This Is An Essential Reading List For Anyone Who Cares About Equality

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this post-2016 election climate, it’s that equality means something different for nearly everybody — perhaps explaining why achieving that state of equality: between women and men, races and ethnicities, immigrants and citizens, and others, can seem near-impossible. We hear that equality can look like oppression to those who have enjoyed generations of privilege; that equality isn’t true equality if people of privilege are in charge of “giving” it to others who are oppressed and marginalized; that when we talk about equality we don’t actually want everyone to be treated identically, but rather fairly; that true equality is impossible to achieve in a capitalistic (plutocratic) society. It can be confusing, and disheartening, especially to those of us who do care about making a genuine difference in the world we live in today.

But as a reader, and a lover of stories, one thing I do think holds true is that in order to achieve some measure of equality, we have to begin by seeing ourselves in one another — and what better way to do that than by sharing our personal stories, finding commonalities in our politics, and navigating our complex histories together? That’s exactly what the books on this list do.

Here are 13 books that everyone who cares about equality should read.

'The Fire This Time' edited by Jesmyn Ward

Inspired by James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (see below!) Jesmyn Ward’s The Fire This Time is a deeply moving collection of essays, short memoir, and poetry written by contemporary thinkers and writers on race. Shedding light on both past and the present issues of inequality in the United States, The Fire This Time demonstrates where we’ve come from as a country and how much further we have to go to achieve true equality.

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'We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement' by Andi Zeisler

Feminism and the Women’s Movement have evolved over the years — from the days of focusing on voting rights to today's much-needed march towards intersectional feminism. Andi Zeisler’s We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl?, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement takes an important look at some of the more recent (and less-productive) manifestations of feminism — in particular, how the word “feminist” has transformed from activist movement to marketing device. Zeisler explores the affects of mainstreaming feminism, as well as the current trend of using the label to sell the kinds of products, ideas, and lifestyle choices that directly enforce the patriarchy. (So start by making sure your “A Woman’s Place Is In The Revolution” tee is ethically-sourced.)

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‘The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America' by Andrés Reséndez

First Nations were notably the first oppressed, marginalized, and discriminated against people in the United States, and Andrés Reséndez’s book The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America will definitely make you rethink everything you learned about American history in school. Shedding light on the enslavement of America’s indigenous people and arguing that slavery — more than disease and violence — was really what decimated the people who were already living here when the Europeans arrived, The Other Slavery is a harrowing account of the first slavery and genocide to take place in the United States.

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‘In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom' by Yeonmi Park

North Korea is making headlines more frequently than it ever has before in my lifetime, but as is often the case in mainstream media, there is only one specific narrative that gets told and retold, over and over again. In the spirit of exploring all those impacted by the North Korean regime — not just those around the world concerned about the dictatorship’s nuclear obsessions — consider checking out Yeonmi Park’s memoir, In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom. In it, Park tells the story of her repressive and fear-filled upbringing in North Korea, and her harrowing escapes. If one of us isn't safe, none of us are.

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'Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina' by Raquel Cepeda

A tumultuous memoir of identity, ancestry, DNA, and travel, Raquel Cepeda’s Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina traces the writer’s journey from Harlem to Santo Domingo to San Francisco and beyond, as Cepeda works to discover her own unique makeup of race and ethnicity. This memoir is for anyone who has ever struggled to make sense of their identity, and to find a home where genetics and experience meet — because, in the end, we’re all patchwork quilts of our family history.

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'Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America' by Ibram X. Kendi

From the Puritans to the present, America has a pervasive culture of racism and inequality, and Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America explores the past and present of that racism. Kendi profiles five key people in American history: Angela Davis, W.E.B. Du Bois, Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, and William Lloyd Garrison, using their examples to argue against the myth of a post-racial America and explore the beliefs and practices of various race-related schools of thought.

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‘Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America' by Melissa Harris-Perry

Let’s be honest, stereotypes almost always serve exactly one purpose: to reinforce the social and political structures designed to keep certain people marginalized. In Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America by Melissa Harris-Perry, the stereotypes that have plagued black women in America for generations are explored, investigated, challenged, and refuted. Harris-Perry also looks at how black women are personally shaped by these stereotypes, and how many are choosing to fight back through political organizing and other means.

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'All Our Relations' by Winona LaDuke

Winona LaDuke is an author and First Nations environmental activist whose nonfiction collection, All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life, looks at Native resistance to environmental, cultural, and spiritual degradation, as well as arguing for the political self-determination of First Nations people. LaDuke’s merges her own experiences and research with testimonies from First Nations activists — including the Seminoles, the Anishinaabeg, the Innu, the Northern Cheyenne, the Mohawks, and others — who have fought for their rights for generations.

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'A Burst of Light: and Other Essays' by Audre Lorde

This recently re-released collection of essays is a definite must-read for anyone losing heart in today’s fraught political climate. In A Burst of Light: and Other Essays, Audre Lorde writes passionately about everything from radical politics and the need for intersectionality in feminism to her experiences navigating her own identity as a black lesbian writer and mother and her battle with cancer. She'll leave you feeling both empowered and inspired.

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'Men Explain Things To Me' by Rebecca Solnit

Inspired by a particularly “mansplain-y” dinner party attended by the author, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me explores the gender-based inequalities present in routine exchanges between men and women. On point, hilarious, and infuriating, Men Explain Things To Me also addresses the issue of women being silenced all over the world — many times at the expense of their health, freedom, and/or life.

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'When We Were Outlaws' by Jeanne Córdova

Jeanne Córdova’s When We Were Outlaws is a whirlwind of feminist politics, passionate protest, ambitious activism, and the writer’s own struggle with discrimination and her personal identity. A writer for the underground L.A. Free Press, Córdova covered everyone from the Weather Underground to Angela Davis, as she worked towards becoming a key voice in the feminist lesbian movement of the 1970s — and her words will remind you that the march towards equality is never done.

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'The Fire Next Time’ by James Baldwin

This bestselling pair of two essays explores the American Civil Rights Movement and the fraught terrain left behind in the wake of centuries of slavery in the United States. Beginning with author James Baldwin's young life in Harlem, New York, The Fire Next Time tells a story of the anger, frustration, hopelessness, and hope felt within the black community Baldwin grew up in. This book is a call to action for Americans of all races to let go of assumptions and ignorance, and to work together towards a more free, more just society.

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'Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City' by Matthew Desmond

Housing equality has long impacted American society, and it’s this form of equality that sociologist Matthew Desmond explores in Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Traveling through the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee and into the lives of eight families, Desmond tells a story of poverty and eviction, single-motherhood and public housing, street violence and homelessness; highlighting the decades of economic exploitation, inequality, racism, and lack of adequate social services in these areas.

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