March 04, 2021

A 2021 Antiracist Reading List

In June 2020, as our newsfeeds played out an endless barrage of violence against Black Americans, including the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, the conditions were set for the largest, most sweeping racial reckoning in recent US history. Protestors across the country made themselves heard on the streets of cities big and small, business leaders with known histories of racism were unseated, and works of literature and film were re-appraised as harmful.

As people rushed to educate themselves on anti-Black racism — its history, the insidious forms it takes in our systems, and their own responsibility to combat it — reading lists proliferated, and many workplaces started book clubs to encourage wide participation in the self-education process.

Today, the protests have largely disappeared from the news cycle, but the process of dismantling systemic inequality has just begun. In the spirit of keeping the conversation going, we revisited and revised our own reading list, and are presenting it here.

These eight books are all by Black authors. They represent a variety of genres, including memoir, prescriptive non-fiction, poetry, and essay. This list is not intended to be exhaustive, nor should it be thought of as a “checklist” to work through and then declare your education complete. Instead, consider it a starting point for deepening your understanding of racism and actively opposing it.

Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad

From the official description: This eye-opening book challenges you to do the essential work of unpacking your biases, and helps white people take action and dismantle the privilege within themselves so that you can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too.

Read this because: If you’re familiar with unconscious bias, this book will deepen your understanding while guiding you to meaningful action to repair harm and create positive change within your sphere of influence.

How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

From the official description: Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and reenergizes the conversation about racism—and, even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other… Kendi weaves an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science with his own personal story of awakening to antiracism.

Read this because: It’s an essential primer on antiracism, differentiating it from simply “not being racist” and laying out an undeniable argument for making it part of the way we all live our lives.

So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo

From the official description: In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to “model minorities” in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life.

Read this because: Oluo demystifies race, permitting the reader to let go of any fears and hang-ups they have around discussing it. Those who have had the privilege of not having to talk about race may have also felt that they couldn’t or shouldn’t. This book says: you can and you must; here’s how.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

From the official description: The New Jim Crow is a stunning account of the rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status—denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement.

Read this because: A major element of 2020’s racial reckoning was the shattering of the illusion of “fairness” in US criminal law. Whether you’ve always been aware of institutional racism in policing and incarceration, or had your eyes fully opened to it in 2020, Alexander’s book is an essential exploration of how we got here, why it matters, and what it will take to make justice truly just.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

From the official description: Claudia Rankine’s bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named “post-race” society.

Read this because: The fusion of genres, anchored by poetry, brings Rankine’s experience of racism — and the broader scope of Black experiences into which this book offers a glimpse — vividly to life for the reader.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

From the official description: In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis.

Read this because: Published in 2015, at the previous height of the Black Lives Matter movement, Coates applies his skills as an intellectual powerhouse to a loving letter to his son. The result is a breathtaking and heartbreaking view of one Black man’s fear, hope, and passion.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

From the official description: In a time when nearly every institution (schools, churches, universities, businesses) claims to value diversity in its mission statement, Austin writes in breathtaking detail about her journey to self-worth and the pitfalls that kill our attempts at racial justice… I’m Still Here is an illuminating look at how white, middle-class, Evangelicalism has participated in an era of rising racial hostility, inviting the reader to… discover how blackness—if we let it—can save us all.

Read this because: When it comes to eliminating racism from our institutions, our actions still fail to meet the promise made by our words. Brown’s potent writing grants perspective as to why that gap persists and shakes readers out of their comfort zones.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

From the official description: At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document from the iconic author… It consists of two letters, written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism.

Read this because: It’s an impassioned sermon delivered by a writer known for the power of his prose. Baldwin’s words ring with the same urgency today as when they were written nearly 60 years ago.

Finally, if you decide to purchase any of these books, we recommend using bookshop.org to support smaller booksellers in your area.

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