During Lockdown we have been witnesses to one of the biggest civil rights movements of our time, the Black Lives Matter Movement. Following the murder of Black American George Floyd, protests and riots have broken out in every corner of the world, forcing much needed conversations on white privilege, police brutality and institutionalised racism back into the light.
It has since been the eye-opening catalyst for many people, especially Gen Z and Millennials, to begin to educate themselves on all things racism, and to learn more about the injustices and systems we were all never taught at school. Books on racism have been soaring up major bestseller lists, as fellow white people have slowly come to the realisation that maybe posting that black square to Instagram wasn’t enough.
Learning about (not just white) history, slavery, poverty, privilege and the rigged system of racism we help perpetuate is a great place to begin anti-racist work, it has shaped me into the activist I try to be today. Not only does it make you more aware of the invisible (and not so invisible) barriers minorities face, so you can work to tear them down, it provides you with knowledge and understanding you can pass on to others who may be as oblivious as you once were. Ignorance may be bliss, but education can be life changing (and lifesaving).
Below is a list of books I have found to be the best in illustrating racism and every way it crops up in the past and present. They vary from fictional novels to personal stories to interactive books, and all will further your understanding on subjects such as systemic racism, social mobility, intersectionality, real history, class, motherhood, feminism, genealogy, unconscious bias, white privilege, and how all of these intertwine with race.
Personal and real-life stories:
The Good Immigrant – Multiple authors – edited by Nikesh Shukla
An insight from a collection of authors, actors and journalists from a variety of backgrounds into what it means to them to be ‘a good immigrant’, a role they have been instructed to play in order to be accepted in Britain. This book is a much-needed way for white people to see the UK through eyes other than our own, a glimpse into daily life from a wildly different perspective. Airports, workplaces, classrooms, auditions, job interviews, white people very rarely notice how stark the contrast of experience within these seemingly mundane places can be, and that is demonstrated so clearly and beautifully by the diverse collection of essays featured in The Good Immigrant.
I suggest once you’re finished reading, you pass the book on to your closest racist relative (every family has at least one), as it perfectly covers every protest, insult, and argument frequently used against minorities, and swiftly confirms why they are, of course, utter bullshit.
People Like us – Hashi Mohamed
Part analysis, part polemic and part how-to-guide, ‘People Like Us’ asks the question, “what does it take to make it?”. It is an incredible book which discusses social mobility/immobility, inequality and the author’s real-life experiences on how he broke the mould against all odds to become a barrister, whilst acknowledging his success story unlike any other. Mohamed mentions how his own tale shouldn’t be unusual, but examines why it is viewed as such, factoring in poverty, crime, location, luck, peer pressure, the myth of meritocracy, tokenism, and a lack of options and choices.
I am Not Your Baby Mother – Candice Brathwaite
Yet another example of not noticing a lack of representation until you are on the receiving end of said lack of; when Candice Brathwaite became pregnant, she realised she couldn’t see herself reflected in the motherhood portrayed in books and on screen unless it was the vicious ‘baby mother’ stereotype. ‘I am Not Your Baby Mother’ is the story of what lead her to fixing that, and the injustices she faced as a Black mother along the way. From not being listened to in hospital to having to trade money for the façade of having it all together for fear of judgement, Brathwaite incites tears and laughter as she skilfully highlights how her race directly impacted how she had to navigate motherhood in ways white parents would never even think about.
We Will Not Be Silenced – Multiple Authors, Gal-dem
A beautiful, sometimes heart-breaking, compilation of women responding to their younger selves and the diary entries they wrote. Ranging from overcoming racism, sexism and homophobia, to learning to love and accept yourself despite the odds, the present-day entries are moving love letters to children that unjustly suffered from societal setbacks that still plague many today.
Natives – Akala
Similar to ‘People Like Us’ (Hashi Mohamed), ‘Natives’ is a skilful mix of memoir, history and social/cultural analysis about how class intersects with race. Akala discusses his own past, what problems are still prominent in the present, and poses questions for the future, initiating a difficult but necessary conversation. He communicates an array of difficult, complex issues in a manner that’s convincing, informative and often surprisingly entertaining, drawing on an impressive range of research material. It’s no wonder he’s so in demand as a public speaker.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
“Every voice raised against racism chips away at its power. We can’t afford to stay silent. This book is an attempt to speak.”
My full review on this book can be found here:
How to Argue with a Racist – Adam Rutherford
An invaluable book with the sole purpose of dismantling common arguments spread by racists, using the weapon of science. Rutherford elegantly examines and pulls apart age-old debates – quickly debunking each of them – such as the ridiculous stereotype of Black people being superior athletes due to slavery, and the impossible myth of being 100% white. As he quotes in the book, “reasoning will never make a man correct an ill opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired”, but if the facts and science that Rutherford provides don’t work for this reason, at least you’ll have gained some useful knowledge along the way.
Blindspot – Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji
‘Blindspot, Hidden Biases of Good People’. It’s all in the title. If you think you know your own mind, or you are somehow exempt from being racist, etc. because you’re a ‘good person’, think again. These self-perceptions we have of ourselves that we can fairly judge others or ‘don’t see colour’ are challenged by psychologists Anthony and Mahzarin, as they explain how a lifetime of societal and cultural attitudes can burden us with hidden biases and demonstrate this by featuring their creation: The IAT (Implicit-association test). Whilst the results may be alarming, the tests are quick, easy to take and are designed to reveal to you the unconscious bias you may hold against certain races, sexualities, genders and even presidents. You can take them right there in the book or online at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html.
Me and White Supremacy – Layla Saad
A ground-breaking daily workbook that aims to break down the white supremacist that lies within all white people (whether you like it or not, it’s there), by giving you the information and journaling prompts you need to question and unpack, well, everything about yourself.
Covering all traits of white supremacy and not leaving a stone unturned, Layla Saad poured her extensive knowledge, precious time, and encompassing benevolence into this book and white people should be forever grateful. Her aim to become a ‘good ancestor’ as she puts it is, in my opinion, a mission she has completed simply by making the once Instagram challenge into this workbook. If you are white and have not yet read this, change that.
Girl, Woman, Other – Bernadine Evaristo
Admittedly at first quite jarring to read due to Evaristo’s full-stop-hating writing style, ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ will quickly pull you in. It features the remarkable stories of varied and well-built characters and touches on the issues of race, sexuality and gender affecting them. Throughout the book the stories twist together and characters’ lives are woven into one another, all satisfyingly culminating to right where you were at the beginning.
Don’t just stop at 10!
Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams
Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Black, Listed – Jeffrey Boakye
White Privilege – Kalwant Bhopal
Black and British: A Forgotten History – David Olusoga
All books mentioned are available to purchase from Amazon.