The best books about racism

3 authors have picked their favorite books about racism and why they recommend each book.

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New Racism

By Martin Barker,

Book cover of New Racism: Conservatives and the Ideology of the Tribe

I became involved in anti-racist politics as a student. The first campaign I organized was a protest against a lecturer who had written an essay advocating the deportation of everyone in Britain who was not white. The lecturer presented his argument in terms of the need for cultural homogeneity, which meant he did not have to make easily discredited claims of racial superiority. While the racism was obvious to me, I was struck by how many people believed the lecturer’s cultural argument. To respond to it required understanding how racist arguments could change their form, as older racist ideas lost their plausibility. For a while, I struggled to make sense of this. Then I came across Martin Barker’s book and all my confusion was dispelled. Accessible even as it wrestles with complex ideas of culture and biology, The New Racism shows how, from Enoch Powell onwards, conservatism in Britain has…


Who am I?

Kundnani writes about racial capitalism and Islamophobia, surveillance and political violence, and Black radical movements. He is the author of The Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, extremism, and the domestic War on Terror and The End of Tolerance: racism in 21st century Britain, which was selected as a New Statesman book of the year. He has written for the Nation, the Guardian, the Washington Post, Vice, and The Intercept. Born in London, he moved to New York in 2010. A former editor of the journal Race & Class, he was miseducated at Cambridge University, and holds a PhD from London Metropolitan University. He has been an Open Society fellow and a scholar-in-residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.


I wrote...

The Muslims Are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror

By Arun Kundnani,

Book cover of The Muslims Are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror

What is my book about?

The Muslims are Coming! is the story of how the United States and British governments developed a sprawling infrastructure of surveillance to counter the threat of domestic terrorism. At least 100,000 Muslims in the US were placed under scrutiny – many were entrapped and wrongfully imprisoned by the FBI and federal prosecutors.

Meanwhile, British police and intelligence officers surveilled children as young as five as potential extremists. These abuses were backed by an industry of freshly minted experts and commentators, who helped propagate a series of racial prejudices about Muslims living in the West. Based on several years of research and reportage, in locations as disperate as Texas, New York, and Yorkshire, this is the first comprehensive critique of the War on Terror at home.

Friday Black

By Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah,

Book cover of Friday Black

The scenarios in Friday Black, at first, felt unbelievable, even though they were an amplification of rampant capitalism and racism that are already very real. I didn't want them to be real. Adjei-Brenyah rendered them so perfectly and developed his narrators' psychology so effectively (especially his retail workers, so reminiscent of a commercial world I used to inhabit) that I became immersed in these new realities. 

The characters are underdogs by virtue of simply being Black people in America. But they are resilient and complex, finding unique ways to resist. 

The writing is beautiful, with tightly turned phrases aptly describing the time and place.


Who am I?

I’m a short story reader, reviewer, and writer. Short stories are a powerful form, combining the distilled intensity of poetry with the depth of character development. They allow enough space to get to know a character, feel the pain of their disappointments, to root for their ultimate success. Such moments reflect broader realities of a culture, a society, a people. A single-author collection gives great insight into a writer’s abilities and style. My own debut collection was a finalist for the Alistair MacLeod short fiction prize and is critically acclaimed, so hopefully, that means my careful reading of these collections has taught me a thing or two


I wrote...

Boy with a Problem

By Chris Benjamin,

Book cover of Boy with a Problem

What is my book about?

Shortlisted for the prestigious Alistair MacLeod Prize for Short Fiction, the jury had this to say: "In Boy with a Problem, Chris Benjamin parses some of the major political issues of our times through the flawed, driven, often lonely characters he inhabits. They discover that nothing is ever as ethically easy as it appears. In many of these dozen stories of messy morality and questionable action, characters unravel their own motivations, learn the impossibility of escaping the past and face the very human costs of justice. They become intimate with the light that death sheds on life in their efforts to live it at all, if not well." 

These 13 short stories by award-winning author Chris Benjamin are about love, loss, failure, and acceptance.

Stamped from the Beginning

By Ibram X. Kendi,

Book cover of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

Kendi’s book is the most recent in a long line of fantastic scholars who have tackled discussions of racism in America, especially anti-Black racism. Kendi focuses specifically on racist ideas, and how those ideas were created and then used to rationalize policies and inequalities for generations. The book is a New York Times Bestseller for a reason: it is accessible, has important ideas that are well-supported, and the reader doesn’t get lost in a history that covers a wide span of time.


Who are we?

Paul Spickard wrote the first edition of Almost All Aliens. He invited Francisco Beltrán and Laura Hooton, who worked under Dr. Spickard at UC Santa Barbara, to co-author the second edition after working as research assistants and providing suggestions for the second edition. We are all historians of race, ethnicity, immigration, colonialism, and identity, and in our other works and teaching we each think about these topics in different ways. We did the same for this list—this is a list of five books that talk about topics that are important to Almost All Aliens and approaches that have been influential in how we think about the topic.  


We wrote...

Almost All Aliens: Immigration, Race, and Colonialism in American History and Identity

By Paul Spickard, Francisco Beltrán, and Laura Hooton,

Book cover of Almost All Aliens: Immigration, Race, and Colonialism in American History and Identity

What is our book about?

Almost All Aliens discusses ethnic identity and race from 1600 to the first two decades of the twenty-first century. The focus is on how immigration in the United States is and was multicultural, racialized, and deeply rooted in colonialism. Moving away from the European migrant-centered melting-pot model of immigrant assimilation, the book examines the lives of those who crossed the Atlantic, Pacific, Caribbean, and North American Borderlands, and their experiences navigating different racial and ethnic structures in the United States. 

Censoring Racial Ridicule

By M. Alison Kibler,

Book cover of Censoring Racial Ridicule: Irish, Jewish, and African American Struggles over Race and Representation, 1890-1930

A unique and insightful look at how three groups fought back against their widespread stereotyping in the media of the early 20th century, and how two of them largely succeeded in changing these portrayals. The reasons why African-Americans were much less successful than Irish and Jews in fighting stereotypes are complex and fascinating, and hold lessons for us today.


Who am I?

I am a former network television executive who is fascinated by the history of mass media and have authored or co-authored nine books and many articles on the subject. These include The Complete Directory to Primetime Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present and Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919. I’m particularly drawn to subjects that are underexplored, or which seem to be greatly misunderstood today. I quickly learned that you are not likely to earn a living from writing, so I decided to write about subjects I cared about, and hopefully add something to our knowledge of cultural history. I became more aware of what the professional minstrel show was really like while researching Lost Sounds, based on original accounts, recordings, and films.


I wrote...

The Blackface Minstrel Show in Mass Media: 20th Century Performances on Radio, Records, Film and Television

By Tim Brooks,

Book cover of The Blackface Minstrel Show in Mass Media: 20th Century Performances on Radio, Records, Film and Television

What is my book about?

The big time, professional minstrel show lasted much longer than most people realize, from its origins in the 1840s to the early television era in the 1950s—more than 110 years. What was it, really, and how did it change over this long period? Why was it considered acceptable for so long, by almost everyone—even by many black Americans? What finally brought it down? This book explores its entire history, focusing particularly on the 20th-century mass media we know so well, radio, recordings, film, and television. Minstrel shows were featured in all of them, often performed by major stars and sometimes by blacks themselves. Major controversies are described, as is the surprising popularity of the format in Britain. This concise history of a now-controversial form of entertainment shows how we can too easily accept widely endorsed beliefs.

Policing the Crisis

By Stuart Hall, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke, Brian Roberts

Book cover of Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order

We are brought up to think of racism as a matter of individual attitudes and biases. If only it were that simple. Stuart Hall and his colleagues taught me that understanding how racism worked required much deeper thinking. First published in 1978, Policing the Crisis argued that race is a key constituent of Britain’s social and economic structures. It presented a picture of Britain in the 1970s as caught in a crisis of authority. Society was fracturing, giving rise to new authoritarianism in response. A moral panic about black crime was the surface justification for new “law and order” policies. But in a strange way, the country was using black people to work through its own anxieties. This was Thatcherism in embryo. The same processes continue to shape our lives today. There is no better book on how politics in Britain has functioned in the last fifty years.


Who am I?

Kundnani writes about racial capitalism and Islamophobia, surveillance and political violence, and Black radical movements. He is the author of The Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, extremism, and the domestic War on Terror and The End of Tolerance: racism in 21st century Britain, which was selected as a New Statesman book of the year. He has written for the Nation, the Guardian, the Washington Post, Vice, and The Intercept. Born in London, he moved to New York in 2010. A former editor of the journal Race & Class, he was miseducated at Cambridge University, and holds a PhD from London Metropolitan University. He has been an Open Society fellow and a scholar-in-residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.


I wrote...

The Muslims Are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror

By Arun Kundnani,

Book cover of The Muslims Are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror

What is my book about?

The Muslims are Coming! is the story of how the United States and British governments developed a sprawling infrastructure of surveillance to counter the threat of domestic terrorism. At least 100,000 Muslims in the US were placed under scrutiny – many were entrapped and wrongfully imprisoned by the FBI and federal prosecutors.

Meanwhile, British police and intelligence officers surveilled children as young as five as potential extremists. These abuses were backed by an industry of freshly minted experts and commentators, who helped propagate a series of racial prejudices about Muslims living in the West. Based on several years of research and reportage, in locations as disperate as Texas, New York, and Yorkshire, this is the first comprehensive critique of the War on Terror at home.

The Invention of the White Race Vol II

By Theodore W. Allen,

Book cover of The Invention of the White Race Vol II

In colonial North America, plantation owners were equal opportunity exploiters who mistreated European and African laborers alike, and workers frequently resisted by running away, stealing or destroying property, and engaging in occasional rebellions. Theodore Allen explains how colonial elites invented America’s racial divide through a series of laws that ended up enslaving most African Americans for life and reserving the rights of freedom and citizenship for European Americans. Since then, race and class have been intertwined, laying the basis for white supremacist practices and beliefs that shaped the development of the United States and continue to allocate wealth and power unequally today.


Who am I?

I’m a historian of the African American freedom struggle with more than two decades of experience researching and teaching on this topic. My work focuses especially on the connections between race and class and the ways Black people have fought for racial and economic justice in the twentieth century. I write books and articles that are accessible for general audiences and that help them to understand the historical origins of racism in the United States, the various forms it has taken, and the reasons why it has persisted into the present.


I wrote...

You Can't Eat Freedom: Southerners and Social Justice after the Civil Rights Movement

By Greta de Jong,

Book cover of You Can't Eat Freedom: Southerners and Social Justice after the Civil Rights Movement

What is my book about?

I look at how African Americans in the rural South continued their struggles for racial and economic justice after the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s, which failed to do anything about mass unemployment and poverty caused by agricultural mechanization. Social justice activists pressured the federal government to pay attention to these problems and invest more in anti-poverty initiatives, while white supremacists blocked every effort to help displaced workers who were left without jobs, homes, or income. These conflicts helped shape the experiences of other Americans whose jobs were lost to deindustrialization and globalization later in the twentieth century, and their outcomes still affect our lives today.

There Are No Slaves in France

By Sue Peabody,

Book cover of There Are No Slaves in France: The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Régime

Sue Peabody’s book on the death of the “free soil principle” in France is a milestone in legal history. Beginning in 1315, when Louis X signed the letters patent that forever associated the words French and France with the eradication of slavery, anyone who was bonded or a serf was supposedly “free” when stepping foot in France. This tenet began to fall apart in 1716, when the then Regent created a loophole for slaveowners returning to France with their enslaved servants. Peabody takes us deep into the legality (and illegality) of slavery on French soil as well as several illustrative court cases. There are No Slaves in France is a model of how archive-extracted research can be woven into a riveting and revealing story. A must-read for anyone interested in the relationship between mercantilism, race, and the legal statutes that created and legislated different categories of people.  


Who are we?

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He is an award-winning filmmaker, literary scholar, journalist, cultural critic, and institution builder, and has authored or co-authored twenty-two books; he's also the host of PBS’s Finding Your Roots. Andrew Curran is a writer and the William Armstrong Professor of the Humanities at Wesleyan University. His writing on the Enlightenment and race has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Newsweek, and more. Curran is also the author of the award-winning Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely and The Anatomy of Blackness.


We wrote...

Who's Black and Why? A Forgotten Chapter in the Eighteenth-Century Invention of Race

By Henry Louis Gates Jr. (editor), Andrew S. Curran (editor),

Book cover of Who's Black and Why? A Forgotten Chapter in the Eighteenth-Century Invention of Race

What is my book about?

Who’s Black and Why? recounts the birth of the concept of race and anti-black racism during the Enlightenment era. We tell this story by looking back to 1739, the year when the Royal Academy of Sciences in Bordeaux announced that it would give a gold medal to the author of the best essay on the sources of “blackness.” Sixteen essays were ultimately dispatched to the Academy from all over Europe. Some of the contestants affirmed that Africans had fallen from God’s grace; others that blackness had resulted from a brutal climate; still others emphasized the anatomical specificity of Africans. This book, in short, is designed to be a compelling, albeit distressing, gateway to the origins of race and racism – as well as their inextricable links to African chattel slavery.

Orcs

By Stan Nicholls,

Book cover of Orcs: The Omnibus

 This was the first book I ever read that had me rooting for the Orc. With their lack of discipline, drug, and alcohol use, and loyalty to their comrades it’s easy to imagine them standing at the bar having a pint. Along with the action, there are some deeper issues delved into, including religious fanaticism and racism. For me personally, this really spoke of how exciting it can be to throw character roles in reverse. 


Who am I?

I’ve loved the fantasy genre for as long as I can remember. From playing Warhammer with my father as a child to first reading The Lord of the Rings, The Magician, and countless other unforgettable novels, I was hooked. The Orc was always my favorite bad guy, with their incredible strength and bloodlust. I have spent many a long hour trying to put myself in the mindset of a being so dark, so brutal, and so lovable. Reading the books on this list, and many more, have helped me develop a foundation in the Orc race that almost makes them real.


I wrote...

The Banner of the Broken Orc: The Call of the Darkness Saga Book One

By Aiden L. Turner,

Book cover of The Banner of the Broken Orc: The Call of the Darkness Saga Book One

What is my book about?

Tired of the same old fantasy books, full of romance and people fighting evil with no one actually getting hurt? Want something gritty, where the bad guys do horrid things, and the good guys aren't much better? Aiden L Turner brings Fast-paced, brutal battle scenes, and a rich plot with defined world building. Guts, gore, and glory!

Finding Junie Kim

By Ellen Oh,

Book cover of Finding Junie Kim

An intergenerational story about a young girl, Junie Kim, who finds the strength to face up to the bullying and racism in school thanks to the stories shared by her grandparents is heartbreaking and inspiring. 

Though this story is set in North America, the flashbacks to Korea during the war between the North and South are chilling and authentic.  

It was fascinating to read about the Korean War and the struggles of the masses as they tried to escape to the West in search of a better life for themselves and their families. It also gave me a sense of relief that I was living in a country (and a time) where life wasn’t a challenge every day. 


Who am I?

I’ve always been an avid reader. At school, during recess, I would find places to hide so the teachers wouldn’t find me and insist on sending me out to play. Exploring other countries also fascinated me but, growing up, we did not have the money to travel the world. Books became my means of travel. I especially love books written by authors who have lived or grown up in that setting. It’s why I find writing stories in an Indian setting easy and satisfying. The highest compliment from my readers is when they feel immersed in my stories and come away feeling like they’ve been to India and now want to eat an Indian meal. 


I wrote...

Mission Mumbai: A Novel of Sacred Cows, Snakes, and Stolen Toilets

By Mahtab Narsimhan,

Book cover of Mission Mumbai: A Novel of Sacred Cows, Snakes, and Stolen Toilets

What is my book about?

When aspiring photographer Dylan Moore is invited to join his best friend Rohit Lal on a family trip to India, he jumps at the chance to embark on an exciting journey like their Lord of the Rings heroes, Frodo and Sam. But each boy has a problem: Rohit is desperate to convince his parents not to leave him behind in Mumbai to finish school, and Dylan is desperate to use his time in India to prove himself as a photographer and to avoid his parents' constant fighting.

Keeping their struggles to themselves threatens to tear the boys apart. But when disaster strikes, Dylan and Rohit realize they have to set aside their differences to navigate India safely, confront their family issues, and salvage their friendship

Stamped

By Jason Reynolds, Ibram X. Kendi,

Book cover of Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning

My son loved this adaptation of Ibram X. Kendi's National Book Award-winning book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. "It shows you things that are hidden," he said. "And reveals things that America doesn't want you to know about." This 12-year-old tore through the book, prepared for youth by brilliant KidLit writer Jason Reynolds. He found it utterly readable, and very compelling. If every middle and high school history class had Stamped as a required text, we would undoubtedly be having very different (meaning: better) discussions about race in this country.


Who am I?

I love stories and storytelling of all kinds – from YA to memoir to journalism to children's picture books. If there is a story worth telling I will pursue it, regardless of genre. I'm particularly fascinated by stories that are out of the mainstream, are hidden, or come from people and cultures at the intersections of place, race, and gender. See No Color, about a mixed Black girl adopted into a white family, was my first YA novel, and it was followed by Dream Country, which chronicles five generations of a Liberian and Liberian American family. I co-edited an anthology on BIPOC women's experiences with miscarriage and infant loss, What God Is Honored Here?


I wrote...

See No Color

By Shannon Gibney,

Book cover of See No Color

What is my book about?

Alexandra Kirtridge is a 16-year-old baseball prodigy. She's also a mixed Black girl adopted into a white family, who wonders about her racial identity, where she fits in in her family and among her peers. Then she discovers letters from her Black birth father that her white adoptive parents have kept from her and is propelled into a journey that changes her life forever.

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