Five Books to Read on Race

The following is republished with permission from my travel blog, You Are (Queer) Here.

As a writer, one of my favorite things to do is to read. All throughout my journey around the world, and especially after the election, I’ve been trying to pull together books that will help me see the world in a broader light and make me a more empathetic human and effective advocate.

Here are five books that have been on my shelf the last couple months. Hope you might enjoy (and learn from) them as much as I did!

Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow: An Organizing Guide (Daniel Hunter)

njc-coverAfter the election, I felt pretty powerless in terms of how to respond and also realized I needed to learn more about engaging with the racial justice movement and integrating anti-racism work into my other advocacy. This book was a great primer for me regarding work being done to end the prison industrial complex (and its inherent racism) as well as an awesome guide for movement-building in general. I recommend it for anyone working in advocacy and activism and for all my non-profit sector friends. Find out more online here. (Available on Kindle for only $0.99USD!)


Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates)

9780812993547This compelling non-fiction work is written as a letter from Coates to his son, explaining the America he’s growing up in and the racial injustices, progress, and setbacks the author has seen in his lifetime. I’d recommend this book to anyone, but especially to my white friends (or those who are from outside of the U.S.) who want to understand more about structural and individual racism in America, especially via this personal-political lens. Check out an excerpt adapted for The Atlantic here.


The Color Purple (Alice Walker)

the-color-purpleYes, and oldie but a goodie. In fact, I hadn’t read it before, but a fellow feminist I met in Kathmandu passed it along to me. Queer, black, feminist/womanist fiction engaging with everything from domestic violence to racial oppression and liberation—who could ask for anything more?

Check out Alice Walker discussing her Pulitzer-prize winning novel here.


Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

americanahAmericanah follows two young Nigerians who are compelled to leave their country and are confronted by the trials of suddenly becoming immigrants and racial minorities in the U.S. and U.K., respectively—countries that had seemed to promise them prosperity but come full of racism and economic disparity. Beautifully written, intelligent, with plenty of heartache and healing. One of my favorite parts is the insight Adichie offers on racism in the U.S. and U.K. from an outsider’s perspective—i.e., What happens when you move from a country where you’re in the majority to one in which you’re the minority? How does race play out differently among American black people vs. the non-American black population? And when you leave the place you came from, which will be more different when you return—the country itself or you? Check out Adichie’s interview on NPR’s Fresh Air to learn more about how her life and her work.

Also recommended: Adichie’s amazing and now-infamous TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story” and her long essay “We Should All Be Feminists.”


The Warmth of Other Suns (Isabel Wilkerson)

cover_bookThe Warmth of Other Suns is a well-crafted piece of non-fiction that sheds much-needed light on the Great Migration—i.e., the mass movement of people of color out of the American South from 1915 to 1970. But don’t worry—this isn’t some dry, historical text with only facts and figures. The strongest element of Wilkerson’s work is the way she grounds this history in the lives of a few individuals who left during those decades, stories that are threaded through the work and offer touchstones for broader historical content and a personal, emotional context for the push and pull factors that brought these folks to the North and West. But it lays the academic and intellectual groundwork, too, for a reader to gain a better understanding of systemic racism and race relations in the U.S. today. Listen to Wilkerson discuss her work on NPR’s Fresh Air here.


Stay tuned next month for the next installation of “The Traveling Bookshelf,” featuring five more books to add to your to-read list!

What have you been reading, and what do you recommend? Let me know in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “Five Books to Read on Race

  1. Great recommendations. I also recommend Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson a distrurbing description of our criminal justice system. I’ll read Daniel Hunter’s book next.

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