All the books below are written by black authors and are such an amazing resource of information, insight, and empathy. They’ve helped me understand the history of racism, how to be anti-racist, as well as racism in its everyday form (both conscious and unconscious). I can honestly say these books have opened up my eyes so much these past few years - move than any news could - and have completely changed my entire perspective about our world and race.
It was actually my interest in feminist books that lead me to reading anti-racist books, as after I read about the post-Trump election, international women’s day march, I read again and again how women of colour and black women felt oppressed and pushed aside by white women. I knew from then on I was not going to be a feminist who only supported white women, I wanted and had to be a feminist who supported every kind of women: women of different colours, religions, trans, queer, gay, disabled, as well as accepting the fact that as a white woman I still hold sway over black men and men of colour - and in order to do that and become that feminist, I needed to educate myself, and that is when I started to read books about race and anti-racist too (as well as intersectional feminist books).
(Note: For those who struggle to read due to an illness such as M.E, I have added how many pages each book contains and I have rated all the books on how hard they are to read – from “Easy”, to “Moderate”, to “Hard”. The ones which I have labeled “Easy” are generally the shorter books that are concise and to the point, while those I have labeled “hard” are the longer books with often some research in them. If you do not suffer from ill health or have no problems reading, you can ignore this! This is simply for those who struggle to read so they can know which books are easiest.)
*Please also note that some of my reviews of the books use extracts and sentences from the book's synopsis on Goodreads*
I read this book a few years ago and even today, I still cannot stop thinking about it. This is one of the best and most eye-opening books I have ever read. Bryan Stevenson and everyone at EJI are incredible for everything they have done and are still doing. If you haven't read this book, you really must try and read it. There are many heartbreaking moments, haunting tales, and very saddening stories. But there are also some very inspiring, positive and powerful accounts. This is a book I will never forget. This book has also now been turned into a film which my parents saw in the cinema and said it was brilliant, I am still waiting for it to become available to me but I cannot wait to watch it when it does. So again, as this is quite a hard read, if you are unable to read it, maybe try the film version instead. (Pages – 336. Reading difficulty – Hard.)
This book is written from one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter Movement. While this book isn’t about how that movement came about, it is about Patrisse’s story as a queer, black women, and the threats and sheer racism she has faced every single day of her life. This book was heart-breaking, and one of the biggest wake up calls to change the culture that declares innocent black lives expendable. (Pages – 263. Reading difficulty – Moderate.) *Available as audiobook
3. “Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge
This book is everything. It opens your eyes up as a white person and makes you realise exactly what the titles means. Racism is everywhere and it is every day, and just because you aren’t racist or consider yourself anti-racist, doesn’t mean you aren’t still racist subconsciously. This book explores racism in the UK and what it means to be a person of colour in Britain today. It was this book that made me realise how little black and people of colour are represented in the media, and it was this book that lead me to counting the white vs coloured people on my screen, in books, on social media, which is something I now do automatically without thinking. And just like how it is not my job to educate people on my illness, this book explains it is not black people’s job to educate others on race and racism. (Pages – 249. Reading difficulty – Moderate.) *Available as audiobook
4. “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones
This was an interesting book to include in this list as in so many ways it didn’t focus explicitly on race at all, but in so many other ways this book was completely about race. It is a fiction book about two newlyweds whose lives get ripped apart when Roy (the main male, black character), gets sent to jail for a crime he did not commit. It focuses on their marriage dynamics and how they both cope with Roy in jail and his wife, Celestial, in the real world. But this is why it is completely about race: Roy would not be sat in jail if he was not black, and their marriage would not have been torn apart if the Justice System in America was not racist. (Pages – 321. Reading difficulty – Easy.) *Available as audiobook
5. “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colourblindness” by Michelle Alexander
Jim Crow was the name of the racial caste system which operated primarily, but not exclusively in southern and border states, between 1877 and the mid-1960s. Jim Crow was more than a series of rigid anti-black laws - it was a way of life. This book explores how despite the Jim Crow system being abolished legally, it is still here, now, in every day and way, but manifesting itself in different forms - forms which mean it is now easier to cover up racism, despite the fact it is just as serious an issue now as it was then when the Jim Crow system was around.
This book explores mass incarceration as a racial system, creating a racial undercast - most particularly with the focus on young black men who are being locked up by the masses. It explores how the "war on drugs" is a racist system, with facts and figures that will make you rethink everything you know on drugs, prison, rehabilitation, and colorblindness. Most especially though, it will make you realise how much the war on drugs needs to change if we want to radicalize the institutional racism to make it anti-racist. And more than anything, we need to talk about the mass incarceration in the media and stop shying away from talking about the mass of black people being labeled criminals and subsequently barred from society and life. An absolutely brilliant and insightful book. (Pages – 336. Reading difficulty – Hard.) *Available as audiobook
6. “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas
Out of all these books in this list, this is definitely the easiest read - although still tough emotionally. The book is about 16-year-old Starr who moves between two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. This book is incredible because you get to see both worlds, both sides, all from Starr’s point of view, and it completely opens up your eyes. This book is also now a film which I cannot recommend more. In so many ways I found the film even more powerful and raw than the book, although I’d still recommend both. But if you struggle to read, then maybe watching the film version is better for you. (Pages – 464. Reading difficulty – Easy.) *Available as audiobook
7. “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
The Color Purple is a beautiful and moving fictional book about a young black women called Celie living in deep South America in the first half of the 20th century, following her life over 20 years. She is born into poverty and segregation, raped by the man she calls her father, has two of her children taken away from her and is trapped into an ugly marriage. This book is heart-breaking, traumatising, but also a story of transformation as Celie discovers her own joy and power. This book covers so many themes from sexuality to feminism, oppression, and racism. It is so powerful and it’s not a surprise it’s considered a classic. (Pages – 262. Reading difficulty – Moderate.) *trigger warning: rape and abuse *Available as audiobook
8. “Between The World And Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ attempt to answer the questions: What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can America reckon with its fraught racial history? Presented in the form of a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son - and readers - the story of his own awakening to the truth about history and race through a series of revelatory experiences. These stories map a winding path towards a kind of liberation - a journey from fear and confusion, to a full and honest understanding of the world as it is. It is comprehensively quite a hard read as it is written in essay style, but it is shorter than a lot of the other books on this list. (Pages – 152. Reading difficulty – Hard.) *Available as audiobook
9. “How To Be Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi
I had a conversation with someone a few years ago about who should be the next James Bond. I remember passionately arguing it was long overdue to either have a black man, or a man of colour, as the new James Bond, and the other person was saying, yes I agree with that, but no, they shouldn’t just pick a black man or a man of colour, they should simply choose whoever is best (even if that person ends up being white). That conversation stuck with me to this day as I always knew something about what that person said didn’t sit right with me, but I never had any ideas or evidence to back up what I said - why you should purposely choose a black man or man of colour over a white man. Years later, reading this book, I finally understand why - “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination…you do not take a person who for years has been hobbled by chains, bring him up to the starting line of the race, and then say “you are free to compete with all the others”, and believe that you have been justly fair. In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently.”
This is undoubtedly one of my favourite books on this list and one of the more “must-reads”. It completely changes the way you look at things and just makes you understand how to be antiracist so so much better, and makes everything much clearer as well. Again and again, I think we are all waking up to the fact it’s not enough to be “not racist”, we can only combat racism by being anti-racist, and nor is being anti-racist a permanent state; it is something you need to work on 24/7. This book is also one of the easier reads on this list, so do try to read it if you can. (Pages – 234. Reading difficulty – Moderate.) *Available as audiobook
10. “I Know Why The Cage Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou
I will start off by saying that the style of writing in this book wasn’t my favourite, but I know I’m an anomaly rather than the norm, and this book and everything Maya Angelou is and represents must be included in this list. In this first volume of her autobiography, Maya Angelou beautifully evokes her childhood with her grandmother in the American South of the 1930s. She learns the power of the white folks at the other end of town and suffers the terrible trauma of rape by her mother's lover. The ugly racism, Jim Crow years, and segregation is poignant in this book and is truly telling to what black people, even more so women, went through in the 1930s and that era. Maya Angelou is one amazing woman, so if you’re going to read this, read it for her. (Pages – 309. Reading difficulty – Moderate.) *trigger warning: rape and abuse *Available as audiobook
I’m currently listening to the audiobook of “Stamped From The Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” by Ibram X. Kendi, but as I haven’t finished it yet I haven’t included it in this list, although I already know it’s an easy 5-star rating, and I highly recommend it. But it is a longer read (20 hours of audio), which is why I chose to listen to it instead as even for me that's quite hard.
I’ve still got so many anti-racism books on my to-read list which I am going to make an extra effort to get through in the next coming months to help educate myself further (although of course, I’m aware it’s a never-ending road). The books I hope to get my hands on soon include “Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations” by Mira Jacob, “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin, “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Race” by Robin DiAngelo, “So You Want To Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo, and “We Were Eight Years in Power” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I also have “Women, Race and Class” by Angela Y. Davis on reservation from my library which I’ll hopefully receive once they re-open! I also really want to watch “I Am Not Your Negro”, a documentary based on James Baldwin’s book mentioned above, but I want to read the book first before watching the documentary - but just thought I’d mentioned it here in case some people would find it easier to watch the documentary rather than read the book.
I was also tempted to include Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” book in this post, but I didn’t because I felt 1. it appears that pretty much everyone has already read it or is aware of it, and 2. the more black lives matter books I read, the more I am educated by the fact that the Obama’s are the absolute exception, not the rule. While having a black president in the white house was beyond incredible, it did and has left a lot of people complacent about the work we still all have to do and how far we still have to go.
I would also like to say that there are an absolute ton of incredible fiction books out there written by black men and women, which you can support simply by reading them. I recommend Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, one of my favourite authors, who writes breathtaking adult contemporary and historical novels, some of which are written and based in Nigeria, where she was born. Her book, “Americanah” is also a book primarily based around race which I hope to read very soon. If you’re looking for Young-Adult fantasy, I recommend “Children of Blood and Bone” by Tomi Adeyemi. If you’re reading historical-fiction, then I recommend “Homegoing” by Yan Gyasi. There are simply too many to name in this small space here, but if you are someone who only reads a few books a year, it is worthwhile making a conscious effort to make sure you are reading black authors and authors of colour, as their work needs to be supported too.
If you have any recommendations for me, please do let me know by leaving a comment below. You can also follow me on Goodreads where you can see all my book reviews and ratings, as well as explore my different shelves for the different types of book I read (I have a shelf on race, which I’ve challenged myself to match the numbers of that against my feminism shelf).
Metta, E xx