During 2017 I’ve made a specific effort to broaden my reading experience, with emphasis on balancing my white, middle-class education and upbringing. I’ve tried to choose classics written by African Americans, historical works, as well as books that discuss the current state of racial and social justice.
The books have been a blend of fiction and nonfiction, and I’m listing them in the order I read them. I often chose a book because the author of the prior book referenced it. Or because I felt the second book would balance or deepen my understanding of the first.
This is an ongoing project for me, so this list will keep expanding as I read more.
If you’re looking for background on the 21st century movements, such as #BlackLivesMatter or #TakeAKnee, I’d encourage you to invest time in these books. Memes are great, but they have no depth. The books give you perspective and knowledge, so that your decisions are considered rather than being snap judgements.
Read the classics, like Ralph Ellison, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, and Zora Neale Hurston. Read the heavily researched choices like Michele Alexander and Ta-Nehisi Coates. Read the female writers like Jacqueline Woodson, Octavia Butler, and Kathleen Collins. Read Congressman John Lewis, who continues to be a force for good in Washington, DC. Read the young writers like Mychal Denzel Smith and Phoebe Robinson.
And keep reading. Open your mind and pour another perspective in, stir it around, and see if you come up with something new. I know I have a new perspective, and I’ll keep reading.
March: Book One
Between The World and Me
March: Books Two and Three
In The Country We Love
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching
Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement
Notes of a Native Son
The New Jim Crow
A Colony in a Nation
Their Eyes Were Watching God
You Can’t Touch My Hair, and Other Things I Still Have to Explain (select essays)
Bad Feminist (select essays)
We Were Eight Years in Power
Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement
Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir
Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America
White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide
Books I’m planning for the future include:
White Trash: The 400-Year Until History of Class in America
The Fire Next Time
Men We Reaped
Sing, Unburied, Sing
Dreams from My Father
My Beloved World
Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color
Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin
X: A Novel
Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
Who We Be: A Cultural History of Race in Post-Civil rights America
Free At Last: A History of the Civil Rights Movement and Those Who Died in the Struggle
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peach: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League
My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past
It’s important to say that I’m not reading these books out of guilt. I’m reading them because I may not be able to march on the streets. But I can speak up and speak out here and in my personal life. However, I can’t do any of that if I don’t have examples, facts, and knowledge to make the necessary arguments. I’m open to any other book suggestions you may have, so drop them in comments for me and tell me why I should give your suggestion a try. (Disrespectful comments will be trashed, but civil discourse is fine.)
I refuse to remain ignorant just because it’s more fun to read urban fantasy or memoir about people who had pretty good lives. I may still read those books, but I will get these other stories poured into my head, mixed around, and able to contribute to meaningful conversations about the state of racial and social justice in our world today.