10 Books to Read to Educate Yourself on True Anti-Racism

Jazz Tangcay

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Several weeks ago, there was public outcry over the senseless shooting in February of Ahmaud Arbery while he was jogging in his Southern Georgia neighborhood. George Floyd was killed on May 25 after being pinned to the ground by police officer Derek Chauvin. Police broke down the door of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor and fatally shot her eight times on March 13.

As many try to understand systemic racism within America that leads to these kind of tragedies, a common question resurfaces: “What can I do?” There are a wealth of books, documentaries, movies and podcasts — even social media accounts — to help understand racial injustice and the pain and hurt in America and around the world at this moment — and for many years before.

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Yvette Nicole Brown and Jurnee Smollett helped select some of the titles recommended to help understand what it takes to be anti-racist.

(Support local if you can — Variety is highlighting Eso Won Books, and Reparations Club,  Black-owned bookstores in Los Angeles.) 

“The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin
The book opens with Baldwin’s short letter to his 14-year-old nephew James as he commemorates the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Baldwin gives his nephew hope and caution as he notes that racism is very much alive in America. Written in 1963, Baldwin’s essays remain just as relevant today.

The Hate U Give” by Angela Thomas
Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil, who was unarmed, at the hands of a police officer.

Thomas’ story is a necessary and powerful one. The novel was adapted in 2018 for the big screen and the movie stars Amandla Stenberg, Russell Hornsby, Regina Hall, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith, Issa Rae and Common.

Stream the movie on Hulu

“Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and the Promise of America” by Karine Jean-Pierre
Recommended by Yvette Nicole Brown
Jean-Pierre weaves her personal story and a call to action as she describes her political journey to becoming a part of the Obama Administration and being promoted to Deputy Battleground States Director for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

“The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations” by Toni Morrison
Recommended by Yvette Nicole Brown
Morrison takes on contested social issues: the foreigner, female empowerment, the press, money, “Black matter(s),” and human rights. She turns her incisive critical eye to her own work (“The Bluest Eye,” “Sula,” “Tar Baby,” “Jazz, Beloved,” “Paradise”) and that of others as she speaks to today’s society and politics.

“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander
Alexander does a deep dive into the legal history of America’s Jim Crow past and the current legal policies that contribute to the mass incarceration of Black people. The important non-fiction read reminds us that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

“How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi
The biggest question being asked is, “What can I do to help create a better society?” Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas — from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilities — that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves. If you want to take that next step, then Kendi is essential reading.

“Negroland” by Margo Jefferson
Jefferson examines privilege, discrimination and the fallacy of post-racial America while telling her story in this powerful and moving memoir.

“We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Recommended by Jurnee Smollett
Written throughout the Obama years, Coates reflects on race, Barack Obama’s presidency and its aftermath. Coates addresses the age-old question of race and the sense of belonging as he looks at America and where we have come from as a nation and where we stand today.

“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond
Desmond follows the uncomfortable narrative of inner-city housing in Milwaukee. Families struggle to keep a roof over their heads in a narrative that helps us understand poverty and economic exploitation.

“White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” by Robin J. DiAngelo
Antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility and allows us to understand racism as a practice. DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality and what we can do to engage more constructively.

Meg Zukin and Angelique Jackson contributed to this story. 

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