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Keep Asking Why: Top 10 Books To Help You Understand Systemic Racism

Keep Asking Why: Top 10 Books To Help You Understand Systemic Racism

I’m racist. Some may say I have some racial bias, but sugarcoating a problem isn’t a helpful tack. If you had asked me ten years ago, I would have said that I’m color-blind, and I’m embarrassed to admit it. I’ve thought, done, and said racist things in my life, never with intention, but does intention matter? If you feel the same way, then keep reading. I am writing this for no other reason than to share my anti-racist journey in hopes that I can be a catalyst for someone else’s. I didn’t start on this road without a lot of help and support from the community around me. It has never been an independent walk. It isn’t always comfortable, but being a little uncomfortable is the least we can do. Because of this journey, I have also learned that my silent growth is not enough. Being an ally means being active in the work of anti-racism.

As a teacher, I am part of a system that fails people of color and people of poverty. It’s as simple as that.  How can I say that those children in my class do not matter? Every day that I teach and do not seek change means I am allowing the system to fail these children. My children. Our children.

For those who counter that all lives matter or blue lives matter, I agree with you. But, you are missing the real point. Why do you assume that if I say black lives matter, other lives don’t? Ask yourself why you think that. I am a privileged person. That doesn’t mean my life has always been easy. Are you insulted to be called privileged? Ask yourself why. More importantly, ask why people different from yourself are pushing back.

The following books will help you understand—and hopefully dismantle—systemic racism in our society.

1. Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

From the book: “[T]he more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.”

2. Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks

From the book: “To be changed by ideas was pure pleasure. But to learn ideas that ran counter to values and beliefs learned at home was to place oneself at risk, to enter the danger zone. Home was the place where I was forced to conform to someone else’s image of who and what I should be. School was the place where I could forget that self and, through ideas, reinvent myself.”

3. White Fragility: Why it’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo

From the book: “While implicit bias is always at play because all humans have bias, inequity can occur simply through homogeneity; if I am not aware of the barriers you face, then I won’t see them, much less be motivated to remove them. Nor will I be motivated to remove the barriers if they provide an advantage to which I feel entitled.”

4. Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

From the book: “The principal function of racist ideas in American history has been the suppression of resistance to racial discrimination and its resulting racial disparities. The beneficiaries of slavery, segregation, and mass incarceration have produced racist ideas of Black people being best suited for or deserving of the confines of slavery, segregation, or the jail cell. Consumers of these racist ideas have been led to believe there is something wrong with Black people, and not the policies that have enslaved, oppressed, and confined so many Black people.”

5. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

From the book: “Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered.”

6. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

From the book: “That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

7. Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond

From the book: “Every culturally responsive teacher develops a sociopolitical consciousness, an understanding that we live in a racialized society that gives unearned privilege to some while others experience unearned disadvantage because of race, gender, class, or language.”

8. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

From the book: “The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America. When you are black in America and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because it’s just you and your love. But the minute you step outside, race matters.”

9. White Teeth by Zadie Smith

From the book: “Our children will be born of our actions. Our accidents will become their destinies. Oh, the actions will remain. It is a simple matter of what you will do when the chips are down, my friend. When the fat lady is singing. When the walls are falling in, and the sky is dark, and the ground is rumbling. In that moment our actions will define us. And it makes no difference whether you are being watched by Allah, Jesus, Buddah, or whether you are not. On cold days a man can see his breath, on a hot day he can’t. On both occasions, the man breathes.”

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

“The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’ What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.”

I could continue with TED talks, articles and more books, but my hope is this could be a start to a dialogue. My journey is not even close to being complete. It never will be. But, I’m willing to walk with you, if you consider one of these books, if nothing else. Consider leaning into the discomfort that comes from not understanding someone else’s experience. Consider being the change you hope to see in the world.

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