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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
Topics: Great Migration
(on my to-read list)
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.
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.
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!
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