12 Books For Adults About Anti-Racism And Activism

Academics share the books on anti-racism and activism that everyone should read.

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Literature about racism and anti-racism — like Ijeoma Oluo’s “So You Want To Talk About Race” and Ibram X. Kendi’s “How To Be An Anti-Racist” — have risen to the top of The New York Times’ bestsellers list in the past few weeks. They’ve become so popular, in fact, that they’re selling out from store shelves.

Books like Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility,” Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give” and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between The World And Me” have also been trending among users of Goodreads, a social media platform for book lovers, according to Cybil Wallace, a senior editor at the site.

Despite being published over two years ago, “White Fragility” has become the most trending book on Goodreads: Users went from adding it to their “want-to-read” shelves a few hundred times a day to 45,000 times in just one week, according to Wallace.

Likewise, there has been a boom in orders at Black-owned bookstores in places like New York City and Washington, D.C.

But it’s important to remember that just reading about race, racism and anti-racism isn’t enough — you should be working actively against racism and supporting Black-owned businesses.

“Reading does not make one an anti-racist, but doing something productive with the knowledge that one gains [from reading] in order to create a more equitable society is anti-racism in action.”

- Candis Watts Smith, professor and author of “Stay Woke: A People’s Guide to Making All Black Lives Matter”

“Reading does not make one an anti-racist, but doing something productive with the knowledge that one gains [from reading] in order to create a more equitable society is anti-racism in action,” said Candis Watts Smith, author of “Stay Woke: A People’s Guide to Making All Black Lives Matter” and a political science professor at Penn State.

We asked professors, including Smith, for their recommendations for anti-racist books that everyone should read.

“The best anti-racist books are the ones that have the power to explain what we mean by ‘race’ and to deconstruct its various mythologies and ideologies,” said Michael Cohen, a professor of African American studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

As always, you should first check to see if your local independent bookstores carries these titles.

Below, you’ll find their recommendations on books about anti-racism and activism:

"Citizen: An American Lyric" by Claudia Rankine
This book was recommended by Jennifer Williams, an English professor at Howard University.

Williams has taught "Citizen" in a Black Lives Matter course for freshmen, as "it allows us to talk about racial perception and profiling in really interesting ways."

Find it on Amazon.
"From Here to Equality" by William A. Darity and A. Kristen Mullen
This book from Smith's own reading list explains the racial wealth gap in the U.S. and guides readers through "actionable policies that could be implemented to produce a more equitable society."

Find it on Amazon.
"The Broken Heart of America" by Walter Johnson
Cohen recommended this book, which he called "the one-volume, complete history of the violent United States that we all need right now."

"The Broken Heart of America" focuses on the history of St. Louis, recounting how racial violence in the city shaped the U.S., Cohen said.

Find it on Amazon.
"The Fire Next Time" by James Baldwin
"The Fire Next Time" is one of the recommendations from Rich Blint, a literature professor at The New School.

"In its eloquence, compassion and insight into the workings of American power, Baldwin’s 1963 classic speaks pointedly to white Americans concerning the racial emergency that has haunted the nation for centuries in powerful and bracing prose," Blint said.

Find it on Amazon.
"The Color of Law" by Richard Rothstein
"The Color of Law," which Williams recommended, focuses on the history of how the U.S. government enforced segregation with policies like racial zoning.

Find it on Amazon.
"From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation" by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
This book is another of Cohen's recommendations, all of which he has taught to his students over the years.

It traces where the Black Lives Matter movement came from and how it emerged during President Barack Obama's time in office, Cohen said.

Find it on Amazon
"Race for Profit" by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
"Race for Profit" was another of Williams' recommendations.

In the book, author Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor covers how Black homeowners were exploited by the real estate industry in the decades after housing discrimination was banned in the late '60s.

Find it on Amazon
"The Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Law Professor" by Patricia J. Williams
This book is another one of Blint's recommendations.

He said the three books he chose "dismantle the myth and fable of white supremacy and force the reader to examine one’s place in the social order and how it directly impacts the lives and life outcomes of fellow citizens."

"The Alchemy of Race and Rights" is autobiographical and focuses on how everyday racism occurs and how race, gender and class intersect.

Find it on Amazon.
"The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man" by James Weldon Johnson
This novel was also on our expert-recommended list of the classic books by Black authors everyone should read.

Cohen, who also recommended it, said the novel is "a very brief (just over 100 pages) yet brilliantly comprehensive portrait of Black life in the Jim Crow era."

Find it on Amazon.
"How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America" by Kiese Laymon
This collection of essays was recommended by Williams, as it "really captures racism in an intimate way."

The collection focuses on author Kiese Laymon's own story, including covering subjects like race and growing up in Mississippi.

Find it on Amazon.
"Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower" by Brittney Cooper
Blint recommended "Eloquent Rage," in which author Brittney Cooper explores how Black women's anger has been mocked and how that rage has made women like Serena Williams and Beyoncé so powerful.

Find it on Amazon.
"Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880" by W.E.B. Du Bois
"Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880" explains the Civil War and Reconstruction from the perspective of Black people fighting to abolish slavery, Cohen said, and is "the single most important work of history ever written about the United States."

Find it on Amazon.

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