In 2015, the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South (RCWMS) began a reading group for white women to do our own work on learning about contemporary and historical racism in the US, and to challenge ourselves on the (often unconscious, but still deadly) ways that we embody racism and racist actions against our sisters and brothers of African descent. The following resources have been discussed by the group.
Chimamanda Adiche, Americanah, 2013
A novel about coming to America from Nigeria and grappling with the meaning of blackness in a completely new context. Ifemelu, the main character, becomes an academic and blogger. Blog posts, included in the novel, paint a blistering critique of race in the U.S.
Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, 2010
Mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow. The book makes a strong case for the centrality of mass incarceration in contemporary American racial dynamics. Laying the groundwork for her argument, Alexander cogently traces the history of how America polices its Black residents, and, later, citizens.
James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, 1963
Written in the form of two letters, the first to his nephew on the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the book traces Baldwin’s childhood in Harlem and documents the consequences of racial injustice in America. The New York Times Book Review described it as a “sermon, ultimatum, confession, deposition, testament, and chronicle.” It’s a must read.
Brit Bennett, The Vanishing Half, 2020
Compelling novel about twin sisters from a small town in Louisiana established for light-skinned Black people. Traces the sister’s stories, one of whom chooses to pass for white and one who marries a dark-skinned man, and the stories of their daughters.
Austin Channing Brown, I’m Still Here, 2018
Brown writes about growing up surrounded mostly by white people and what it felt like to discover her Black identity. She deftly illuminates what it’s like to be the only Black person in a white organization, and what it’s like to be a Black leader within Christian organizations.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, 2015
A must read. Inspired by Baldwin, Coates frames this book as a letter to his son, a letter about what it means to be a Black man in America today. He writes about his experiences growing up with activist parents, attending Howard University (the mecca), and in Paris. He powerfully describes the embodied experience of Blackness.
Tressie McMillan Cottom, Thick, 2019
Essays on blackness from a sociologist who blends personal reflection, theory, and humor into searing explorations of media, beauty, childbirth, body, and more. The book treats the personal, the social, and the political. Always engaging and provocative.
Scott Ellsworth, Death in a Promised Land, 1982
An account of the roots, events, and aftermath of the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 that wiped out the vibrant Black district of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Jennifer Harvey, Dear White Christians, 2014
Subtitled “For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation,” Harvey’s book carefully builds the case for why reconciliation cannot come before reparations. She details the work that churches, and other religious organizations, might do in order to bring about this transformation. Though dealing primarily with churches and Christian organizations, the work also illuminates the broader relationship between reconciliation and reparation.
Arlie Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land, 2016
What happens when a sociologist from Berkeley goes to live in southern Louisiana and deeply listens to the concerns of the white people who live there, people whose lives have been undermined by the pollution that permeates the region due to the predominance of the oil and gas industries? Hochschild illuminates how many of the people she meets feel that they have been cheated out of their place in line because of perceived favors given to Black people and other minorities.
Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist, 2019
Kendi weaves together his personal story with cogent analysis of the contours of racism and its history. He clearly marks the distinction between racist and antiracist, and among assimilationist, segregationist, and antiracist. He claims his own racism. Throughout he stresses the importance of understanding how policy provides the scaffolding for the persistence of racism.
Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele, When They Call You a Terrorist, 2018
Khan-Cullors is one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement. This book is her memoir about what it means to be a Black woman in America and how she came to co-found the movement with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.
Marcy Litle, Illusions of Innocence, 2020
This book explores what it means to be a white woman in America today. Litle set out to explore the history of this country and her own family’s role in the formation of America. Her journey led her, unexpectedly, to reconsider the meaning of the American Dream for those who believe in equity and justice. The book speaks particularly to white people who struggle to understand racism in the United States and who want to explore its history as it relates to their own lives. Litle discusses the book and her own journey in a Zoom conversation sponsored by WATER. Listen to the recording: HERE.
Ian Haney López, Dog Whistle Politics, 2014
Predating the rise of Trump and the recent tendency to “say the quiet part out loud,” López traces the political history of the “quiet part,” in other words of dog whistles, of using coded language to appeal to white voters. In the words of the subtitle he explores “How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class.”
Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race, 2019
Framed around questions that white people are often afraid to ask (or shouldn’t ask) the Black people in their lives. “What if I talk about race wrong?” “Is police brutality really about race?” “I just got called a racist, what do I do now?’ Oluo presents powerful answers to these questions and more.
Claudia Rankine, Citizen, 2014
This is a beautiful book full of essays, images, and prose poems about the daily impact of racism on Black lives. Rankine uses dialog, personal experiences, and public encounters to document the experience of Blackness in America and elsewhere. Especially searing is the piece on Serena Williams. The book asks: what does it mean to be both Black and a Citizen?
Claudia Rankine, The White Card, 2019
Rankine’s play about what it’s like to be a Black artist who must deal with wealthy white collectors, depicted through a dinner party. Whose gaze matters? And what does it see?
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy, 2014
Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, in Montgomery, Alabama, writes powerfully about the deep flaws in our system of justice. He tells his own story and that of Walter McMillian, who was given the death penalty for a murder that he did not commit. This is an inspiring book.
Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give, 2017
A novel told through the eyes of a sixteen-year old who witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of the police. She simultaneously navigates the world of her neighborhood and of the fancy predominantly-white school that she attends. This is a story about finding your voice, among many other things.
Jesmyn Ward, ed, The Fire This Time, 2016
A collection of essays that picks up Baldwin’s theme for a new generation. The essays, by Isabel Wilkerson, Kiese Laymon, and Claudia Rankine, among others, are divided into three sections: “Legacy,” “Reckoning,” and “Jubilee.”
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad, 2016
A stunning, heartbreaking, and complicated novel that won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. It tells the story of a young enslaved women and her journey to freedom.
Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns, 2010
Traces the “Great Migration” of Black people from the South to Northern and Western cities in the decades during and after World War One. Wilkerson provides intimate portraits of three migrants alongside a sweeping account of the movement and its impact on the country, the migrants, and their children.
Angel Kyodo williams, Rod Owens, Jasmine Syedullah, Radical Dharma, 2016
Essays and conversations by three Black Buddhist practitioners and Dharma teachers about the intersection of racism and the Dharma.
Eula Biss, “White Debt,” The New York Times, Dec. 12, 2015
Subtitled “Reckoning with what is owed—and what can never be repaid—for racial privilege.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,” The Atlantic, June, 2014
The powerful article, framed around housing discrimination in Chicago, that kickstarted the national conversation about reparations.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, “My President Was Black,” The Atlantic, January/February, 2017
Retrospective on the presidency of Barack Obama in light of the election of Donald Trump.
William Darity, “For Reparations: A Conversation with William A. Darrity, Jr,” 2017
Podcast and transcript of a conversation with one of the foremost thinkers about reparations in the country. In 2020, with A. Kirstin Mullen, he published From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century.
Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack,” 1989
Widely available early, and important, article about white privilege, in which McIntosh interrogates the details of her own privilege.
Nell Painter, “What Whiteness Means in the Trump Era,” The New York Times, Nov 13, 2016
Post-election assessment of the prospects for whiteness in the age of Trump. Painter is a historian and the author of The History of White People, 2010.
I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck, 2017
Based on an unfinished book by James Baldwin about the lives of his friends Medger Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King. (Available to stream on Amazon Prime.)
Based on Equal Justice Initiative leader Bryan Stephenson’s book, this film is available on different platforms for free during the month of June, 2020.