It’s funny because I thought I should start off with an easy topic, but it turns out that there really aren’t any easy topics. So why not write about something as complex and painful as racism? Like any “well-intentioned white person,” I’m obviously not super comfortable being the one to write about this. AND as someone who worked at Invisible Children during KONY 2012 (#neverforget), I’m no stranger to being completely misunderstood by the internet and the world and humanity in general. Sooooo this is a risky move. But I can’t just NOT address something as important as race (specifically racism) AT SUCH A TIME AS THIS just because I’m white. So let’s get into it.
First of all, let me again say that I’m not an expert on this matter. I have not experienced racism. I haven’t really even witnessed much explicit racism (microaggressions are another matter and, frankly, something I probably don’t often notice when I should). But I’m well aware of the problem and I’ve done some reading and listening on the subject and I’d like to share with you some sources of information.
Second of all, this post is obviously not directed toward people of color, especially black people in the US, who are all too familiar with the experience of racism and should not have to bear the weight of explaining it to us (white people) every damn day of their lives. So this is my effort to help my fellow white peeps better understand these experiences and how to respond/take action.
And lastly, not everyone is at the same place in their understanding of racism, so I’ll just leave these lists below for you to find what feels most appropriate for you to start with. And stay tuned for more on this subject.
OH. And I know that racism does not strictly affect black people. It obviously affects other ethnic and racial minorities. But I am starting here with resources that are more focused on the black and whiteness of it all. Don’t worry, this won’t be the only post about racism.
Ok, so now let’s actually get started.
I’ve read some. And I’ve read a few that are relevant to this conversation.
There a LOT of books on this issue that I have yet to read. Just a really long list. So this is absolutely not comprehensive. Don’t even try to tell me “Oh Michelle. You’re missing SO MANY books. Just be better!” Because I KNOW! Why are we fighting?
Anyway, these are some books that I’ve read and because I have actually used my eyes to see the words and used my brain to process them, I can talk about them without sounding like a (complete) ignoramus.*
- Between the World and Me – “Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of ‘race,’ a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion.” This is written as a letter from a black father to his son about being black in America. The writing style may seem intimidating at first, but it is worth it. Believe me.
- Just Mercy – Bryan Stevenson’s excellent book on the criminal (in)justice system in the US. It was by far one of the best books I read in 2015. You read more in my review.
- Why We Can’t Wait – “In this remarkable book, Dr. King recounts the story of Birmingham in vivid detail, tracing the history of the struggle for civil rights back to its beginnings three centuries ago and looking to the future, assessing the work to be done beyond Birmingham to bring about full equality for African Americans.” I highlighted most of the book because every idea is so profound and important.
- Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? – This is a good intro book if you’re feeling like you don’t understand racism. “Beverly Daniel Tatum, a renowned authority on the psychology of racism, asserts that we do not know how to talk about our racial differences: Whites are afraid of using the wrong words and being perceived as ‘racist’ while parents of color are afraid of exposing their children to painful racial realities too soon. Using real-life examples and the latest research, Tatum presents strong evidence that straight talk about our racial identities-whatever they may be-is essential if we are serious about facilitating communication across racial and ethnic divides.”
- You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain – This is a good one for people who like comedy and want to better understand the perspective of a black woman (and also don’t mind a little content that’s NSFW). Her chapters on black hair were definitely educational for me, but the chapters “Uppity” and “The Angry Black Woman Myth” are absolutely must reads.
- Bad Feminist – “A collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism…” Certainly most of the essays are focused on feminism, not racism, but the two are not mutually exclusive, which is often her point (#intersectionality).
- Slavery by Another Name – If you’re anything like me, you may not have any idea what life was like for black people in America between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, with the exception of words like sharecropping and segregation. This book describes “the re-enslavement of black Americans from the Civil War to WWII” – a critical part of US history that does not seem to be common knowledge. Unless you are feeling particularly scholarly, it’s probably okay to skip this book because it is so dense and hard to read. However, there’s no excuse for not knowing about it, so check out my review for a brief summary or read Douglas Blackmon’s WSJ article.
- Black Like Me – It’s been a while since I read this one, and I can’t decide if the premise is completely inappropriate or somehow justifiable. But here’s the amazon description: “In the Deep South of the 1950s, journalist John Howard Griffin decided to cross the color line. Using medication that darkened his skin to deep brown, he exchanged his privileged life as a Southern white man for the disenfranchised world of an unemployed black man. His audacious, still chillingly relevant eyewitness history is a work about race and humanity-that in this new millennium still has something important to say to every American.”
- King Leopold’s Ghost – This is another dense, long one. It’s definitely worth reading, especially if you want to read just one disturbing example of the atrocities and destruction in Africa by Europeans. “In the 1880s, as the European powers were carving up Africa, King Leopold II of Belgium seized for himself the vast and mostly unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River. Carrying out a genocidal plundering of the Congo, he looted its rubber, brutalized its people, and ultimately slashed its population by ten million–all the while shrewdly cultivating his reputation as a great humanitarian.”
- Americanah – A beautiful novel by any measurement, this story is especially poignant since it is told from the perspective of an African woman living in both the United States and Nigeria, showing what it is like to be black in both contexts.
- Homegoing – I cannot recommend this book enough. READ IT. This new novel spans hundreds of years and eight generations, starting in Ghana in the late 1700s. We get to see the ways that one generation affects the next (when relationships are maintained), as well as the ways that racism/white supremacy/slavery etc cut generations off from each other.
- The Underground Railroad – I’m almost done reading this fictional account of slavery and the escape attempt of one woman named Cora. Colson Whitehead writes about an actual railroad operating trains underground, so it’s clearly not intended to be 100% historically accurate, but the depiction of slavery and its many levels of violence is an important reminder for those of us (white people) who have the privilege of forgetting. He also uses the freedom of fiction to describe events that did happen, like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, just not at that time or place.
- Things Fall Apart – “The most illuminating and permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within” (from the Goodreads description). I have to be honest and admit that I read this over 10 years ago when I was in college and I don’t think I fully appreciated it at the time, nor do I remember much detail. But I do know that it is about imperialism in Africa.
- The Bluest Eye – “Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterized her writing.”
- Invisible Man – Full disclosure, this was hard for me to read and was not particularly enjoyable. But enjoyment was definitely not the point. “Ralph Ellison’s nightmare journey across the racial divide tells unparalleled truths about the nature of bigotry and its effects on the minds of both victims and perpetrators.”
- Native Son – Like Invisible Man, this was another tough one, but “Wright’s powerful novel is an unsparing reflection on the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and of what it means to be black in America.”
I’m sure you’re thinking, “Michelle. You are literally the only person who is going to take the time to read right now. Give me something more realistic.” Ok, fine! I’ve got the perfect thing. Podcasts. I know you drive or take public transportation. Basically, you go places. And on your way to those places, you have the perfect opportunity to listen to podcasts. Oh you don’t go anywhere? (Doubt it.) Well in that case, I bet you make dinner. Or wash dishes. These are other excellent times for multitasking and listening to podcasts. Don’t argue with me.
- The Problem We All Live With (Parts 1 and 2) – This American Life talks about race, education, and desegregation in schools.
- Black & White: Racism in America – Michael Gungor and Science Mike talk with Propaganda and William Matthews about race, racism, and white supremacy in America. Yes, this podcast does come from a Christian point of view and references church, but don’t let that hold you back if that’s not your cup of tea because it is so well done.
- Burn – This episode of Another Round is just a raw and real reaction to the election of Trump and what this whole election season has been like for black people.
- Citizen’s Arrest – Another Round’s listeners discuss the challenges of talking about race (etc) with family.
- Basically every episode of Another Round – Hosted by Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton. They “cover everything from race and gender to squirrels and mangoes in one boozy podcast.” They also have an excellent newsletter. Subscribe to both.
- Cops See It Differently (Parts 1 and 2) – This American Life gets into racism, police brutality and the relationships between police departments and their communities.
- The Green Book – 99% Invisible tells the story of a resource for black people during a time when travel was more dangerous and it was important for them to know safe places to stop or stay while on the road.
- If you see racism, say racism – “Comedian W. Kamau Bell has two daughters, and tries to figure out just how much about the violent history of racism and oppression his four-year-old can handle” on This American Life.
- #AirbnbWhileBlack – Hidden Brain explains how hidden bias shapes the sharing economy.
- Black And Blue – “After more than a week of violence and racial tension sparked by the deaths of black men at the hands of police and the shooting deaths of five officers in Dallas,” Code Switch gets perspectives from African-American law enforcement officials. “We wanted to know how black officers, folks who find themselves right in the middle of heated conversations about race and policing, are processing everything that happened.”
- Code Switch – Go ahead and subscribe to this podcast as well. “Ever find yourself in a conversation about race and identity where you just get…stuck? Code Switch can help. We’re all journalists of color, and this isn’t just the work we do. It’s the lives we lead. Sometimes, we’ll make you laugh. Other times, you’ll get uncomfortable. But we’ll always be unflinchingly honest and empathetic.”
- Object Anyway – This is an incredibly important episode of More Perfect (from Radiolab) about “the Supreme Court ruling that was supposed to prevent race-based jury selection, but may have only made the problem worse.”
- Snowball In Summer – This episode of MTV’s The Stakes aired after the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The entire show is good, but the intro is the most powerful.
- Just Mercy – This episode of Criminal is an interview with Bryan Stevenson, who has “spent the last 30 years working to get people off of death row, but has also spent the final hours with men he could not save from execution. He argues that each of us is deserving of mercy.”
- Bryan Stevenson Wants Equal Justice – Another great interview with Bryan Stevenson on Alec Baldwin’s podcast, Here’s the Thing.
- Talking about Race in the Classroom – The audio quality is disappointing, but the content is valuable. This episode of The Cult of Pedagogy was recorded after the decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Mike Brown.
- Black Girls and Schools: We Can Do Better – A discussion on The Cult of Pedagogy with Monique W. Morris, the author of Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools. “If you work with students of color, and especially if your student population includes Black girls, you should consider this book to be required reading.”***
- Phoebe Robinson on Interracial Eating – Here’s a privilege I’ve never thought much about – being able to eat whatever I want, in front of whomever I want, without thinking about it. Phoebe talks about what she just will not eat in front of white people.
- Who Is This Restaurant For? – A special series of the Sporkful on race, culture and food.
FILM. So you’re intimidated by books and podcasts. I get it. They…Actually no, I don’t. But here are some visual sources of information.
- 13th – “Filmmaker Ava DuVernay explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on the fact that the nation’s prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans.” I appreciate the way it combines what I could read about in many of the books above in one film. If you don’t have time to watch it right away (because you definitely should watch it at some point), my friend Nancy’s post does a great job laying out the main points.
- OJ: Made in America – “It is the defining cultural tale of modern America – a saga of race, celebrity, media, violence, and the criminal justice system.” Not only is this mini-series fascinating because of OJ’s celebrity, but it shows the racial context that set the scene for OJ to be acquitted and for it to matter to so many black Americans.
- Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise – “Henry Louis Gates, Jr travels from the victories of the civil rights movement up to today, asking profound questions about the state of black America—and our nation as a whole.”
Lastly, if you’re interested in articles or websites, I’ve got a few of those for you too.
- How White People Can Support People Of Color Now (h/t Another Round newsletter)
- White Accomplices – I haven’t finished going through the entire site, but it appears to have a lot of good stuff
- Syllabus for White People to Educate Themselves (this one has some overlap with the resources I’ve listed here)
- The Complete White Privilege Series – you could probably just read Nancy’s blog and skip mine, but that would just hurt my feelings
So now you have zero excuses. I’ve provided all kinds of resources in multiple formats. Go forth and learn. And share your knowledge. And make the world a better place.
*ig·no·ra·mus: iɡnəˈrāməs,ˌiɡnəˈraməs/ noun 1. an ignorant or stupid person.
**Any descriptions of books that are in quotation marks have been taken from Amazon or Goodreads because they said it better than I could.
***See? Here’s a perfect example of a book I have on my list to read. Another notable example is The New Jim Crow.