Books on Systemic Racism

In light of the protests to structural and institutional racism occurring across the globe, we wanted to share some resources, both from our collection and from the main library collection, about systemic racism and how it can be combated.

We have also included a couple of outstanding works of fiction by black authors, because far too little attention is given to diverse voices in literature. While many of these works are by American authors (we are, after all, the American library) we are also recommending books from other countries in recognition of the fact that racism is a global problem and needs to be confronted as such.

NONFICTION

The New Jim Crow – Michelle Alexander
In this work civil litigator Michelle Alexander discusses how mass incarceration in the United States has become a tool of oppression. While white people are more likely to commit drug crimes than those of color, black people, and specifically black men, make up a disproportionately high percentage of those incarcerated for drug crimes. The book’s title is based on the idea that mass incarceration has become a new version of the Jim Crow laws that were used in the early 20th century to enforce racial segregation in the United States.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
Based on a blog entry, Eddo-Lodge uses this work to explore racism in Britain. Eddo-Lodge’s central argument is that it is impossible to discuss race with those who are not aware of or will not acknowledge the structural racism in place in all levels of society.

Stamped from the Beginning – Ibram X. Kendi
Winner of the National Book Award, ‘Stamped from the Beginning’ is a chronicle of racism in the United States. In the book Kendi, a historian, traces the influential and long-lasting power racist ideas have had on society. The book chiefly challenges the notion that racism grows from ignorance, instead contending that it has been deliberately devised and honed over centuries.

Sister Outsider – Audra Lorde
Drawing on the author’s experience as a poet and activist, this collection examines intersectional identity and oppression. From her position as a queer black woman, Lorde examines sexism, racism, police brutality, black feminism and movements promoting equality. It was groundbreaking when it was published in 1984, and it remains a must-read.

Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Framed as a letter to the author’s son, ‘Between the World and Me’ was awarded the National Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize. The book chronicles American history, and the racist violence implicit within it. In the end, Coates determines that white supremacy is a permanent and indestructible force which black individuals will always struggle against.

Just Mercy – Bryan Stevenson
A memoir by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, this book tells the story of Walter McMillan, a black man sentenced to death for a murder he insisted he didn’t commit. Like ‘The New Jim Crow’, the book offers a fairly damning look at the American criminal justice system.

FICTION

Beloved – Toni Morrison
Winner of the Nobel prize for literature, Toni Morrison is one of the greatest writers of the 20th and 21st centuries. Set after the civil war, ‘Beloved’ was inspired by the life of Margaret Garner, an escaped slave. It is a brilliant novel of astoundingly exquisite writing. A must-read.

A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James
After his first book was rejected 78 times, James has admitted he almost gave up on being an author, feeling that he was “writing the kinds of stories people didn’t want to read”. James had the last word though, going on to publish ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’ which took home the Booker Prize. His style of patois prose — which is poetic and stunning — goes a long way to explaining why, and makes you wonder what those who rejected him were thinking.

The Underground Railroad – Coleson Whitehead
Winner of the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize and the Carnegie Medal, Whitehead’s novel envisions an underground railroad that is an actual underground railway system. The book tells the story of two slaves who use the system to try to win their freedom. Read it, and you will understand why it took a hat trick of literary awards.

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
There’s a reason Adichie is hailed as one of the greatest living writers. Her writing style is understated, but no less compelling for its subtlety. In ‘Americanah’ the protagonist maintains a blog of musings on what it is like to be a black African in America, making the book into a profound exploration of the subject.

Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward
In this National Book Award winning novel Ward uses the portrayal of a poor family in Mississippi to create a damning critique of drugs, the prison system, and U.S. history. Ward’s style of writing is lyrical and poetic, creating a spellbinding and devastating read.

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