Text Box: Books to Read on Racism and White Privilege
compiled by Barbara Beckwith for
White People Challenging Racism: Moving From Talk to Action classes
feedback/suggestions welcome: BeckwithB@aolcom

How Racism is Learned & Unlearned


The First R: How Children Learn Race and Racism, by Debra Van Ausdale and Joe R. Feagin (Rowman & Littlefield, 2001). Ausdale spent a year observing a racially diverse day care center, where pre-school children experienced racial diversity in their own ways, but also in the light of adult world ideologies. Authors are white.


The Anti-Defamation League's Hate Hurts: How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice: A Guide for Adults and Children by Caryl Stern-LaRosa and Ellen Hofheimer Bettmann (Scholastic, 2000). Strategies, role plays, and sample dialogues to help children of all ages value the differences they perceive relating to race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Tackles adolescent name-calling, exclusion, and tools for countering bias in schools, media, books, online. For adults & high school readers.


Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum (Basic Books, 1997). African American psycholgist explains the development of racial identity in this much-read book, a must for high school teachers. Also: Can We Talk About Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation, especially chapter 3 is "What Kind of Friendship is That?"


Einstein on Race and Racism, by Fred Jerome and Rodger Taylor (Rutgers, 2005). Describes Einstein's anti-racism activism, which history books and biographies usually fail to mention. Jerome is white and Taylor is African American.


Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, by James W. Loewen (Simon & Schuster, 1995). "Every teacher, every student of history, every citizen should read this book," says Howard Zinn. "It is both a refreshing antidote to what has passed for history in our educational system and a one-volume education in itself." Loewen is white.


Race in the College Classroom edited by Bonnie Tusmith and Maureen T. Reddy,  (Rutgers, 2002). College professors who teach about race describe the impacts on their careers of their teaching about race and racism. Tusmith is Asian American; Reddy is white.


Because of the Kids; Facing Racial and Cultural Differences in Schools, by Jennifer E. Obidah and Karen Manheim Teel (Teachers College Press, 2001). An African American teacher and a white teacher set out to collaborate in a middle school classroom, but find themselves grappling with distrust, anger, and fear, eventually building trust and understanding. Shows both the importance and the challenges of interracial collaborations. Keen insights into how race and culture matter in teacher-student interactions.


Dream Not of Other Worlds: Teaching in a Segregated Elementary School, 1970, by Huston Diehl  (University of Iowa, 2007). The white author reflects on her inexperience and the low expectations she brought to her teaching of  "Negro" 4th graders in Virginia, and how she was repeatedly surprised and challenged by her students, causing her to question her prejudices and middle-class assumptions.


She Would Not Be Moved: How We Tell the Story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, by Herbert Kohl (New Press, 2005). Looks at an array of mainstream textbook simplistic accounts of the Rosa Parks story, tells the real story, shows why textbooks mythologize a significant historical event.


The Other Busing Story: What's Won and Lost Across the Boundary Line, by Susan E. Eaton (Yale, 2001). Harvard Civil Rights Project researcher shares both the positive and the negative views of "graduates" looking back at their METCO experience of being bussed to the suburbs. Eaton is white.


White People Look at Their Lives Through the Lens of Race


White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son, by Tim Wise (Soft Skull, 2005). Wise, who speaks widely on U.S. campuses, looks at his life re: white privilege he received from age three on. See (www.timwise.org) for Wises essays, collected in Speaking Treason Fluently: Anti-racist Reflections from an Angry White Male, as well as in Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama (2009).


Light of the Feather: A Teacher's Journey into Native American Classrooms & Culture, by Mick Fedullo. (Anchor, 1992). A white teacher describes his experience teaching writing on various Indian reservations. To cross the cultural divide, he had to learn to respect his students values and their determination to hold onto their heritage while striving to succeed in the larger society.


Invisible Privilege: A Memoir About Race, Class, and Gender, Paula S. Rothenberg (Kansas, 2000). Looks at her life (she is white) and privileges through the lens of gender, race and class.


Separate Pasts: Growing Up White in the Segregated South, by Melton A. McLauren (U. Georgia Press, 1987, reprinted in 1998). White historian recalls his 1950s boyhood, when rural Southern segregation went unchallenged. Describes the lives of whites and blacks he knew, the moral challenges they faced, and the power of human relationships to overcome the ingrained oppressive systems.


The Education of a WASP, by Lois Mark Stalvey (Wisconsin, 1999, originally published in 1970). Omaha homemaker moved to Philadelphia in the 1960s, discovered racism, and started to stand up to fellow whites as an ally to her African American neighbors. Also: Three to Get Ready: The Education of a White Family in Inner City Schools (Wisconsin, 1974).


Autobiography of an Ex-White Man, by Robert Paul Wolff (U Rochester, 2005). How teaching in an Afro-American Department changed the way a white philosophy professor saw himself, his university, and his country.


Growing Up White: A Veteran Teacher Reflects on Racism, by Julie Landsman (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008). The author's goal is to show how her white life, from her earliest years, has influenced her teaching and how she deals with this "racial baggage" in the classroom.


All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, by Michael Patrick MacDonald (Beacon Press, 1999). The author grew up in a Boston's working class Irish community, branded, after anti-busing riots, as a violent, racist enclave. He loses four siblings to violence and poverty, but leaves his enclave to work as a peace activist in all-Black neighborhoods of Roxbury.


White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness, by Maurice Berger (FSG, 1999). Berger grew up in NYC 1960s with a Jewish liberal father who loved Martin Luther King Jr., and a dark-skinned Sephardic Jewish mother who hated black people: he describes his journey toward understanding racism.


When Race Becomes Real: Black and White Writers Confront Their Personal Histories, edited by Bernestine Singley (Lawrence Hill, 2002). Personal accounts of what it means to be black - and to be white - by 30 writers. Singley is African American.


Ethnic Whites and White Privilege


How the Irish Became White, by Noel Ignatiev, (Routledge, 1995). Shows how the Irish "assimilated" in jobs, unions and government by separating themselves from and excluding Blacks. Ignatiev is white.


Are Italians White? How Race is Made in America by Jennifer Guglielmo and Salvatore Salerno, (Routledge, 2003). Italian Americans describe their complex experiences with race, racism and white privilege.


How Jews Became White Folks & What That Says About Race in America, by Karen Brodkin (Rutgers, 2000) shows how Jewish immigrants assimilated within the framework of whiteness. Counters the "bootstraps" myth.


Walk With Us, by Elizabeth K. Gordon (Crandall, Dostie & Douglass, 2007). White Quaker lesbian couple forms a makeshift family with teenaged Black Muslims & their triplets.


Uncovering Racism in Particular Institutions


Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, by Harriet A. Washington (Doubleday, 2006). Abusive experimentation, and the rationalizations used to justify them, from slavery to today. The author is African American, as is James, H. Jones, author of  Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphillis Experiment about experiments on, and non-treatment of, African Americans that went on between the 1930s and 1975.


Highway Robbery: Transportation Racism & New Routes to Equity, edited by Robert D. Bullard, et al.  (South End, 2004). How LA, NYC, San Francisco, Atlanta transportation systems deprive people of color of opportunities. Bullard is African American.


Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America, by Jeff Wiltse (U. North Carolina, 2007). Shows how mixed-gender use of urban pools led to segregation; decades of protest won desegregation but also a shift to private club pools. Wiltse is white.


Foxholes & Color Lines: Desegregating the U.S. Armed Forces, by Sherie Mershon and Steven Schlossman,  (Johns Hopkins, 1998). Describes how the U.S. military became (despite tensions and setbacks) racially integrated.


Between Women: Domestics and Their Employers, by Judith Rollins (Temple, 1985). Draws on 40 in-depth interviews and the sociologist's own experience as a domestic worker for employers in the greater Boston area (Brookline), to show the social psychology of relationships of domination. Rollins is Black.


Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship - Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice, by Donna McDaniel and Vanessa Julye  (Quaker Press, 2009). Quakers were abolitionists, but the Friends' race relations history is more complicated and not always admirable. An honest (but long) history of one faith community, with insights from the white and African American co-authors.


Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower, edited by Deborah Gray White (U. North Carolina, 2008). A Black historian gathers 17 narratives by Black women historians that describe how they entered and navigated an academic world dominated by whites and men. Reveals the barriers, both internal and external, that can prevent such scholars from writing and teaching freely and well.


Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery, edited by Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jennifer Frank of the Hartford Courant, (Ballantine, 2005). Reveals how essential slavery was to New England's economy, with chapters on specific industries.


Personal Politics: The Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left, by Sara Evans (Vintage, 1980). Based on Evans' personal experiences, discusses problems with racial tension in SNCC and explores how patriarchal social structures, fierce racial tension, and socio-economic differences pushed issues of racism within both the organized Civil Rights and with the Women's movements it gave rise to. Evans is white.


Role Models of White Anti-Racists


Refusing Racism: White Allies in the Struggle for Civil Rights, edited by Cynthia Stokes Brown (Teachers College Press, 2002). Portraits of white American activists (Durr, Waring, Braden, Kohl etc.) and their struggles for civil rights. Stokes is white.


Whites Confront Racism: Anti-racists and Their Paths to Action, by Eileen O'Brien, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2001). How groups like People's Institute for Survival and Beyond help people undo racism.


White Men Challenging Racism: 35 Personal Stories, edited by Cooper Thompson, Emmett Schaefer, and Harry Brod (Duke, 2003). Narratives by white men for whom combatting racism is central to their lives.


A Promise and a Way of Life: White Antiracist Activism, by Becky Thompson (U. Minnesota, 2001) describes white people who have fought racism, often at great risk. Thompson is white.


Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin (1962, reprinted with 1996 Afterword). The White author travels through the South as a Black man to document discrimination he encounters. Grace Halsell (Soul Sister, 1999) did the same in Hispanic, Native American, and Black guise to personally experience racism. These two books helped open white Americans' eyes to the reality of everyday racism.


Guides to Understanding Racism and White Privilege


It's the Little Things: The Everyday Interactions that Get under the Skin of Black and Whites, by Lena Williams (Harcourt, 2000). Black NY Times reporter on racial irritants.


35 Dumb Things Well-Intentioned People Say: Surprising Things We Say that Widen the Diversity Gap, by Dr. Maura Cullen (Morgan James, 2008). If you've ever heard yourself of someone else say "Some of my best friends are...", Here's a concise and readable guide to becoming more inclusive and diversity-smart. Cullen is white.


Overcoming Our Racism: The Journey to Liberation, by Derald Wing Sue (John Wiley, 2003). A guide to overcoming your prejudices on a personal level, by the first president of the Asian American Psychological Society.


The Anti-Racist Cookbook: A Recipe Guide for Conversations About Race that Goes Beyond Covered Dishes and "Kum-Bah-Ya" by Robin Parker and Pamela Smith Chambers (Crandall, Dostie & Douglass Books, 2005) Readable, conversational guide to frank and productive inter-racial dialogue. Authors are Black. Order from www.cddbooks.com


Talking About Race: A Workbook About White People Fostering Racial Equality in Their Lives, by Kaolin (Crandall, Dostie & Douglass Books, 2010). Based on a college course, heartfelt stories from Kaolin's students interspersed with over 140 self-study questions. Kaolin is white. www.cddbooks.com.


White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training, by Judith H. Katz (U. Oklahoma, 2003). Step by step guide for white people to understand and challenge racism. Exercises, tools, inventories. Katz is white.

Understanding Whiteness, Understanding Racism: Tools for the Journey, by Judy Helman and Laurie Lippin (Thompson, 2002). A workbook that can lead white people to self-understanding and to anti-racist action. The authors are white.


Lifting the White Veil: An Exploration of White American Culture in a Multiracial Context, by Jeff Hitchcock (Crandall, Dostie & Douglass Books). A basic "remedial education for white folk" by the Center for the Study of White American Culture co-founder, who is white, married to an African American.


A Race is a Nice Thing to Have: A Guide to Being a White Person or Understanding the White Persons in Your Life, by Janet E. Helms (1994, available from Amazon.com). African American psychologist's exercises for self-understanding. Helms is African American.


Privilege, Power, and Difference, by Allan G. Johnson (McGraw Hill, 2006). How systems of privilege work (gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical abilities, age, income, education, geographic); how to be part of the solution. Johnson is white.


Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice, by Paul Kivel (New Society, 2002). Helps white people see dynamics of racism in society, institutions, daily lives. Stories, exercises, advice for working together. Kivel is white.


Afraid of the Dark: What Whites and Blacks Need to Know About Each Other, by Jim Myers (Lawrence Hill, 2000). White USA Today writer looks at why whites and blacks expect the worst & how to together improve their relations. Myers is white; he is married to an African American.


Interracial Friendship & Its Challenges


"'What Kind of Friendship is That?' The Search for Authenticity, Mutuality, and Social Transformation in Cross-Racial Relationships," Chapter 3 of Can We Talk About Race? by Beverly Daniel Tatum (Beacon, 2007). Explores the dynamics and possibilities of friendships in an increasingly segregated world via a personal account of Tatum's own deep friendship with a white colleague, and its many complications.


The Trouble with Friendship: Why Americans Can't Think Straight About Race, by Benjamin DeMott (Yale, 1995). Counters "can't we all just be friends?" with realities of racism. DeMott is white.


Some of My Best Friends: Writings on Interracial Friendships, edited by Emily Bernard (Amistad, 2004). Personal stories show the complexities of interracial friendships: Latino and white, black and Asian, black and Jewish. Bernard is African American.


My First White Friend: Confessions on Race, Love and Forgiveness, by Patricia Raybon (Penguin, 1996). A memoir that conveys the rage that many Black people feel toward whites; the African American author decides to go past the anger than was tearing her up.


Red and Me: My Coach, My Lifelong Friend, by Bill Russell with Alan Steinberg (Harper, 2009). How friendship evolved from caution, to admiration, to trust and respect, to an enduring friendship between African American  basketball star Russell and his white, Jewish coach.


Black & White & Red All Over: The Story of a Friendship (Public Affairs, 2002), by Martha McNeil Hamilton and Warren Brown. Two Washington Post columnists, each of whom grew up in segregated environments, become friends at work; when Brown is in dire need of a kidney transplant, Hamilton gives him one of hers. Hamilton is white; Brown is African American.


Young People's Perspectives


My Sisters' Voices: Teenage Girls of Color Speak Out, edited by Iris Jacob (Owl Books, 2002) Teens from a wide range of backgrounds write on family, friendships, sex, racism. Jacobs is mixed race.


Letters from Mississippi: Personal Reports from Civil Rights Volunteers of the 1964 Freedom Summer, edited by Elizabeth Sutherland Martinez (Zephyr, 2002). Students, Black and white, write home.


YELL-Oh Girls! Emerging Voices Explore Culture, Identity, and Growing Up Asian American, edited by Vickie Nam (Quill, 2001). Personal accounts that are funny, tender, tough.

Mi Voz, Mi Vida: Latino College Students Tell Their Life Stories (Dartmouth, 2007) Personal accounts by 14 college (Dartmouth) students of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, Central American, and South American descent.


Colonize This! - Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism, edited by Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman (Seal Press, 2002). A Catholic Cuban-Colombian girl from New Jersey and a Pakistani Muslim girl from Queens offer their perspectives on cultural differences and commonalities. Essays explore themes of family and community; mothers; cultural customs; macho cultures, U.S. capitalism and talking back to white feminists, men, mothers, liberals.


Biracial, Multiracial, Bicultural


The Black Notebooks: An Interior Journey, by Toi Derricotte. A well-known African American poet's personal journal entries, accumulated over 20 years. Her light skin exposes her to covert racism in a way that more identifiable Black people don't experience.


One Drop: My Father's Hidden Life: A Story of Race and Family Secrets, by Bliss Broyard. Literary critic Anatole Broyard was Black but passed as white: his daughter discovers this upon his death and seeks out her family history and her Black relatives.


Is That Your Child? Mothers Talk About Rearing Biracial Children, by Marion Kilson and Florence Ladd (Lexington Books, 2009). Describes the various strategies used by parents they interviewed to affirm healthy development of their biracial children and to minimize the effects of race-based rejection. Kilson is white; her husband is Black. Ladd is Black; her husband is white.


Caucasia, by Danzy Senna (Riverhead, 1998). Novel set in Boston area and New Hampshire, about two Black sisters divided by politics and skin color. Senna, who is biracial, also wrote a memoir, Where Did You Sleep Last Night? A Personal History (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009) about her African American father.


Waking Up American: Coming of Age Biculturally, edited by Angela Jane Fontas (Seal Press, 2005). First generation women (Filipina, Haitian, Panamanian, etc) reflect on identity.


Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, by Barack Obama (Crown, 2007). President Obama wrote this memoir in his 30s. Publishers Weekly wrote that Obama's  "search for himself as a black American is rooted in the particulars of his daily life; it also reads like a wry commentary about all of us. He dismisses stereotypes of the 'tragic mulatto' and then shows how much we are all caught between messy contradictions and disparate communities."


Contemporary Fiction


The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, by Sherman Alexie (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1993). These funny and fierce autobiographical short stories were made into a  movie.  Alexie is Spokane/Coeur d'Alene.


New Boy, by Julian Houston  (Houghton Mifflin, 2005). Novel about the first Black student at a Connecticut school during the 1950s, when folks back home in the South are organizing to end segregation. Houston is a Massachusetts State Superior Court Justice. He is African American.


Yo, by Julia Alvarez (Algonquin, 1997). Novel about a Dominican-American girl, but not told by her: alternating chapters are narrated by her sisters, husbands, Mami & Papi, grandparents, cousins, housemaids, her professor, and a stalker. Reveals the role of class, race and culture.


The Help, by Kathryn Stockett (Putnam, 2009). A Mississippi white girl just out of college sets out to interview and write a book about the Black maids in her town. It's 1962, when Civil Rights protests are starting: will her book help or hurt? Chapters are written from various characters' point of view, each of whom copes  in her own way with the challenges of working white families.  Stockett is white.


Typical American, by Gish Jen (Houghton Mifflin, 1991). A Chinese immigrant family sets out to make the American family come true in every way. The family comes together, and apart in this story, both a comedy and a tragedy


African American Classics


The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley (Ballantine, 1964). Memoir of an extraordinary man who could articulate the reality, the outrage, the struggles, and the hopes of African Americans. Describes Malcolm X's upbringing in Michigan, Boston, and NYC, his time in prison, his conversion to Islam, his ministry, his calls for Black pride and self-defense, his travels to Africa and to Mecca.


Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison (1953). Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. A young black man faces hellish intolerance and cultural blindness from white Southern men, at a historically black college, at workplaces, and among Harlem militants, feeling that "I am an invisible man...When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination--indeed, everything and anything except me."


Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs, who hid in an attic for 6 years, then  escaped to the North, where her owner continued to pursue her and her children. Published in 1861 (Dover, 2001). Also Harriet Jacobs: A Life, by white historian Jean Fagan Yellin (Basic Books, 2004).


The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin, (1963). The African American novelist makes the case that whites can only liberate themselves when they liberate blacks; that blacks and whites "deeply need each other" for America to realize its identity as a nation.


Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr, by Stephen B. Oates (1982, re-published in 1994 and 1998). Conveys King's brilliant strategic thinking, as well as personal struggles, as he worked for racial and economic justice, opposed the Vietnam War, and faced death threats.


Killing Rage: Ending Racism, by bell hooks (Holt, 1995). A black and feminist perspective on psychological trauma among African Americans, friendship between black women and white women, anti-Semitism and racism, internalized racism in movies and the media. Title essay is about the fierce anger of people stung by repeated instances of everyday racism, and finding strength for love & positive change.


Send feedback/suggestions to Barbara Beckwith BeckwithB@aol.com 617-868-3143

8a Appleton Rd., Cambridge, MA 02138

Co-facilitator, White People Challenging Racism: Moving from Talk to Action adult ed classes (www.wpcr-boston.org)