Five Books to Read About Race

by Nicole Mattson

Like many people who have seen the video of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, you might be wondering what you can do to be actively anti-racist. You might show your support by protesting on the streets, by donating money to organizations who need it, or by donating supplies such as food and toiletries to those on the frontlines who are protesting. If you are unable to protest, or don’t feel safe leaving your house during the pandemic, an easy way that you can begin becoming anti-racist is by educating yourself. This is a key component of being anti-racist, and putting yourself in the shoes of black, indigenous, and people of color. When you acknowledge that racism exists and is harmful, as well as that everyone has an implicit bias of some sort, helps to promote change in your own community. To be anti-racist means that you recognize people’s differences and you actively seek to change past beliefs–it is more than just being sympathetic. One way you can educate yourself is through reading. Reading can shine a new light on your perspective of what has been happening–not only the past week or past decade–but the past couple hundred years in the United States. Listed below are five books to consider reading to help you better understand what marginalized people have been through.

  1. A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, edited by Sun Yung Shin (2016), is a collection of essays that explore the infamous “Minnesota Nice” and how a culture of passive-aggressiveness can hurt black, indigenous and people of color. Even if you don’t live in Minnesota, it is worth the read, since chances are, you have experienced passive-aggressiveness at one point in your life or in your community, or have been passive-aggressive.

Link to purchase: https://www.mnhs.org/mnhspress/books/good-time-truth

  1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) is a well-known young adult book that even older adults should read. It is about a black teenager, Starr Carter, who attends a white high school, who also experiences her friend getting shot. It garners perspective as to what it is like to grow up as a person of color in the United States in the modern era. It was even made into a film in 2018 starring Amandla Stenberg as Starr Carter.

Link to purchase the book: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062498533/the-hate-u-give/

Link to The Hate U Give film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MM8OkVT0hw

  1. Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? By Alicia Garza, Maya Schenwar, Joe Macaré, and Alana Yu-lan Price (2016) is another collection of essays about the history of police brutality in the United States, with its origins going back to slavery. It talks about the effect on families these killings have. It discusses the origins of the Black Lives Matter movement. It also mentions that the media is starting to focus on police violence this past decade. It questions why police exist and what their purpose is- do they just protect white people? 

Link to purchase: https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/941-who-do-you-serve-who-do-you-protect

*Free e-book download until June 5, 2020!

  1. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (2018), has a pretty straightforward title: why is it so hard for white people to talk about racism? Are they afraid to stand up to racist family members? How do we fix that? It dissects why racism exists through media representation, daily life, and more. It is important to have a conversation about race, and DiAngelo’s book will help with that by discussing racial justice.

Link to purchase: https://robindiangelo.com/publications/

  1. The Bluest Eye by award-winning author Toni Morrison (1970) is the oldest book listed here. It’s about Pecola Breedlove who is a young black girl in the Great Depression. Pecola thinks she isn’t pretty enough because she doesn’t have blue eyes, and thinks having blue eyes will make her life better. It does not help when people make fun of her too. Morrison’s fictional book discusses white beauty standards and how hurtful they are to society as a whole, and readers (especially white readers) will be able to gain a perspective on the effects of these standards. Although this story is fifty years old, it is still relevant to readers today.

Link to purchase: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/117662/the-bluest-eye-by-toni-morrison/

*Most of these books can also be checked out for free at your local library–or you can ask a friend to borrow their copy!

Of course, these are just a few books that can give you a different perspective. There are many more out there that you can explore. Some of my favorite black authors are Toni Morrison, who has written many books such as Sula, Beloved, and Song of Solomon, and James Baldwin, who wrote If Beale Street Could Talk and Sonny’s Blues. Reading books by black, indigenous, and people of color opens up a whole new perspective on racism and what they have gone through all these years, and by educating yourself through these pieces of literature can give you a foundation for standing up for others in your community.

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