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.

Understanding Poverty: The Reading List

Understanding Poverty: The Reading List

This is the first post of the Understanding Poverty series.

 

For the past several months, my reading theme has been understanding poverty, particularly poverty in America. Some of the questions that driven me throughout this quest were: What are people’s lives like at the bottom of the market? What are the biggest struggles of their lives? How do they cope? What government policies help people’s lives? What policies worsen their lives? Where did the negative attitudes towards the poor come from (living in America, I sensed this from various sources)? From the religious standpoint, what should the role of religious institutions be? What should the attitude of a Christian be? What are the biblical perspectives on the poor?

 

Poverty, being such a complex subject, cannot be summarized neatly in a series of books. My quest hasn’t ended and I feel like this reading list has only skimmed the surface lightly. But I decided to begin a series of posts on my reflections throughout this journey to organize my thoughts, share learnings, and begin a conversation with you, readers of the blog. I am very much a blank slate on the topic–I do not know much. So I’m eager to learn.

 

As the launchpad for the essay series, I’m sharing my Understanding Poverty Reading List, which is likely to evolve further. If you have recommendations to add to my list, let me know!

 

1. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Evicted is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It deals with the deep struggle for housing for the poorest of the poor in America. One of the biggest points of the book is that eviction is not only caused by poverty, but it also causes poverty. Matthew Desmond wrote out his research brilliantly in a very engaging narrative nonfiction form. He followed the lives of several families and individuals for an extended amount of time and recorded their challenges every step of the way.

Desmond’s work has also been spotlighted in the news recently. His Eviction Lab at Princeton University just released a nationwide database on evictions. For the nerds out there, he has made the raw data available for you to crunch and analyze, and share with your communities.

 

2. $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

This book was what sparked my quest into the topic of poverty. I got it through a Kindle sale a few years ago because the title was very intriguing. Imagine, I got it for $1.99, the same amount some people live on for a day. $2.00 a Day also follows the lives of a few people, but also covers some policy background that has historically impacted–for better or for worse–the lives of the poorest in America. Several common themes emerge from this book and Evicted, especially on how people cope at this level of poverty.

 

3. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Hillbilly Elegy has been credited as one of the explainers of the protectionist movement that arises from those who feel left behind by globalization, modern economy, and society. I don’t think J.D. Vance set out to play this role–he was really just telling the story of his upbringing–but he certainly opened the eyes of many to a specific culture and community that doesn’t really get represented much in most media. I can’t really do it justice in this summary, other than to say, it’s an important read.

 

4. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

Bryan Stevenson is my modern-day hero. In Just Mercy, poverty intersects criminal justice and race. While Hillbilly Elegy is about a poor white community, Just Mercy sheds lights on those who have historically bore the brunt of injustice in criminal law, the poor blacks. One of Stevenson’s main talking points is that in this country, you get treated better by the law if you were rich and guilty than if you were poor and innocent.

Stevenson’s work with the Equal Justice Initiative has also been spotlighted in the news very recently with the opening of the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice dedicated to African Americans terrorized by lynching in 19th and 20th century America.

 

5. Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work and Service

Mary Poplin wrote about her experience working with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. This book is not about poverty in America, but it is about poverty and the heart of an immensely influential figure in human history. To me, Poplin becomes a vehicle that carries a common-to-me mindset and attitudes towards this radical social justice work, and how Mother Teresa’s approach challenges these mindset and attitudes.

 

6. Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption

Similar to Finding Calcutta, Katie Davis’ radical decision to live in Uganda and her mission to love, love, and love the children there is a challenge to a complacent, convenient, and comfortable involvement in social justice work, especially in the Christian context.

 

7. Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion

Greg Boyle’s work with Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program in Los Angeles that provides gang members with jobs and support, is simply incredible. But this book, and Boyle’s message, stands out to me in that he doesn’t focus much on how to help the poor. His main message is to be with the poor. He calls it kinship, something I will talk about extensively in the essay series, as it unlocks a profound way of thinking about altruism for me.

 

8. Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship

See #7 above.

 

9. The Other America – A Speech from The Radical King (Free)

This is Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech on the lives of “the other America”, the part where rights are not fully realized. It’s a great reminder that there are lives out there that may be very dissimilar to ours, and we ought not to close out minds and hearts towards those “other people.”

 

To read

 

10. The Other America: Poverty in the United States

 

11. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

 

12. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

 

I think this initial reading list gives a glimpse on how complex poverty is. It intersects housing, race, crime, drugs, abuse, and many other big issues that are not easily summarized, let alone solved. But I don’t believe in a fatalistic view that says if you can’t do anything about it, why bother knowing at all. I think there’s value in understanding what’s going on, even if one still doesn’t know what to do with it at the moment.

I fully realize that the point of view I take here is one of privilege–everything about poverty in these books is foreign to me. Each of this book opens up a whole new world that I am not familiar with, or even aware of. But I guess there’s a first step for everyone. And this is mine.

 

The Reformers Timeline

The Reformers Timeline

The year 2017 marks the 500th year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. October 31, 1517 is traditionally believed as the day when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, which started the wave of theological movements all throughout Europe.

 

To commemorate this quincentennial, my church is doing a series on the Protestant Reformers, which syncs well with my current preoccupation with timelines. I was curious to see how the lives of the Reformers overlapped each other, since they certainly influenced each other’s work and ministry.

 

This Reformers timeline is based on the names mentioned in the book the Great Controversy. It’s by no means the most comprehensive list, but it transcends the 16th century Reformers to a few individuals who were precursors to the Reformation and to a few who influenced Christianity in the succeeding centuries. Here it is.

 

Reformers Timeline

(Click image to enlarge)

 

A few interesting things to note:

  • In 1517, Martin Luther was about 34 years old, younger than I initially imagined.
  • Most of the other Reformers were also in their 20s and early 30s. Their protests would continue for the rest of their lives.
  • From this chart, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were executed (burned at the stake) together.
  • These Reformers were in different countries, England, Bohemia, Germany, Switzerland, France, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Scotland. William Miller was in America. I probably should have differentiated these locations in the plot. Next time.

 

Now the interesting part for me, and the whole reason of doing these timelines, is to combine different historical narratives in one visualization. In the image below, I added William Wilberforce, the English MP who championed the abolition of the slave trade (a personal hero), to see who were his contemporaries. One of the last letters that John Wesley wrote was for Wilberforce, encouraging him in his work to abolish the slave trade. John Newton, a former captain of a slave ship, author of the popular hymn “Amazing Grace”, was also Wilberforce’s mentor (also on the plot).

Reformers and U.S. Presidential Timeline

Adding to the fun, here’s a combined timeline of the Reformers and the U.S. Presidential Timeline from the last post.

 

It’s interesting to see that William Miller, a preacher during the Second Great Awakening in America, lived through 12 presidents. He died during the short presidency of Zachary Taylor. William Wilberforce corresponded with some of America’s founding fathers. There are probably many more fun facts that can be unearthed from this timeline. If you know any, let me know!