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.

Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging by Afua Hirsch (2018)

What does it mean to be British? That's the question Afua Hirsch seeks to answer in her book Brit(ish), which is part memoir and part investigation into Britain's relationship with race. Hirsch looks at how Britain is in denial about its imperial past, and how this denial feeds into the racism that plagues our present. Once you've read this, you'll never ask someone where they're really from again.

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

How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (2019)

One of America's preeminent writers on civil rights, Professor Ibram X. Kendi's 2019 book outlines his philosophy of being antiracist and explains why we need to rethink the vocabulary we use to discuss race.

Full of precise argument, fascinating history and moving personal reflections, it's an indispensable guide to a new way of thinking and acting on the topic of racism today.

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

Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala (2018)

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.

Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (2017)

"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.

Citizen by Claudia Rankine (2014)

Claudia Rankine's moving collection of prose poems examines the experience of race and racism in Western society. Through looking at everyday discrimination and prejudice, as well as physical and linguistic violence that has impacted the lives of people including Serena Williams and Mark Duggan, Rankine's book is a testament to just how big the problem of racism is in our supposedly post-racial society.

White Fragility: Why it's so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (2018)

One of the few people writing at length about racism who is white, Robin DiAngelo explores the reasons white people – even left-leaning, well-meaning ones – are so averse to interrogating, and even seeing, their privilege. Now more than ever, white people need to confront the insidious reality that racism is not simply "discrete acts committed by individual people" but "a complex, interconnected system" often unknowingly upheld by people who would never think of themselves as racist, which affects nearly every aspect of our social, economic and political life. Only once this is understood and acted upon, Diangelo argues, can real change be effected.

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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