By now, of course, we are all aware of the events that have led to the current surge of anti-racist sentiment and effort — and have all seen the actions being produced thereby. But this journey toward true equality is certainly not over, and we’d all be wise to continue to show our support wherever possible. This includes, of course, reading the important books, educating ourselves and practicing all the empathy available to us.
In order to better understand the Black Lives Matter movement and the age-long discrimination, ignorance and callousness that it’s combatting, we would all do well to lend an ear to the many and varied voices of racialized experience that have committed themselves to paper. Here are some books, by authors from all over, that will encourage the empathy and understanding that is so essential to this endeavour.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
One of the most essential books you’ll ever read pertaining to institutionalised racism and the need for a revitalised and corrected dialogue, this is the result of one journalist’s frustration with the fact that discussion around racial prejudice is so often led by those least affected by it.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is a searing call to challenge ingrained stereotyping, senseless disregard, willing ignorance and open hostility toward the many people who routinely face it as a result of historical and ongoing racism.
Eddo-Lodge’s experiences will resonate with people all over; attempting to discuss a pervasive issue with one who is not affected by it is a common obstruction to understanding. As she describes it: “I’m no longer engaging with white people on the topic of race. Not all white people, just the vast majority who refuse to accept the legitimacy of structural racism and its symptoms… You can see their eyes shut down and harden. It’s like treacle is poured into their ears, blocking up their ear canals.”
At a time when a huge amount of people are having this exact reaction to the current climate, this book could not be more important.
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
As co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Patrisse Khan-Cullors is a voice from whom we could all do with hearing. Following the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, and the subsequent acquittal of the man who killed him, three women, of whom Khan-Cullors was one, strove to create an active, change-making response to the insidious racism killing so many African-Americans in the US. Theirs was a simple statement: Black Lives Matter. For saying so, they were called terrorists.
This is a personal, compelling memoir that not only hopes to inject empathy into a mortally wounded society but tackles a range of divisive issues including mental health, freedom, economics, sexuality and, of course, racism — issues all which contribute to a world so sadly cloven apart. While revealing the full story of the movement’s emergence, When They Call You a Terrorist displays a visionary dedication to social justice and, above all, calls for the healing of a culture that considers black lives expendable.
The Clapback: Your Guide To Calling Out Racist Stereotypes by Elijah Lawal
The book itself begins:
Clapback: [Noun / Verb] Responding to a (often ignorant) notion with a withering comeback; with the aim of shutting. it. down.
Who couldn’t do with more of these? With so many finding themselves flummoxed, hurt or enraged by these manifold ignorant notions – and struggling to make themselves heard – this is the sort of guide that’s bound to be useful in the ongoing discussion around racism. To be able to facilitate the proper conversations, we all need first to be aware of the things that just aren’t what they should be.
Race and language are distinctly interwoven, and The Clapback takes us through a historical journey full of facts and research, in order to trace the tragic roots of negative discrimination faced by the black community and grant us the tools to combat it on a daily basis. Witty, honest, riddled with hard truths and immediately accessible, this is a handbook with which you’ll want to be armed.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Our path toward empathy doesn’t have to be made up solely of essays and polemics. Oftentimes, it’s fiction that opens the window to proper understanding and this is one novel that does just that.
This striking debut is poised to become a really big deal. Its deceptively upbeat jacket, beguiling title and breezy, accessible style conceal a complex and layered story that some will find funny, some will find discomfiting and all will find apt. Such a Fun Age is a truly contemporary novel brimming with millennial anxieties and very much steeped in the privilege and race debates that are becoming an increasingly familiar part of our lives. It’s never reductive, though: this is about hearts and characters and keeping it real. For all its pointed commentary, it’s eminently readable and substantially entertaining.
Here’s the blurb for an idea of the set up:
“Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store’s security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right.
But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.”
How To Argue with a Racist by Adam Rutherford
“Race is real because we perceive it. Racism is real because we enact it. But the appeal to science to strengthen racist ideologies is on the rise – and increasingly part of the public discourse on politics, migration, education, sport and intelligence.”
Pivotal to our understanding of the misguided and harmful opinions and feelings that persist is an understanding of history, human evolution and cultural and political inheritance. Here Rutherford argues, undeniably, that it is not simply overt racists that contribute to racist sentiment. Racism is also enacted and kept alive by those whose experiences and cultural exposure unwittingly lead them toward misunderstandings of genetics, human development and variation… however well-intentioned they may be.
How To Argue with a Racist chiefly concerns itself with the “misuse of science to justify bigotry”: a practice which, one you realise it, is pervasive among those who warp the discussion of race and propagate a subtly pernicious form of hatred. Eugenics might not be the field that immediately springs to mind when we think about racism, but it is an unfortunately influential one.
Equip yourself with this essential and scientific shield against ignorance.
Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper
A razor sharp, funny, bold exploration of the power of feminine anger, Eloquent Rage is exactly what it declares itself to be, and is a youthful, invigorating draught of feminism and black pride.
The publisher puts it best:
“So what if it’s true that Black women are mad as hell? They have the right to be. In the Black feminist tradition of Audre Lorde, Brittney Cooper reminds us that anger is a powerful source of energy that can give us the strength to keep on fighting.
Far too often, Black women’s anger has been caricatured into an ugly and destructive force that threatens the civility and social fabric of American democracy. But Cooper shows us that there is more to the story than that. Black women’s eloquent rage is what makes Serena Williams such a powerful tennis player. It’s what makes Beyoncé’s girl power anthems resonate so hard. It’s what makes Michelle Obama an icon.
Eloquent rage keeps us all honest and accountable. It reminds women that they don’t have to settle for less. When Cooper learned of her grandmother’s eloquent rage about love, sex, and marriage in an epic and hilarious front-porch confrontation, her life was changed. And it took another intervention, this time staged by one of her homegirls, to turn Brittney into the fierce feminist she is today. In Brittney Cooper’s world, neither mean girls nor fuckboys ever win. But homegirls emerge as heroes. This book argues that ultimately feminism, friendship, and faith in one’s own superpowers are all we really need to turn things right side up again.”
Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor
Not every book out there on racism calls you to perform actual exercises in examining your own biases. But this one does. It originally took form of viral Instagram challenge that employed journal prompts to take participants worldwide on a journey toward improved race relations.
This updated version of the original downloaded workbook urges readers to delve even deeper into their own thought and behaviour in order to identify problematic views of which we may not have even been aware. Packed with historical and cultural context, definitions, anecdotes, examples and further resources, Me and White Supremacy is a critically important tool for those of us wishing to further understand our own role in the current racial climate and want to do something to better it.
This book will walk you step-by-step through the work of examining:
- Examining your own white privilege
- What allyship really means
- Anti-blackness, racial stereotypes, and cultural appropriation
- Changing the way that you view and respond to race
- How to continue the work to create social change
No other title makes it this possible to take actual action. It’s the perfect way for you to take the discussion on equality out of your own head and into your heart.
Other Suggested Reads:
Of course, it doesn’t stop here. Even for those of us who have made concerted efforts to avail ourselves of the available material, there are still plenty of other books and authors we can check out as we continue to support these important efforts. Here are some more suggested titles:
- White Fragility Book by Robin DiAngelo (9780141990569)
- Free? Stories Celebrating Human Rights by Amnesty International
- “I Will Not be Erased”: Our Stories about Growing Up as People of Colour by Gal-dem
- Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins
- The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae
- Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
Happy Reading. Be Wonderful to Each Other.