For the past few years, I have made it a point to improve my education on pretty much everything I feel like I didn’t get enough of in school. I have thoroughly enjoyed expanding my horizons and just generally exploring new things. I have learned about everything from earthworms to plagues, but one area I have focused on particularly is racism. For those of you who don’t know, I have a degree in history (with a minor in American studies). And I learned very little about how racism played into that history.
I also think the past few years have put a spotlight on how a lack of education on the history of racism, and how it affects certain groups of people, has led to a lot of problems. People tend to fear what they don’t know and often act out with hate. I would not say that I was racist before I started delving more into the topic (though I was raised with some of those biases). But I have learned that I absolutely was not as anti-racist as I thought I was, or would like to be.
Through the process of me learning more about the history of racism and how racism affects people whose experiences differ from mine, I have learned that there is a lot I don’t know. And I would like to learn more. So this year, I made an effort to pick up some more nonfiction books all about how racism affects our society. I ended up reading six, all from pretty different perspectives, which I think was pretty cool.
I will definitely be continuing this for a while, because I do want to be a better antiracist. But today I thought I’d talk about the six books I read in 2021, what I thought about them, and what I learned.
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Last year, I read and absolutely loved Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: A Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. But, still, this was not at the top of my reading list for this year. I didn’t doubt that this would be a highly educational and worthwhile read. It’s just that, personally, I find reading about more specific issues related to racism more impactful. That said, this still ended up being the first anti-racism book I read this year.
I will say that I didn’t like this one quite as much as Stamped from the Beginning. This is a great book, and it makes some really great points, many of which I hadn’t considered. I do like Ibram X. Kendi’s writing style and think he approaches racism in a very meaningful way. It just didn’t blow my mind the way Stamped did. I think I just personally enjoyed the history included in that one. However, I do think this one is much more accessible for most people, and I would highly recommend it for anyone looking to expand their anti-racist reading. Personally, I think Stamped from the Beginning was the perfect starting point for me. But if reading six-hundred-page history books isn’t your thing, this one is a great option.
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall
I absolutely consider myself a feminist. There is nothing complicated about thinking women deserve equal rights. But this book had me questioning just how good of a feminist I really am. Because it is all about how classic white feminism does not serve people of color. Which is not something I had considered before – being a white person who is not affected by many of the issues that affect people of color.
This book was not only valuable to me in terms of being a better antiracist, but also being a better feminist. I honestly kind of felt like an idiot after reading this, because it hadn’t really occurred to me that I should be exploring this topic. Which was dumb, because I was making a point out of doing all this other reading to raise my awareness of so many issues discussed in this book. Honestly, of all the books on this list, I think this is the one that made the biggest impact on me. I read it early in the year, and I am already starting to think about revisiting it in 2022. So good. I definitely recommend this one. For literally everyone.
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
I feel really weird about saying a book wasn’t for me in the context of this list… but this book wasn’t for me. I already owned a copy, but had the opportunity to read it for one of my reading experiments this year. And it quickly became apparent that I was not the target audience for this book, for a couple of reasons. The first was that this book didn’t really delve into anything I hadn’t explored in all of my other reading. Which is not this book’s fault – in fact, I think this would make an excellent beginner book for someone delving into anti-racism reading.
But the second reason this didn’t quite work for me personally was that it was heavily geared towards a Christian audience. I may have attended Catholic school for twelve years, but I am currently not religious. I have nothing against Christianity (except when it’s being used to judge and oppress certain groups of people), but this book didn’t work for me the way I think it would have if I did identify as Christian. That said, I do think there is definitely an audience for this book, and it’s a valuable resource for a more specific group of people. I already unhauled my copy to a used bookstore in hopes that someone else will gain from reading it.
Black, White, and The Grey by Mashama Bailey & John O. Morisano
This one is kind of a fun book take on antiracism reading (which does feel weird to write). This is a dual memoir about a White entrepreneur and a Black chef who decided to open a restaurant in the Deep South. It’s just a really great story about a friendship that bridged biases and challenged each other to be better in the face of adversity.
I just really enjoyed how this story discussed race in a different context, and was not solely about race or racism, but also about starting a business and building a friendship. There are even recipes interspersed throughout the book, which was pretty cool. This is also the only book on this list that is a 2021 release, and I honestly hadn’t heard anything about it until I picked it up for a reading experiment a few months ago. Definitely a good book that more people should be talking about.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
I did pick this up when it came out last year and had every intention of reading it. And then 2020 was kind of the worst and I did not feel like reading a five-hundred page book about the history of why humans suck (not really, but you get my point). But I am glad I picked it up this year. I don’t think this book presented any information that was new to me. But it did present it in a new way. I never once considered how the class system in America is very similar to a caste system.
This book is not exclusively about race – there are definitely White people living in the lowest caste – but race does play a part in how we subconsciously determine caste. One of the books on my list that I did not get to this year is The Color of Law, which is about how the government segregated America by forming prejudiced housing policies. That is definitely a huge factor in determining castes. This was an interesting read, and one that did make me think about things in new ways, which is always appreciated.
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandele
I think the title is pretty self-explanatory on this one. And it is yet another book that was sitting on my TBR for a while. I ended up also reading this one for a reading experiment, and it was definitely a good one. If you don’t know what the Black Lives Matter movement is, I have no idea where you’ve been for the past two years. But basically, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Black people have not been treated with the basic human decency and respect they deserve, they’ve been subjected to violence (from police and civilians) simply because of their race, and it is absolutely not okay.
This book was an interesting read, because it explored the origins of the movement, and what it took to make such a huge impact. It was well-written and incredibly inspiring. It also pissed me off because it is completely insane that we still need to be reminding people that human lives matter, regardless of skin color or orientation or religion or health. And if you don’t agree, I have no idea what you’re doing reading my blog in the first place. Now go away. For the rest of you, thank you for being nice humans.
I’m pretty pleased with this list, and what I was able to read and learn this year. I think these books did make an impact on my life – especially Hood Feminism – and I’m very happy to have read them. I really do recommend picking up some anti-racism reading. As you can see from the books on this list, there are a lot of different options to speak to your situation or personal beliefs.
Doing the work has made me feel like a better person (I don’t mean that in a showy way, I genuinely feel better about myself when I broaden my horizons and learn more about other people’s experiences), and I really hope to continue reading more. I’ve been working on myself in a lot of ways the past few years, and this has definitely become a big part of that, and I truly value it.
Did you read any anti-racism books this year? Are there any I should add to my list for next year?
And check out my bookshop, where you can buy books and also shop my curated collections of my personal favorites AND all of the books I’ve read for my reading experiments. Or you can just buy whatever books you want to. I get a small commission at no extra cost to you, and you get to support your choice of indie bookstores – it’s a win all around!