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.

A Circle with No Outsider

A Circle with No Outsider

This is the third post of the Understanding Poverty series.

 

Imagine entering a room, a banquet hall. You approach a small group of people to greet, but they scurry away instead. People start to turn their backs on you. Your hesitant smiles meet derisive stares.

 

The message is clear: You are an outsider. You don’t belong. You’re not wanted here.

 

How would you feel? Shame. Small. Something rotten. What is wrong with me?

 

Am I not good enough? Not cool enough, not pretty enough, not handsome enough, not educated enough, not rich enough, not talkative enough, not tall enough, not healthy enough. Or, too cool, too educated, too rich, too talkative, too tall, too fit, too womanly, too manly, too light, or too dark.

 

Now imagine that in the midst of that uncomfortable room, someone comes in and scans the crowd. She makes eye contact with you and her face beams with joy.

 

What relief.

 

Your savior has come. She heads straight to you. You’re drowning, but she’s lifting you up. Someone is actually happy that you’re here. Someone is here who says, You belong.

 

 

Outsiders and Their Saviors

 

I daresay most of us have experienced being an outsider, some more severely than others. We know that strong sense of shame, of being rejected for who you are.

 

How much do we long for that someone who embraces us as we are? Or, how much relief envelops us when that person comes.

 

Outsiders and their saviors is a lens through which I’ve been reading biblical stories lately, Jesus’ stories, in particular. Jesus was not only the Savior of the world—in the take-away-the-sin-of-the-world sense—He was constantly a savior in social situations.

 

Imagine Zaccheus’ wonder, an outsider, cast out by his tribe for working with the enemy and swindling his own people, when Jesus turned his eyes on him. When was the last time someone saw him for who he was? Jesus not only saw him, He let Zaccheus feed and minister to Him. In this meeting, Zaccheus was affirmed and challenged to transform.

 

Imagine being a leper whom Jesus touched, who had probably forgotten what it meant to be seen or have human contact. Jesus’ healing was not only physical—it was emotional. You are accepted. I accept you.

 

Imagine being the woman who touched Jesus’ garment. Or being a child who wanted to come near Jesus. They were outsiders, but they found an ally in Jesus.

 

In fact, more than an ally. They found someone who would eat with them, someone who would touch them and talk to them, someone who would be with them. They found the kinship of God.

 

Expanding Our Circle

 

As a Christian who aspires, however insufficiently, to be in the world as Jesus was, Jesus’ example is challenging. To go where no one else wants to go, to be with people most people avoid, is… well, I don’t want to do it.

 

We like to congregate among likes and we exclude. We like relationships that will give us something. Sometimes we even find our sense of belonging by excluding people.

 

To a kind of social life that only consists of people who affirm us, Jesus’ love toward those shunned by society is simply provoking. While as humans we may concede to some inside-outside relationship, God’s inside circle is expansive beyond our conception. There is no one whom God does not want to rescue.

 

Perhaps it would do us good to remind ourselves of our outsider-ness. Go back to imagining that banquet hall, to being rejected, and to being rescued.

 

Gregory Boyle in Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion writes about the gang members he works with,

 

Homies have been “outside” for so long they forget there is an inside… The toxicity gets so internalized that it obliterates the “me.” You couldn’t possibly have interest in knowing things about “me.”

 

All throughout Scripture and history, the principal suffering of the poor is not that they can’t pay their rent on time or that they are three dollars short of a package of Pampers. As Jesus scholar Marcus Borg points out, the principal suffering of the poor is shame and disgrace. It is a toxic shame—a global sense of failure of the whole self.

 

Exclusion by money is as old as time. What never gets old is this: Jesus was born and lived as a poor person. The first public words Jesus spoke was, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs are the kingdom of God.”

 

Boyle continues,

 

Homies seem to live in the zip code of the eternally disappointing, and need a change of address. To this end, one hopes (against all human inclination) to model not the “one false move” God but the “no matter whatness” of God. You seek to imitate the kind of God you believe in, where disappointment is, well, Greek to Him. You strive to live the black spiritual that says, “God looks beyond our fault and sees our need.”

 

To that diminished sense of self, God says, I am happy to be with you.

 

To Be Known and Loved

 

Boyle tells a story of Mother Teresa when she once told a group of lepers how loved by God they were and a “gift to the rest of us.” An old leper raised his hand and said, “Could you repeat that again? It did me good. So, would you mind…just saying it again?”

 

To be accepted for who we are, fully, isn’t that our greatest need?

 

Tim Keller writes,

 

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.

 

God goes beyond than tolerating the outcasts—He delights in them. Now if we could be a force of that kind of love in the world…

 

See related essay: Human Strudel

Photo by Mitch Lensink on Unsplash

 

Craving for Deep Work

Craving for Deep Work

There’s a satisfaction that comes from crossing off many items from a to-do list that each only requires 15 minutes or less. But there’s also a type of satisfaction that will never come from just crossing off 15-minute items.

 

The latter type of satisfaction is the one that you get after doing deep work, a work that takes long incubation and construction time, that squeezes your brain until it is fried, that produces something big, whose process seems like childbirth.

 

Often, the adult life is filled with scattered type activities. Chores, bills, errands. They are short-term activities that never end. It takes a different kind of endurance to do these activities.

 

But even in artistic endeavors, with the pressure to be visible and noticed throughout social media these days, tend to be quick work at the expense of depth.

 

Yet, it’s still so satisfying when you read a lengthy investigative journalistic piece, or listen to a story that you know have been crafted for a very long time, with much thought and intention, research and revisions. These are examples of deep work, a type of work that chisels a piece of your soul and you’ll never be the same again as a result of producing it.

 

Quantity Produces Quality

I tend to believe in a proportionality rule. Things that develop over time don’t disappear over time. Things that get done quickly tend to get forgotten quickly too. And it’s not just the total amount of time required to complete the work, it’s also the amount of time put in for any given work session. There are thoughts you will never get to unless you spend two, three, four contiguous hours thinking about the work.

 

Which is a problem in today’s distracted world. There are a plethora of things that demand our micro-attention constantly, and it takes immense discipline to switch off and focus about one thing for a long time. The trade is this: what is the opportunity cost of being distracted? It’s that valuable work that would otherwise be produced if we were not distracted.

 

I remember the first time I transitioned into an 8-hour work day schedule. At first, it was so boring to sit in one place for 8 hours, waiting for that 5 o’clock to come. To pass the time, I checked Facebook, browsed the world wide web, switching between work and distractions to help pass the time, or so I thought.

 

But then I tried another experiment, which was to block off all distractions for that 8-hour time period and just work. Incredibly, by doing this, I was able to get into another level of focus that made work even more interesting. I got into the zone. More questions emerged. The brain was working, plugged into another gear, and time ceased to be felt. The 8-hour passed by so much quicker, and none of it was boring.

 

Getting Over the Dip

To get to a state of flow in deep work takes some initiation effort. There’s a dip that we all have to get over–where most people abandon their efforts–to get to the other side. It’s not easy, and sometimes laziness prevails. But past this threshold, there’s something valuable, a combination of our own creativity and individuality, a contribution that only we can make.

 

The labor of producing something good will be painful in some degree. But it’s always worth it.

 

 

A book that I want to read on the subject of deep work is Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.