17 Books On Race Every White Person Needs To Read
by Sadie Trombetta and K.W. Colyard
Originally Published: 

Despite years of talk about living in a post-racial America, the police-involved deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor serve as grim reminders that racism is still alive and well in the modern day United States — and always has been. Now, as every television set across the country flashes with images of peaceful protests turned violent in Minneapolis and St. Louis, it's becoming clear that unless we do something to stop it, the hate and violence emboldened by the current presidential administration will only get worse. A good first step to take? Educating yourself with these books on race all white people should read, because it is up to all of us to put an end to racism.

Incidents of police brutality and protests against it pepper recent memory, from the Watts riots in 1965 LA to today's protests across the country. According to Mapping Police Violence, "There were only 27 days in 2019 when [U.S.] police did not kill someone." Despite comprising only 13% of the U.S. population as a whole, black Americans make up 24% of people killed by police, and are three times "more likely to be killed by police than white people." If that weren't enough, between 2013 and 2019, "99% of killings by police... have not resulted in officers being charged with a crime," Mapping Police Violence also reported.

Because we cannot afford to allow police to continue to harass and kill people of color without consequence, here are 17 essential books about race all white people should read. Getting informed is only the first step on a lifetime journey of anti-racism, but it's a necessary one that these enlightening reads can help you make.


'White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide' by Carol Anderson, Ph.D.

An unflinching look at America's long history of structural and institutionalized racism, White Rage is a timely and necessary examination of white anger and aggression toward black America. Starting with the 1865 passage of the 13th Amendment and ending with the election of the country's first African American president and the response to Ferguson 2014, acclaimed historian Carol Anderson uses key moments in U.S. history to formulate a new narrative around race, one that unabashedly exposes white America's attempts to slow or stop progress in black America. A compelling look at American history, White Rage has never seemed more relevant than it does in today. — Sadie Trombetta

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

A compelling argument that shows the many ways racial hierarchy still dominates American society, The New Jim Crow is a hard but necessary read. A deep dive into the racial discrimination within our justice system, this must-read guides readers through the many ways in which black Americans are under attack from racist policies and procedures within a system that is meant to protect them. Passionate and engaging, The New Jim Crow will change the way you see race in modern America, and prove to you that our post-racial world is nothing but a myth. — Sadie Trombetta

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'How to Be an Antiracist' by Ibram X. Kendi

Stamped from the Beginning author Ibram X. Kendi lays out a plan for pushing back against institutional racism in this 2019 book. The No. 1 Amazon bestseller in Human Rights at the time of this writing, How to Be an Antiracist explains why a personal opposition to racism and racist policies and behaviors does not excuse us from performing the civic duty of actively fighting against organizational structures that promote and maintain white supremacy. This is an eye-opening book that should be on every white person's reading list. — K.W. Colyard

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'Black Stats: African Americans by the Numbers in the Twenty-first Century' by Monique W. Morris

An easy-to-read, easy-to-understand guide on the real-life experiences of black people in the 21st century, Black Stats shows racial discrimination in the form of facts and figures. A critical look at the quality of African American life, progress toward equality, and the negative impacts of socially unjust policies and discriminatory practices in everything from the government to the entertainment industry, this handy tool disproves the myth that racism in America is dead, while providing the necessary data to take the steps needed to kill it, once and for all. — Sadie Trombetta

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'The Invention of the White Race' by Theodore W. Allen

A groundbreaking examination of the construct of race and its origin in America, Theodore W. Allen's The Invention of the White Race is essential reading for anyone interested in dismantling racism from its foundation up. A two-volume work that spans the country's history, from the arrival of Africans in America in 1619 to modern-day race relations, this in-depth study is like an origin story for race, specifically the white race, and the racial discrimination that followed. — Sadie Trombetta

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'Between the World and Me' by Ta-Nehisi Coates

In a letter to his son, acclaimed author Ta-Nahisi Coates tackles some of the most difficult questions about survival, identity, history, and freedom facing black men and women. Drawing from his own experiences as a black man in America, Coates explores the country's fraught past and divisive present in an attempt to shed a light on creating a brighter future. A utterly devastating and affecting read, this book is what Toni Morrison calls "required reading," so you better put it on your list. — Sadie Trombetta

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'Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II' by Douglas A. Blackmon

In Slavery by Another Name, Douglas A. Blackmon shines a spotlight on one of the darkest chapters in American history: the "Age of Neoslavery." Starting after the Emancipation Proclamation and lasting all the way through World War II, this often ignored period saw thousands of black Americans move from slavery in the south to involuntary servitude across the country. Drawing from rich historical records, original documentation, and personal narratives, Blackmon pieces together this disgraceful practice of human labor trafficking, exposing those who benefited from it and celebrating those who fought against it. A shocking but important read, Slavery by Another Name should be required reading in every history class. — Sadie Trombetta

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'Choke Hold: Policing Black Me' by Paul Butler

In the tradition of The New Jim Crow, Paul Butler's explanation of a deeply racially discriminatory justice system with transform the way you think about policing, race relations, and criminal justice. In Choke Hold, the former federal prosecutor turned legal commentator exposes the unjust laws and practices within the justice system that continually treats black men like criminals, thugs, and the enemy of the people. Powerful as it is enlightening, Choke Hold not only sheds a light on a broken system, but also offers recommendations, albeit somewhat controversial, about the different ways in which Americans can take it down. — Sadie Trombetta

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'White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism' by Robin DiAngelo

Most white people will admit that racism makes someone a bad person, but we draw the line at calling other people racist, or admitting to our own unconscious biases. Robin DiAngelo examines these defensive behaviors, mapping their roots and branches, in White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. — K.W. Colyard

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'Citizen: An American Lyric' by Claudia Rankine

A gut-wrenching lyrical collection about race, identity, and being black in United States, Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric is a must-read for every American citizen trying to understand racial injustice. Using essay, poetry, image, and art, Rankine exposes the racial aggression faced by black people every day, from the slights at the grocery stores to the overt violence in the media, and highlights the ways in which these aggressions hinder an individual's ability to survive. A truly moving book, Citizen will change the way you see black life in America. — Sadie Trombetta

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'Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Inequality in America' by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva

A classic text on the constructs of race and racism, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva's updated edition of Racism Without Racists is an essential read for anyone looking to understand the dangers of color-blind racial ideology. Covering everything from the post-Civil Rights era to the Black Lives Matter movement and the election of Donald Trump, this book exposes and analyzes the many ways racism persists and is practiced in modern America, despite our denial of it. But it doesn't just present the problems, it offers solutions in the form of a guide to navigating away from our deep racial divides and toward equality. — Sadie Trombetta

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'So You Want to Talk About Race' by Ijeoma Oluo

Ijeoma Oluo's So You Want to Talk About Race is a must-read book for any white person engaging in social, economic, or political conversations today. Tackling everything from the definition of racism to police brutality and the school-to-prison pipeline, this book contains the resources white people need to educate themselves on the facts about institutional racism and the white supremacist systems that make white lives easier while punishing people of color for being nonwhite. — K.W. Colyard

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'How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America' by Moustafa Bayoumi

If you've ever wanted to walk in someone else's shoes, How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? lets you take steps as Arab and Muslim Americans, exposing the discrimination, prejudice, and injustice they face in their everyday lives. Drawing from the experiences of seven 20-something-year-old Arab Americans living in Brooklyn, author and scholar Moustafa Bayoumi gives a voice to an often oppressed and ignored population of men and women who are trying to come of age in a country that sees them as not just other, but as the enemy. Smart, sensitive, and thought-provoking, How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? is a fascinating and hopeful read. — Sadie Trombetta

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'Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America' by Michael Eric Dyson

A beautiful mix of personal anecdote and cultural criticism, Michael Eric Dyson's Tears We Cannot Stop is a powerful appeal to Americans, especially white Americans, to not only own the racial issues facing the country today, but address them with force and urgency. Deeply emotional and unapologetically honest, this frank discussion on the racial divides in the United States is at once uncomfortable, educational, and inspiring. A must-read for white Americans looking to understand the the racial issues that divide us, and threaten our future. — Sadie Trombetta

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'The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America' by Richard Rothstein

A fascinating book about the government's role in segregating the country, The Color of Law exposes the unjust and often untold history of housing policy, city planning, and racial zoning that became the foundation on which discriminatory practices in America were built on. Starting in the 1920s, author and historian Richard Rothstein chronicles the practices — segregated public housing, racial zoning, the destruction of integrated neighborhoods — that became the foundation of the racial unrest facing black neighborhoods, like in Baltimore and Ferguson in the modern-day United States. A stunning history of the racial divides in metropolitan America and how they got there, The Color of Law makes clear the undeniable connection between discriminatory laws and policies enforced by the government and the long-reaching grasp of discrimination still alive today. — Sadie Trombetta

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'The History of White People' by Nell Irvin Painter

In The History of White People, celebrated historian Nell Irvin Painter goes beneath the skin and explores the many ways whiteness has been constructed as a sign of power, control, wealth, beauty, and dominance throughout history and across cultures. Tracing over 2,000 years of Western civilization, from the Greek and Romans to 20th-century America, this in-depth exploration of the idea of race exposes the economic, political, social, and scientific systems that formed and continue to define the invention of the white race, and how those systems continue to oppress anyone considered "other." Featuring famous figures throughout history, The History of White People is an eye-opening and engaging look at the constructs of race and what they mean today. — Sadie Trombetta

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'They Can't Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America's Racial Justice Movement' by Wesley Lowery

An essential book about the intersection of police violence and race, Wesley Lowery's heavily researched and deeply reported book sheds a clarifying light onto one of the most polarizing topics in America today: the shooting of black Americans by white cops. In They Can't Kill Us All, Lowery, a Washington Post reporter, draws from hundreds of interviews from across the country, from friends and family members of Michael Brown and other shooting victims to community organizers and local activists, to paint a heartbreaking portrait of racial injustice and those fighting against it. A well-balanced work of statistics and personal anecdote, They Can't Kill Us All is more than just information, but heart. — Sadie Trombetta

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