16 books on race and white privilege that will show you what’s really happening in America right now

Thomonique Moore
Thomonique Moore is a 2016 graduate of Howard University, founder of Books&Shit book club, and an incoming Masters’ candidate at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College. 
Thomonique Moore
  • Hundreds of thousands of Americans are taking to the streets for Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.
  • Now is an excellent time for white and non-black Americans to educate themselves on the history of racial oppression in the US.
  • Black sociology, literary, and history scholars shared their top book recommendations for people looking to educate themselves on anti-racism.
  • The works include books like “The Wretched of the Earth” by Frantz Fanon and “How to Be Less Stupid About Race” by Crystal Fleming.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Now is the time for Americans to educate themselves on racial inequality and oppression in the US.

Protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd swept the country this week, and more Americans are talking about how to be an ally for black people. In this era, it’s not enough for allies to say they’re “not racist,” activists and leading scholars are saying. Instead, they have to actively adopt anti-racism, which is the set of beliefs and actions that oppose racism and promote the inclusion and equality of black and brown people in society.

One important way to learn about anti-racism is by reading. As Vulture aptly puts it, “The how could this happen meets the I told you so. They rendezvous at the anti-racist reading list.”

Business Insider reached out to black professors and scholars at institutions across the country. Here are the books they recommend Americans read right now.

“So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo

So you want to talk about race

Seal Press

In this bestseller, Seattle-based writer Ijeoma Oluo prompts people of all races to start having honest conversations about race, giving readers handy phrases and questions to start unpacking racism within their own social networks. She tackles subjects ranging from intersectionality to microaggressions, or subtly racist remarks or actions.

Thomonique Moore, a 2016 graduate of Howard University, founder of online book club Books&Shit, which explores titles by authors of color, and an incoming master’s candidate at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, recommends everyone pick of this title.

“This is a good book to help white people and non-black people of color answer often spoken and unspoken questions about race and racism,” Moore told Business Insider.

Find it here>>

“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander

The new Jim Crow

The New Press

In “The New Jim Crow,” legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” Jim Crow laws were state and local laws created in the late 1800s and early 1900s that enforced racial segregation and encouraged the disenfrachisement of black people in the US.

“Michelle Alexander breaks down the historic ‘war on crime’ and how the explosive increase in the number US citizens incarcerated, namely black men, is just another trickier, evolved, version of slavery, and Jim Crow,” Moore said.

Find it here>>

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

White Fragility

Beacon Press

In this best-selling book, academic, lecturer, and author Robin Diangelo explores the defense mechanisms white people commonly employ when challenged on their assumptions about race. These counterproductive reactions, Diangelo explains, prevent white people from having much needed conversations to usher in progress.

“White Fragility is a mirror and self-reflection guide, so to speak, for white people who are ready to face their privileges and finally have the tough and necessary conversations,” Moore said.

Find it here>>

“Racism without Racists: Colorblind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States” by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva

"Racism without Racists: Colorblind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States" by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

In this book, Bonilla-Silva makes a powerful argument against the idea that race doesn’t exist, or that being “colorblind” is an appropriate solution to racism.

Crystal Fleming, associate professor of sociology and Africana studies at Stony Brook University called this “one of the most important books on racism.”

“In particular, Bonilla-Silva helps us understand how the rhetoric of colorblindness reinforces the racial status quo,” she told Business Insider.

Find it here>> 

“Two Faced Racism: Whites in the Backstage and Frontstage” by Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin

"Two Faced Racism: Whites in the Backstage and Frontstage" by Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin

Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin

“Two-Faced Racism,” published in 2007, features more than 600 journal entries of racial events kept by white college students at 28 colleges in the US. It exposes how closely held racist beliefs are still very much a part of American culture.

Fleming assigns this book to students taking her “Racism and Ethnic Relations” course at Stony Brook University.

“Picca and Feagin analyze data from journal entries provided by white college students which reveals how racism works behind closed doors as well as in public and semi-public spaces,” Fleming said.

Find it here >>

“How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy and the Racial Divide” by Crystal Fleming

"How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy and the Racial Divide" by Crystal Fleming

Beacon Press

In addition to recommending other authors, Fleming suggest a book she wrote on the topic of racism, which serves as a primer on the topics of racial oppression and white supremacy.

“I wrote the book to help people understand the historical roots of white supremacy and to be able to draw connections between past and present racism. The last chapter includes 10 concrete steps that everyone can take to help dismantle systemic racism,” she told Business Insider.

Find it here >>

“The Ethnic Project: Transforming Racial Fiction into Ethnic Factions” by Vilna Bashi Treitler

The Ethnic Project: Transforming Racial Fiction into Ethnic Factions

Stanford University Press

“The Ethnic Project” was written by Vilna Bashi Treitler, a sociology professor in the department of black students at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

In this historical narrative work, Treitler examines the ethnic history of the US from the arrival of the English in North America to the present day. She shows how each group of immigrants from Irish to Chinese people negotiated their place in the pecking order of ethnic groups within in the country.

“‘The Ethnic Project’ is incredibly useful for understanding the racial hierarchy in the United States,” Fleming said.

Find it here>>

“Race and Racisms: A Critical Approach” by Tanya Golash Boza

Race and Racisms

Oxford University Press

“Race and Racisms” tackles critical topics including how and when the idea of race was created, how it developed, and how structural racism has created inequality.

“This book is an excellent overview of systemic and institutionalized racism,” Fleming said.

Find it here>>

“Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations” by Joe Feagin

Racist America


Feagin incorporates more than 200 recent research studies and reports in his book, which illustrates the origins of racism in the US, and how it still pervades white culture today.

Augustine Kposowa, professor and chair of the department of sociology at the University of California, Riverside, cites this book as an important read for anyone looking to be anti-racist.

“Joe Feagin reveals just how racist whites are,” Kposowa said. “Feagin is white and he is privy to secret conversations that whites have in white networks that blacks can never join. In his book, he mentions stories, and what white people say in private, at dinner tables, in their circles about black people, leaving no stone untouched.”

Find it here>> 

“White Rage; the Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide” by Carol Anderson

White Rage

Bloomsbury USA

“White Rage” explores how each time blacks in America have made progress, there has been strong white backlash.

“The book is a critical reflection of why racism persists in the United States, including things that enrage white people about racial issues. In the book, it is evident that no matter what happens in America, including the most open outrages like police killings of blacks, whites never seem interested,” Kposowa said.

Find it here>>

“Black Americans” by Alphonso Pinkney

Black Americans

Prentice-Hall, Inc.

This book, written by distinguished Afro-American sociologist and former long term chairman of the Department of Sociology at Hunter College Alphonso Pinkney, explores several facets of different black experiences in the US, including homicide as a public health problem and the prevalence of police brutality.

“Pinkney’s book is a comprehensive account of black life in America, and covers why in almost every sphere, blacks are forced to stay behind,” Kposowa said.

Find it here>>

“Code of the Street” by Elijah Anderson

Code of the Street

W. W. Norton & Company

In the “code of the street,” Yale professor Elijah Anderson, presents an explanation for high rates of violence among black teens in the US. Anderson explains how living in impoverished areas without access to economic opportunities, being separated from mainstream society, as well as persistent discrimination was linked with anti-social attitudes and and violent behavior in black teens.

Mansa Bilal Mark King, associate professor of sociology at Morehouse College, told Business Insider it’s one of the most important books non-black people can read.

“This is one of the best books for helping non-black people begin to understand that the adoption of a street persona is often a matter of everyday safety for black people who are not actually committed to a street ethos,” he said.

Find it here>>

“The Wretched of the Earth” by Frantz Fanon

The Wretched of the Earth

Grove Press

Author Frantz Fanon was a distinguished psychiatrist from Martinique who took part in the Algerian Nationalist Movement, a movement that fought for the rights French colonizers to be extended to native Algerians. In “The Wretched of the Earth,” Fanon captures the psychology of the colonized and their path to liberation.

“This book can be hard for most non-black Americans to read, and it can be even more difficult for them to see how it relates to African Americans, particularly those of us whose families survived American slavery and Jim and Jane Crow apartheid. That is exactly why people need to read it,” King said.

Find it here>>

“The Mis-Education of the Negro” by Carter Woodson

The Miseducation of the Negro

12th Media Services

Carter Godwin Woodson was an American historian, author, journalist, and one of the first scholars to study the history of the African diaspora. In this book, he argues that black people were being indoctrinated, rather than educated, in American schools, and that black Americans needed to educate themselves on the history of race and racism.

“This book is almost a century old, and the fact that its basic critique remains a valid one should help readers to understand a key source of black American anger,” King said. “For many Black Americans, not getting a helpful education on Africa and her American Diaspora is part of the reason for educational disengagement.”

Find it here>>

“UNESCO General History of Africa, Vol. I by Joseph Ki-Zerbo and Vol. II” by G. Mokhtar

UNESCO General history of Africa

University of California Press/UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has put together comprehensive titles on the history of Africa and its people that are useful for any American of any color to read.

These works “help the reader overcome the poor historical education that most Americans get when it comes to Africa,” King said.

Find the books here>>

“Black Wealth/White Wealth” by Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro

Black Wealth, White Wealth


In “Black Wealth/White Wealth,” sociological researchers Oliver and Shapiro capture just how large the wealth gap is between black and white Americans.

“This book helps people of all races begin to understand that it was white America that systematically chooses for us to have almost all black, low-income, ‘ghetto areas.’ Equally important, this imposed reality means that black children are born at a disadvantage, in the vast majority of cases, through no fault of their own,” King said.

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