A few months ago, protests against racism happened around the globe. One of the things which activists asked others, especially white people, to do was to educate themselves on racism and how they are contributing to the issue and what they could do to actively help fight racism. At the time, I was sitting my final exams of the year at Cambridge from my bedroom thanks to the pandemic and so I knew that I would not get to read these books right then, but I took screenshots of the book recommendations I came across on social media and in news articles and then ordered them once my exams were done.
I understand that it is an immense privilege to be able to just order a ton of books and that not everyone can afford to do the same. Therefore, I decided to do a book giveaway with the books I read. I initially planned to just give away the books I read (and often annotated) myself, but I realised once I had finished them all that I really want to keep them all. So I decided to do a giveaway where all recipients can choose their favourite from the list of books instead and I will get that book for them. To give you guys an idea of the books that are included in the book giveaway, here are my short reviews of each book. You can find the link to the Google Form to participate in the giveaway at the end of this post.
Please note that no mention of any books in this post is sponsored (my reviews may amount to unpaid ads).
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Oluo's book is a great first read on the topic as it contains both discussion of the big issues but also advice for individuals on how to talk about the things described in the book. The book has 15 sections - all tackling different aspects of white privilege and racism, from micro-aggressions and appropriation to systemic oppression and checking one's privilege. This is a book I would highly recommend as a first book on racism if you have not engaged much with the topic before because it introduces you to the big issues and also gives advice on how to engage with these topics as an individual.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This book is written as a letter/essay from a father to his son. Coates describes his lived experiences as an African-American and he details the fears he has for his son. I tried to come up with how to best describe this book, but I honestly think this book review from the New York Times does a better job than I could, so I linked it here for you guys.
The Origin of Others by Toni Morrison
This book has incredibly positive reviews and appears to be loved by most its readers, but I honestly did not find it that great, but maybe I expected the wrong thing from it. Morrison draws from personal experience, history, and lots of literature to de-construct this concept of "otherness." Morrison connects this concept of the "other" to several other topics, such as our need to feel like we belong and how she used her fiction stories to explore the concept of race. Morrison writes in a way that, for lack of a better way of saying this, just not makes you get tired of reading her book. The book is actually drawn from lectures she gave and when you read it, it does feel a little bit like you are listening to her explain these concepts. The reason I am not the biggest fan of this book is that I feel like it could have gone deeper and become more analytical. When I turned the last page, I felt like Morrison had just introduced the topics and throughout the book I was waiting for her to go even deeper on many of the issues she touched upon. I would not recommend this book as a first read on the issue because I think you take even more away from the book when you are familiar with some of the works Morrison discusses.
Why I'm no Longer Talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Eddo-Lodge focuses on racism in Britain in her book. From highlighting black history which is ignored in national teaching plans to discussing a form of feminism which addresses white people only and how race still affects your social class, Eddo-Lodge's book is an important read on racism in Britain and, similarly to So You Want to Talk about Race, I would recommend it as one of the first books to read on racism. I personally took away more practical advice from So You Want to Talk about Race (in terms of how to conduct myself in conversations around race), but Why I'm no Longer Talking to White People about Race gave me an immense amount of well-researched facts mixed with lived experiences which deepened the rationale behind the advice I got from So You Want to Talk about Race.
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
This book is probably my least favourite book on this list. I ended up buying it due to an article in the New York Times about the author. I do think the book has valuable reflections on the defensiveness of white people when it comes to discussions about race, but reading how some black people feel about it honestly made me regret buying the book. Professor McWhorter's article in The Atlantic highlights some of these issues and really made me think a lot more critically about DiAngelo's book. Overall, I would recommend going for a different book on this list.
I'm still Here by Austin Channing Brown
This book is an account of and reflection on the author's experiences as a black woman. Channing Brown illustrates what it feels like to exist in mainly-white spaces and how organisations putting "we value diversity" in their handbooks and on their websites does not mean that the programs they implemented actually live up to their words. The last sentence of this quote, which discusses how anti-racism work has been influenced by white supremacy, really made me think a lot about how my anti-racism education was taught and whether it contained some of the elements described by the author:
"It's so easy to believe the pretty pictures on the website filled with racial diversity, to buy in to the well-crafted statements of purpose, to enjoy being invited into the process of "being part of the change." The role of a bridge builder sounds appealing until it becomes clear how often that bridge is your broken back."
As an atheist, I was initially a little worried that I would not be able to fully understand where Channing Brown is coming from as the author also discusses the role of the church and also sees her Christian faith as quite important to her, but I honestly found it very educational to learn more about the role of the church in this context. Overall, this book is a personal reflection which contains lots of bigger lessons for its readers.
Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson
Dyson's central thesis is that fighting racism means facing truths that can be difficult to face, such as how black grievance has been ignored and downplayed. Dyson draws on personal experiences as well as broader evidence to make his points. Dyson's writing has a quite individual character that makes it feel like you are listening to him deliver this sermon - yes, the book is written as a sermon. That is also the only one negative thing I have to say about this book, but this is really just a matter of personal preference. At times, I found the style this was written in and the readers being addressed as 'beloved' a little bit strange, but Dyson's emotional plea is nonetheless a great read and I would still highly recommend it. I also found this New York Times review of the book good in case you would like to read more about the book.
Why are all the Black Kids in the Cafeteria Sitting Together? by Beverly Daniel Tatum
After reading a few GoodReads reviews on this where it was advised to not read this book as the first book you read on racism, I put it at the bottom of my to-read pile and read it last. It contains useful reflections on what it means to be an ally and how to be an effective ally. The main focus is on the importance of having conversations about race that are effective. Tatum largely relies on experiences as a psychologist for many of the points made in this book. While this gives the book a more personal note, I feel like the book would have benefitted from her experiences being further supported by studies. Overall, there are some parts of this book about which I am still thinking, but Tatum makes lots of points that made me reflect a lot and I would recommend it, though I also agree with the GoodReads reviews that you should read introductory literature on the issue before reading this book.
Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall
Mikki Kendall's book is an important contribution to feminist thought as she points out that the feminist movement - which claims to fight for gender equality - has ignored some women in its fights in order to increase privileges for some women. Kendall calls the feminist movement out for not focusing enough on intersectionality. That means that you consider multiple factors when assessing an issue - for example you do not just consider gender, but also race. Kendall's argument is that the feminist movement has centred around white women, but has forgotten how especially black women suffer inequality everyday - not just because of their gender, but also because of their race. The two go hand in hand in many situations and can define things such as whether a cop gives you the benefit of the doubt or whether a doctor does an extra test to ensure you are fine. For many black women, their basic needs such as healthcare are big issues, but the feminist movement seems to have focused more on (predominantly white) women who have their basic needs met. Kendall points out that the feminist movement has not stood up enough for black women and she calls on feminists to examine their own actions: Do they advocate equally passionately for black women as they do for white women? How much do they talk about the experiences of the black women? Are they doing anything about the issues that black women in particular face? If not, then they are not fighting for all women, but for white women. Kendall's book is an incredibly insightful critical look at the feminist movement and in my opinion an absolute must-read in 2020!
Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
This book is a 28-day workbook, meaning that each chapter has some tasks for the reader at its end. I think that is incredibly great about the book as it makes you engage more consciously with it. While I think that this book can be a first read on racism as its workbook-like nature tasks the reader with lots of reflection, I feel like So You Want to Talk About Race is a better read. That does not mean that Saad's book is not good too, but I feel like Saad highlights what actions individuals can take, but does not really go into how racism presents itself at a level beyond the individual one. In my opinion, So You Want to Talk About Race does a better job of combining what individuals should do with highlighting issues at a higher level.
How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
This book, together with So You Want to Talk about Race is among my favourite books on this list. The thesis of the book is simple: the dichotomy between racists and those who are "not racist" is incorrect: just not being racist is not enough, you have to be actively anti-racist. Kendi's writing is incredibly clear and any concepts he uses are explained for the reader. His book gives practical advice on how to be an anti-racist and is not aimed at any particular group - it is more meant for everybody as Kendi argues that members of groups which experience racism can also simultaneously fail to be anti-racist and therefore help uphold policies which harm them. Honestly, this book is a 10/10 and I would highly recommend it!
The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein
This book is an incredibly-deeply-researched account of how government policies led to racial segregation in American cities. Rothstein tackles the argument that urban racial segregation was created through non-legislative means (such as individual prejudices, the actions of banks, and also socio-economic differences) instead of having been produced by the law. As a law student, I found this book incredibly educational and Rothstein writes so clearly that the book brings across the connections between policies and their effects easily for a non-law-academia audience. The only one thing which may make this book not a read for everyone is how specific it is and that is also its strength: because of Rothstein's clear focus on the law and housing policy, the book is an incredibly detailed account of the issue he describes. But this also makes this a read which can at times become quite academic (though never to a point where it would not be accessible to someone who did not study law) and it may at times feel a bit like a textbook - this is not necessarily bad, but I know that this writing style is not everyone's cup of tea and so I decided to include it here in case anyone is considering to buy the book. Personally, I can highly recommend the book!
Slavery by Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon
This book shocked me as it highlighted a part of history which I had never heard of before. Blackmon describes how black people in America were essentially forced into a form of slavery after the Civil War. One example of this is how certain offences were particularly used to arrest black people, who were then hit with incredibly high fines (and costs for their arrests). Not being able to pay off the fine, they had to work off the cost as forced labourers in places such as coal mines where their working conditions were nothing short of inhumane. Blackmon combines historical evidence with moving individual stories. I sometimes had to put the book down for a bit to stomach what I just read because the things described are outrageous and it shocked me so much to read about it as I had never heard of this part of American history before. For those interested more in a historical perspective, this book is a great but also emotional read!
How to Argue with a Racist by Adam Rutherford
This book is amazing, but do not let the title fool you into thinking that Rutherford provides a guide on how to shut down racist behaviour in typical day-to-day scenarios. Instead, Rutherford examines scientific evidence to show that when you look at human genetics, you realise race is a social construct which humans created. He examines some of pseudoscience's claims that have been used to justify racism (e.g. alleged differences in intelligence on the basis of race) and defeats them with actual scientific evidence. Overall, this book is great, but you just need to be aware that the title does not mean that this is a guide for everyday situations. Rather, this book gives you the scientific evidence to quote when someone tries to justify racism with pseudoscience.
If you would like to enter the book giveaway to receive one of the books, you can get to the Google signup form for the giveaway (also containing the rules of the giveaway) by clicking here.
Lots of Love,