Published August, 2018; Revised July 2020
This reading list is intended as a starting point for people (especially white people) to begin learning about systemic racism and racial justice organizing in the United States. It also includes plenty of materials for anyone to explore and deepen their knowledge. In putting together this list we’ve tried to: cover some specific topics and ideas that we think are critical; highlight the experiences and voices of people of color from a range of communities, and also include the perspectives of some white allies; include some specific authors and thinkers whose work we think is especially important; touch on important history as well as present issues; and include a variety of types of resources, from short articles and videos to longer films and books.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive, and there is always much more to learn. Most of the authors or producers listed here have extensive bodies of work that are worth exploring. You can access most of the items for free via the links provided, and others are available at your local library or bookstore. We’ve noted which are available at Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro, VT.
Collected by HB Lozito, Claire Halverson, and Ethan Hazzard-Watkins on behalf of LRRJ.
The Subtle Linguistics of Polite White Supremacy by Yawo Brown, August 15 2015, Medium.com.
Explores the idea of systemic white supremacy and explains how racism differs from prejudice. Brown argues that polite white supremacy is maintained through white comfort, control, and confidentiality.
The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates, June 2014, The Atlantic.
Coates argues for systematic compensation for people who have been impacted by centuries of racist and immoral policies, including slavery, Jim Crow, separate but equal, housing discrimination, and mass incarceration.
Explaining White Privilege To A Broke White Person by Gina Crosley-Corcoran, May 8 2014, Huffington Post.
Explores white privilege from the perspective of a white person from a poor background, as well as the concept of intersectionality of identities and oppressions.
Unmasking “racial micro aggressions” by Tori DeAngelis, 2009, Monitor on Psychology.
Introduces the concept of racial microaggressions and describes the impact they have on people of color.
Tool: Recognizing Microaggressions and the Messages They Send, adapted from Sue Derald Wing, Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation, Wiley & Sons, 2010.
This chart lists examples of racial microaggressions and explains the messages they send.
Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, April 30, 2015, Huffington Post.
Sociologist Robin DiAngelo coined the term “White Fragility” to describe a state of distress and defensiveness that many white people experience when asked to think or talk about race. This article explains the concept, why it occurs, and how to move beyond fragility.
11 Things White People Can Do to Be Real Anti-Racist Allies by Kali Holloway, April 27 2015, Alternet.
The author interviewed people of color activists and collected a list of their suggestions for things white folks can do to be better anti-racist allies.
Why I’m Absolutely an Angry Black Woman by Dominique Matti, October 27 2016, Huffington Post.
The author powerfully describes her experiences of living as a black woman in a society of pervasive white supremacy.
Towards Decolonization and Settler Responsibility: Reflections on a Decade of Indigenous Solidarity Organizing by Liza Minno Bloom & Berkley Carnine, October 3 2016, Counterpunch.
This article, written by white activists, introduces the concepts of settler colonialism and decolonization, gives examples of decolonization, and shares action steps and best practices for solidarity organizing.
White Supremacy Culture by Tema Okun, date unknown, dRworks.
Lists some of the ways that white supremacy manifests in the culture of groups and organizations as well as offering antidotes.
Welcome To The Anti-Racism Movement — Here’s What You’ve Missed by Ijeoma Oluo, March 16 2017, The Establishment.
Important list of reminders, challenges, and warnings for white people just getting involved in anti-racism work.
Irma and María: Shedding Light on Puerto Rico’s Colonial Reality by Ana Portnoy, September 28 2017, Counterpunch.
Describes the impact of centuries of racist US colonialism on Puerto Rico as the island recovers from recent hurricanes.
Videos, Films, Podcasts, etc.
*These films are available at Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro, VT.
*Race – The Power of an Illusion. Produced by California Newsreel. Executive Producer: Larry Adelman. Episode Producers: Christine Herbes-Sommers, Tracy Strain, Llewellyn Smith, Series Co-Producer: Jean Cheng. 2003. [3 episodes, 56 minutes each]
This film questions the idea of race as biology, suggesting that a belief in innate racial difference is no more sound than believing that the sun revolves around the earth. Yet race still matters. Just because race doesn’t exist in biology doesn’t mean it isn’t very real, helping shape life chances and opportunities.
Pastor Michael McBride Says Stop Reaching for Whiteness. W. Kamau Bell & Hari Kondabolu, 2016, Politically Reactive Podcast, Season 1. [46 minutes]
Activist and religious leader, Pastor McBride, joins W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu to discuss the fatal police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and talk about systemic racism in America.
Broken Rainbow. 1985. [108 minutes]
This film documents the government-enforced relocation of thousands of Navajo Native Americans from their ancestral homes in Arizona, begun in the 1970s and continuing to this day, to make way for mining speculation.
5 Tips For Being An Ally by chescaleigh, 2014. [3.5 minutes]
Short video with tips for being an active ally. Many useful additional resources on the video page, too.
*Gook. Justin Chon, 2018. [94 minutes]
Eli and Daniel are two Korean American brothers who run their late father’s shoe store in a mostly African American community of Los Angeles. These two brothers strike up a friendship with an 11-year-old African American girl, Kamilla.
Awkward White People by Chris Crass, Pacific Education Group, 2017. [5 minutes]
Social justice activist/writer Chris Crass shares perspective on dealing with “Awkward White People” during keynote address at National Summit for Courageous Conversation.
The urgency of intersectionality. Kimberlé Crenshaw, TEDWomen 2016. [19 minutes]
In this TED Talk, Kimberlé Crenshaw, originator of the term “intersectionality”, uses it to describe the phenomenon of how the reality of race and gender bias combine to create more harm.
13th by Ava DuVernay, 2016. [100 minutes]
An in-depth look at the prison system in the U.S. and how the 13th amendment continued the legacy of slavery for those who are incarcerated.
The Problem With Apu by Hari Kondabolu, 2017. [49 minutes]
Hari Kondabolu, the creator of this documentary, confronts his long-standing “nemesis” Apu Nahasapeemapetilon of The Simpsons and explores media representation and stereotypes.
*Last Chance for Eden, Lee Mun Wah, 2003.
Director Lee Mun Wah facilitates a group of eight people through discussions about race, political correctness, and the inability or unwillingness of dominant groups to understand their position of privilege.
Why do People Say “Ax” Instead of “Ask”? MTV DeCoded, 2018. [5 minutes]
Why do some people use the word “Ax” in place of the word “Ask”? Well while “Ax” might be seen as lower class, it actually has a long tradition in the English language that goes back over a thousand years. So why are people who say “Ax” instead of “Ask” frequently stigmatized as unintelligent and unsophisticated? Watch the episode to find out.
Silenced Voices by Sam Mayfield, Brendan O’Neill, and Gustavo Ter’an for the VT Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project, 2014. [25 minutes]
Migrant Farmworker José Obeth Santiz Cruz was killed in a farming accident in December 2009 in Vermont. The VT Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project sent a delegation to Mexico to return his remains and document his family and community coming to terms with his death and sharing stories about the causes, effects, and their experiences of migration.
Everyday Racism, What Should We Do? Akala | Comment is Free, The Guardian, 2016. [4 minutes]
Short video that discusses the “business of racism”, how advertising and images uphold racism and microaggressions.
Project Implicit at Harvard University.
Project Implicit is an interactive experience that illuminates unconscious biases. Their stated goal is to educate the public about hidden biases and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data on the Internet.
*American experience: We Shall Remain, PBS, 2010. [Five 90-minute episodes]
This PBS mini-series and multi-media project places Native American history as a critical component of American history. Multiple documentaries tell the story of pivotal moments in U.S. history from the Native perspective.
Many of the books listed below are available or on order at Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro, VT.
How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi, 2019.
“Instead of working with the policies and system we have in place, Kendi asks us to think about what an antiracist society might look like, and how we can play an active role in building it.” -ibramxkendi.com
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, 2018.
DiAngelo unpacks why it’s so hard for white people to talk about race, how our sensitivity and defensiveness harms people of color, and how we can move beyond fragility.
My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem, 2017.
This groundbreaking work explores the legacy of white body supremacy in American from the perspective of trauma and somatic (body-centered) psychology. Menakem offers a concrete pathway for healing racialized trauma in white, POC, and law enforcement bodies.
Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, 2016.
Kendi chronicles the history of anti–Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, 2010.
Seminal work on the transformation of Jim Crow segregation into the current state of a more subtle, “colorblind” system of mass incarceration of black people.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2015.
This book by Coates, a prolific writer on racism for The Atlantic, is written as a letter to his teenage son about his feelings, the symbolism and realities of being a black man in the United States based on American history and his own experiences.
Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis, 2016.
Essays, interviews, and speeches illuminate struggles against state violence and oppression throughout history and around the world. Davis is an African American politician, social activist, Marxist academic, feminist, and author.
Ain’t I a woman: black women and feminism by bell hooks, 1981.
Discusses impact of sexism on black women during slavery, devaluation of black women, and racism among feminists. bell hooks is a prolific writer who addresses the intersectionality of race, class, gender and capitalism.
Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving, 2014.
Irving describes her struggle as a white woman to understand racism and racial tensions, and unpack her own beliefs about colorblindness and wanting to help people of color.
Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice by Paul Kivel, 2002.
Tools and exercises to help white people understand white privilege, institutional racism, and how to be an effective ally.
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Tatum, 2013.
Discusses black and white identity development in a white context and critical issues in Latinx, American Indian, and Asian Pacific American identity development.
The Radical King by Martin Luther King Jr., edited by Cornel West, 2015.
Articles introduced by West that illustrate Martin Luther King’s revolutionary vision, identification with the poor and crusade against world imperialism. West is an American philosopher, political activist, author and intellectual; he is a champion of racial justice through the tradition of the black church.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson, 2014.
Chronicles how Black Americans migrated from the South to the North and West in search of a better life including historical background and stories of three migrants.
White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise, 2011.
Part memoir, part essay collection which examines how white privilege shapes daily life of white Americans in every realm.