Book Lists, Spotlight

5 Books You Should Read to Be a Better White Ally

I spent a lot of time this morning reading posts and stories about George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery: three human beings who are no longer alive today because of the continued racial injustice in this country. I don’t even know how to talk about how I feel today. I am furious. I am so angry and so sad, but saying that doesn’t feel like enough.

I mourn with the black community today. I mourn because we all should be mourning. “We belong to each other.” I firmly believe that, and when any of us is hurt, the rest of us should hurt too. I’ll never understand how anyone can justify the suffering and death of another human being, no matter how much I learn about ignorance and hate and the systemic racism riddled throughout America. I felt helpless and useless today, and so I wrote this list.

As a white ally, it is my job (and yours) to step up and support those who’s voices aren’t being heard. All of us allies have room for improvement and it’s past time to educate ourselves on how to do this job better, because we’ve been failing. We can be better allies. We can learn to listen and pass the mic. We can use our privilege and platforms to help black voices be heard. It is no one else’s job to hold our hands and do the work for us, especially not people of color. That’s what I’ve been thinking about today.

So if you’re angry and sad today, this list is for you. If you want to be a better white person, this list is for you. Hell, if you just want to be a better human, this list is for you too. It’s not much, but it’s a place to start the real conversations that all of us need to be having and to improve on the ones that we are. We have to all be in this together.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

If you’re an ally, you’ve probably already read this one. (You might have read a lot of these already.) But it’s still an excellent place to start. How to Be an Antiracist is equal parts guidebook and social education tool: it does a great job of illuminating and explaining the variety of struggles faced by people of color in this country and it also offers some suggestions, actions, things that we can do.

This book makes a distinction that I think is so important, especially today, that “not being a racist and being Antiracist are not the same thing.” It’s not enough to simply stop being a part of the problem, we have to actively take part in the solution and this book is a great primer on how to start doing that.

White Fragility: Why Its So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo

If you’re looking to do some self-reflection, this is the book you need. I remember reading this book and thinking back to so many moments in my life, relating to the stories and struggles here. If you’re like me, you grew up in a home that taught tolerance but that also didn’t talk about race very often either. A lot of us grew up in places where conversations about race were hushed or ignored, not invested in, or even judged. Especially if you were “making others uncomfortable.” But its way past time to say “f*ck that attitude.” White Fragility is about that struggle, to unlearn what so many of us have been taught. The “wokest” among us still need to soul search in these spots, and I encourage everyone to read this book.

As allies, we have to be willing and comfortable with being uncomfortable, and if we don’t know how then we need to learn. Reading a book like this, that will hopefully challenge the way you think and feel, is a great place to start.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

If you don’t think we have a problem with race and mass incarceration in this country, then…well, honestly I’m surprised you’re even reading this list, but I’m so glad you’re here. You need to read The New Jim Crow.

This book will change the way you think about “color-blindness” and the way our justice system treats people of color in this country. From the police, to education, to the prison system, this book covers it all, smartly weaving in and out of seemingly disparate topics that all have one central truth: our system is broken, and in very specific and intentional ways. We need change. Now. This book offers some suggestions, but mostly it will open your eyes. Read this, and then recommend it to all of your friends.

White Rage by Carol Anderson

If you’re looking for something historical, factual, and driven by years of research, White Rage will be right up your alley. In this book, Anderson takes an unflinching approach to analyzing the structural and institutionalized racism that has been a part of America for hundreds of years. This book is a history, essentially, of white anger and aggression toward black America and how it effects all of us, even today. Spanning more than a hundred years, White Rage uses key moments in history and first-hand accounts to expose and discuss how the narrative around race has formed in this country.

Never more relevant than today.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

This book is both primer and all-around catch-all, in my opinion. Written with brilliant insight and authenticity, So You Want to Talk About Race is a book that every white person in America should read, especially those engaging in social, political, or economic conversations today.

This book has a bit of everything, it touches on so many important topics. The author writes from a place of experience and truth and the helpful facts and suggestions in this book are the perfect place for anyone to start trying to learn more. Oluo does a wonderful job of taking on the emotional labor of explaining these difficult topics to her readers so that other people of color don’t have to, and she created an incredible handbook in the process. If you only read one of the books on this list, start here. It’s basic, clear, educational, and full of opportunities to be better.

Love and courage, friends. Stay safe. Stay healthy. xo

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