- Black History Month, like every other month, is a good time to educate yourself on anti-racism.
- Anti-racism is actively rejecting racism and promoting equity of Black and brown people.
- Black sociology, literary, and history scholars shared their top book recommendations on anti-racism.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Since the killing of George Floyd, many Americans continue to talk about how they can be an ally for Black people. And this Black History Month is an important time to continue that work.
In this era, it’s not enough for allies to say they’re “not racist,” activists and leading scholars are saying. Instead, they have to actively adopt anti-racism, which is the set of beliefs and actions that oppose racism and promote the inclusion and equality of Black and brown people in society.
One important way to learn about anti-racism is by reading. As Vulture aptly puts it, “The how could this happen meets the I told you so. They rendezvous at the anti-racist reading list.”
So which books should you read? Business Insider reached out to Black professors and scholars at institutions across the country to find out which books they recommend. We also included some popular books on anti-racism Americans are digitally reading at their libraries right now.
This updated article was originally published in June 2020.
In this bestseller, Seattle-based writer Ijeoma Oluo prompts people of all races to start having honest conversations about race, giving readers handy phrases and questions to start unpacking racism within their own social networks. She tackles subjects ranging from intersectionality to microaggressions, or subtly racist remarks or actions.
Thomonique Moore, a 2016 graduate of Howard University, founder of online book club Books&Shit, which explores titles by authors of color, and an incoming master’s candidate at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, recommends everyone pick of this title.
“This is a good book to help white people and non-black people of color answer often spoken and unspoken questions about race and racism,” Moore told Business Insider.
“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander
In “The New Jim Crow,” legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” Jim Crow laws were state and local laws created in the late 1800s and early 1900s that enforced racial segregation and encouraged the disenfranchisement of black people in the US.
“Michelle Alexander breaks down the historic ‘war on crime’ and how the explosive increase in the number US citizens incarcerated, namely black men, is just another trickier, evolved, version of slavery, and Jim Crow,” Moore said.
“White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” by Robin DiAngelo
In this best-selling book, academic, lecturer, and author Robin Diangelo explores the defense mechanisms white people commonly employ when challenged on their assumptions about race. These counterproductive reactions, Diangelo explains, prevent white people from having much needed conversations to usher in progress.
“White Fragility is a mirror and self-reflection guide, so to speak, for white people who are ready to face their privileges and finally have the tough and necessary conversations,” Moore said.
“Racism without Racists: Colorblind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States” by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
In this book, Bonilla-Silva makes a powerful argument against the idea that race doesn’t exist, or that being “colorblind” is an appropriate solution to racism.
Crystal Fleming, associate professor of sociology and Africana studies at Stony Brook University called this “one of the most important books on racism.”
“In particular, Bonilla-Silva helps us understand how the rhetoric of colorblindness reinforces the racial status quo,” she told Business Insider.
“Two Faced Racism: Whites in the Backstage and Frontstage” by Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin
“Two-Faced Racism,” published in 2007, features more than 600 journal entries of racial events kept by white college students at 28 colleges in the US. It exposes how closely held racist beliefs are still very much a part of American culture.
Fleming assigns this book to students taking her “Racism and Ethnic Relations” course at Stony Brook University.
“Picca and Feagin analyze data from journal entries provided by white college students which reveals how racism works behind closed doors as well as in public and semi-public spaces,” Fleming said.
“How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy and the Racial Divide” by Crystal Fleming
In addition to recommending other authors, Fleming suggest a book she wrote on the topic of racism, which serves as a primer on the topics of racial oppression and white supremacy.
“I wrote the book to help people understand the historical roots of white supremacy and to be able to draw connections between past and present racism. The last chapter includes 10 concrete steps that everyone can take to help dismantle systemic racism,” she told Business Insider.
“The Ethnic Project: Transforming Racial Fiction into Ethnic Factions” by Vilna Bashi Treitler
“The Ethnic Project” was written by Vilna Bashi Treitler, a sociology professor in the department of black students at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
In this historical narrative work, Treitler examines the ethnic history of the US from the arrival of the English in North America to the present day. She shows how each group of immigrants from Irish to Chinese people negotiated their place in the pecking order of ethnic groups within in the country.
“‘The Ethnic Project’ is incredibly useful for understanding the racial hierarchy in the United States,” Fleming said.
“Race and Racisms: A Critical Approach” by Tanya Golash Boza
“Race and Racisms” tackles critical topics including how and when the idea of race was created, how it developed, and how structural racism has created inequality.
“This book is an excellent overview of systemic and institutionalized racism,” Fleming said.
“Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations” by Joe Feagin
Feagin incorporates more than 200 recent research studies and reports in his book, which illustrates the origins of racism in the US, and how it still pervades white culture today.
Augustine Kposowa, professor and chair of the department of sociology at the University of California, Riverside, cites this book as an important read for anyone looking to be anti-racist.
“Joe Feagin reveals just how racist whites are,” Kposowa said. “Feagin is white and he is privy to secret conversations that whites have in white networks that blacks can never join. In his book, he mentions stories, and what white people say in private, at dinner tables, in their circles about black people, leaving no stone untouched.”
“White Rage; the Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide” by Carol Anderson
“White Rage” explores how each time blacks in America have made progress, there has been strong white backlash.
“The book is a critical reflection of why racism persists in the United States, including things that enrage white people about racial issues. In the book, it is evident that no matter what happens in America, including the most open outrages like police killings of blacks, whites never seem interested,” Kposowa said.
“Black Americans” by Alphonso Pinkney
This book, written by distinguished Afro-American sociologist and former long term chairman of the Department of Sociology at Hunter College Alphonso Pinkney, explores several facets of different black experiences in the US, including homicide as a public health problem and the prevalence of police brutality.
“Pinkney’s book is a comprehensive account of black life in America, and covers why in almost every sphere, blacks are forced to stay behind,” Kposowa said.
“Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present” by Harriet Washington
Maryann Erigha, assistant sociology professor at the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Georgia recommends this book written by Harriet Washington, which won the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction.
“Washington’s book provides a full context and comprehensive understanding of the history and present of medical experimentation and the mistreatment of Blacks in the medical industrial complex. She covers a wide range of areas, from academic pseudoscience to the medical atrocities committed by the government and armed forces, prisons, and private institutions,” she said.
The Hollywood Jim Crow: The Racial Politics of the Movie Industry by Maryann Erigha.
Erigha also recommended “The New Jim Crow” and “So You Want to Talk About Race?” In addition, she suggested her own book, which tackles how racist beliefs pervade American movies, a major export to countries across the globe.
“My book highlights the ubiquity and implications of underlying beliefs about race and value, inferiority/superiority, profit/loss, desirability/undesirability, that are pervasive among whites in Hollywood and that influence their decision-making about what movies get made, for how much, and under what conditions,” she told Business Insider.
“Code of the Street” by Elijah Anderson
In the “code of the street,” Yale professor Elijah Anderson, presents an explanation for high rates of violence among black teens in the US. Anderson explains how living in impoverished areas without access to economic opportunities, being separated from mainstream society, as well as persistent discrimination was linked with anti-social attitudes and and violent behavior in black teens.
Mansa Bilal Mark King, associate professor of sociology at Morehouse College, told Business Insider it’s one of the most important books non-black people can read.
“This is one of the best books for helping non-black people begin to understand that the adoption of a street persona is often a matter of everyday safety for black people who are not actually committed to a street ethos,” he said.
“The Wretched of the Earth” by Frantz Fanon
Author Frantz Fanon was a distinguished psychiatrist from Martinique who took part in the Algerian Nationalist Movement, a movement that fought for the rights French colonizers to be extended to native Algerians. In “The Wretched of the Earth,” Fanon captures the psychology of the colonized and their path to liberation.
“This book can be hard for most non-black Americans to read, and it can be even more difficult for them to see how it relates to African Americans, particularly those of us whose families survived American slavery and Jim and Jane Crow apartheid. That is exactly why people need to read it,” King said.
“The Mis-Education of the Negro” by Carter Woodson
Carter Godwin Woodson was an American historian, author, journalist, and one of the first scholars to study the history of the African diaspora. In this book, he argues that black people were being indoctrinated, rather than educated, in American schools, and that black Americans needed to educate themselves on the history of race and racism.
“This book is almost a century old, and the fact that its basic critique remains a valid one should help readers to understand a key source of black American anger,” King said. “For many Black Americans, not getting a helpful education on Africa and her American Diaspora is part of the reason for educational disengagement.”
“UNESCO General History of Africa, Vol. I by Joseph Ki-Zerbo and Vol. II” by G. Mokhtar
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has put together comprehensive titles on the history of Africa and its people that are useful for any American of any color to read.
These works “help the reader overcome the poor historical education that most Americans get when it comes to Africa,” King said.
“Black Wealth/White Wealth” by Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro
In “Black Wealth/White Wealth,” sociological researchers Oliver and Shapiro capture just how large the wealth gap is between black and white Americans.
“This book helps people of all races begin to understand that it was white America that systematically chooses for us to have almost all black, low-income, ‘ghetto areas.’ Equally important, this imposed reality means that black children are born at a disadvantage, in the vast majority of cases, through no fault of their own,” King said.
“me and white supremacy,” by Layla Saad
This was the most popular anti-racism book checked out digitally from the end of May through June, according to Overdrive.
In this hit title, Saad brings her unique perspective as an East African, Arab, British, Black, Muslim woman — who’s also a speaker and writer — to the forefront. Her book came after the hashtag she started #MeandWhiteSupremacy, where people shared their own experiences with racism, went viral. Saad’s book lists the common reasons why white people aren’t actively anti-racist, and includes concrete steps on how to be a better ally.
“Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You,” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
“Stamped,” a young adult nonfiction book, is another popular title among readers, according to Overdrive. In this book, Reynolds, renowned young-adult author, reimagines Kendi’s bestseller for a younger audience. The book explores how the history of racism is inextricably linked to the creation of the US.
“Just Mercy,” by Bryan Stevenson
In “Just Mercy,” Stevenson tells his incredible story of creating the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice to help those most desperate and in need, like the wrongly condemned. One of his first clients was Walter McMillian, a young man sentenced to death for a murder he said he didn’t commit. The story of Stevenson’s fight for justice was turned into a major motion film.
“Thick,” by Tressie McMillan Cottom
In McMillan Cottom’s eyes, the personal is political, and she doesn’t shy away from talking about all of it. In eight treatises on beauty, media, money, race, and abuse, McMillan Cottom explores the ways American culture treats Black women. Roxanne Gay, writer, professor and author of the best-selling essay collection Bad Feminist calls this book “brilliant.”