This is my own list of media I have read to learn about my white privilege, understand how it works in society as structural racism, and learn to undo both those things. It’s hard work. And there are a lot of great resources out there. This list isn’t comprehensive; it’s what I have read and recommend because I’ve read or watched or listened to these things.
Tip: Ask your public library to buy these books if they don’t already own them.
If you’re white, start with these four books. Buy them if you can, so you can read and re-read them.
- White Fragility, Robin J. DiAngelo. The book every white person in American needs to read. It is slow going because every chapter asked me to rethink my life, my circumstances, and how I have been given a pass just because of the color of my skin.
- White Rage, Carol Anderson. Everyone needs to read this book to understand how racism is structural, not individual, and it is not just about the white supremacists you see on the news. Reading the chapter about how states fought back against Brown v. Board of Education (1954) broke my heart. If you want to know why things aren’t equal between blacks and whites, this will tell you–in horrifying detail–how whites in power conspired and schemed, legally, all the way up to and including the Supreme Court, to deny blacks the right to education, votes, and housing since the end of the Civil War.
- Me and White Supremacy, Layla F. Saad. What started as a small series of Instagram posts eventually became this book, published in 2020. It is something I’m still working my way through, and it is hard going. Which means it’s good, and I need to do this work. If you’re white, so do you.
- How to Be an Anti-Racist, Ibram X. Kendi. I’m just starting this one as of June 2020, on the basis of several recommendations from Black people I follow on Twitter.
- Overground Railroad, Candacy Taylor. An in-depth look at the way Black people were forced to travel in America from Jim Crow onwards. So good, I bought this book after reading half of it from a library loan.
- American Prison, Shane Bauer. How for-profit prisons really operate, by an undercover reporter.
- Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Three letters to his son, explaining how it is to be black in America. I’m still thinking about this book almost a year after reading it.
- Caste: The Origins of our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson.
- The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
- So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo.
- Tears We Cannot Stop, Michael Eric Dyson
- We Were Eight Years in Power, Ta-Nehisi Coates
- What Truth Sounds Like, Michael Eric Dyson. A book I checked out of the library and ending up buying, for two reasons: I needed more time to absorb the content, and I will need to reread this book as I learn more about racism and white privilege.
- Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, Beverly Daniel Tatum
Memoirs and Biographies
- Coming of Age in Mississippi, Anne Moody. From a dirt-poor childhood in the segregated South to the sit-in at Woolworths in 1963, this is a very personal and detailed look at how things were in the 1940 and 1950s, and then moves through her work in the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
- Fire Shut Up In My Bones, Charles Blow. The early part of this memoir details the author’s life growing up in the 1970s in the rural South. Not so much different from Anne Moody’s story, with the grinding poverty, substandard housing, and rampant segregation.
- Heavy: An American Memoir, Kiese Laymon
- I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown. This book gave me a clearer understanding of what it is like to be a black woman in the United States. The section where she wrote about the 2015 Charleston church murders had me in tears.
- Thick: And Other Essays, Tressie McMillan Cottom. A self-described black-black woman, she writes honestly and fearlessly about how it is to live as a black woman in these United States, Powerful stuff.
- When They Call You a Terrorist, Patrisse Khan-Cullors and ashe bandele
- The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson. This is a long read, following three different Southern Black people who moved north or west as part of the Great Migration out of the south. As I followed each person through decades of time, I got to understand them not only as historical markers, but as people struggling, as we all do, for a better life. The author does a masterful job of putting these three people into the context of their times, decade by decade as the civil rights movement slowly changes the country.
- Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution, Diane McWhorter. 2002 Pulitzer Prize winner.
- The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, Edward E. Baptist.
- Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African-American History 1513-2008, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This is a coffee-table book, only it’s not. It’s meant to be read, slowly and completely, to understand the history of African-Americans since the first ones were brought to this hemisphere. I learned so much from reading this book, although it took me almost two months to finish it.
- Separate, Steve Luxenberg. Tells the story of Plessy v. Ferguson and how America moved from slavery to segregation, supported by this Supreme Court decision.
Articles and Essays
- Kindly Call Me Black (2020), Bridgette L. Hylton
- Life and Death in the Tongue: The Power of Talking (or Not Talking) About Race (2017), Tameka Bradley Hobbs
- Don’t Forget that Martin Luther King, Jr. Was Once Denounced as an Extremist, Jeanne Theoharis, Time
- We White Women Shouldn’t Ask “What Can I Do To Fight White Supremacy?“ Medium, April 2019
- When the Suffrage Movement Sold Out to White Supremacy, Brent Staples, New York Times
Movies and Videos
- Just Mercy (2019) Based on the book of the same name, this is the story of how Bryan Stephenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, met Walter McMillian, an African-American man facing the death penalty in Alabama for the murder of a white woman.
- The Hate U Give (2018) The fictional story of a teenage Black girl who lives in two worlds, one her local Black neighborhood and the other her 99%-white high school. One night, everything falls apart. It’s a riveting movie, excellent story-telling of Black lives way too similar to recent headlines.
- When They See Us (2019), directed by Ava DuVernay – an examination of the Central Park 5, accused then decades later acquitted of raping and beating the Central Park jogger in 1989. Available on Netflix (requires subscription).
- 13th, directed by Ava DuVernay. A 2016 documentary that unpacks what “mass incarceration” means and how it targeted black Americans, from Nixon and Reagan to the Clintons. You won’t ever look at crime and prison statistics the same way. Available on Netflix (requires subscription).
- I am Not Your Negro (2016) is based on writings by James Baldwin, and provides a very personal look at racism and Black leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Available on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, and iTunes.
- BlacKkKlansman (2018), directed by Spike Lee. Should have won the Oscar for Best Picture.
- Loving (2016), directed by Jeff Nichols
- Selma (2014), directed by Ava DuVernay
- Twelve Years a Slave (2013), directed by Steve McQueen