8 Thought-Provoking Summer Reads on Racism and Reform

Heady Vermont Staff 20 Jun 2020

We’ve put together a collection of reads – running the gamut from journalistic to memoir to fiction – that will hopefully provide greater insight into the questions that have weighed heavily on our minds, before and now more than ever. From The New Jim Crow, an absolute must-read on mass incarceration that urges readers to take action, to Jesus Land, Julia Scheeres’ unnerving and darkly comical memoir of growing up in racist rural Indiana with an adopted black brother, here are a few of our favorites.

For even more, we’ve got a comprehensive list of racial justice resources to check out.

We recommend contacting a nearby independent bookstore for a pickup and supporting your local businesses! Check out this independent book store finder here.

1. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

One of the most important books you’ll ever read. With eloquence, passion, and careful research, Michelle Alexander shows how slavery in the United States has not disappeared – it has just changed shape, into the mass incarceration of black men. Among many formidable arguments, Alexander emphasizes the importance of doing away with the notion of colorblindness and how we need to see race more than ever.

Alexander does a remarkable job of revealing uncomfortable truths about the United States – mainly, that racism is well and alive – while urging us to take action, to treat each other with compassion, and to recognize that true compassion involves taking action against institutionalized forms of oppression like mass incarceration. In other words: donate to the ACLU, go out and join protests, and say that “black lives matter” without an ounce of hesitation.

2. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The most insidious form of prejudice is the one that’s internalised and self-directed. The Bluest Eye examines the ways in which latent cultural measures of beauty and self-worth can become reinforced and self-perpetuating. White people figure rarely in the narrative, and yet whiteness is pervasive as the very currency of self-worth: a means of defining value, and of establishing one’s own superiority over others. Morrison’s first novel is a heartbreaking, but essential must-read in understanding the ubiquity and deep-rooted impact of white supremacy.

3. Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America by Stacey Abrams

Celebrated national leader and bestselling author Stacey Abrams offers a blueprint to end voter suppression, empower our citizens, and take back our country. A recognized expert on fair voting and civic engagement, Abrams chronicles a chilling account of how the right to vote and the principle of democracy have been and continue to be under attack. Abrams would have been the first African American woman governor, but experienced these effects firsthand, despite running the most innovative race in modern politics as the Democratic nominee in Georgia. Abrams didn’t win, but she has not conceded. The book compellingly argues for the importance of robust voter protections, an elevation of identity politics, engagement in the census, and a return to moral international leadership.

4. How to be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi

Ibram X. Kendi narrates his own path of liberation leading to the creation of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center and his unapologetic engagement with its mission. He weaves beautiful lessons, dispels many myths, and challenges prevalent misconceptions through poignant personal stories. This book is both autobiography and magnificent scholarly work. Most importantly, the pages of this book leave one with a personal sense of possibility and responsibility.

5. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book speaks about race in America, starting from the days of slavery till now, to provide us with this viewpoint that makes the reader understand ‘what it is like to inhabit a black body.’

It’s almost like a personal diary from Coates to his son explaining how it is we have come to the state we are in, and to offer consolation to his son through it.

In this beautifully written book, Coates writes with a clarity that enables the reader to gain a greater understanding of Black culture and to comprehend that the root cause of it all is fear; that is what is driving these people forward as it is their only means of survival. And Coates lets the reader (and his son) view this fear through his eyes, his upbringing and experiences and understanding of the world. He speaks on identity, the social construct of races, the all American Dream that is a facade and build on the back of slavery, police brutality and the concept of whiteness.

It’s not all doom and gloom. There is hope, there has to be and he shares beautiful moments in his life where barriers within himself are broken and clarity poured in, that the world is much more than America and the toxic narrative/lifestyle they put forth and the simple wonders of life that we take for granted.

6. Jesus Land: A Memoir, by Julia Scheeres

Sometimes memoirs can be overly sentimental, or heart-wrenching but redundant. Neither is the case in Julia Scheeres’ Jesus Land. It is an unnerving, frank, and sometimes darkly comical tale of Julia’s childhood: bonding with her adopted black brother, David, in rural Indiana (and later at a Dominican Republic reform school), dealing with her sadistic, abusive parents, and clashing with the ideology of supposedly devoutly religious people. The title of the book is taken from a road sign Julia saw in Indiana, “This here is: Jesus Land.”

With just a hint of sadness and many funny scenes (I dare you to not laugh out loud when you get to part where the priest tries to hinder masturbation!) Jesus Land is an uplifting and honest work that will stick with readers.

7. Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People, by Ben Crump

Ben Crump, the attorney for George Floyd’s family, is an accomplished civil rights attorney and former president of the National Bar Association exposes subtle, systemic genocide in America. It’s a striking overview of the many ways Black and brown people in the United States have been and continue to be victimized by structural and institutional racism.

In Open Season, Crump assails the criminal justice system in the United States as one designed for white, wealthy men: All others are on their own. He rightly warns readers to ignore talk of voter fraud; it’s a myth used to justify restrictive laws. Many readers will be justifiably infuriated by the author’s well-documented findings; hopefully, they will also choose to follow his 12 “personal action steps” to combat systemic racism.

8. An American Marriage, Tayari Jones

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward–with hope and pain–into the future.

We recommend contacting a nearby independent bookstore for a pickup and supporting your local businesses! Check out this independent book store finder here.

Pass this post:

Related Posts