Five Books You Need to Read If You Are Just Beginning to Have Conversations on Institutional Racism

Basic Books

Many people are only now learning that racism is much more than someone’s individual beliefs, but it is a problem that is found in every aspect of American life, from television shows to office spaces and everywhere in between.

Unfortunately, racism permeates the society we live in, so we need to take action and teach ourselves about racial identity, what white privilege really means, how to have a conversation about race without it being littered with anger or guilt, and most importantly, the systematic, institutionalized racism that is found in our culture.

Here are five must-read books that break down just how racism came to be, why it has been here to stay, and how we can work together, regardless of our backgrounds, to get past it as understanding and educated citizens.

1) Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? – Beverly Daniel Tatum

This book covers the topic of anti-racism better than most, as it clearly explains and depicts the social, economic, and racial challenges faced in America by people of color, as well as their privileged, white counterparts. Tatum intertwines the breakdown of facts with heart-tugging narratives and strong visuals (ie: “racial smog” in America) to showcase how our current socio-political context is merely a jumping-off point when it comes to learning about bigotry, institutionalized racism, housing inequality, and subconsciously unintentional segregation. This book is a classic and a well-rounded read for white people just grappling with Black Lives Matter, as well as people of color who want to dive deeper into why the world they live in is the way it is.


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This week I will be amplifying black voices. This book by Beverly Daniel Tatum, P.h.D., is an *amazing* place to begin to understand the development of racial identity. Dr. Tatum is president of Spelman College and while she is a professor of psychology, Dr. Tatum is also an expert on race relations in the classroom. She participated in President Clinton’s “Dialogue on Race” lectures extensively throughout the country and continues to conduct workshops with students, educators, and parents. This book “Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria?” covers so many areas about understanding racial relations and identity, from topics like understanding blackness in a white context, to understanding whiteness in a white context, covering other races beyond black and white, and how to break the silence. This isn’t a textbook type, but includes real conversations and feedback from her classrooms when she lead racial discussions with children, adolescents, college students, and adults. If you visit her website you can purchase the book as well as download the *free* discussion guide. I recommend making any purchases directly through her website instead of Amazon to ensure she receives the most benefits possible. There are also many other incredible resources on her website. #dothework #education #dismantlingwhitesupremacy #understandingracialrelations #firststeps #readblackauthors #blackauthors #blacklivesmatter #resources #beverlydanieltatum #bookclub #blacklivesmatterbookclub

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2) Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates

This New York Times Bestseller takes personal struggles and triumphs to another level, as it is written in the style of a letter from a father to his son. The emotional reporting of events in the style of historical fiction and nonfiction play-by-plays attempts to answer the questions that the son has about his place in the world and the racist empire America has built. If communicating about racism is nerve-wracking to you, this is the book you have to read to grasp just how to have those conversations in an educational, personal, and polite manner – just as a father would have with his son.

3) Mexican Whiteboy – Matt De La Peña

While this might be just another young adult novel on the surface, at its core it is a discussion about race in America in the 21st century. Mexican Whiteboy explores racial identity and how American youths attempt to categorize themselves to find their place on the school playground and how that affects their actual place in the world later on in life. Nobody is born a racist. Racism, racial inequality, prejudice, and judgment are all learned traits, and this book breaks that down through the story of a young biracial boy who is ‘too white’ to be Mexican, but ‘too Mexican’ to be white. Through that boy’s eyes, you are taught on a personal level that understanding who you are as a non-white person living in America comes with a lifetime of struggles.

4) Out of Darkness – Sandie Angulo Chen

This fictional novel is an interracial love story between a Mexican and an African American couple set in 1930s Texas. From racial hatred and segregation to financial struggles and educational disparity, the main characters open up an emotional conversation about institutionalized racism, racial injustice, and unfair race-based violence and death. Love is powerful, but the most influential aspect of this novel is the understanding of the protection that people of color need to have within their society.

5) White Fragility – Robin DiAngelo

In this book, white people are the center of the conversation on racism. Yes, that’s right. In White Fragility, people of color are not the topic of discussion, but rather white people as the author breaks down how systemic racism is in American (and global) culture and why white people are not able to talk about it. DiAngelo educates readers on how multiple aspects of racism are all around us, so even though a white person may claim that they don’t see racist tendencies or events on a daily basis, that doesn’t mean it isn’t occurring and it surely doesn’t mean that every person of color is safe, comfortable, and trusts in the society we live in. Topics like these break down the walls between white people and people of color while showcasing strong conversation starters and even stronger eye-openers about the way their world views are developed within an institutionally racist culture.