Compiled by Julie Ngalle, Tobi Dada, and Bethany Dawson
“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And that’s the only way forward” – Ijemona Oluo
For white people, being anti-racist is – among other things – a learning curve. There is a long, uncomfortable process in acknowledging and understanding your inherent involvement in racist structures. You need to understand how you benefit from racism, you need to understand your privilege, and you need to understand how to utilise this to support people of colour.
There are lots of ways to unlearn racism, and it mainly comes from education. We have compiled this reading list to start you on this journey.
Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
An award-winning book on race and racism, with a focus on the multifaceted and intersectional ways in which prejudice and oppression seep into everyday life.
Quote: “I’m no longer engaging with white people on the topic of race. Not all white people, just the vast majority who refuse to accept the legitimacy of structural racism and its symptoms… You can see their eyes shut down and harden. It’s like treacle is poured into their ears, blocking up their ear canals. It’s like they can no longer hear us.”
Bethany Dawson: I’ve recommended this book to a lot of people who are also white, and their immediate response is that they refuse to because they believe the title is in someway off-putting or offensive. If this is your reaction too, I would really recommend you take a deep breath, pull yourself together, and read this book. I learnt so much from it, so much that I never would have known or begun to understand without this literature. To be a good ally to black people, you have a duty to read this book and learn more about an experience you will not experience by virtue of white priviledge.
Me and White Supremacy, Layla F. Saad
This book is written as a guide and workbook for white people to understand the ways they, often unconsciously, participate and uphold racist systems of white supremacy, thus inflicting damage on black, indigenous and people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too.
This 28-day guide by Layla F. Saad is a must read.
Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century, Dorothy Roberts
This award winning book examines how the myth of biological concept of race—revived by purportedly cutting-edge science, race-specific drugs, genetic testing, and DNA databases—continues to undermine a just society and promote inequality in a supposedly “post-racial” era.
Quote: “Reviewing the history of official racial classifications reminds us that these categories are not natural—and neither are the institutional inequities that race undergirds.”
Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, Akala
This book gives a first hand account of modern racist from a Black British perspective. With police brutality in the US at the top of the agenda it is easy to forget Britain played a significant role in creating the racial structure we still see today.
Quote: “So if the ending of apartheid is now universally agreed to be a good thing, and Cuba played such a central role, how is it still possible to have such differing views of Castro and Mandela and of Cuba and South Africa? The short answer is that the mainstream media has been so successful in distorting basic historical facts that many are so blinded by Cold War hangovers that they are entirely incapable of critical thought, but the other answer is rather more Machiavellian. The reality is that apartheid did not die, and thus the reason so many white conservatives now love Mandela is essentially that he let their cronies “get away with it”. The hypocritical worship of black freedom fighters once they are no longer seen to pose a danger or are safely dead – Martin Luther King might be the best example of this – is one of the key ways of maintaining a liberal veneer over what in reality is brutal intent.”
Tobi Dada: I personally recommend this book to white british people that want to understand how their actions directly affect black brits. Oftentimes white people in the UK deny the existence of racism in the UK. This book highlights how government, trusted institutions, and individual perperitste narratives that date back to british colonialism.
The Condemnation of Blackness, Khalil Gibran Muhammad
This book takes a deep dive into the notion of “black people as criminals”. In his book, Khahil Gibran Muhammad assesses how, when, and why notions emerged of black people as a dangerous race of criminals by explicit contrast to working-class whites and European immigrants.
This deep dive into racial criminalisation is vital to understand the unconscious racial biases that are created as a byproduct of socialisation.
Quote: “For white Americans of every ideological stripe—from radical southern racists to northern progressives—African American criminality became one of the most widely accepted bases for justifying prejudicial thinking, discriminatory treatment, and/or acceptance of racial violence as an instrument of public safety.”
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo
DiAngelo explores the common responses of defensiveness, guilt, and anger when white people are critisised as having racist views, be they conscious or unconscious, covert or overt. DiAngelo states these reactions only serve to silence people of colour, who cannot give honest feedback to ‘liberal’ white people lest they provoke a dangerous emotional reaction.
If you, as a white person, recognise this reaction, and struggle in feeling prepared to discuss your own participation in racism, read this book. This isn’t something you’re meant to feel comfortable in, but it’s something you have to prioritise.
Quote: “For those of us who work to raise the racial consciousness of whites, simply getting whites to acknowledge that our race gives us advantages is a major effort. The defensiveness, denial, and resistance are deep.”
Native Son, Richard White
In this fictional book, Richard Wright follows Bigger Thomas, an African-American criminal. As we follow the protagonist through his difficult life in the slums of Chicago, complex crime and trial and the aftermath of his criminal past, the author, although not excusing Thomas’ actions, tries to show the reader how difficult it is in 1930s America for an African-American person to succeed.
If born in poverty, their fate is almost doomed the simple fact that people of colour are not given a chance to succeed. Add to that the crime and prison time, and you as you read witness how impossible it is for Bigger Thomas to redeem himself, live a semi-normal life and escape his past or skin colour. Themes of how the justice system and police are widely racist highlight how the patterns need to change for these people and American society in general.
Quote: “Goddamnit, look! We live here and they live there. We black and they white. They got things and we ain’t. They do things and we can’t. It’s just like livin’ in jail.”
The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
The book discusses race-related issues specific to African-American men and mass incarceration in the United States, but Alexander noted that the discrimination faced by African-American males is prevalent among other minorities and socio-economically disadvantaged populations. Alexander’s central premise, from which the book derives its title, is that “mass incarceration is, metaphorically, the New Jim Crow
Quote: “The genius of the current caste system, and what most distinguishes it from its predecessors, is that it appears voluntary. People choose to commit crimes, and that’s why they are locked up or locked out, we are told. This feature makes the politics of responsibility particularly tempting, as it appears the system can be avoided with good behavior. But herein lies the trap. All people make mistakes. All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals. All of us violate the law at some point in our lives. In fact, if the worst thing you have ever done is speed ten miles over the speed limit on the freeway, you have put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of his or her living room. Yet there are people in the United States serving life sentences for first-time drug offenses, something virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world.”
Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin
James Baldwin is an African-American author and activist. All of his work should be listed here. But, if you are only going to read one, Notes of a Native Son is a good place to start. Through 10 of the author’s essays, this non-fiction piece narrates the issues with race he has encountered, being a black-man living in the United States in the first half of the 20th Century. Baldwin discusses topics such as segregation, his – and others- experiences being a black man in Europe versus in the United States, unequal political representation and many more.
Quote: “In overlooking, denying, evading this complexity–which is nothing more than the disquieting complexity of ourselves–we are diminished and we perish; only within this web of ambiguity, paradox, this hunger, danger, darkness, can we find at once ourselves and the power that will free us from ourselves. It is this power of revelation that is the business of the novelist, this journey toward a more vast reality which must take precedence over other claims.”
Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
An award-winning novel by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah retraces the story of a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who immigrates to the US to attend university and subsequently goes back and forth between her country of origin and her country of adoption. In parallel to the love story at the very centre of the book – the relationship between Ifemelu and her first love Obinze – Adichie incorporates reflections on identity and integration, as well as on the complex intersection of race, gender, national origin, and class.
Quote: “If you’re telling a non-black person about something racist that happened to you, make sure you are not bitter. Don’t complain. Be forgiving. If possible, make it funny. Most of all, do not be angry. Black people are not supposed to be angry about racism. Otherwise you get no sympathy. This applies only for white liberals, by the way. Don’t even bother telling a white conservative about anything racist that happened to you. Because the conservative will tell you that YOU are the real racist and your mouth will hang open in confusion.”
Brit(ish), Afua Hirsch
The daughter of a black Ghanaian woman and a white English man, Afua Hirsch discusses race and black British identity in her 2018 book, weaving together autobiographical anecdotes and social commentary. She notably writes about pervasive micro-aggressions, the harmfulness of a colour-blind discourse, and the search for belonging in the UK as a mixed-race woman. Hirsch also recently wrote an article for the Guardian about racism in the UK, and how systems of oppression need to be dismantled everywhere.
Quote: “In Britain, we are taught not to see race. We are told that race does not matter. We have convinced ourselves that if we can contort ourselves into a form of blindness, then issues of identity will quietly disappear. […] We want to be post-racial, without having ever admitted how racial a society we have been.”