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

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By Edward E. Baptist

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!


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

By William A. Darity, A. Kirsten Mullen

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!


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

By Richard Rothstein

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!


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

By Heather McGhee

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!


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

By Jennifer L. Eberhardt

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!


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