Despite years of talk about living in a post-racial America, this weekend’s violence at the Charlottesville march was a deadly reminder that racism is still alive and well in the modern day United States — and always has been. With images of torch-bearing, weapon-wielding white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and KKK members filling every television set across the country, it’s becoming clear that, unless we do something to stop it, the hate and violence emboldened by the country’s current administration will only get worse. A good first step to take? Educating yourself by reading these books on race all white people should read because it is up to us to put an end to racism.
When news of violence at the Aug. 11 “Unite the Right” march broke this weekend, people — including many white people — around the country reacted to the aggressive display of racism with a mix of shock and doubt. From Twitter to the five o’clock news, Facebook feeds to the dinner tables across the country, white Americans displayed surprise that that kind of blatant hate, discrimination, and racism was still alive, even growing, in modern America.
But to so many POC, it came as no surprise at all, because people of color face the realities of racism and prejudice every day. White Americans, on the other hand, have had the luxury of ignoring a dangerous issue that not only doesn’t negatively impact them, but rather benefits them.
In her essay for Vox, “White People: What Is Your Plan for the Trump Presidency?,” writer Brittany Packnett explains it in one simple, powerful sentence: “White people must be primarily responsible for what white people cause.” And the truth is racism is caused by white people. It is perpetuated and supported by the unjust policies, blind privilege, active ignorance, unchallenged compliance, and blatant inaction of the race that benefits from a divided system.
Before we can challenge racism, before we can dismantle racism, we have to learn to recognize it. We have to develop an understanding of not just the bold acts of racial aggression like we saw this weekend in Charlottesville, but of the daily micro-aggressions that eventually add up to torch-bearing marchers shouting racists slurs through the streets of America’s cities.
Because we can’t afford another Charlottesville in our country, here are 17 essential books about race all white people should read. Getting informed is only the first step on a lifetime journey of anti-racism, but it’s a necessary one these enlightening reads can help you make.
‘White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide’ by Carol Anderson, Ph.D.
An unflinching look at America’s long history of structural and institutionalized racism, White Rage is a timely and necessary examination of white anger and aggression towards black America. Starting with the 1865 passage of the Thirteenth Amendment and ending with the election of the country’s first African American president and the response to Ferguson 2014, acclaimed historian Carol Anderson uses key moments in U.S. history to formulate a new narrative around race, one that unabashedly exposes white America’s attempts to slow or stop progress in black America. A compelling look at American history, White Rage has never seemed more relevant than it does in today.
‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness’ by Michelle Alexander
A compelling argument that shows the many ways racial hierarchy still dominates American society, The New Jim Crow is a hard but necessary read. A deep-dive into the racial discrimination within our justice system, this must-read guides readers through the many ways in which black Americans are under attack from racist policies and procedures within a system that is meant to protect them. Passionate and engaging, The New Jim Crow will change the way you see race in modern America, and prove to you that our post-racial world is nothing but a myth.
‘Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America’ by Ibram X. Kendi
The winner of the National Book Award in Nonfiction, Stamped from the Beginning should be required reading for anyone who still believes we are living in a post-racial America. In this eye-opening book, author Ibram X. Kendi explains not only the many ways in which racism is alive and well in the United States, but exactly why it’s still a deeply entrenched piece of our nation’s identity. A fascinating and disturbing history of discrimination in the U.S., Stamped from the Beginning will expose the hard to swallow truth about modern-day racism while providing a kernel of hope for a better, more equal future.
‘Black Stats: African Americans by the Numbers in the Twenty-first Century’ by Monique W. Morris
An easy-to-read, easy-to-understand guide on the real-life experiences of black people in the twenty-first century, Black Stats shows racial discrimination in the form of facts and figures. A critical look at the quality of African American life, progress towards equality, and the negative impacts of socially unjust policies and discriminatory practices in everything from the government to the entertainment industry, this handy tool disproves the myth that racism in America is dead, while providing the necessary data to take the steps needed to kill it, once and for all.
‘The Invention of the White Race’ by Theodore W. Allen
A groundbreaking examination of the construct of race and its origin in America, Theodore W. Allen’s The Invention of the White Race is essential reading for anyone interested in dismantling racism from its foundation up. A two-volume work that spans the country’s history, from the arrival of Africans in America in 1619 to modern-day race relations, this in-depth study is like an origin story for race, specifically the white race, and the racial discrimination that followed.
‘Between the World and Me’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates
In a letter to his son, acclaimed author Ta-Nahisi Coates tackles some of the most difficult questions about survival, identity, history, and freedom facing black men and women. Drawing from his own experiences as a black man in America, Coates explores the country’s fraught past and divisive present in an attempt to shed a light on creating a brighter future. A utterly devastating and affecting read, this book is what Toni Morrison calls “required reading,” so you better put it on your list.
‘Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II’ by Douglas A. Blackmon
In Slavery by Another Name, Douglas A. Blackmon shines a spotlight on one of the darkest chapters in American history: the “Age of Neoslavery.” Starting after the Emancipation Proclamation and lasting all the way through World War II, this often ignored period saw thousands of black Americans move from slavery in the south to involuntary servitude across the country. Drawing from rich historical records, original documentation, and personal narratives, Blackmon pieces together this disgraceful practice of human labor trafficking, exposing those who benefited from it and celebrating those who fought against it. A shocking but important read, Slavery by Another Name should be required reading in every history class.
‘Choke Hold: Policing Black Me’ by Paul Butler
In the tradition of The New Jim Crow, Paul Butler’s explanation of a deeply racially discriminatory justice system with transform the way you think about policing, race relations, and criminal justice. In Chokehold, the former federal prosecutor-turned-legal commentator exposes the unjust laws and practices within the justice system that continually treats black men like criminals, thugs, and the enemy of the people. Powerful as it is enlightening, Chokehold not only sheds a light on a broken system, but offers recommendations, albeit somewhat controversial, about the different ways in which Americans can take it down.
‘Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White’ by Frank H. Wu
When we think about race, so many of us look at the issue in terms of black and white. Fran Wu’s Yellow goes beyond those hard lines and explores racial identity and race relations through the perspective of the Asian-American experience. From affirmative action and immigration to media representation and globalization, Wu’s mix of personal anecdotes and in-depth reporting urges readers to deconstruct the way they think about race and abandon the false divisions that separate us. Thought-provoking and penetrating, Yellow tears down stereotypes and leaves in their place a model for racial progress.
‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ by Claudia Rankine
A gut-wrenching lyrical collection about race, identity, and being black in United States, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric is a must-read for every American citizen trying to understand racial injustice. Using essay, poetry, image, and art, Rankine exposes the racial aggression faced by black people every day, from the slights at the grocery stores to the overt violence in the media, and highlights the ways in which these aggressions hinder an individual’s ability to survive. A truly moving book, Citizen will change the way you see black life in America.
‘Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Inequality in America’ by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
A classic text on the constructs of race and racism, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s updated edition of Racism without Racists is an essential read for anyone looking to understand the dangers of color-blind racial ideology. Covering everything from the post-Civil Rights era to the Black Lives Matter movement and the election of Donald Trump, this book exposes and analyzes the many ways racism persists and is practiced in modern America, despite our denial of it. But it doesn’t just present the problems, it offers solutions in the form of a guide to navigating away from our deep racial divides and towards equality.
‘White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son’ by Tim Wise
Part memoir, part cultural criticism, part political commentary, Tim Wise’s White Like Me is a deeply personal exploration of what it means to be white and benefit from the racial privileges that go along with it. Drawing from his own experiences as white man, Wise looks at how whiteness shapes his daily life, from his education and housing to his employment and economic status, while exposing the ways in which it hurts people of color. Complete with advice and commentary on the best ways white people can challenge their privilege and fight back against racism using their position of power, White Like Me is a call to action all white Americans can learn from.
‘How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America’ by Moustafa Bayoumi
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to walk in someone else’s shoes, How Does It Feel to Be a Problem lets you take steps as Arab- and Muslim-Americans, exposing the discrimination, prejudice, and injustice they face in their everyday lives. Drawing from the experiences of seven twenty-something year old Arab-Americans living in Brooklyn, author and scholar Moustafa Bayoumi gives a voice to an often oppressed and ignored population of men and women who are trying to come of age in a country that sees them as not just other, but as the enemy. Smart, sensitive, and thought-provoking, How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? is a fascinating and hopeful read.
‘Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America’ by Michael Eric Dyson
A beautiful mix of personal anecdote and cultural criticism, Michael Eric Dyson’s Tears We Cannot Stop is a powerful appeal to Americans, especially white Americans, to not only own the racial issues facing the country today, but address them with force and urgency. Deeply emotional and unapologetically honest, this frank discussion on the racial divides in the United States is at once uncomfortable, educational, and inspiring. A must-read for white Americans looking to understand the the racial issues that divide us, and threaten our future.
‘The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America’ by Richard Rothstein
A fascinating book about the government’s role in segregating the country, The Color of Law exposes the unjust and often untold history of housing policy, city planning, and racial zoning that became the foundation on which discriminatory practices in America were built on. Starting in the 1920s, author and historian Richard Rothstein chronicles the de jure segregation practices — segregated public housing, racial zoning, the destruction of integrated neighborhoods — that became the foundation of the racial unrest facing black neighborhoods, like Baltimore and Ferguson, in the modern-day United States. A stunning history of the racial divides in metropolitan America and how they got there, The Color of Law makes clear the undeniable connection between discriminatory laws and policies enforced by the government and the long-reaching grasp of discrimination still alive today.
‘The History of White People’ by Nell Irvin Painter
In The History of White People, celebrated historian Nell Irvin Painter goes beneath the skin and explores the many ways whiteness has been constructed as a sign of power, control, wealth, beauty, and dominance throughout history and across cultures. Tracing over two thousand years of Western civilization, from the Greek and Romans to twentieth century America, this in-depth exploration of the idea of race exposes the economic, political, social, and scientific systems that formed and continue to define the invention of the white race, and how those systems continue to oppress anyone considered “other.” Featuring famous figures throughout history, The History of White People is an eye-opening and engaging look at the constructs of race and what they mean today.
‘They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement’ by Wesley Lowery
An essential book about the intersection of police violence and race, Wesley Lowery’s heavily researched and deeply reported book sheds a clarifying light onto one of the most polarizing topics in America today: the shooting of black Americans by white cops. In They Can’t Kill Us All, Lowery, a Washington Post reporter, draws from hundreds of interviews from across the country, from friends and family members of Michael Brown and other shooting victims to community organizers and local activists, to paint a heartbreaking portrait of racial injustice and those fighting against it. A well-balanced work of statistics and personal anecdote, They Can’t Kill Us All is more than just information, but heart.