This reading list compiles some of the most influential books about systemic racism published in the last decade, as well as books that educate readers about the origins of the Black Lives Matter movement, white privilege, and how to engage in difficult but necessary conversations about race. By no means an exhaustive list of books about racial inequality, these works provide a starting point for greater understanding, reflection, and action. Please see the Young Adult and Children’s sections for age-appropriate titles.
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015). Winner of the National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize Finalist. In an open letter to his son, Coates confronts how race has shaped American history, many times at the cost of black bodies and lives. Thoughtfully exploring personal and historical events, from his time at Howard University to the Civil War, the Atlantic writer explains that the tragic examples of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and those killed in South Carolina are the results of a systematically constructed and maintained assault to black people—a structure that includes slavery, mass incarceration, and police brutality as part of its foundation.
Citizen, Claudia Rankine (2014). A mix of 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. Rankine recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media.
The Color of the Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, Richard Rothstein (2018). In this groundbreaking history of the modern American metropolis, Rothstein describes how federal, state, and local governments systematically imposed residential segregation: with undisguised racial zoning, public housing that purposefully segregated previously mixed communities, subsidies for builders to create whites-only suburbs, tax exemptions for institutions that enforced segregation, and support for violent resistance to African Americans in white neighborhoods.
How to Be an Anti-Racist, Ibram X. Kendi (2019). The National Book Award-winning author (Stamped from the Beginning) weaves an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science with his own personal story of awakening to antiracism. This is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond the awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a just and equitable society.
Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor, Layla F. Saad (2020). When Layla Saad began an Instagram challenge called #meandwhitesupremacy, she never predicted it would become a cultural movement. She encouraged people to own up and share their racist behaviors, big and small. Updated and expanded from the original edition, Me and White Supremacy teaches readers how to dismantle the privilege within themselves so that they can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander (2010). Since it was first published in 2010, The New Jim Crow has been the winner of numerous prizes, including the prestigious NAACP Image Award and has spent nearly 250 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Most important of all, it has spawned a new generation of criminal justice reform activists and organizations motivated by Alexander’s unforgettable argument that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”
Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America, Jennifer Harvey (2018). With a foreword by Tim Wise, Raising White Kids is for families, churches, educators, and communities who want to equip their children to be active and able participants in a society that is becoming one of the most racially diverse in the world while remaining full of racial tensions. For white people who are committed to equity and justice, living in a nation that remains racially unjust and deeply segregated creates unique conundrums.
So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo (2018). Oluo guides readers of all races through the sensitive, hyper-charged racial landscape in current America, discussing the issues of privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the "N" word.
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, Ibram X. Kendi (2016). Winner of the National Book Award. A comprehensive history anti-black racist ideas in America. Kendi uses the life stories of five major American intellectuals to drive this history: Puritan minister Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, and legendary activist Angela Davis.
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, Patrisse Khan-Cullors (2018). In 2013, when Trayvon Martin’s killer went free, Patrisse’s outrage led her to co-found Black Lives Matter with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi. Condemned as terrorists and as a threat to America, these loving women founded a hashtag that birthed the movement to demand accountability from the authorities who continually turn a blind eye to the injustices inflicted upon people of Black and Brown skin. This memoir explains the movement's position of love, humanity, and justice, challenging perspectives that have negatively labeled the movement's activists while calling for essential political changes.
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo (2018). DiAngelo explores the counterproductive reactions white people have when discussing racism that serve to protect their positions and maintain racial inequality.
White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, Carol Anderson (2016). As Ferguson, Missouri erupted in August 2014, and media commentators across the ideological spectrum referred to the angry response of African Americans as “black rage,” historian Carol Anderson wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post suggesting that this was, instead, "white rage at work. With so much attention on the flames," she argued, "everyone had ignored the kindling." From the end of the Civil War to the tumultuous issues in America today, an acclaimed historian reframes the conversation about race, chronicling the powerful forces opposed to black progress in America.
Against Police Violence: Writers of Conscience Speak Out, Angela Y. Davis, Aric McBay, Assata Shakur, Howard Zinn, Huey P. Newton, and Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Seven Stories Press
The End of Policing, Alex S. Vitale, Verso Books
The Torture Letters: Reckoning with Police Violence, Laurence Ralph, University of Chicago Press
Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? Police Violence and Resistance in the United States, edited by Joe Macaré, Maya Schenwar, and Alana Yu-lan Price, Haymarket Books
Here's an image of some of the books available on this subject, a few referenced above.
Young Adult Titles
All American Boys, Jason Reynolds (2015). Two teens—one black, one white—grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.
The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas (2017). Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
I’m Not Dying With You Tonight, Gilly Segal and Kimberly Jones (2019). Over the course of one night, two girls with two very different backgrounds must rely on each other to get through the violent race riot that has enveloped their city. They aren't friends. They hardly understand the other's point of view. But none of that matters when the city is up in flames, and they only have each other to rely on if they're going to survive the night.
Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds (2017). Told in short, fierce staccato narrative verse, Long Way Down is a fast and furious, dazzlingly brilliant look at teenage gun violence.
March, John Lewis and Andrew Aydin (2013). March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis' lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis' personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.
On the Come Up, Angie Thomas (2019). Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri's got massive shoes to fill. But it's hard to get your come up when you're labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral . . . for all the wrong reasons.
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You (2020) is a “remix” of Stamped from the Beginning for Young Adult readers, a collaboration between YA novelist Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi
All Are Welcome, Alexandra Penfold (2018). Celebrate diversity and inclusion with this New York Times bestselling picture book about a school where all are welcome! This book lets young children know that no matter what, they have a place, they have a space, they are welcome in their school.
Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America, ed. Ibi Zoboi (2019). Edited by National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi, and featuring some of the most acclaimed bestselling Black authors writing for teens today—Black Enough is an essential collection of captivating stories about what it's like to be young and Black in America. This young adult novel is an excellent choice for accelerated tween readers in grades 7 to 8, especially during homeschooling.
Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson (2014). Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child's soul as she searches for her place in the world.
Bud, Not Buddy, Christopher Paul Curtis (1999). It's 1936, in Flint Michigan. Times may be hard, and ten-year-old Bud is on a journey to find his father.
A Good Kind of Trouble, by Lisa Moore Ramée (2019). Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she'd also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.) But in junior high, it's like all the rules have changed. Now she's suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she's not black enough. Wait, what?
Hey Black Child, Useni Eugene Perkins (2017). This lyrical, empowering poem celebrates black children and seeks to inspire all young people to dream big and achieve their goals.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, Vashti Harrison (2017). This beautifully illustrated board book edition of instant bestseller Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History showcases women who changed the world and is the perfect goodnight book to inspire big dreams.
New Kid, Jerry Craft (2019). Newbery Medal Winner, 2020, New Kid is a timely, honest graphic novel about starting over at a new school where diversity is low and the struggle to fit in is real, from award-winning author-illustrator Jerry Craft.
Ninth Ward, Jewell Parker Rhodes (2010). A heartbreaking and uplifting tale of survival in the face of Hurricane Katrina.
No Crystal Stair, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (2011). A documentary novel of the life and work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem bookseller. In No Crystal Stair, Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson combines meticulous research with a storyteller's flair to document the life and times of her great-uncle Lewis Michaux, an extraordinary literacy pioneer of the Civil Rights era.
One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia (2010 and sequels). In this Newbery Honor novel, New York Times bestselling author Rita Williams-Garcia tells the story of three sisters who travel to Oakland, California, in 1968 to meet the mother who abandoned them.
One Last Word, Nikki Grimes (2017). Inspired by the writers of the Harlem Renaissance, bestselling author Nikki Grimes uses "The Golden Shovel" poetic method to create wholly original poems based on the works of master poets like Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Jean Toomer, and others who enriched history during the Harlem Renaissance.
The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights, Steve Sheinkin (2014). On July 17, 1944, a massive explosion rocked the segregated Navy base at Port Chicago, California, killing more than 300 sailors who were at the docks, critically injuring off-duty men in their bunks, and shattering windows up to a mile away. On August 9th, 244 men refused to go back to work until unsafe and unfair conditions at the docks were addressed. When the dust settled, fifty were charged with mutiny, facing decades in jail and even execution. This is a fascinating story of the prejudice that faced black men and women in America's armed forces during World War II, and a nuanced look at those who gave their lives in service of a country where they lacked the most basic rights.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor (1976). Set in Mississippi at the height of the Depression, this is the story of one family's struggle to maintain their integrity, pride, and independence in the face of racism and social injustice.
The Season of Styx Malone, Kekla Magoon (2018). A Coretta Scott King Honor Book. Meet Caleb and Bobby Gene, two brothers embarking on a madcap, heartwarming, one-thing-leads-to-another adventure in which friendships are forged, loyalties are tested . . . and miracles just might happen.
The Undefeated, Kwame Alexander (2019). Winner of the 2020 Caldecott Medal
A 2020 Newbery Honor Book Winner of the 2020 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award
The Newbery Award-winning author of THE CROSSOVER pens an ode to black American triumph and tribulation, with art from a two-time Caldecott Honoree. Originally performed for ESPN's The Undefeated, this poem is a love letter to black life in the United States.
The Underground Abductor (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales), Nathan Hale (2015). Araminta Ross was born a slave in Delaware in the early 19th century. Slavery meant that her family could be ripped apart at any time, and that she could be put to work in dangerous places and for abusive people. But north of the Mason-Dixon line, slavery was illegal. If she could run away and make it north without being caught or killed, she'd be free. Facing enormous danger, Araminta made it, and once free, she changed her name to Harriet Tubman. Tubman spent the rest of her life helping slaves run away like she did, every time taking her life in her hands. Nathan Hale tells her incredible true-life story with the humor and sensitivity he's shown in every one of the Hazardous Tales.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963, Christopher Palu Curtis (1995). Join this hilarious family on a road-trip at one of the most important times in America's history. And they'll be in Birmingham during one of the darkest moments in America's history.
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson (2018). Fifty of the foremost diverse children's authors and illustrators—including Jason Reynolds, Jacqueline Woodson, and Kwame Alexander—share answers to the question, "In this divisive world, what shall we tell our children?" in this beautiful, full-color keepsake collection.