After the events of last summer, many stepped up to support the Black Lives Matter movement and vowed to help the fight against police brutality and systemic racism. Yet, as we have entered a new year, a new presidency, and a new leg of the global pandemic, it has become more apparent that the collective activism of Americans is growing more performative than we care to admit. Social media users are content with just having “BLM” in their bios instead of engaging more deeply with the movement. People who posted a black square on Black Out Tuesday have stopped sharing and bolstering Black voices. Corporations dedicated to anti-racism have turned back to their original marketing strategies. Meanwhile, racism is still killing innocent people, showing that Black organizers still need our help and our platforms to enact real change.
So, how do we keep the momentum of Black Lives Matter going? Although it is far from a solution, one action that all people with white privilege can take is educating themselves on anti-racism. As we stay home on Zoom all day and wait until the pandemic comes to an end, we can give our eyes a break from the screen and reeducate ourselves by reading a book or two. We need to broaden our perspectives through anti-racist work so that we can begin to unlearn implicit biases and become more aware of prejudice in our lives. It is not enough to simply disavow racism; we need to actively strive for equality. There are so many pieces of literature on anti-racism out there, but here are some of my favorite non-fiction anti-racist books that I have read since last March.
1. Me and White Supremacy
Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy is an eye-opening book that I recommend to most of my family and friends. It is an introduction to terms you may see around social media like “white fragility” and “optical allyship,” but it also reinforces ideas around interpersonal racism, or the racism we participate in on an individual level, like discrimination or harassment. Although it is a good piece of writing, I do not believe that it should be the only book you read. While Saad does a wonderful job of explaining microaggressions and anti-Blackness, the book does not cover systemic or structural racism. The Black Lives Matter movement was a direct result of systemic racism, and by not learning about it, we ignore deeply rooted issues in American institutions. Overall, Me and White Supremacy is great for self-reflection and personal thought.
2. The Sword and the Shield
Written by UT’s very own Professor Peniel E. Joseph, The Sword and the Shield is a dual biography about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X that explains their philosophies, which the U.S. has been too hesitant to teach in school. For example, although Malcolm X is seen as the “more radical” MLK, both men had progressive ideas. Dr. King even spoke out against capitalism like many of today’s most liberal politicians, including Bernie Sanders, and supported the redistribution of wealth. Malcolm X’s affiliation with the Nation of Islam provided an avenue for Black liberation and the notion of economic self-reliance. All in all, The Sword and the Shield helps readers learn the unsanitized stories about civil rights activists of the 20th century, and how their beliefs are still applicable in 2021.
3. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow is the first I have mentioned so far to focus on the grip that racism has on the institutions of the United States. Essentially, Alexander argues that our era of mass incarceration is a new and evolved form of the Jim Crow era, during which Black people were subject to lynchings, segregation and disenfranchisement. Alexander tracks how Black men today are specifically targeted by unjust laws that spawned from the so-called “War on Crime” started by Nixon but popularized by Reagan. I do not hesitate to say that this book opened new avenues of understanding for me and shed light on topics that need to be discussed more in academic environments.
4. Women, Race, and Class
Civil rights activist Angela Davis emphasizes the intersection of race with gender and class divisions in Women, Race, and Class. Despite being released in 1981, many of Davis’s points still relate to struggles in the 21st century, such as how women of different races are held to different standards. Not only does Davis call out interpersonal and systemic racism, but her novel’s stance on class can also stand alone as a contemporary piece of political theory highlighting the roots of prejudice in capitalism.
There are two more novels sitting on my bookshelf that I have yet to read, both by author and scholar Ibram X. Kendi. How to be an Antiracist and Stamped from the Beginning are the next books I will read on my journey to becoming a better ally. The former, released in 2019, encapsulates perceptions of racism and possibilities allies can take to bolster their activism. Stamped from the Beginning is a historical approach to racism and its origins and it is also on its way to becoming a Netflix adaptation. Kendi’s books are world-renowned and have won awards such as the National Book Award for Nonfiction. Additionally, if you want to support a UT graduate, I suggest reading Emmanuel Acho’s Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, which was released in November 2020. Acho’s work started as a series of videos, featuring Matthew McConaughey and Chip and Joanna Gaines, that evolved into a full-length book highlighting “uncomfortable conversations about race that many white people have never been able to have” (uncomfortableconvos.com). I have not yet read it, but it is on my wish list; Acho’s videos prove that there are uncomfortable issues regarding race that we need to have.
As always, simply learning how to be a better ally and unlearning the toxic ideas we have been taught is not enough. Interpersonal and institutional racism exist, and books by anti-racist authors can help us all understand what the next steps are to fixing these issues. Authors like Saad, Joseph, Alexander and Davis can enrich our activism and anti-racist work. Do not let your activism be dampened by the passage of time–continue supporting the Black Lives Matter movement by shopping at Black-owned businesses, urging your representatives to vote in favor of helpful legislation such as the Biden Administration’s goals to economically assist Black communities (and working to vote them out if they don’t!) and uplifting Black voices in your community.