Resources about race

Fiction Books

For those looking for an enjoyable way to increase their knowledge about racial issues, I have two suggestions for fiction books. Both are available and well done as audiobooks – I recommend the audio books in these cases over the written versions.

Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult (and if you want there is also a short story prequel called Shine): In the book, a traditional white supremacist who has orders a black labor and delivery nurse not to touch their son, who subsequently died. There is a subsequent lawsuit charging the nurse with negligent homicide. The book tells the stories of the white supremacist, the black nurse, and the nurse’s white well-meaning attorney.

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This award-winning acclaimed book tells the story of a young Nigerian woman who comes to the United States to attend university, and shares an intimate and engaging portrait of her navigation with the cultural politics of race.

What is race? Where did race and racism come from?

Discussions and education around racism often leave out an inquiry into what “race” is and where the idea comes from. I think understanding race is an important part of understanding racism.

Two short readings I recommend are:

The American Anthropological Association’s 1998 Statement on Race:

PBS’s “Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Race”:…/000_About/002_04-background-01-x.htm

Another relevant reading from the American Sociological Association’s scholarly magazine: Gans, Herbert J. 2005. “Race as Class.” Contexts 4(4):17-21.

If you wonder whether race is simply a matter of skin color / physical features, try this online activity on PBS’s website calling Sorting People and see if you can tell someone’s race based on what they look like:

Race: The Power of an Illusion is a film from PBS that is quite educational. I particularly recommend Episode 3: The House We Live in, which explains what has happened in the U.S. through the government in terms of defining race and how our government policies have fostered racial inequality.

Racial groups and vocabulary/language

This webpage, written by Pamela Oliver, has a long discussion of the vocabulary to talk about race and what names are used for various racial groups, how they have changed, what’s insulting vs. appropriate, etc.

White privilege

You may be familiar with the term, but not be sure about what it means or how it manifests. A classic article on it is Peggy McIntosh’s 1989 magazine article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” available here:  McIntosh is a white woman who had always easily identified her experiences with how men had unearned privilege and women had systemic disadvantages, but had not made that connection to her own racial privilege.

If you want to read a more recent work from the perspective of a black individual, with more description on the examples, Lori Lakin Hutcherson has a blog post that details 10 examples of white privilege from her life experiences. There are lots of other similar accounts out there of people sharing their experiences with white privilege and racial disadvantage if you search around.

This article:

Systemic Racism

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If you are white and read about white privilege and started to feel defensive, guilty, or otherwise started to take this personally in that you feel like this is an attack on you as an individual or specifically about you as an individual (or if you just want to learn more about thinking sociologically and how systems matter and function, which is important for understanding and dismantling racism), I highly suggest the first chapter of Allan Johnson’s book The Forest and the Trees: Sociology as Life, Practice, and Promise, which is a quite accessible read about systems and discusses what it means (and does not mean) to live in a society for us as individuals.

Here’s a short article about racism uses a gardening allegory to address why it’s important to address racism at a systemic level:
Jones, Camara Phyllis. 2000. “Levels of Racism: A Theoretic Framework and a Gardener’s Tale.” American Journal of Public Health 90:1212-1215.

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Manifestations of Racism

The PBS series Unnatural Causes is available via Kanopy which you have access to as an Edwardsville Public Library member. I particularly recommend Episode 2: When the Bough Breaks. This episode focuses on the racial disparity in premature and low-birth weight babies, and how this is due to not to class or genetics or anything other than the chronic stress black people face in a racist society as a result of continuously being targets of racism (including through microaggressions, which are everyday/commonplace interactions that, while often not intentionally racist, communicate negative, hostile, and derogatory messages about people of color).

You may have heard of the term “intersectionality,” which is often misused in popular culture. Intersectionality is about how our multiple identities interact simultaneously and on multiple levels to create divergent experiences, impacting the unique power and oppression we experience. The term was originally coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw. An example she uses to explain the term is the course case of DeGraffenreid vs. General Motors court case in the 1970s. Historically women could work at General Motors as office staff and men could work at General Motors in manufacturing. However, only white women were allowed as office staff. When this policy changed, black women entered the workforce. However, when layoffs came around, black women were the first to be laid off, and when it came time for promotions, they were the last to be promoted. General Motors claimed this was because of their lack of seniority. Five black women sued, noting that the reason for their lack of seniority was because they were not allowed to work at General Motors previously due to their status as black women. They believed this constituted discrimination against them in both promotion and layoff policies. The courts ruled in favor of General Motors, saying they would not create a super-remedy and that the plaintiffs had failed to prove gender discrimination, since (white) women had been able to previously work in the front office, or racial discrimination, since (black) men had previously been able to work in manufacturing. Crenshaw’s point in sharing this case is that it was not race or gender alone that impacted these employees; it was the intersection of race and gender–the status of being a black woman–that meant they could not gain earlier employment.

You can become familiar with stereotypes of African Americans on Wikipedia here: There are a number of pervasive stereotypes and associated stigmas at the intersections of race, class, gender, and parent status, e.g. the welfare queen, the mammy, the Jezebel, and the Sapphire, which are included in that Wiki article, some with links to separate longer Wiki articles. There are lots of available academic and media resources on these (e.g. the article in The New Republican “The Myth of the Welfare Queen” tells you about the origins of this caricature:, but a more popular and comprehensive book that I have read about and listened to a talk on, but that is still on my reading list, is Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America by Melissa Harris-Perry.

Stereotype threat is something that occurs when people feel at risk of confirming a negative stereotype about a group to which they belong. A great book on stereotype threat is Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi: how stereotypes affect us and what we can do by Claude Steele. The title is named after a story by Brent Staples, a New York Times columnist recalls how as a young black man living in Chicago while he was in graduate school at the University of Chicago, he noticed how people feared him when they saw him on the streets. He began to avoid people, began to whistle out of nervousness, and then found that if he whistled tunes from the Beatles or from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, he could deflect people’s stereotypes and be perceived as less threatening. Stereotype threat is often a subconscious process that interferes with brain function and reduces performance. The book deals substantially with race. Another way to learn about stereotype threat is through Shelley Correll’s lecture, “How Gender Stereotypes Influence Emerging Career Aspirations,” available at; the concept is the same, but the focus is on gender rather than race. The Whistling Vivaldi book details more about ways that stereotype threat is mitigated, such as having a critical mass of representation (e.g. when there are multiple black people in a group as opposed to one, those individuals are more likely to be engaged and to be seen and treated as individuals rather than be treated as a representative of their race and discounted with racist assumptions about their role and ability to contribute. They are also less likely to feel like their performance is tied to evaluations of their underrepresented group identity).

A Girl Like Me is a 7-minute documentary by Kiri Davis in which a handful of black teenage girls share their stories and struggles around internalized racism and colorism and recreate the doll text experiment that Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark shared for the Brown v. Board of Education court case. It is available at

Regarding racial disparities in the criminal justice system, many people recommend the Netflix film 13th as well as Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, which is available in our public library system (and as an e-book but with a long wait time). One recommendation I have is Alice Goffman’s ethnography On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. Her (now controversial) book, published in 2014, is well-written, accessible, and engaging. It transports the reader into a world of young black men and how their relationship to the law and surveillance are embedded in their everyday lives. You can read a journal article she published which includes some of the story of her book here:

Finally, there is a series of 7 to 13 minute YouTube videos on Black History from PBS’s Digital Studios’ Origin of Everything series, starting with The Origin of Race in the USA and including videos on ethnicity, racial passing, Rosa Parks, cultural appropriation, etc. I have not watched these videos yet, but they were recently shared in a teaching sociology group I am part of and on the surface they look like good resources.

Allyship and Action

Here is a handout on “being an ally” which applies for any social location for which you hold a privileged identity: and here is another handout on the ally path:

This resource is specifically for white people. This is a checklist for white allies against racism:

Here is Dr. Ken Hardy’s handout “Tasks of the Privileged and Subjugated,”

Hardy also has an infographic on “how to talk effectively about race: with the list of 10 underlying principles available here:

Get involved with an organization or committee that is working for racial justice. This may be through your workplace, house of worship, a local community organization, etc. You could even start a group or take a more informal step like doing a book club through an organization you are involved with. There are many ways to get engaged.