6 books on civil rights and race issues in America

A few books that I checked out in the past few months related to civil rights and race issues in America from various perspectives.

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King

I thought I knew about Thurgood Marshall, but I didn’t REALLY know about Thurgood Marshall. Devil in the Grove goes in depth into Marshall’s life as a director of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund while living in Harlem. He takes on the Groveland Four case about four African-American boys accused of raping a white woman in Lake County, Florida. This was Marshall’s last big case before Brown vs. Board of Education and the book details the story of the four boys and the unfortunate series of events that unfolds. After Norma Padgett accuses them of rape, Lake County residents go on a witch hunt led by the Klu Klux Klan’s mob rioting of the black neighborhoods. King describes in detail, the town sheriff, Willis McCall’s vendetta against the boys and the legal system that gave the accused boys no chance in the court of law. The story describes how racism in a community context, corruption, and societal discrimination was so prevalent in the U.S. during the 1940’s and 1950’s. This was one of my favorite books in 2016.

Get the book: http://amzn.to/2nq78Xi

We Gon’ Be Alright by Jeff Chang

I’ve been a fan of Jeff Chang since his book, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, detailing the history and beginnings of hip-hop. We Gon’ Be Alright is a collection of essays that reflects upon the racial tension of America with case studies on Donald Trump, Ferguson and Michael Brown, the birth of the #blacklivesmatter movement, Beyonce’s Lemonade, and mainstream media’s role in race. Chang argues for the how inequality and segregation impact us all: “Injustices faced by African Americans make possible the conditions that leave all of us less safe, more divided, more unequal.” He ends the book with his own experience as an Asian American and conveys to everyone the need to step up the fight for justice, not just for the few, but for everyone.

A few stats that stuck with me:

Chang’s research on the inequality of arts funding in the U.S. was pretty eye-opening:

  • The top 2% of arts organizations receive 55% of philanthropic grants.
  • 75% of organizations serving underrepresented populations have budgets of under $250,000.
  • Of every foundation dollar given in the U.S. only 11 cents goes to the arts, 5½ cents goes to arts organizations with budgets of more than $5 million dollars. One cent goes to art organizations serving underrepresented communities. Less than half a cent goes to organizations that produce work related to social justice.

Get the book: http://amzn.to/2mpuw6l

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

I could not stop thinking about the amazing documentary The 13th (available on Netflix) while going through this book. The New Jim Crow explores in depth the American mass incarceration industry and its characteristics as a continuation of by tracing its roots to American slavery.

Some surprising and sad facts from the book:

  • Prison gerrymandering — the counting of imprisoned individuals in counties where the prisons are located. The reason for building prisons in rural white communities is to inflate the population count at the expense of urban, overwhelmingly minority prisoners who aren’t even allowed to vote.
  • Felony Voting Rights — only two states allow felons to vote: Vermont and Maine. Florida, Iowa and Virginia, felons AND ex-felons lose their right to vote permanently. About 600,000 felons who weren’t allowed to vote in Florida’ 2000 Presidential election could have flipped that state.

If you want a better understanding of what systemic racism even is, this book is a good start.

Get the book: http://amzn.to/2mpx9Fo

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahesi Coates

This book is a sobering reality to the America we live in. Is it really going to be OK for a young black boy in the US? Is there always an optimistic side to racism present in our society? The book is actually a long letter from Ta-Nahesi Coates to his teenage son. It provides a reminder about the America’s present and ugly past. Sometimes it’s hard for us to remember that the racial divisions present in our communities has been a part of the American DNA since its founding and the effects are still present to this day. Coates’ short book is a reminder that there is still plenty of work to be done on racial and economic inequality in America.

Get the book: http://amzn.to/2npWGzc

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Ok, this book was recommended by nearly every trendy tech blogger on the interwebs so I was intrigued to check it out. It’s a bit overrated and not as eye-opening and amazing as it was made out to be, but still a good read. J.D. Vance tells the story of his upbringing from rural Ohio and Kentucky roots to graduating Yale Law School and his personal journey through the road of social mobility in today’s America. I also checked out his Ohio home on Google Street View to get a better idea of what his neighborhood looked like.

Get the book: http://amzn.to/2nq1697

Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority (Politics and Society in Modern America) by Ellen Wu

Ellen Wu argues that the acceptance of Asian Americans in U.S. society was partly an excuse for the white supremacy to show that minorities are able to gain upward mobility. This was a pretty dry book, but very informative. One of my favorite stories from the book involves Japanese American Zoot Suiters who loved to party, listen to jazz, drink, and do the jitterbug. You can check out Wu’s story about them here.

Get the book: http://amzn.to/2nqalq6