For many people, the most recent protests related to the Black Lives Matter movement have sparked a desire to better understand racism—and ways to fight it—in the U.S. You may wish to deepen your understanding by reading books on the history and politics of being Black, Indigeous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in the U.S. But with countless reading lists available online, it may be hard to know which titles to read first. Here are five suggestions to get you started.
About: Drawing from his personal history, Professor Ibram X. Kendi writes about antiracism through different themes—biology, culture, behavior, class, gender, sexuality, and more—that have been traditionally used to justify Black oppression.
Read this to: Dig deeper into the difference between antiracism and segregation, integration, and assimilation—three approaches addressing post-slavery racism in the U.S.
Notable quote: “Whenever Black people voluntarily gather among themselves, integrationists do not see spaces of Black solidarity created to separate Black people from racism. They see spaces of White hate. They do not see spaces of cultural solidarity, of solidarity against racism. They see spaces of segregation against White people. Integrationists think about [Black spaces] as a movement away from White people. They then equate the movement away from White people with the White segregationist movement away from Black people. Integrationists equate spaces for the survival of Black bodies with spaces for the survival of White supremacy.”
The takeaway: Where Black spaces are seen as a rejection and even hatred of the white social majority, they need to be recognized for what they are—a way for Black people to find community and strength in one another.
About: Mira Jacob’s graphic memoir reflects on her conversations about and experiences with racism, as inspired by her young son’s questions about race.
Read this to: Appreciate the full complexity of navigating conversations about race and racism with children, family, and friends of different races and political affiliations.
Notable quote: “We’re in the middle place where sometimes we get treated badly and sometimes we do it to other people. But I mean, that’s not the end of the world, right? Knowing we’ve got room for improvement?”
The takeaway: We all need to acknowledge our relative position of privilege. Though we may have experience with racism, we may hold more privileged positions than Black Americans in the racial hierarchy, and can therefore help amplify Black voices to effect racial justice and equality.
About: In this compilation of essays and poetry, collected by National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward, different writers share their perspectives on race in America. The collection is a 21st-century response to writer James Baldwin’s landmark The Fire Next Time.
Read this to: Discover what the Black experience is like through the voices of different storytellers.
Notable quote: “I was astonished at how safe the streets felt to me, once again one black body among many, no longer having to anticipate the many ways my presence might instill fear and how to offer some reassuring body language. Passing police cars were once again merely passing police cars. Jamaican police could be pretty brutal, but they didn’t notice me the way American police did. I could be invisible in Jamaica in a way I can’t be invisible in the United States.”
The takeaway: Living while Black in the U.S. is dangerous—because being Black is seen as a threat, Black people have lost the ability to live “normally.”
About: In her second novel, Brit Bennett tells the story of identical twin sisters, Desiree and Stella. Stella’s decision to pass as a white woman has long-lasting consequences on her life, as well as her sister’s and their children.
Read this to: Appreciate just how much race informs identity, and how we are able to interact with and experience the world.
Notable quote: “When she’d first passed over, it seemed so easy that she couldn’t believe she’d never done it before. She felt almost angry at her parents for denying it to her. If they’d passed over, if they’d raised her white, everything would have been different. No white men dragging her daddy from the porch. No laundry baskets filling the living room. She could have finished school, graduated top of her class. Maybe she would have ended up at a school like Yale, met Blake there proper. Maybe she could have been the type of girl his mother wanted him to marry. She could have had everything in her life now, but her father and mother and Desiree too.”
The takeaway: Being white or light-skinned has historically granted people more opportunities—and choices—that does not force them to disavow significant parts of their identity.
About: Angie Thomas’s debut young adult novel follows 16-year-old Starr Carter as she navigates two worlds: her poor Black neighborhood and her affluent prep school. But her worlds collide when she witnesses her best friend’s murder at the hands of the police.
Read this to: Walk in the shoes of a young Black person during tragic events that are straight out of today’s headlines.
Notable quote: "That's the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What's the point of having a voice if you're gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn't be?"
The takeaway: We cannot continue to normalize racist stereotypes and injustice. The more we remain silent, the more racism is normalized, and the more we become desensitized to the very real dangers it poses to our communities and world.
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Nisha Kumar Kulkarni is a writer and creative coach in New York City. She helps women living with chronic illness and mental health challenges to pursue their passion projects without compromising their health.