The best books on why racism persists and what we can do about it

Who am I?

I am a clinical psychologist with a life-long research interest in racial identity development, particularly among Black adolescents. I began teaching about the psychology of racism in 1980, at the start of my academic career. That teaching experience was transformative for both my students and me. I was convinced that helping people understand how racism operates in our lives, and what we can do about it, was my calling. I have been teaching and writing about racism ever since. In 2014, I was deeply honored to receive the Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology in recognition of my work, the highest honor presented by the American Psychological Association.


I wrote...

Book cover of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations about Race

What is my book about?

This book is about the psychology of racism: what it is, how it shapes our view of ourselves and others, and ultimately what we can do about it. I translate psychological theory and research regarding racial identity and intergroup relations into accessible language, and apply it to daily experiences in school, at home, and at work. The answer to the title question comes from the latest research on Black adolescent identity development.

Also included are substantive discussions of the racial-ethnic-cultural identity development of White, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and multiracial youth, reflecting the changing U.S. demographics. You will gain a better understanding of the dynamics of race in America and find both inspiration and effective strategies to help you take anti-racist action.

The books I picked & why

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The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

By Edward E. Baptist,

Book cover of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

Why this book?

What psychologists like me and historians have in common is a deep understanding that the past matters.  Past events shape our perceptions of the present and our expectations for the future. To understand the contemporary persistence of racism and racial inequality you have to know what happened in the past. Learning more about the establishment of slavery as a business practice foundational to the American economy is a good place to start. The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward Baptist is a riveting historical account of both the brutal realities of enslavement and the way today’s U.S. economy was profoundly shaped by the American system of slavery. Before I read this book, I thought I already knew a lot about this subject, but as the title suggests, “the half has never been told…” I learned a lot, you will, too!

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

By Edward E. Baptist,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Half Has Never Been Told as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Americans tend to cast slavery as a pre-modern institution,the nation's original sin, perhaps, but isolated in time and divorced from America's later success. But to do so robs the millions who suffered in bondage of their full legacy. As historian Edward E. Baptist reveals in The Half Has Never Been Told , the expansion of slavery in the first eight decades after American independence drove the evolution and modernization of the United States. In the span of a single lifetime, the South grew from a narrow coastal strip of worn-out tobacco plantations to a continental cotton empire, and the United…


From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century

By William A. Darity, A. Kirsten Mullen,

Book cover of From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century

Why this book?

From Here to Equality is a great companion to The Half Has Never Been Told. Through the lens of the contemporary discussion of reparations, it fills in the historical blanks that so many people have about the African American experience, going beyond slavery to Reconstruction and its aftermath, Jim Crow segregation, and modern-day discrimination, detailing the economic impact during each historical period. I was really impressed by the historical detail and the economic analysis, and I learned a lot from reading it. If you want to understand the national conversation about reparations, read this book!

From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century

By William A. Darity, A. Kirsten Mullen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked From Here to Equality as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Racism and discrimination have choked economic opportunity for African Americans at nearly every turn. At several historic moments, the trajectory of racial inequality could have been altered dramatically. Perhaps no moment was more opportune than the early days of Reconstruction, when the U.S. government temporarily implemented a major redistribution of land from former slaveholders to the newly emancipated enslaved. But neither Reconstruction nor the New Deal nor the civil rights struggle led to an economically just and fair nation. Today, systematic inequality persists in the form of housing discrimination, unequal education, police brutality, mass incarceration, employment discrimination, and massive wealth…


The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

By Richard Rothstein,

Book cover of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

Why this book?

Many people think that racism is about individual acts of bigotry, and fail to recognize the systemic nature of racism, perpetuated by intentionally discriminatory public policies at the federal, state, and local levels. The Color of Law makes that process abundantly clear in the realm of the 20th-century housing policies that actively fostered and perpetuated neighborhood segregation. Many social scientists consider residential segregation to be the structural linchpin in America’s system of racial stratification. Understanding how we got there gives important insight into how we can change it. Everyone should read this book!

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

By Richard Rothstein,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Color of Law as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Widely heralded as a "masterful" (The Washington Post) and "essential" (Slate) history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein's The Color of Law offers "the most forceful argument ever published on how federal, state, and local governments gave rise to and reinforced neighborhood segregation" (William Julius Wilson). Exploding the myth of de facto segregation arising from private prejudice or the unintended consequences of economic forces, Rothstein describes how the American government 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…


The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together

By Heather McGhee,

Book cover of The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together

Why this book?

The Sum of Us accomplishes two important things: it illustrates the power of public policy to perpetuate racism and racial inequality and demonstrates the negative impact of such policies on white people as well as Black and other people of color. Racism hurts all of us in tangible and measurable ways. The Sum of Us makes those costs abundantly clear, but also offers much-needed hope and action steps for healing our collective wounds. I love Heather McGhee’s concept of the “solidarity dividend”. It reminds me that change is possible!

The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together

By Heather McGhee,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Sum of Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD • One of today’s most insightful and influential thinkers offers a powerful exploration of inequality and the lesson that generations of Americans have failed to learn: Racism has a cost for everyone—not just for people of color.

WINNER OF THE PORCHLIGHT BUSINESS BOOK AWARD • ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Time, The Washington Post, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Ms. magazine, BookRiot, Library Journal

“This is the book I’ve been waiting for.”—Ibram X. Kendi, #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist

Look for…


Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do

By Jennifer L. Eberhardt,

Book cover of Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do

Why this book?

Our individual histories also shape our experience of racism and our often-unwitting perpetuation of it because of the biases we have internalized, even without our conscious awareness. Biased is an excellent discussion of how our biases are formed, how they shape our behavior (even when we don’t want them to), and what we can do about it. Jennifer Eberhardt’s powerful examples will stick with you a long time!

Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do

By Jennifer L. Eberhardt,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Biased as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Poignant....important and illuminating."-The New York Times Book Review

"Groundbreaking."-Bryan Stevenson, New York Times bestselling author of Just Mercy

From one of the world's leading experts on unconscious racial bias come stories, science, and strategies to address one of the central controversies of our time

How do we talk about bias? How do we address racial disparities and inequities? What role do our institutions play in creating, maintaining, and magnifying those inequities? What role do we play? With a perspective that is at once scientific, investigative, and informed by personal experience, Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt offers us the language and courage we…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in African Americans, race relations, and repatriation?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about African Americans, race relations, and repatriation.

African Americans Explore 507 books about African Americans
Race Relations Explore 166 books about race relations
Repatriation Explore 10 books about repatriation

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The New Jim Crow, Braiding Sweetgrass, and The Second Founding if you like this list.