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30 books, films and more to help you understand and dismantle racism
Because Black history is American history. Period.
Black people never forget about racism, because it’s a bright red thread stitched into America’s fabric, showing up in schools, neighborhoods, houses of worship and offices. Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd’s deaths were the last straw for folks who, in the words of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” For others, it is a wakeup call to stop pretending that racism doesn’t exist.
To help you expand or deepen your knowledge of Black history, social injustice, allyship and antiracist behavior, we present a list of books and media that include personal favorites, bestsellers and classics that are especially relevant today. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it’s a starting point to spark conversation and inspire your own collection.
Books about white privilege
These books are required reading for anyone interested in understanding and acknowledging white privilege.
White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
Dr. Carol Anderson, professor and chair of African American studies at Emory University, offers a compelling examination of structural and institutional racism that white people may prefer to forget or simply ignore. By tackling points in history like the end of the Civil War, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the war on drugs and more, Anderson pinpoints this nation’s calculated attempts to prevent Black people from achieving equality in America.
Shop White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide on Amazon
How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy and the Racial Divide by Crystal M. Fleming
Gift this book to your friend’s uncle — the one who still believes the misconceptions about race that are spoon-fed to the masses by leaders in the media, education and politics. Crystal M. Fleming challenges racial injustice (and ignorance) by providing a mix of analysis on racism, personal anecdotes and a critique of the “national conversation about race.”
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
There’s a reason this book is on everyone’s must-read list. Robin DiAngelo, anti-racist advocate and educator, dives into how white guilt, fear, silence and anger prohibit crucial conversations about race and preserve racial inequality. Most important, she provides solutions on how white people can participate in productive conversations and social action.
Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad
This book moves readers — via a 28-day journey — to question harmful, long-held beliefs by confronting white privilege, exploring true allyship and examining anti-Blackness and stereotypes. What started as Layla F. Saad’s Instagram challenge and workbook evolved into a critical text that challenges people to reflect on their biases with journal prompts and resources dedicated to improving race relations.
White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim J. Wise
Tim Wise uses his life as a tool to expertly demonstrate how white privilege shapes politics, government, media and education — and how people can deny racial inequality. He debunks notions of a post-racial society and exposes entitlement programs that sustained the middle class while promoting racism and white supremacy.
Shop White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son on Amazon
Books about Black empowerment
Black authors hold space for family, sanity and community while fighting injustice.
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays by Damon Young
Cultural commentator and cofounder of the Root’s Very Smart Brothas delivers an unforgettable memoir that explores the everyday dangers of LWB — or living while Black. Damon Young shares his truth about his desire to have better fighting skills and his mother’s death at the hands of a healthcare system built on institutional racism — a system in which as of 2016, some 50% of medical trainees believed Black people have less sensitive nerve endings than white people, and therefore a higher tolerance for pain.
Shop What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays on Amazon
The 48 Laws of Black Empowerment by Dante Fortson
Inspired by Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power, Dante Fortson whips up a guidebook addressing core areas to strengthen and improve the Black community, including economics, activism, family and philanthropy. While personal success is something to strive for, Fortson aims to connect and transform individual achievement into a community effort.
Shop The 48 Laws of Black Empowerment on Amazon
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan Cullors and Asha Bandele
After George Zimmerman went free for killing Trayvon Martin, Patrisse Khan Cullors and fellow outraged women Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi launched the Black Lives Matter movement to fight racial injustice and police brutality. In return, Cullors was labeled a terrorist for demanding justice, accountability and shining a light on racial profiling. Her story is a call to action disguised as a memoir.
Shop When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir on Amazon
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
As diversity becomes a word companies and brands toss around to show their faux dedication to the cause, Austin Channing Brown reveals what it’s really like to deal with racism and microaggressions at school, work and God’s house (yes, white supremacy exists among Christians). Brown’s book fiercely uncovers how racism and racist acts cannot be reduced to mere “mean-spirited, intentional actions of discrimination.”
Shop I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness on Amazon
Reclaiming Our Space: How Black Feminists Are Changing the World From the Tweets to the Streets by Feminista Jones
Feminista Jones dissects the crosshairs of feminism and racial politics, which are often spaces dominated by white women and men, respectively. She does this while saluting Black women — like CaShawn Thompson, founder of the Black Girl Magic movement — fighting the good fight on social media and in real life. She advises women to use strategic hashtags like her #YouOKSis and Twitter threads to amplify their voices.
- You might also like: 45 Black-owned businesses to support today and every day
Children’s books that celebrate Black culture
These books teach little ones to see color, appreciate the beauty of our differences and learn about Black heroes left out of their history books.
Black Heroes: A Black History Book for Kids: 51 Inspiring People From Ancient Africa to Modern-Day U.S.A. by Arlisha Norwood
Stories about Black history are problematic if they start with slavery and wrap up with the civil rights movement. Black Heroes, for kids ages 8 to 12, celebrates activists, leaders, inventors and more, from Egypt’s Queen Nefertiti to America’s first Black president. This is a fun way to educate and inspire future trailblazers.
My Hair Is a Garden by Cozbi A. Cabrera
For any little Black girl teased for rocking her natural curls or puffs, turn to My Hair Is a Garden for a wonderful reminder from Miss Tillie that “maintaining healthy hair is not a chore.” In the book, little Mackenzie learns that like Miss Tillie’s backyard garden, her coily mane is beautiful and deserves love and attention.
Shop My Hair Is a Garden on Amazon
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander
What started as a poem to launch The Undefeated, ESPN’s digital content platform examining the intersection of sports, culture and race, became a must-have book with striking portraits and collages highlighting the Black experience. Poet and fiction writer Kwame Alexander celebrates the unforgettable writers, musicians, leaders, activists and athletes who left their mark on American history, and not just Black history.
Shop The Undefeated on Amazon
Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi
Children aren’t born racist, and Antiracist Baby, from the same author of How to Be Antiracist, shows little ones how to build a more equitable world. Using bright, bold imagery, Ibram X. Kendi celebrates differences, introduces new vocabulary and announces that people are not the problem — policies are.
Shop Antiracist Baby on Amazon
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold
A group of children with different hues, religious beliefs and traditions learn to play together and understand that no matter what, everyone is welcome in their classroom. This is a wonderful read-aloud book for tiny tykes and a great way to start off the school year — and then repeat throughout the year.
Shop All Are Welcome on Amazon
Books about discrimination and racial inequality
These books examine the deliberate, long-lasting effects of discrimination on the criminal justice system, housing and the formalization of racism in the United States.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Legal scholar Michelle Alexander explains the harmful ramifications of such government policies as the war on drugs and mass incarceration on Black communities. Her data shows how Black men are often targeted by police and receive harsher sentences in comparison to their white counterparts, and she uncovers how this negatively influences employment, housing, education and voting rights.
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum
Beverly Daniel Tatum said she published this book back in 1997 to spark a new understanding of racism, break the silence and influence positive change. Given the current climate, it’s an important and relevant piece of work still. The most recent printing is updated with an additional 100 pages that cover school and neighborhood segregation, 2008’s recession, affirmative action and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge is done with pathetic platitudes like “I don’t see color.” Her book is a primer for why we must see and acknowledge structural racism at work in our daily lives and actively counter it.
Shop Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race on Amazon
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
According to Ibram X. Kendi, to have a truly equitable society, it’s not enough to say “I’m not racist.” The goal is to be anti-racist and acknowledge the false hierarchy that racism creates. Kendi is a student and teacher who uses his personal stories of enlightenment, law and history to teach us all how to do better.
Shop How to Be an Antiracist on Amazon
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
Richard Rothstein did tons of research to show an appalling history of local, state and federal policies that contribute to housing segregation in America. Among the worst offenders is the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s influenced where people lived and prevented Black people from owning homes.
Podcasts, TV shows and films
If a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, then this list of entertaining and thought-provoking shows, films and podcasts will get you one step closer to understanding the Black experience.
The Nod podcast
Hosts Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings team up to share Black life stories that no one else dares to explore, such as Crime Mob’s club anthem “Knuck If You Buck,” who’s the Blackest of them all, what it takes to get natural hair represented on TV and the origins of the “Cha-Cha Slide.” Their chemistry is pure joy, as is the way they celebrate Black genius and innovation.
Listen to The Nod on Spotify
Code Switch podcast
When it’s time to unpack how race colors everything from sports and pop culture, to gender disparities, to parenting and friendship, check in with journalists Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji, because they’ve already had a provocative conversation about it.
Suggested episodes to start with: “Why Now, White People?” and “Unmasking the ‘Outside Agitator.’ ”
Listen to Code Switch on NPR One
The 1619 audio series is part of the 1619 Project, is a New York Times Magazine venture created to examine the legacy of slavery with a fresh lens. Hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones, the podcast “chronicles how Black people have been central to building American democracy, music, wealth and more.”
Listen to 1619 on NYTimes.com
Do the Right Thing film
A question about why there aren’t any Black people on the wall in Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, a shop in a Black and brown neighborhood, highlights racial tension in pregentrified Brooklyn. Spike Lee’s 1989 classic — an Oscar snub for Best Picture in 1990 — spans the course of a single summer day and ends in police brutality and community uproar. The film is eerily reminiscent of America’s current climate.
Watch Do the Right Thing on Amazon Prime
Just Mercy film
Just Mercy is based on Bryan Stevenson’s heartbreaking book about his career as a champion and Harvard-educated lawyer for marginalized folks who received harsh prison sentences or were wrongly convicted.
The movie is centered on Stevenson’s (played by Michael B. Jordan) relationship with Walter McMillian — a man falsely accused of murder — and how the attorney’s Equal Justice Initiative fights to end excessive punishment, mass incarceration and racial inequality.
Watch Just Mercy on demand
Folks love to tout how the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. But few examine the exception clause that states slavery and involuntary servitude are illegal “except as a punishment for a crime,” which justifies mass incarceration as an extension of the peculiar institution.
Via old clips and interviews with prison reform activists, filmmaker Ava DuVernay spotlights how specific policies gave the government permission to imprison Black and brown bodies with wild abandon.
Watch 13th on YouTube
I Am Not Your Negro film
Director Raoul Peck uses James Baldwin’s unfinished Remember This House manuscript about civil rights leaders Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers to weave an eloquent narrative about America’s race problem and the civil rights movement. Using footage of the writer’s interviews and lectures, plus narration by Samuel L. Jackson, Baldwin’s voice continues to be a powerful force on race relations.
Watch I Am Not Your Negro on Amazon Prime
Time: The Kalief Browder Story docuseries
This six-episode docuseries is an indictment of the criminal justice system with Kalief Browder, a then 16-year-old from New York, at the center. Browder was accused of stealing a backpack and imprisoned for three years at the city’s notorious Rikers Island — two of which he spent in solitary confinement. His case never went to trial, nor was he ever found guilty of a crime. But the damage had already been done, and Browder died by suicide shortly after his release.
Watch Time: The Kalief Browder Story on Netflix
Black-ish TV show
Even though Rainbow and Andre Johnson are an upper-class family, they’re still a Black family dealing with identity, discrimination and assimilation — poignantly and comedically — in a predominantly white neighborhood.
Best episodes include “Juneteenth” (the Black holiday), “The Word” (about the N-word) and “Hope” (about police brutality).
Watch Black-ish on Hulu
Dear White People TV show
The title has some folks incorrectly crying foul (read: racist). But the series examines how Black students at Winchester University, a fabled Ivy League school, address cultural bias, activism, identity, relationships and racial injustice within those hallowed halls.
For fans of the satirical film, director Justin Simien’s TV show is a deep dive into Samantha White, Troy Fairbanks and the crew’s life on campus.
Watch Dear White People on Netflix
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