Five Great Books to Help Us Talk About Racism

I’m a privileged white woman in America.

Some days, this country seems stranger and stranger and I don’t know what it’s going to look like in 20 years. We joke about millennials, of which I would say I am not quite one. (I’m a 1982 baby, and kind of fall into that middle, Xennial, Oregon Trail generation.) While we can say all we want about this younger generation, here is what I see: they are forcing our country to truly talk about race relations, violence issues, and more.

We’re having growing pains, but I truly believe we can come out of it stronger and with more compassion for one another.

Lately I’ve been on a storm of reading books by black, female authors. I want to try to understand. For those of you who might be in the same boat, or just want to read something really great, here are some recent favorites that help open conversations about race relations in America.

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

Jennifer Latham is actually white, but her book about the Tulsa Race Riots in 1921 is an excellent read. The book goes back and forth between the present and the past. Present-day narrative focuses on Rowan, a 17-year-old girl who finds a skeleton in her backyard. The 1921 story is about Will, a white teenager living as race tension builds in his hometown and he is torn over where his loyalties lie.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

If you haven’t read Woodson’s 2014 work in verse, which won both the National Book Award and a Newberry medal, you’re missing out. In it, Woodson writes about her childhood and what it was like growing up African-American in both New York and South Carolina in the ’60s and ’70s. The poetry is poignant and vivid. Woodson’s girlhood longing about becoming a writer made me cry, too, as I know those feelings so well.

Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward

While Sing Unburied Sing doesn’t necessarily focus on race, it’s definitely all over the narrative: the story goes back and forth between son Jojo and mother Leonie. JoJo’s father Michael is white and from a seriously racist family. The book takes place over just a few days as Leonie takes her two children and friend to pick up Michael from jail. The deep-South setting is rife with difficulties for the family, and this book deals with many different themes and topics. It won the National Book Award in 2017. Not an easy read by any means, but worth the time.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

This is a recent release (February) and an Oprah’s Book Club selection. After reading it, I admit that Oprah Knows What’s Up. Celestial and Roy are a young black couple in Atlanta, moving upward with dreams. They’ve been married a year and a half when Roy is thrown in jail for a crime he didn’t commit after a trip to see his parents in Louisiana. The novel follows the aftermath, as Roy struggles in prison and Celestial wonders how to return to a “normal” life. I absolutely tore through this one; it’s so well-written and fascinating.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr is in the car with her good friend Khalil when they are pulled over…and Khalil is shot and killed by the cop. He was unarmed. In the wake of this, Starr struggles between her two worlds: the low-income area where she lives and the fancy prep school where she is one of a few minority students. Her story is all too realistic right now, and the novel is gritty and memorable.

None of these books are light, happy, or free of sex, drugs, and cursing, but they are pictures of our society that are needed and may help you start a conversation.

Do you have any books to add to this list?

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