16 Books About Race That Every White Person Should Read

Add these to your reading list today.
The Huffington Post

Earlier this week, actor Matt McGorry gave a shout out to Michelle Alexander's powerful book on mass incarceration, The New Jim Crow. "I'm embarrassed that I didn't come across the information in this book sooner," McGorry wrote on Facebook. "But that's white privilege for ya... Burning crosses and racial slurs are not the only types of racism affecting people of color. And we owe it to our black and brown brothers and sisters to understand this."

The "Orange is the New Black" star's post has gained him plenty of praise for actively trying to educate himself on issues regarding race, but it also serves as a powerful example to other white people and allies on how, sometimes, one of the best ways to better understand racism is to just pick up a book.

In the spirit of this, we've compiled a list of books that every white person and ally should read right now, and have included some of each book's most powerful passages:

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, by Jeff Hobbs
Simon and Schuster
This moving biography recounts the life of Robert Peace, a young man who escaped the streets of Newark, New Jersey, to attend Yale University -- only to lose his life after graduating.

"But a deeper transition affected people of color in this dazed context. Before course selections and extra-curricular sign-up sheets, before bags could even be unpacked in rooms, black students had to situate themselves within their own race. The process was complicated, conflicting, usually silent, highly fraught, and wholly invisible to their white classmates. Most of whom had never actively had to consider the role of race in their lives."
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander
The New Press
Scholar and activist Michelle Alexander examines the impact of law enforcement and mass incarceration on race relations in present-day America.

"Arguably the most important parallel between mass incarceration and Jim Crow is that both have served to define the meaning and significance of race in America. Indeed, a primary function of any racial caste system is to define the meaning of race in its time. Slavery defined what it meant to be black (a slave), and Jim Crow defined what it meant to be black (a second-class citizen). Today mass incarceration defines the meaning of blackness in America: black people, especially black men, are criminals. That is what it means to be black."
The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin
The Library of Congress
One of James Baldwin's most important book of essays, The Fire Next Time explores themes of race, religion and identity.

“The American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed the collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes, that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen, or that Americans are invincible in battle and wise in peace, that Americans have always dealt honorably with Mexicans and Indians and all other neighbors or inferiors, that American men are the world's most direct and virile, that American women are pure. Negroes know far more about white Americans than that; it can almost be said, in fact, that they know about white Americans what parents—or, anyway, mothers—know about their children, and that they very often regard white Americans that way. And perhaps this attitude, held in spite of what they know and have endured, helps to explain why Negroes, on the whole, and until lately, have allowed themselves to feel so little hatred. The tendency has really been, insofar as this was possible, to dismiss white people as the slightly mad victims of their own brainwashing.”
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Spiegel & Grau
Toni Morrison has described this debut book from Ta-Nehisi Coates as a "required reading." In the form of a letter to his teenaged son, Coates distills what it means to be black in America today.

"But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body."
To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Grand Central Publishing
Published in 1960, this novel about a white lawyer defending a black boy falsely accused of raping a white woman takes on a whole new meaning in the wake of the release of Harper Lee's follow up, Go Set A Watchman.

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."
Ain't I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism, by Bell Hooks
South End Press
For the reader who wants to learn more about black feminism, Ain't I A Woman is considered one of the most important and comprehensive works on how sexism and misogyny specifically affects women of color.

"While it is in no way racist for any author to write a book exclusively about white women, it is fundamentally racist for books to be published that focus solely on the American white woman's experience in which that experience is assumed to be the American woman's experience."
Citizen, by Claudia Rankine
Poet Claudia Rankine meditates on police brutality, racial fatigue, depression and the denigration of black bodies.

"because white men can't
police their imagination
black men are dying"
Negroland: A Memoir, by Margo Jefferson
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Margo Jefferson shares a bold and thought-provoking memoir on her upbringing as the daughter of black socialites in 1960s Chicago.

"Privilege is provisional. Privilege can be denied, withheld, offered grudgingly and summarily withdrawn. Entitlement is impervious to the kinds of verbs that modify privilege. Our people have had to work, scrape for privilege, gobble it down when those who would snatch it away weren’t looking. Keep a close watch."
Welcome to Braggsville, by T. Geronimo Johnson
William Morrow
This darkly comic debut novel is about four University of California, Berkeley students from different backgrounds who decide to protest a Civil War reenactment.

"The table was shocked. The entire class in fact. They’d heard tell of Civil War reenactments, but they were still occurring? The War Between the States was another time and another country. As was the South. Are barbers still surgeons? Is there still sharecropping? What about indoor plumbing?"
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison's first novel perfectly captures the effects of racism and colorism, telling the story of an 11-year-old black girl with low self-esteem who prays desperately for her eyes to become blue.

"You looked at them and wondered why the were so ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction. It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question. The mast had said, 'You are ugly people.' They had looked about themselves and saw nothing to contradict the statement; saw, in fact, support for it leaning at them from every billboard, every movie, every glance. 'Yes,' they had said. 'You are right.'"
Race Matters, by Cornel West
Still considered one of activist Cornel West's most important books, Race Matters bluntly takes on everything from affirmative action, to black crime, to religion within the black community -- and what solutions, if any, there are.

"We indeed must criticize and condemn immoral acts of black people, but we must do so cognizant of the circumstances into which people are born and under which they live. By overlooking these circumstances, the new black conservatives fall into the trap of blaming black poor people for their predicament. It is imperative to steer a course between the Scylla of environmental determinism and the Charybdis of a blaming-the-victims perspective."
Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
In this seminal 1952 novel, an unnamed narrator recounts his epic life-story, from his coming-of-age in a rural Southern town, to his migration to the violent streets of Harlem.

"I am an invisible man. No I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe: Nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms.I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids- and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me."
The Sellout, by Paul Beatty
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Beatty infuses comic humor and biting political commentary into this racial satire about a modern-day slave owner.

"Silence can be either protest or consent, but most times it’s fear."
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
Crown Publishing Group
This is the true story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman whose cells from cervical cancer have been used by scientists for developing advances in everything from cloning, gene mapping, cancer treatment and polio vaccines.

"I’ve tried to imagine how she’d feel knowing that her cells went up in the first space missions to see what would happen to human cells in zero gravity, or that they helped with some of the most important advances in medicine: the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization. I’m pretty sure that she—like most of us—would be shocked to hear that there are trillions more of her cells growing in laboratories now than there ever were in her body."
"Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?", by Beverly Daniel Tatum
Basic Books
Through research and case studies psychologist Beverly Daniel Tatum confronts the subtle ways in which racism dictates the ways both white and non-white people navigate the world.

"It is important to understand that the system of advantage is perpetuated when we do not acknowledge its existence."
Slavery by Another Name, by Douglas A. Blackmon
Random House
Writer Douglas A. Blackmon exposes the horrific aftermath of the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery, when thousands of black people were unfairly arrested and then illegally "sold" into forced labor as punishment.

"When white Americans frankly peel back the layers of our commingled pasts, we are all marked by it. Whether a company or an individual, we are marred either by our connections to the specific crimes and injuries of our fathers and their fathers. Or we are tainted by the failures of our fathers to fulfill our national credos when their courage was most needed. We are formed in molds twisted by the gifts we received at the expense of others. It is not our 'fault.' But it is undeniably our inheritance."

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