All the World's a Classroom

A Reading Guide to Antiracist Books

A Reading Guide to Antiracist Books

This reading guide will continue to evolve as I read more on antiracism. Feel free to bookmark this page for future reference.

Coming to America is akin to walking into a conversation that’s been going on for centuries. One of the conversations—the most fraught one—is between Black and White America, if you can even call it a “conversation.” As someone who came here from the other side of the world, it has taken me years to catch up to this conversation on race, to educate myself on the terminologies, shortcuts, prominent voices and references used in the discourse, and I’m still awakening each day.

 

And now we’ve come to this moment. A country in deep unrest, a culmination of years of deep hurt due to injustice. To many, it’s the logical progression from previous outcries, repeatedly dismissed. To others, it’s a wake-up call to be more outspoken, to decry injustice, discard silence and passivity and be a real ally to the Black community. To yet others, it’s a call to finally listen and educate themselves to be less ignorant about race.

 

Much has been said to support, affirm, and stand with the Black community, and this must keep coming. Words have power, and these words matter a great deal. Here, I add my voice to stand with my Black brothers and sisters, and hope to make a small dent in the work of bridge-building.

 

I’d like to humbly offer this page as a resource to all of us who care to be more awakened on the subject of race.

 

A Reading Guide to Antiracist Books

Here is a list of books that have edified me over the years on Black lives in America, and on race in general. It covers many, many aspects that Blacks have been disadvantaged throughout American history, from criminal justice, housing, voting rights, and others.

 

If you’re someone who is starting or in the midst of a learning journey to listen and understand how race, though a human construct, impacts greatly how we move through the world, I hope this reading guide can help you navigate the multitudinous sectors that race touches.

 

If you feel overwhelmed by the amount of information, that feeling is appropriate. Racism has 400 years-worth of history on this land, and it cannot be simplified. Just take the first steps, delve into topics that call you, and go from there.

 

This list will continue to evolve, as I continue to learn and educate myself. I invite you to come along on this education journey. It’s urgent and no longer optional.

 

And if you have suggestions on more books to add, please send the title and topics covered to me via the comments section or social media. I welcome them wholeheartedly.

 

Finally, to my dear Black brothers and sisters, I may not understand completely what you have to face each day, but for whatever it’s worth, I stand beside you. I grieve with you. I hear you. And I will add my voice to the fight for justice.

 

To my non-Black brothers and sisters, I plead with you to take time to listen, grieve, and be provoked to uncover personal and communal blindspots. Just hold that impulse to tell the Black community what to feel and how to express their pain and anger for a few moments and try to understand first.

 

Reading is good. And it’s an important beginning to this moment we’re living in. But it must not end in itself. I hope these books do something to our hearts, and henceforth, our private and public lives.

 

Primers on How to Approach Conversations on Race

Topics: racism, antiracism

Helpful definitions on what all these terms mean. Must-read.

Topics: race conversation

A guide on how to have conversations on race. Explains why some phrases and words may be hurtful to others.

If you want to learn more about the criminal justice system

Topics: criminal justice, wrongful conviction, wrongful imprisonment, death penalty, redemption.

My previous posts on this book: here, here, and here.

The movie based on this book was released in 2019, and they’re making it free for rent for the month of June 2020 across streaming platforms. See justmercyfilm.com.

Favorite quote: 

I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.

 

Topics: criminal justice, mass incarceration

Toward the end of the book, Michelle Alexander has a section that describes the problem with colorblindness, and provides a better alternative–color consciousness. If you ever heard people say, or said it yourself, “I don’t see color,” this section is a good explanation on why that’s problematic. I’m including a short excerpt below. 

Favorite quotes:

Saying that one does not care about race is offered as an exculpatory virtue, when in fact it can be a form of cruelty.

Seeing race is not the problem. Refusing to care for the people we see is the problem. The fact that the meaning of race may evolve over time or lose much of its significance is hardly a reason to be struck blind. We should hope not for a colorblind society but instead for a world in which we can see each other fully, learn from each other, and do what we can to respond to each other with love. That was King’s dream–a society that is capable of seeing each of us, as we are, with love. That is a goal worth fighting for.

Topics: criminal justice, wrongful conviction, wrongful imprisonment

This book is a memoir by Anthony Ray Hinton, a man who spent 30 years on death row for a crime he did not commit. Bryan Stevenson (of Book #3) was his lawyer who helped exonerate him. It’s dark story of injustice, but also an incredible story of resilience, hope, and faith.

Topics: criminal justice

This book sheds light on the nuanced history of how the attitude toward tough-on-crime measures has evolved within the Black community. Really important contribution to the complex conversation. 

 

If you want to learn about Christian churches and racism

Topics: American Christians, American Church

Historically, Christians in America are all across the spectrum with regards to race. But, as everything else, it’s always better to face the truth of history rather than denying it. 

If you want to learn about the Black experience and what it means to move through the world in a Black body

Topics: Black experience

Must-read. And it’s free on Kindle.

Favorite quote:

One ever feels his twoness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

Topics: Black experience

Favorite quote:

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

 

Topics: Black experience, Black body

Favorite quote:

Think of all the love poured into him. Think of the tuitions for Montessori and music lessons. Think of the gasoline expended, the treads worn carting him to football games, basketball tournaments, and Little League. Think of the time spent regulating sleepovers. Think of the surprise birthday parties, the daycare, and the reference checks on babysitters…Think of checks written for family photos. Think of credit cards charged for vacations. Think of soccer balls, science kits, chemistry sets, racetracks, and model trains. Think of all the embraces, all the private jokes, customs, greetings, names, dreams…injected into that vessel of flesh and bone.
And think of how that vessel was taken, shattered on the concrete, and all its holy contents, all that had gone into him, sent flowing back to the earth.

Topics: Black experience

Contains Coates’ essays over the past decade. Includes the illuminating The Case for Reparations.

Topics: Black experience, coming of age

 

If you want to learn about the Civil Rights Movement

Topics: Civil Rights Movement, nonviolence

Refreshingly calm, full of wisdom, and enlightening. Lewis is someone who has fought for civil rights for decades, has been beaten, jailed, and threatened multiple times, and has continued to serve the public to this day. So the import of his words and counsel is deeply felt in this book. I picked this book up after listening to his interview with Krista Tippett on the spiritual aspect of the Civil Rights Movement. I did not realize how deep it was. The philosophy of nonviolence and their commitment to it is more than just a means to make social change. They were going for changes in the spiritual nature of society at the time.

If you want to learn about voting rights

Topics: voting rights, civil rights

Covers the history of the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, and traces its continued struggle all the way to the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down its key provisions fifty years later.

If you want to learn about discriminatory housing laws

Topics: housing laws

(on my to-read list)

Think about where you live. Wherever it is, you are part of the housing system. And housing impacts everything else. Check out this podcast episode from Code Switch.

If you want to learn about the human race’s struggle with racism throughout history

Topics: Holocaust, human evil, human resilience

A classic account of the nobility, resilience, and evilness of humanity.

Topics: Apartheid, South Africa

Trevor Noah, a comedian from South Africa, is a brilliant storyteller. Noah was born during apartheid, and grew up in the complex post-apartheid South Africa. His life stories are out of this world. If you can, I would recommend listening to the audiobook version, which he narrates himself.

Blog posts inspired by the book:

Trevor Noah’s Insights on the Power of Language

Home in Language: Why Speaking in Your Mother Tongue is So Refreshing

If you want to learn about the Great Migration

If you want to read an encouraging story of how a white supremacist came to denounce his beliefs

Topics: white nationalism

This is a fantastic book of an incredible story written by the Pulitzer Prize writer Eli Saslow. Derek Black grew up in the middle of white nationalism. His family was, and still is, at the head of the movement. Yet when Derek went to college, things began to change until he finally left the movement and is now actively fighting against it. This book tells the dramatic story of his evolution through interactions he had with college friends, a few of whom invited him to Shabbat dinners, and continued to do so even after they knew who he was. The story is presented with empathy toward everyone involved and contains so many lessons for us today. 

Other Topics 

Topics: culture, cultural differences, Asian experience

One of the fundamental issues in the conversation on race, as I see it, is the inability to see that there are simply multiple ways of seeing the world. It’s kind of baffling, but it seems like some people don’t even realize that there are such things as cultural differences.

I include this book as one example of how understanding cultural differences can illuminate our conversations on race. Simply having one contrast to your own worldview is very edifying. Of course, there are many more examples out there.

A few years back I wrote a series of posts on the difference between Eastern and Western ways of seeing the world. See them here.

 

Topics: transracial adoption, Asian experience

A lovely memoir on family, identity, and belonging. As a baby, Nicole Chung was adopted and raised by a white family. She grew up well loved, but also with a sense of not completely belonging or understood. She searched, and found, her birth (Korean) family as an adult, and in the process, explored the complexities of being a transracial adoptee and the different shades that “family” can mean.

 

Topics: Native American experience

This book tells the chilling story of the insidious conspiracy to murder members of the Osage Nation in order to gain their wealth. The historical backdrop of the story is the apportioning of land to Native Americans across this country. In the early 1900s, it so happened that oil was discovered in the land owned by the Osage Nation, sending its members to unprecedented wealth and opulence. Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed, many through poisoning. There were concerted efforts to rob the Osage of their power and money through legal, financial, or even familial measures. 

Fiction

If the nonfiction reads can illuminate you on the societal issues and policies, fiction can give you glimpses of the human psyche. Here are my personal selections of fiction that help heighten our empathy.

On My To-Read List

As mentioned above, I will continue to update this page. Feel free to bookmark and come back for more books later. Also, send me your recommendations and the topics they cover. As you can see, I need to read up on the LatinX experience, so suggestions on this will be greatly appreciated!  

To support independent bookstores, shop these books from my Bookshop.org list.

 

*Amazon Product links on this blog are Amazon Affiliate links, which means that each time you purchase something through those links, I get a small commission without you paying any extra. Of course you don’t have to use them, but if you want to chip-in towards content creation for this blog, I’d really appreciate it!

*Bookshop.org links on this page are also affiliate links, which means that I get a small commission if you purchase from these links, which also help independent bookstores across the country.

Best Books of 2019: Part 2

Best Books of 2019: Part 2

It’s the second round-up of the best books of 2019. Below are my favorites from the second half of the year. To see the list from the first half of the year, go to this post. And if you’re curious about all the books I’ve read in 2019, check out this page.

 

1. Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World

Winners Take All is a thought-provoking book that makes you think about what kind of society we live in and what kind we want to live in. Anand Giridharadas is one of the main voices in the growing conversation on the role of the billionaire class in philanthropy and in “changing the world.” Some of the poignant questions the author asks: Should we trust billionaires to solve societal problems, when it is in their interest to preserve the status quo rather than promote changes that would eat into their profit? Instead of doing more good, how about doing less harm? Where does the idea that changing the world has to always be a win-win proposition (i.e., do well by doing good) come from? This book takes a critical look at “changing the world” when it is understood in a narrow, market-based paradigm that seeks to profit from it instead of giving something that true changes often require, true sacrifice. 

For more resources on the topic, check out these conversations:

When the Market is Our Only Language from On Being with Krista Tippett

Interview with Ezra Klein

Future Perfect podcast Season 2: Philanthropy vs. Democracy

I’m not a big science fiction reader, but I will read everything that Ted Chiang writes. Exhalation is his second collection of short stories after his first, which was one of my favorites in 2017. His stories have this breathtaking quality about them. Each story is a world unto its own, and Chiang is so good at making each world’s laws and rules consistent. But at the core of these stories are deep human questions that emerge whether the characters interact with time travels, parallel multiverse, or artificial intelligence. At the end of the book, Chiang includes some notes on how each story originated, which provide a glimpse of how his fascinating mind works.

For more, listen to his interview on the New York Times Book Review podcast:

Fiction About Unprecedented Situations 

Arlie Hochschild is a sociologist who spent years immersing herself in Lake Charles, Louisiana, a community that strongly supports the Tea Party. As an academic from Berkeley, she seeks to understand a community, and individuals in that community, that are as different as can be to her political leaning. Her exploration, which she calls climbing an “empathy wall,” is generous and deeply human. What she uncovers is their “deep story,” reality as it is felt by each person she comes to know in this book. 

As a foreigner in America, one of my perpetual learning goals is to understand the society I’m a part of, its histories, narratives and “deep stories.” This is one of those valuable books in this respect, as it covers stories of lives that are not commonly covered in mainstream channels. 

Check out this conversation from the On Being podcast:

The Deep Stories of Our Time 

A great biography on the life of Ulysses Grant.

Read a nice review of the book here.

A lovely memoir on family, identity, and belonging. As a baby, Nicole Chung was adopted and raised by a white family. She grew up well loved, but also with a sense of not completely belonging or understood. She searched, and found, her birth (Korean) family as an adult, and in the process, explored the complexities of being a transracial adoptee and the different shades that “family” can mean.

 

A great follow up to the Ulysses Grant biography, this book tells the story of Andrew Garfield’s quick rise to the presidency and his murder quite early on in his presidency. He did not immediately die; what transpired after he was shot was an interweaving dynamic between politics, medical care (and their respective power struggles), and mental illness (on the side of his assassin).

 

A gripping story of a slave’s escape from bondage, traversing several states, each with their own promises and horrors. It won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for a very good reason.

This book is a wonderful discovery; I had never heard about The Moth before this book. The Moth is a storytelling phenomenon in which each person tells a personal story on stage. There’s something powerful in the first-person telling of one’s life. This book is a collection of these stories, lightly edited for print. 

Check out The Moth’s YouTube channel here.

Other best books lists

2019: Best Books of 2019 Part 1

2018: Best Books of 2018 Part 1, Best Books of 2018 Part 2.

2017Best Books of 2017 Part 1, Best Books of 2017 Part 2.

2016Best Books of 2016 Part 1Best Books of 2016 Part 2.

2015Best Books of 2015 Part 1Best Books of 2015 Part 2.

 

*Amazon Product links on this blog are Amazon Affiliate links, which means that each time you purchase something through those links, I get a small commission without you paying any extra. Of course you don’t have to use them, but if you want to chip-in towards content creation for this blog, I’d really appreciate it!

 

Best Books of 2019: Part 1

Best Books of 2019: Part 1

Happy mid-year! It’s time for the first round-up of the best books of 2019. If you’re curious about all the books I’ve read in 2019, check out this page.

 

1. Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist

 

This is a fantastic book of an incredible story written by the Pulitzer Prize writer Eli Saslow. Derek Black grew up in the middle of white nationalism. His family was, and still is, at the head of the movement. Yet when Derek went to college, things began to change until he finally left the movement and is now actively fighting against it. This book tells the dramatic story of his evolution through interactions he had with college friends, a few of whom invited him to Shabbat dinners, and continued to do so even after they knew who he was. The story is presented with empathy toward everyone involved and contains so many lessons for us today. 

This book is a memoir by Anthony Ray Hinton, a man who spent 30 years on death row for a crime he did not commit. As he retells the story of how they arrested and condemned him, and as you go through the years of him hoping and fighting for his innocence, you get this suffocating feeling because you know that he ultimately had to spend 30 years before he was finally released. Hinton shares the incredible darkness that he and his prison mates lived through, and also the humanity that could not be taken away from people, even on death row. It’s dark story of injustice, but also an incredible story of resilience, hope, and faith.

Hinton’s life is intertwined with Bryan Stevenson’s, author of Just Mercy, one of my all-time favorite books. Stevenson eventually became Hinton’s lawyer, who after years of work finally got him freed from death row. 

 

In Almost Everything, Anne Lamott shares profound wisdom for a life of hope in her usual witty and humorous writing. The timing of when I picked this book up coincided with the 10th anniversary of my dad’s passing, which made this book such a welcome salve to what I was thinking and feeling at the time. It simply is a delightful book on the most essential things in life, and most of the credit goes to the writing.

Written by the same Eli Saslow who wrote the first book in this list, this collection of articles trace the lives of individuals across the country who are impacted or depended by America’s food stamp program. The challenge of having enough or anything to eat is very real for many American families, children, and senior citizens. I think these articles should be required reading, and for more sources that enlighten the complex problem of poverty, see this Understanding Poverty Reading List.

This book makes the list because it is such an infuriating story. John Carreyrou traces the story of Theranos, the one-time multibillion-dollar biotech startup, with the enigmatic Elizabeth Holmes at its helm. Yet Theranos’ unicorn status was based on a fraud, a technology that didn’t work. Selling the promise to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would be able to do a variety of blood tests with a single tiny prick of blood, Holmes was able to fool many high-ranking investors and became at one point the star young female tech CEO that the world was craving for. 

 

The infuriating part was the cost that many people bore from getting false blood test results, and Holmes seemingly walking away mostly unscathed from this whole ordeal. Presently, she faces criminal charges for fraud. Her trial date is just set for July 2020. As for her life, she got engaged to a hotel heir and reportedly living in luxury. 

 

Now how about a story about women who are true heroes. This book tells the under-told story of thousands of women who were codebreakers during World War II, their marvelous accomplishments, the challenges and stigmas they faced in the workplace and the changing role of women in society. Brilliantly researched by the writer.

 

 

What are your favorite recent reads? Comment below for reading recommendations!

 

Other best books lists

2019: Best Books of 2019 Part 1

2018: Best Books of 2018 Part 1, Best Books of 2018 Part 2.

2017Best Books of 2017 Part 1, Best Books of 2017 Part 2.

2016Best Books of 2016 Part 1Best Books of 2016 Part 2.

2015Best Books of 2015 Part 1Best Books of 2015 Part 2.

 

*Amazon Product links on this blog are Amazon Affiliate links, which means that each time you purchase something through those links, I get a small commission without you paying any extra. Of course you don’t have to use them, but if you want to chip-in towards content creation for this blog, I’d really appreciate it!

 

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