Unlearning Racism: Your Anti-Racist Reading List

For Juneteenth, we encourage you to read one of these 23 essential books written by Black women authors.

By Zohal Karimy

In the words of Angela Davis, “in a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” To that end, the responsibility to end the racial injustices that proliferate our nation doesn’t lie with those who are discriminated against. White people must hold each other accountable, claim responsibility, and take action themselves—and a great place to start is through education.

Below is a list of female-authored books—from Black women-owned bookstores—that not only offer important historical context to the current protests, but outline a tangible path forward in how we can and must dismantle white supremacy.

On Juneteeenth

Annette Gordon-Reed, a Pulitzer prize-winning historian, weaves together American history and piercing episodes of memoir for her new book, On Juneteenth, a look at the country’s long road to  establishing the holiday that celebrates the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the U.S. Both an essential account and a stark reminder that the fight for equality is exigent and ongoing, On Juneteenth recounts the holiday’s origins in Texas and the enormous hardships that African-Americans have endured in the century since.

cafeconlibrosbk.com; $16

Citizen: An American Lyric

Iconic poet Claudia Rankine’s fifth volume of poetry (a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry) looks at the realities of everyday racism—remarks, glances, implied judgments—that flourish in an environment where more explicit acts of discrimination have been outlawed. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named “post-race” society.

cafeconlibrosbk.com; $20

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race

In this New York Times bestseller, National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward gathers our most original thinkers and writers to speak on contemporary racism and race, including Carol Anderson, Jericho Brown, Edwidge Danticat, Kevin Young, Claudia Rankine, and Honoree Jeffers. Envisioned as a response to The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin’s groundbreaking 1963 essay collection, The Fire This Time is “an absolutely indispensable anthology” that shines a light on the darkest corners of America’s history—and imagines a better future, reflecting on the past, present, and future of race in America.

cafeconlibrosbk.com; $16

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor

Constructed around a 28-day challenge, Layla F. Saad’s debut book takes you through a series of guided reflections regarding what racism is, the ways in which it continues to be embodied, and how you can begin reconstructing your relationship with white supremacy. Her self-reflective prompts help the reader to develop emotional intelligence on race—i.e. it is an easy-to-digest starting point for white people who are ready to deconstruct their internalized racism.

cafeconlibrosbk.com; $26

So You Want to Talk About Race

Self-described “internet yeller” Ijeoma Oluo’s bestselling book is full of useful ideas, tips, and strategies for white people who want to be allies for people of color. Published in 2018, So You Want to Talk About Race unpacks some of the biggest racial issues plaguing America, including microaggressions, white privilege, police brutality, the need for the Black Lives Matter movement, and much more. Set out as an accessible guide for anyone trying to understand racism, each chapter poses a question (“Why am I always being told to check my privilege?” and “I just got called racist, what do I do now?”), which Oluo answers in a simple and straightforward way.

cafeconlibrosbk.com; $17

The End of White Politics : How to Heal Our Liberal Divide

Why has the United States only had one non-white president? This is the question MSNBC political analyst Zerlina Maxwell sets out to answer in her new book. From her experience working on both Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns, Maxwell’s first-hand insight into the inner workings of the liberal left enables her to expose the flaws that ultimately led to Donald Trump’s Presidential win. “Challenging everyone from scrappy, young ‘Bernie Bros’ to seasoned power players in the ‘Billionaire Boys’ Club,'” ⁠The End of White Politics masterfully presents how giving women and communities of color a seat at the table will benefit us all.

The Lit. Bar (bookshop.org); $24

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir

Co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, and journalist Asha Bandele teamed up to write this powerful memoir that reveals what it is truly like to be Black in today’s violently-charged America. If you want to understand the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the people who risk their lives by fighting on its behalf, then this book is here to educate you and remind you of the person you should strive to be: the kind of person who believes in making the world a place where no one lives in fear.

mahoganybooks.com; $25

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower

Brittney Cooper, an Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies, draws from history, pop culture, and her own experiences from childhood to position “eloquent rage” as a source of power for her critically acclaimed book of the same name. From Serena Williams to Michelle Obama, Cooper demonstrates how rage grants women the strength to not only survive in America but to thrive; dismantling the misguided notion that Black women’s anger is a sign of weakness. Cooper is unapologetic in the way she centers Black women throughout her analysis, making Eloquent Rage, widely voted as the best book of 2018, all the more necessary and an essential read.

mahoganybooks.com; $18

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot

Activist and cultural critic Mikki Kendall examines the failings of the mainstream feminist movement in a new series of essays that outline just how badly white women have excluded Black women from the conversation. Drawing on her own experiences with hunger, violence, and hypersexualization, Kendall details how feminism often overlooks the basic necessities that women of color lack, such as access to food, shelter, and safety from police brutality, to name a few. Hood Feminism is a necessary read and critical feminist text on how the modern feminist movement must become more inclusive, focusing on topics that impact all women.

cafeconlibrosbk.com; $23

This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work

Published in January 2020, author Tiffany Jewell’s debut book for children and young adults couldn’t have arrived at a more important moment in time. An illuminating resource of definitions, examples, empowerment, and activism (all broken down into digestible sections), offset with colorful artwork by Aurelia Durand, Jewell successfully portrays harsh truths about racism through real-world examples that are accessible to adolescents and adults. The writing exercises at the end of each short chapter focus on self-reflection combined with action, for 20 necessary lessons on how to combat racism.

The Lit. Bar (bookshop.org); $14

Black Appetite. White Food.: Issues of Race, Voice, and Justice Within

For those seeking a resource to change systematic methods of racism within and beyond the classroom, Jamila Lyiscott effortlessly guides readers through difficult dialogues and necessary action. The social justice education scholar provides tools and excellent starting points for further self-directed research in the fight for racial justice, reminding readers that classrooms are in fact political and that race cannot be left outside these doors if we are going to truly shape the next generation for a better future. Each chapter includes frank discussions of the barriers you may face (“is your pedagogy more aligned with colonialism than you realize?”) and offers a variety of helpful strategies to confront racial injustice within your home, your community, and beyond.

The Lit. Bar (bookshop.org); $36

We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom

In her 2019 book, award-winning author Dr. Bettina Love paints a clear picture of the systemic racism and antiblackness that continues to exist in our education system. Drawing on personal stories, research, and historical events, Dr. Love argues that there is another way forward that not only makes room for Black students to successfully thrive, but one that supports all students from marginalized groups. For parents, educators, and community leaders alike, We Want to Do More Than Survive offers guided actions that are accessible to any community willing to do the work to overhaul America’s school system.

mahoganybooks.com; $25

Thick: And Other Essays

In her 2019 book of essays, author and award-winning professor, Tressie McMillan Cottom, asks readers to question who profits off determining what we consider to be beautiful. Through blending intimate details of her own life with politics, McMillan Cottom addresses several topics within the realm of Black womanhood, from ethnic differences to the toxicity that comes with assimilating to capitalism. Ultimately, Thick is a deft analysis of whiteness, black misogyny, and status-signaling as means of survival for black women, with each essay urging the reader to understand just how much wisdom is to be gleaned by finally listening to Black women in America.

mahoganybooks.com; $25

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

First published in 2010, Michelle Alexander’s book on institutionalized forms of oppression like mass incarceration is more timely than ever before. Likening the prison industry to an injustice system that is growing like a tumor in a once prospering nation, The New Jim Crow argues is that the war on drugs—as well as its consequent mass incarceration of Black American men—amounts to a new form of racialized social control similar to the Jim Crow laws. Alexander urges readers to take action and to treat one another with compassion, adding that true compassion involves taking action against mass incarceration.

mahoganybooks.com; $19

Black Looks: Race and Representation

bell hooks’ critical essay collection, published in 1992, sharply critiques the way blackness and Black people have historically been stereotyped and portrayed in literature, music, television, and film. Speaking to white people, in particular, hooks’ 12 essays aim to “challenge and unsettle, to disrupt and subvert” as she unveils the significance of race and representation, and condemns the general exploitation and appropriation of Black culture.

The Lit. Bar (bookshop.org); $39

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

An essential collection of 15 essays and speeches by one of our time’s most prolific Black, feminist writers, Audre Lorde. Published in 1984, Lorde’s revolutionary portrayal of issues ranging from police brutality and imperialism to Black feminism and violence against women has made Sister Outsider one of the most influential works of contemporary feminist theory.

mahoganybooks.com; $17

Assata: An Autobiography

Black Panther Assata Shakur’s autobiographical book, published in 1988, recounts what happened at the May 2, 1973 shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike that left a white state trooper killed. As an effect of J. Edgar Hoover’s campaign to “defame, infiltrate, and criminalize Black nationalist organizations and their leaders,” Shakur was incarcerated for four years. Chronicling a childhood of growing up Black and the experiences that led her to become a prominent Black Power and human rights activist, this book offers a lasting depiction of how—and why—racism exists in America.

mahoganybooks.com; $19

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America

This Will Be My Undoing is a sharp collection of essays that discuss how Black women are “doubly disenfranchised by race and gender” and are consistently excluded from the, mostly white, mainstream feminist movement. Delving into how Black women are “objectified, silenced, and marginalized,” Jerkins offers readers an honest and gripping assessment of the complexity of surviving as a black woman in modern American society.

mahoganybooks.com; $16

The Bluest Eye

The Bluest Eye follows Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl that is mocked for her dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes, and longs for ‘beauty’ and fitting in. Although this is Toni Morrison’s first novel, it is arguably one of her most powerful ones as it challenges “our obsession with beauty and conformity” and acutely examines self-love, race, class, and gender.

mahoganybooks.com; $15

Are Prisons Obsolete?

While Angela Davis is a well-known American political activist, the importance of her 2003 book, Are Prisons Obsolete? is often overlooked. In it, Davis imagines a world without slavery; a world that focuses on true rehabilitation over incarceration. In her argument to abolish the current justice system, Davis delineates the history of prisons leading up to the present and illuminates the ways in which they continue to perpetuate racism and sexism.

The Lit. Bar (bookshop.org); $19

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide

In the wake of the 2014 killing of Michael Brown and the uproar that followed, Carole Anderson wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post correcting that the response wasn’t a display of “black rage,” it was rather “white rage at work,” arguing that “with so much attention on the flames, everyone had ignored the kindling.” From that, Anderson wrote White Rage, detailing the history of racial oppression in America from The Civil War through the Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

mahoganybooks.com; $17

Killing the Black Body

Killing the Black Body is a powerful book that delineates America’s abuse—both literal and figurative—of Black women’s bodies. Chronicling the war against black reproduction, from slave masters’ economic stake in bonded women’s fertility to the present day, Dorothy Roberts does an indelible job in stressing the importance of extending reproductive justice to all women.

mahoganybooks.com; $17

The Warmth of Other Suns

In The Warmth of Other Suns, Pulitzer-Prize winning Isabel Wilkerson chronicles the decades-long migration of Black citizens who “fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.” Based on interviews with more than one thousand individuals as well as official data records, this incredibly detailed historical depiction is a “superb account of an unrecognized immigration within our own land.”

mahoganybooks.com; $18

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