Reading lists

Nine books to help you understand race and dismantle racism

From Patrisse Cullors' book on the Black Lives Matter movement to Ibram X. Kendi's look at antiracism, these recently-published books are a good starting point for discussions about racism and prejudice.

A reading list of books to help you understand race and dismantle racism
Image: Mica Murphy/Penguin

"It's not for the black person to be more open-minded," wrote author Marlon James in a 2016 essay. "It's for the white person to be less racist."

James' assertion could not feel more relevant, as the US deals with a series of protests following the death of a black man, George Floyd, while in police custody. The protests have brought discussions about racism and the ways in which it manifests on individual and systemic levels to the forefront. 

Those discussions may be uncomfortable, particularly for white people, but they're essential. Here, for anyone serious about dismantling racism and racist structures, are nine books to help you understand more about racism, the Black Lives Matter movement, and antiracism.

Listen to an extract from Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch

Listen to an extract from How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Anyone who has seen Akala talk on the topic of race – particularly Britain's colonial past – will know him as one of the UK's most compelling public intellectuals. Drawing on lesser-known facts from history, art and science, his celebrated 2018 autobiography proves he's just as invigorating on the page as he is on the stage.

"It doesn't matter what it is, as long as you're doing something." Reni Eddo-Lodge makes a vital and compelling argument in her best-selling debut, pointing out both the depth and danger of structural racism in Britain and the urgent need to address it. In Why I'm No Longer Talking, Eddo-Lodge deftly shines a light on oft-overlooked Black British history as well as the manifold ways that Black Britons are disadvantaged by structural racism and the far-reaching ignorance of white privilege. In doing so, she also demonstrates that we must all "chip away at [racism's] power", an act in which nobody can afford to stay silent.

Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad (2020)

Layla F Saad's Me and White Supremacy requires a little more from you than just reading. Saad argues that it's the job of all those who benefit from white supremacy to dismantle it, and we need to start with ourselves. Me and White Supremacy is split into sections, including tone policing, white fragility and optical allyship, with Saad explaining how these things contribute to the upholding of white supremacy. She then asks readers a series of questions to help us examine our own behaviours, forcing us to confront everything from the language we use to the ways in which we react in the face of racism, and how that contributes to white supremacy.

Listen to an extract from White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015)

"I write you in your 15th year," writes Ta-Nehisi Coates towards the beginning of Between the World and Me, which takes the form of a letter to his then 15-year-old son. "And you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body…" Coates' book is an attempt to understand race by looking at America's history, how what came before affects us now, and where we go from here. 

When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Cullors (2018)

Patrisse Cullors is one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, which she formed with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. The movement was a response to the systemic racism which has resulted in the deaths of so many African Americans. In her empowering memoir, which also serves as a rallying cry, Cullors – writing with award-winning author and journalist Asha Bandele – recounts how she became a founder of the movement.

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