Required reading if you’re trying to understand what it’s like to be Black in America
Writer’s Note: This post is being continuously updated. The latest update comes just after the release of footage of the fatal shooting of Terrence Crutcher.
Updated June 2018: OK, let’s be honest. I haven’t updated this in a long, long time. I ran out of emotional space to keep documenting the trauma. This list is a good place to start, but go read and for God’s sake, call people out on their racist mess in situations big and small. Don’t be a coward. If everyone did it…
As a Trinidadian immigrant, I’m sometimes hesitant to speak about issues in the U.S. because I’m not American and I didn’t grow up here. But in America, I am black, I have a mixed race daughter, and this has become our struggle.
I have had tearful conversations with dear friends and written painful letters to family about what that’s like. I have shared much of this publicly on how white journalists can respond, read everything I possibly could to get a fuller understanding of what has been happening and its impact on the Black community.
Understanding has been a journey for me, too. My notions of race were shaped growing up on a small Caribbean island where class took precedence over skin color; our legacy of slavery was born of Spanish and French Creole origins. My mother’s people were part of an influx of indentured laborers from India to Trinidad in the 1800s. As a by-the-bootstraps person who fought hard to make a life in another country as a minority, I’ve asked many questions of friends, of classmates at the HBCU I attended, to try to grasp what it truly means to be Black here, the wounds of slavery and the systems that still exist and conspire. I did not start off knowing and understanding, but it came. It came with being willing to listen, to ask, to educate myself, and now, to speak out.
So much has been said, far, far more eloquently than I could ever express.
Many of these I’ve shared on social media, but here’s a round up of some of the pieces I’ve found most impactful.
Please read. Please share with those who need to read them, too. Please share the stories that have impacted you in the comments and I’ll continue updating this list.
On the Black experience
- “Walking While Black”: A powerful essay by journalist Garnette Cadogan on otherness, on race, on home, on being a Caribbean immigrant in America and learning to navigate new, unwelcome spaces.
When we first learn to walk, the world around us threatens to crash into us. Every step is risky. We train ourselves to walk without crashing by being attentive to our movements, and extra-attentive to the world around us. As adults we walk without thinking, really. But as a black adult I am often returned to that moment in childhood when I’m just learning to walk. I am once again on high alert, vigilant. — Garnette Cadogan
- “Under our skin”: This incredibly well done Seattle Times project takes a different approach to conversations about race in an effort to probe the issues more candidly and deeply. (Added Sept. 2; h/t John Ketchum)
Discussions about race, inclusiveness and sensitivity clearly aren’t new. They can leave us feeling depleted and wondering whether anything has really changed. But we believe the personal reflections and stories from the people who participated in this project will inspire all of us to think and talk about these issues in a deeper way. For those who freeze up at the prospect of talking about race, we hope this project will help break the ice. For those who tend to take sides right away when the issue of race comes up, we hope Under Our Skin will challenge assumptions and build common ground. — From the “Under Our Skin” intro.
- “In the turmoil over race and policing, children pay a steep emotional price”: Yamiche Alcindor, The New York Times reporter covering national politics and social justice issues, explores the impact of the current debate over police treatment of African-Americans on children. It’s a piece all parents should read.
While adults around them protest and demand criminal justice reform, young witnesses of the carnage are reeling from their losses and harboring pent-up depression that often comes pouring out in panic attacks and breakdowns, relatives say. — Yamiche Alcindor
- “Mom asks what will happen when her toddler son become a ‘grown Black man”: In keeping with the impact on kids: Missouri mom Monica Johnson wrote a “powerful Facebook post that ignited conversation among parents after she questioned what will happen in the future when her toddler son grows up a black male, in wake of Alton Sterling’s death in Louisiana.” (Added Aug. 21)
Think about the human beings you are judging. Think about them being someone’s sweet baby, someone’s big brother, someone’s nephew or niece. This is not about just Police. This is about all of us and how we shape our opinions and views of the world and its people. Our children are watching. — Monica Johnson
- “The Grief That White Americans Can’t Share”: New York Times Magazine staff writer Nikole Hannah-Jones writes achingly about collective grief.
I needed to get to work, but the last thing I wanted to do was make small talk about inane things with people for whom this might be a tragedy, but an abstract one. To many white Americans, the killings of black men and women at the hands of the state, are individual incidents, each with a unique set of circumstances… But for black Americans like me, the killings of black men and women at the hands of the state with no justice to be had, is among the oldest and most familiar American stories. — Nikole Hannah-Jones
- “Black Health Matters”: New York Times Magazine staff writer Jenna Wortham writes about the physical manifestation of stress and the necessity of “making space to deal with the psychological toll of racism.” (Added Aug. 28, h/t Tamerra Griffin)
All the rage and mourning and angst works to exhaust you; it eats you alive with its relentlessness. These slayings obey no humane logic. They force you to reconcile your own helplessness in the face of such brutal injustice, and the terrifying reality that it could happen to you, or someone you hold dear. — Jenna Wortham
- “When black death goes viral, it can trigger PTSD-like trauma”: First published in July 2016, this piece by Kenya Downs in The Rundown was updated after footage of Terrence Crutcher’s shooting death at the hands of Tulsa police was released. (Added Sept. 20)
There’s a heightened sense of fear and anxiety when you feel like you can’t trust the people who’ve been put in charge to keep you safe. Instead, you see them killing people who look like you. Combined with the everyday instances of racism, like microaggressions and discrimination, that contributes to a sense of alienation and isolation. It’s race-based trauma. — Monnica Williams, clinical psychologist and director of the Center for Mental Health Disparities at the University of Louisville
- “Yes, Black America fears the police. Here’s why”: Nikole Hannah-Jones on why Blacks “cannot fundamentally trust the people who are charged with keeping us and our communities safe.”
Between the four adults, we hold six degrees. Three of us are journalists. And not one of us had thought to call the police. We had not even considered it.
We also are all black. And without realizing it, in that moment, each of us had made a set of calculations, an instantaneous weighing of the pros and cons. — Nikole Hannah-Jones
- “What minority students hear when white teachers mispronounce their names”: Clare McLaughlin writes in Quartz about the ancestral and historical significance of names for many minority and immigrant students, and the negation of their identity when those names are mispronounced. (Added Sept. 20)
All teachers need to reflect upon and interrogate their biases and any deficit thinking they may have. See the cultural wealth of students and families, and approach teaching and learning through the lens and culture of students and their communities. — Clare McLaughlin
- “People, please stop making my job so difficult”: This thread on /ProtectAndServe/ on Reddit lists a slew of complaints from the law enforcement community on the time-wasting complaints/reports made by white people on minorities. This first one was by a verified police officer. (Added Aug. 21)
So I’m working last week and get dispatched to a call of ‘Suspicious Activity.’ Ya’ll wanna know what the suspicious activity was? Someone walking around in the dark with a flashlight and crow bar? Nope. Someone walking into a bank with a full face mask on? Nope.
It was two black males who were jump starting a car at 930 in the morning. That was it. Nothing else. Someone called it in.
People. People. People. If you’re going to be a racist, stereotypical jerk…keep it to yourself. Don’t call the police and make them get involved into your douchebaggery. — User sf7
- “Affluent and Black, and still trapped by segregation”: A piece in the New York Times by John Eligon and Robert Gebeloff on a national phenomenon that challenges a popular assumption that segregation is more about class than race. (Added Aug. 21, h/t Anika Palm)
The choices that black families make today are inevitably constrained by a legacy of racism that prevented their ancestors from buying quality housing and then passing down wealth that might have allowed today’s generation to move into more stable communities. And even when black households try to cross color boundaries, they are not always met with open arms: Studies have shown that white people prefer to live in communities where there are fewer black people, regardless of their income.
The result: Nationally, black and white families of similar incomes still live in separate worlds. — John Eligon and Robert Gebeloff
- “Black intellectuals, white audiences: Searching for tales of authentic blackness”: Where does this belief in, and demand for, racially authentic explanations of black life come from? Matthew Clair writes for Public Books, part of the Guardian Books Network.
“The logic of racial authenticity,” Matlin writes, “stipulates both that black intellectuals have a particular responsibility to represent, in both senses of that word, ‘their’ people, and that, as racial insiders, they are uniquely capable of doing so.” — Matthew Clair
- “Racism’s psychological toll”: Jenna Wortham does an insightful Q&A with Monnica Williams, a psychologist, professor and the director of the University of Louisville’s Center for Mental Health Disparities, on the real mental impact of facing racism, obvious and not.
- “Don’t Believe the Hype on Milwaukee: It’s Never “Just a Riot”: NYU Journalism MA student Aaron Ross Coleman writes about the history and cause of riots. (Added Aug. 15, h/t Heather Naan)
Looking back over the last 50 years of the black freedom struggle, it becomes clear: black people don’t riot without reason. They mediate, they lobby, they protest, and they plead. They make their case however they know how. But after trying all that, when things still don’t change, sometimes tensions spill over. Even the most peaceful among us can understand this. After all, it was Martin Luther King Jr. himself who said it best: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” — Aaron Ross Coleman
- “Social media conversations about race”: A new analysis by the Pew Research Center finds there are significant differences in how black and white social media users see, share and discuss race and explores the rise of hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter. (added Aug. 17, h/t Sarah Glover)
Black social media users (68%) are roughly twice as likely as whites (35%) to say that at least some of the posts they see on social networking sites are about race or race relations… roughly two-thirds (67%) of whites who use social media say that none of things they post or share pertain to race. — Pew Finding
On White Fragility & Discomfort
- “I, Racist”: This is a phenomenal piece by John Metta, delivered to an all-White audience at the Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, on white fragility and the difficulty of talking to white people about race. Even progressive, liberal whites who recognize racism and are very much against the systems that reinforce it are still not always open to acknowledging their own missteps or exploring personal unconscious prejudices.
White people and Black people are not having a discussion about race. Black people, thinking as a group, are talking about living in a racist system. White people, thinking as individuals, refuse to talk about “I, racist” and instead protect their own individual and personal goodness. But arguing about personal non-racism is missing the point. — John Metta
- “Why I’m racist”: An incredibly honest essay by Jeff Cook. (Added Aug. 14)
Until I can acknowledge that I feel more uncomfortable talking about racial inequality than people who have been forced to deal with it every single day of their lives, I will never be able to get over myself enough to be a part of the solution. And if I’m not a part of the solution, I’m a part of the problem. — Jeff Cook
- “The sugarcoated language of white fragility”: Huffington Post contributor Anna Kegler, who is white, wrote a comprehensive piece on the emotion and psychology behind white fragility, and the carefully crafted words we use to describe it and minimize hurt feelings. Undoubtedly one of the better pieces I’ve read on good/bad racial binaries and how they hinder productive, honest conversation. (Added Aug. 28)
When we learn that “racists are bad people”, we automatically put ourselves into the opposite category: non-racists who are well-meaning, good people. Here’s how it organizes our world view:
This good/bad binary is designed to prevent conversations. It keeps us focused on racism as an individual problem that “bad” people have, as opposed to a system of social control that implicates us. And it sets in place a hair trigger by which we experience any challenge to our racial worldview as a challenge to very our identities as good, moral people. Our lizard brains cannot handle contradictions to our goodness as people.
The truth is that “good” White people do and say racist things all the time… They dress up as stereotyped members of other cultures for Halloween, and argue the Redskins name is tradition. They say things like “I don’t even see color” and “All Lives Matter.”
Because these racist things don’t rise to the level of overt malice, they don’t trigger the good/bad binary. We can fall back on “good intentions” or “well-meaning” and presto: we’ve killed all potential for productive conversations about racism, and we’ve given ourselves permission to keep doing and saying a wide range of racist things without feeling bad about it. — Anna Kegler
- “When Whites just don’t get it”: This six-part series by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof was written in response to “the skepticism and eye-rolling” he dealt with from whites after he wrote a column in the wake of Michael Brown’s fatal shooting. That column (“Is everyone a little bit racist?”) looked at widespread racism and stereotyping that young black men face by everyone — even other African-Americans. Kristof’s series cites reliable statistics, tackles specific criticisms head on, examines injustice and the complications of the larger issues. I highly encourage you to read them all. (added Aug. 15, h/t Sandy M Bushberg)
Research in the last couple of decades suggests that the problem is not so much overt racists. Rather, the larger problem is a broad swath of people who consider themselves enlightened, who intellectually believe in racial equality, who deplore discrimination, yet who harbor unconscious attitudes that result in discriminatory policies and behavior. — Kristof in “Is everyone a little bit racist?”
- “Why it’s so hard to talk to white people about racism”: Dr. Robin DiAngelo has spent years studying what it means to be white in a society that proclaims race meaningless, yet is deeply divided by race. This is what she has learned. (added Aug. 16)
If we are against racism and unaware of committing racist acts, we can’t be racist; racism and being a good person have become mutually exclusive. But this definition does little to explain how racial hierarchies are consistently reproduced. — Dr. Robin DiAngelo
- “It’s time to call out ‘nice racists’ and their white fragility”: This piece by Huffington Post Black Voices contributor Christy DeGallerie is pretty much Everything. (Added 9/20)
We’ve been conditioned to think that racism and being a nice person can’t go hand and hand. We have to start realizing that racism is built in this society, it’s a dangerous and violent system that oppresses people of color in more ways than just a white supremacist group. You don’t have to wear a white hood and hate black people to play into stereotypes and racist undertones. — Christy DeGallerie
- “What a Black woman wishes her white adoptive parents knew”: BuzzFeed contributor Mariama Lockington writes about what it was like to be raised by white parents and how hurtful their silence can be.
I have often felt unseen in your home, your home in which I was in many ways expected to live up to the myth of colorblindness. Your love alone does not protect me from the fact of my black skin. — Mariama Lockington
- “A flowchart for people who get defensive when talking about racism”: So accurate it’s eerie.
- This comment under this post on over-sensitivity and victimhood. It’s a good example of the deflection, dismissal and denial that Blacks deal with every day after speaking up. I’ve learned how to craft measured responses. Most times I don’t respond at all. Because thou shalt not argue on the internets. But I’m sure comments like this, some more articulate than others, will keep coming. Stay tuned. Tiring, isn’t it? (Added Aug. 14)
- “The real reason why white people say ‘All Lives Matter”: John Halstead’s piece in Huffington Post talks about colorblindedness, institutional racism and what whites can do.
The problem with being “colorblind” — aside from the fact that we’re not really — is that it is really a white privilege to be able to ignore race. White people like me have the luxury of not paying attention to race — white or black… Black people, on the other hand, don’t have the luxury of being “colorblind.” — John Halstead
- “Something more is required of us now. What?”: Acclaimed civil rights attorney and author Michelle Alexander writes about the struggles of the past, the now and knowing what to do next in the face of it all.
… truly transformative change depends more on thoughtful creation of new ways of being than reflexive reactions to the old. What is happening now is very, very old. We have some habits of responding to this familiar pain and trauma that are not serving us well. In many respects it’s amazing that we endure at all. — Michelle Alexander
- “How to combat implicit bias”: This piece in The Undefeated details Project Implicit and ways to mitigate the effects of implicit racial biases. Project Implicit is an organization of academic researchers that developed tests to measure different unconscious biases —including race. (Added Aug. 17)
Race (‘Black — White’ IAT). This IAT requires the ability to distinguish faces of European and African origin. It indicates that most Americans have an automatic preference for white over black. DO YOU? TAKE THE TEST
- “Preserving my children’s innocence is an act of preserving White supremacy”: Shannon Gaggero, a white writer and mom, talks about how she discusses race with her young kids. (Added Sept. 20)
I want my children to explore, play and enjoy the world around them. I also want them to understand that injustice exists. If I am unwilling to unveil how systems of oppression work, I’m playing into the notion that my children’s innocence is more fragile and more important than other children who do not have the option to have their innocence preserved. White supremacy lives on through this choice. — Shannon Gaggero
- “My White Boss Talked About Race in America and This is What Happened”: Mandela Schumacher-Hodge, founder of The Startup Couch and portfolio services director at Kapor Capital, writes about the first time her white boss initiated a conversation about racial injustice in America. Schumacher-Hodg also offers tips on what white colleagues can do to be more empathetic colleagues.
The fact that a White colleague in a work setting made it a point to make a point about racial injustice in America and acknowledge the Black community’s pain, hurt, and anger over it…the fact that she didn’t just act like today was “business as usual” — that meant more to me than any free lunches, office perks, or holiday bonuses ever could. — Mandela Schumacher-Hodge
- “Dear White friends, ‘not being racist’ isn’t enough”: Alexa Sykes pens a heartfelt letter on her blog, Black Professional Magic, about being actively anti-racist. (Added Sept. 20)
Start reading, reflecting, and analyzing the racist systems that benefit you so you can identify injustice and speak out against it. Start acknowledging that racism is your battle to fight, as you interact with it more than any other racial group in our country by benefiting from it in every way, everyday. — Alexa Sykes
- “I Wrote to My Local Police Precinct About Police Brutality Against the Black Community. This is What Happened.”: Dese’Rae L. Stage, a photographer, writer, and suicide awareness activist, is a vocal advocate for civil rights. I had the joy of connecting with her at Thread at Yale in April. Des published her correspondence with the Philadelphia Police Department on Medium. If you’re taking action, she’s your shero.
I am writing today because the lives of black members of my community matter to me, and I want to know that my taxes are going to pay the salaries of police officers and public officials who also believe that black people’s lives have value. I want to know that racist policing practices are not going to be tolerated in my community, that police officers are and will continue to be properly trained, and I need to know that in the event that a police officer unjustly kills a black member of my community, that officer will be brought to justice. — Dese’Rae L. Stage
- “The Cohort: How can I help? Advice for white journalists”: Katie Hawkins-Gaar, digital innovation faculty at Poynter, reached out to black colleagues for their take and dedicated an issue of her regular newsletter to exploring through the eyes of others what can be done. Thoughtful insight from allDigitocracy founder Tracie Powell and WCPO’s Tasha Stewart. Full disclosure: I’m also included in this piece.
What I need White allies to understand is that this violence isn’t just happening to “Black people.” This is happening to ALL of us. This isn’t just a Ferguson thing. It’s not just a suburb in Minnesota thing. This isn’t just a Cleveland or Baltimore thing. Martin Luther King said an “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” So please know this is ALL of our problem, not just something that happens to “those people.” Your son may not be Black like my nephew, but today they come for me; tomorrow it very well may be you. — Tracie Powell
- “How Nextdoor reduced racist posts by 75%”: After Fusion did a story on how Nextdoor, a social network for neighbors, had become a home for racial profiling, the site made changes to its interface to discourage users from reporting people as “suspicious” seemingly based primarily on the color of their skin. (Added Aug. 28, h/t Michelle Ferrier)
All users who make posts to their neighborhood’s “Crime and Safety” forum are now asked for additional information if their post mentions race… Nextdoor is far from the only online platform struggling to deal with its users’ racial bias; other companies could learn from its experience — if the changes really do work. —Fusion’s Kashmir Hill
- “Why You Should Praise Less, Sleep More, And Tell One Key Lie To Raise Well-Adjusted Kids”: See No. 3 on this list. How we raise our kids has a huge impact on the future world and notions of race. Don’t assume because you’re progressive or consider yourself *colorblind* that that you’re exempt from having difficult conversations about race with your kids. (Added Aug. 21)
Maybe it’s good intentions. Maybe it’s discomfort. But Caucasian parents (especially socially progressive ones) generally don’t talk about race with their young children beyond vague, happy platitudes about being the same on the inside. Because kids are “prone to in-group favoritism,” without any real talk about race, this striving to be “color-blind” can actually lead to white supremacist attitudes among white toddlers.
- There’s a lot you can read to your kids to help them understand the very real challenges that their friends and classmates of color face. Here are a handful of articles with book and conversation suggestions (added Aug. 28):
- 10 Children’s Books That Help White Kids Understand What Children Of Color Are Up Against
- “That’s Not Fair!” — Teaching Young Children About Race And Racism, Respect And Diversity (includes a list of picture books kids can read)
- Picture books that teach kids how to combat racism
- Picture books featuring children of color being themselves. Because that’s enough. (h/t Mel Kramer)
- “So, what are you going to do about it?”: From BuzzFeed’s Stacy-Marie Ishmael’s #awesomewomen newsletter, which you can sign up for here: “If you have the money, fund the causes. If you have the time, fill the needs. If you have the skills, fix the problems. We don’t get to do nothing and then say we tried.”
What have you read that has impacted you? Please share in the comments or tweet me @KariWrites. I’ll continue updating this list, so be sure to bookmark.
You can also find a version of this post on The Huffington Post.