so much to learn.
Another thing that can really help is WHERE you buy your books! I am personally a massive fan of Bookshop.org (read more about them in this post) because of their mission to support independent book sellers. You can choose which book seller they will support when you order. I believe 30% of sales goes to the bookseller. Also: here is a list of black-owned online bookstores; this instagram post also has some good ones too.
Also regarding Bookshop.org. They are my chosen books partner; I like that they support indie booksellers and am a part of their affiliate program. For all the talk about books here, I actually don’t earn much from books (last month I made $236.74). I want you guys to buy these books, but I’m not trying to profit from it! So I will donate all of this month’s book affiliate revenue next month. (This is in addition to what I’ve already pledged.) Over on Bookshop I have two relevant lists to share: anti-racist books, and my favorite books by black authors.
And lastly (sorry, this is getting long!) A reader (hi Anne!) sent me a really thoughtful note that I thought was very relevant.
“One thing that’s also important – and something I think you already do – is to read stories that are about BIPOC living everyday lives and dealing with everyday conflicts. You just read Andre Leon’s memoir and you’ve championed Elizabeth Acevedo’s work, etc – this is important! These works are no less significant than texts that explicitly tackle social justice. Elevating and highlighting stories in which BIPOC live their lives is integral.
In education, we say that the books kids read should be “windows and mirrors” – windows into the lives of people who don’t look or act like them, who identify differently, who are not neuro-typical, etc. – and mirrors that kids can read books that have characters who ARE like them. I think you’ve done a pretty good job with the “windows” part. Of course, we can always do more – highlight diverse books, champion their authors, make space in the same way that we do for white authors and white books.”
I loved this so much. I’ve also been talking to my friend Danielle about this same thing. It’s so important to read books that have non-white protagonists. And adding some lighter, more “fun” books to your list… think Jasmine Guillory or Elizabeth Acevedo’s books. So please: balance these heavier books with some lightness. I’ve added a “Black Authors” filter to my reading list page and would also recommend listening to today’s episode of Bad on Paper for that – Becca and I are sharing our favorite books by Black authors, and also had some friends of the pod chime in, too.
This list tackles mostly social justice books and that’s intentional.
But I’ll continue to highlight the stories of BIPOC here too in my monthly reading lists. And I have a few good fiction recs for you at the bottom of this post. My point is this: read the non-fiction books to educate yourself. But don’t feel badly tucking into a good romance novel with a Black protagonist. As with everything, there has to be a balance of light and serious and you can learn in different ways!
These are some fantastic resources that I have been working my way through each of these and would highly recommend checking them out.
- Melyssa Griffin’s guide: Anti-Racism for Beginners.
- 75 Things White People Can Do For Racial Justice, by Corinne Shutack
- Anti-Racism Resources by Sarah Sophie Flicker, Alyssa Klein
- Anti-Racist Allyship Starter Pack, by Tatum Dorrell, Matthew Herndon, and Jourdan Dorrell
- And while simpler, I really loved Cup of Jo’s post on becoming anti-racist. It’s light and digestible and great for sending to beginners. I’ve had a few Instagram followers who were confused by the term “anti-racist,” so I send them this post!
My Starting Point:
So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeomo Oluo
READ – JUNE 2020. As mentioned, this book has been my starting point for June. I find that reading one book will make me curious and I’ll go down all sorts of different rabbit holes. So I am not sure what my July book is but we will see! It’s a New York Times best-seller and meant to be a user-friendly guide to talking about race and privilege and breaking down systematic racism.
I chose to read this one first as I had already ordered it a week or two ago (what is time?) during the Alison Roman, Emily Giffin drama (pls google if not familiar!). I found myself disgusted by what was happening but simultaneously nervous to talk about it and realized I needed to spend some time educating myself I wanted a book that would help me better understand talking about race and what being a true ally looks like. And this book has been perfect for that so far.
I’ve read the first two chapters and have already learned a lot: particularly when something IS about race (hint: if a Black person says something is about race, it IS about race…), what systematic racism and white fragility are, and white privilege in general. I love the examples she shares about talking to her (white) mother about racism, and I love that she acknowledges that we are going to mess up (but then gives us steps + tips to not mess up TOO much). I’m only two chapters in but wholeheartedly recommend reading it. Please read it with me this month – I’ll share my full thoughts when I finish! (Also, for those using NYPL I’ve been told by a reader in the comments that this one is always available for free as an audiobook!)
Other good starting points:
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge: Emma Watson called this book “The most important book for me this year.” This is another book about the discussions of race and racism and how these conversations are so often led by those blind to it.
- How to be an antiracist, by Ibram X Kendi: (READ AUGUST 2020) There has been SO much talk about anti-racism (another great resource is this post from Cup of Jo, which I continually point people to. I’m told is essential for anyone who wants to go beyond being aware of racism to the next step – creating a society that is truly just and equitable.
- Me and White Supremacy, by Layla F Saad: I love that it’s based around a 28 day journey of dismantling the privilege within ourselves so that we can stop (often unconsciously) inflecting damage on people of color (and help other white people to do better).
Memoirs I Want To Read:
When They Call You a Terrorist, by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
READ – JULY 2020. This is at the top of my list of memoirs to read. Patrisse (the author) is the founder of the Black Lives Matter Movement. This is her memoir. From growing up in a poor LA neighborhood and experiencing prejudice first hand to co-founding Black Lives Matter with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi (which led to them being condemned as terrorists and a threat to America!!!). The book explores how the criminal justice system serves a white privilege agenda. And how Patrisse has transformed her personal pain into political power. I love a memoir and think this is probably going to be next on my list after So You Want to Talk About Race.
Heavy, by Kiese Laymon.
Laymon combines his own personal stories of growing up in Mississippi (and experiencing sexual violence), being suspended from college, and becoming a college professor. It’s been compared to Roxane Gay’s Hunger and while a vulnerable memoir, I’m told it’s also quite funny at times. From The Atlantic: “You won’t be able to put [this memoir] down…It is packed with reminders of how black dreams get skewed and deferred. Yet are also pregnant with the possibility that a kind of redemption may lie in intimate grappling with black realities.”
Waking up White, by Debby Irving
Debby Irving is a white woman and educator who always sensed racial tensions in her personal and professional relationships. This book openly tells her (cringe-worthy, I’m told) story as she learns to be a better ally. From Jodi Picoult (one of my favorite authors), “I read Waking Up White in one sitting. To say I loved it is an understatement. It’s such a raw, honest portrait …. Irving’s experience on display – warts and all – will help white people, who haven’t noticed the role systemic privilege has played in their lives, start to see the world in a new way.” I truly believe that one of the best ways to learn is through our mistakes (and others mistakes, too!) which makes this a must-read for me.
Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah
READ – JULY 2020 You probably already know I’m a massive Trevor Noah fan. This is a collection of stories from his childhood growing up in South Africa at the end of apartheid. The title of the book comes from the fact that when he was born (to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother), their union was an actual crime, leading him to being kept mostly indoors for his early years. Several readers recommended this as (while not a comedic book at all), he tells his stories in such a warm endearing, sometimes even funny way. One reader told me it was one of her top five books ever… I love Trevor and really want to read this!
For Extra Credit…
Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson
This one is also a movie! I’ve been told that this book will change the way you think about the criminal justice system. Bryan Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (a legal practice dedicated to helping the most desperate and in need). The book is an account of his coming of age, the people he’s defended and a look at what justice should look like.
Stamped, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi
(Also a NYT best-seller), this one is meant for teens but we should all read it! It’s a reimagination of Dr Kendi’s original National Book Award winner Stamped from The Beginning. And acts as a history of racist ideas in America: where they come from and how to discredit them. I’m told this one is very fast-paced. So it could be good to read after one of the more dense books on this list.
This came highly recommended by one of my favorite yoga instructors and deals with our unconscious contributions toward white supremacy and the institutions that uphold it. It’s about holding yourself accountable and self-reflection.
The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin
I got so many recommendations to read James Baldwin – all of his books – but this one came most recommended. James Baldwin was an American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist – he passed away in 1987. This book (an instant best-seller) first appeared in 1963 and today stands as a classic in our literature.
The Lynching, by Laurence Leamer
This is the story of a race-based killing in 1981 and the trials that brought down the Ku Klux Klan. When two Klansmen beat and kill 19 year old Michael Donald (gruesomely, leaving his body hanging from a tree), one of the men is sentenced to death which was the first time in 50+ years that the state of Alabama had ever sentenced a white man to death for killing a black man. This book is the story of the trials, how the KKK was exposed, and the lingering effect on race relations today.
Even More Recs!
These all came highly recommended to me by you guys / in the DM’s!
- The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
- Ebony & Ivy, by Craig Steven Wilder
- What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker, by Damon Young
- Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nahisi Coates
- Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
- Superior, by Angela Saini (intrigued – a science based approach to studying racism)
Fiction Books to Read
As discussed above I also wanted to include some fiction recs here. I admittedly prefer reading fiction. I think this is a case where reading the non-fiction books needs to be the top priority, but also wanted to include a few fiction picks that came highly recommended to me. You can still learn a lot from fiction! For more fiction books by Black authors, you can filter my book list page (I’ve added a “Black authors” filter), or listen to today’s episode of Bad on Paper.
The Girl With the Louding Voice, by Abi Daré
READ September 2020: I have not read this one yet but heard really wonderful things about this book. (It was named a most anticipated book of 2020 by several important publications.) It’s the story of a 14 year old Nigerian girl who wants an education. As her mother told her, it’s the only way to obtain a “louding voice,” (meaning the ability to make her own decisions and speak for herself). When she is sold off to be the third wife of a local man, she runs away to the city to try and make a better life but her only option is servitude. This is her story – I don’t know what happens as I haven’t read it but I’ve been told it’s brave, powerful, and optimistic!
The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
READ JUNE 2020: I cannot wait to read this. This historical fiction book won the Pulitzer Prize this year. Two boys (Elwood and Turner) are sentenced to a terrible sounding reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida. Elwood is naive and idealistic while Turner is a skeptic who believes the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. It’s based on the true story of a reform school that was open for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children. I cannot wait to read this.
Two fiction books I already read and loved:
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I read this book years ago and still think about it all the time. It’s the story of Starr, a teenage girl whose world implodes when her innocent (black) best friend is murdered by a white police man. Starr has to straddle the world she grew up in (a black community) and the (mostly white) prep school she attends and her friends there, as she is the witness on the case but has to remain anonymous. I think this one is ultra timely right now. It’s also a movie, which I haven’t yet seen!
Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid
We talk about this book on the podcast today and if you are looking for a book that is light and fun but tackles serious issues, this is one to read. Emira (a Black babysitter) is held up at the supermarket because the security guard there believes she’s kidnapped the little girl she’s babysitting. It gets complicated when a bystander records the whole exchange. And then it goes from there. The book alternates between the perspectives of Emira and Alix (Emira’s boss – also, an influencer). Alix is pretty cringe, while also mostly well-intentioned. There’s a bit of a twist where their stories overlap outside of their working relationship (this one shocked me!!). I loved it, and while packaged in a fun, light format, it’s still a serious look at racism both at a larger scale and with smaller micro-aggressions.
What did I miss? Tell me in the comments – or – tell me what you plan to read next.