Michael Eric Dyson’s Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America came out last month and, let me just tell you, it is making me seriously think about my privilege as an upper-middle-class white lady, living in a liberal part of a liberal state. In an interview for The New York Times Magazine, Dyson states that the book’s ideal audience is “the ocean of white folk I encounter who are deeply empathetic to the struggles of minorities — they are the ones who ask me, “What can I do, as a white person?” This is my attempt to address them in the most useful and, hopefully, edifying manner.” As one of those white folk, it’s my job to seek out and listen to black and POC voices, to hear what they are saying and understand. With me? Here are books I need to read ASAP about being black in America.
Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks
hooks examines the impact of sexism on black women during slavery, the historic devaluation of black womanhood, black male sexism, racism within the recent women’s movement, and black women’s involvement with feminism.
Wallis looks at the state of race relations in America and the thread of racism running through American society and offers guidance on how Christians can work to overcome its pernicious influence.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
The black leader discusses his political philosophy and reveals details of his life, shedding light on the ideas that enabled him to gain the allegiance of a still growing percentage of the black population.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The author presents a history of racial discrimination in the United States and a narrative of his own personal experiences of contemporary race relations, offering possible resolutions for the future.
The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson
Tyson draws on previously untapped firsthand testimonies and recovered court transcripts to present a scholarly account of the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till and its role in launching the civil rights movement.
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Rankine includes essays, poetry, and images that expose the racial tensions in twenty-first century life, highlighting the slights, slips of the tongue, and intentional offensives that pervade the home, school, and popular media.
The Crunk Feminist Collection by Brittney C. Cooper, Susana M. Morris, and Robin M. Boylorn, eds.
To address the void of relevant, real conversations about how race and gender politics intersect with pop culture and current events, the Crunk Feminist Collective started a blog. Self-described as “critical homegirls,” the authors tackle life stuck between loving hip hop and ratchet culture while hating patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Baldwin’s intensely personal and provocative document consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism.
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race by Jesmyn Ward, ed.
Ward gathers America’s most original thinkers and writers to speak on contemporary racism and race to shine a light on the darkest corners of the country’s history, wrestle with its current predicament, and imagine a better future; envisioned as a response to The Fire Next Time.
The activist and scholar illuminates the connections between struggles against state violence and oppression throughout history and around the world.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The author and poet recalls the anguish of her childhood in Arkansas and her adolescence in northern slums.
Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching by Mychal Denzel Smith
Smith chronicles his own personal and political education during the past tumultuous decade – including the presidency of Barack Obama and the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and too many more – and describes his efforts to come into his own in a world that denied his humanity.
Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts
Roberts exposes America’s systemic abuse of black women’s bodies – from slave masters’ economic stake in bonded women’s fertility to government programs that coerced thousands of poor black women into being sterilized as late as the 1970s – to point to the degradation of black motherhood and the exclusion of black women’s reproductive needs from the feminist agenda.
Known and Strange Things: Essays by Teju Cole
Cole deploys prose dense with beauty and ideas to interpret politics, photography, travel, history, and literature.
March: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
A first-hand account of Congressman Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation.
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae
A collection of humorous essays on what it’s like to be unabashedly awkward in a world that regards introverts as hapless misfits and black as cool.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Alexander argues that the War on Drugs and policies that deny convicted felons equal access to employment, housing, education, and public benefits create a permanent under-caste based largely on race.
Riley argues that such measures as welfare, affirmative action, and minimum-wage laws often have counterproductive results and have harmed the economic advancement of African Americans.
Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique Morris
Morris chronicles the experiences of black girls across the country whose intricate lives are misunderstood, highly judged, and degraded by the very institutions charged with helping them flourish and shows how they still find ways to breathe remarkable dignity into their lives despite obstacles, stigmas, stereotypes, and despair.
Bonilla-Silva documents how, beneath our contemporary conversation about race, whites use a full-blown arsenal of arguments, phrases, and stories to account for – and ultimately justify – racial inequalities.
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America by Melissa V. Harris-Perry
Harris-Perry uses multiple methods of inquiry – including literary analysis, political theory, focus groups, surveys, and experimental research – to understand more deeply black women’s political and emotional responses to pervasive negative race and gender images.
The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America by Tamara Winfrey Harris
Celebrated writer Winfrey Harris writes a searing account of being a black woman in America and explains why it’s time for black women to speak for themselves.
A sobering account of the insidious legacy of racism that reverberates today: when, between the Civil War and World War II, tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested, hit with outrageous fines, and charged for the costs of their own arrests… then sold as forced laborers or seized and compelled into years of involuntary servitude.
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
In this collection of essays, Du Bois eloquently affirms that it is beneath the dignity of a human being to beg for those rights that belong inherently to all mankind and charges that the strategy of accommodation to white supremacy advanced by Booker T. Washington, then the most influential black leader in America, would only serve to perpetuate black oppression.
A behind-the-scenes account of the #BlackLivesMatter movement: insights into the young men and women behind it, the racially charged controversies that have motivated members, and the economic, political, and personal histories that inform its purpose.
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color by Cherríe L. Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa, eds.
A testimony to intersectional feminism as it emerged in the last quarter of the twentieth century, these personal essays, criticism, interviews, testimonials, poetry, and visual art, explore the complex confluence of identities — race, class, gender, and sexuality — systemic to women of color oppression and liberation.
We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation by Jeff Chang
Chang examines some of the most contentious issues in the current discussion of race and inequality, questions the value of “the diversity discussion” in an era of increasing racial and economic segregation, and looks at how culture impacts our understanding of the politics of this polarized moment.
You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson
A hilarious and affecting essay collection about race, gender, and pop culture from the celebrated stand-up comedian and WNYC podcaster.