A reading list in the wake of the killing of George Floyd
Books to spur your antiracist learning, and your family’s.
Yesterday, a member of the Minneapolis Police Department kneeled on George Floyd’s neck until he choked to death while three officers stood by. The pattern that followed — and yes, it is a pattern — is familiar. A protest planned via social media. Twitter and Instagram posts about racism and social justice. A public gathering that began as peaceful, this time with masks and social distancing in play, and ended with rubber bullets, tear gas, a ransacked police department, and a stand-off between cops and rioters involving a makeshift barricade made of shopping carts in a Target parking lot.
To my white friends and community members: we speak words like sickened, devastated, shocked. We voice our confusion and raise questions. If now is the time that you’re asking why and how, looking to learn more, or questioning the rage of those in the Minneapolis streets, consider listening to what’s already been said. My learning is far from over, but I invite you to join me in seeking knowledge, understanding, and guidance.
Try one of these:
Waking Up White (Debby Irving): A little bit “racism for beginners,” this book takes on a narrative form and walks through systemic racism and how it benefits the white author in a clear, accessible manner.
Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates): Coates attempts to answer the questions of racism in a letter to his son. He takes the biggest concerns of racist American history and frames them through personal stories of his racial awakening.
White Fragility (Robin Diangelo): Robin Diangelo explains that racial segregation is set up to protect white people from the discomfort experienced when presented with inequity and challenges to white norms. If you identify as progressive or liberal, this is for you. Diangelo spells out how white progressives are responsible for the perpetuation of inequity.
The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander): Alexander explains how the United States criminal justice system functions as a system of racial control. By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and other movements that have decimated communities of color, millions of people are permanently relegated to second-class status by a system that formally follows principles of colorblindness.
The Color of Law (Richard Rothstein): Rothstein methodically analyzes laws that have maintained and further facilitated racial segregation and inequity.
Evicted (Matthew Desmond): Based on years of fieldwork, this book follows eight families in Milwaukee and illustrates how our housing system perpetuates economic exploitation that disproportionately impacts communities of color.
Homeward (Bruce Western): Western depicts life upon prison release as former prisoners attempt to reenter society by describing the lives of the formerly incarcerated and demonstrating how poverty, racial inequity, and lack of social support lead to cycles of vulnerability.
Thick: And Other Essays (Tressie McMillan Cottom): Eight essays that blend the personal with political and turn narrative stories into analyses of whiteness, black misogyny, beauty culture, and status-signaling as a means of survival for black women.
Eloquent Rage (Brittney Cooper): Cooper answers the question, “So what if it’s true that Black women are angry,” spells out why Black women have the right to be, and explains just why anger is a powerful source of energy.
If you want to read something with your teen:
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You (Jason Reynolds and Ibram Xendi): A teen-friendly spin on Ibram Xendi’s Stamped from the Beginning, this book explains how racism has been used to gain and keep power by revealing the history of racist ideas and inspiring anti-racist action and hope for the future.
The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas): A brilliant young adult novel about the aftermath of a Black teen boy’s death as a result of police violence.
All-American Boys (Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely): A side-by-side story of a racist act of police brutality told by the Black boy who was assaulted and the white boy who witnessed the act.
If you want to read something with your tween:
Ghost Boys (Jewell Parker Rhodes): Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot and killed by police for playing with a toy gun. Narrated by his ghost, the book draws connections through history to today in a way that makes sense to middle-grade children.
If you want to read something with your child:
Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness (Anastasia Higginbotham): Appropriate for elementary readers, this book invites white children and parents to become curious about racism, accept that it’s real, and look toward the future to cultivate justice.
Consider any book about children of color. This goes for children of color and white children alike. Look at your child’s book collection. Do the books on their shelves represent racial diversity and teach them that the stories of children of color are important and worth listening to? If the number of books in your home about children of color lies in the single digits, change that. Google “book lists about children of color,” and you’ll find many. Books about history, books about the beauty of skin diversity, books about relatable characters, and stories that happen to have a main character of color. Ada Twist, Scientist. Last Stop on Market Street. The Day You Begin. A Different Pond: all good places to start.
The conversation about race in America isn’t new. As we ask why and what we can do, we must also listen to those who have already begun to answer our questions.