5 Books to Educate Yourself on Racism

Racism is a problem in America.

Events of the past several weeks, including the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers and the killing of Ahmaud Arbery by white civilians, have laid bare several of the underlying flaws in the U.S. justice system.

But these problems are far from new. From the killings of countless Black victims by police officers, to the mass incarceration of Black people, racism is an issue with deep roots in the American political infrastructure.

I have been a beneficiary of white privilege my entire life. I can’t begin to imagine how it feels to be denied advantages—let alone targeted and killed—because of the color of my skin. But that by no means precludes me from taking part in a conversation about systemic racism.

Education is an essential first step in order to understand the difficulties BIPOC have faced throughout U.S. history. It can offer tangible ways we can take part in the fight to end racism. And fortunately, there are countless resources for anyone to educate themselves.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

This book serves as a primer on several race-related topics. It tackles history and modernity both with a healthy level of detail, touching on a number of different issues. For a general discussion on the history of racism in the United States, this book is an important resource to start the conversation.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

One of the most pressing issues related to race is mass incarceration. There are numerous books on the subject, but Alexander’s is one of the most well-known—and for good reason. She clearly but penetratingly outlines the many causes and effects of the U.S. criminal justice system’s mistreatment of Black people. And leaves the door open for difficult but necessary conversations about change.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Too often the story of slavery in America is reduced to simple—albeit horrific—numbers and statistics. Morrison’s famous novel brings the realities of slavery and its legacy much closer to home through beautiful prose. Though the powerful characters she creates are fictional, their ability to make human the atrocities of slavery is heart-wrenchingly real.

Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans
by Ronald Takaki

The history of Asian Americans is not one to be forgotten in a conversation about racism in the United States. As the title suggests, Takaki’s book provides an informative introduction to the lives of, and racism experienced by Asian Americans—importantly, through first-person testimony and anecdotes alongside history and statistics.

The Dark Side: Immigrants, Racism and the American Way
by Young Park

Finally, it is important to understand that the United States is and has been from its inception a nation of immigrants. Unfortunately, non-English speaking immigrants remain one of the most targeted groups in the country. But their history is robust and worthy of study. Park’s book offers a thorough look at the importance and suffering of American immigrants.

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This list is by no means comprehensive. I am by no means an authority on the subject. The goal of this list is to provide resources that will help educate, address, and discuss racism in the United States. Racism cannot be solved through knowledge alone, but knowledge is an important first step to take.

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