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The best books and documentaries for understanding racial injustice

The best books and documentaries for understanding racial injustice

The best books and documentaries for understanding racial injustice
June 18
12:00 2020

A thorough education about racial inequality is long overdue, and the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police has made this sentiment especially prevalent. At a time where many white folks and other non-Black persons are asking “What can I do?”, one of the most immediate and obvious places to start is by learning about the systemic racism in our white supremacist society. By doing so, we are better able to educate others, make informed decisions when voting and take concrete actions to help bring about change. This week, I’m breaking down some of the most helpful non-fiction resources I’ve found about racial injustice, namely through books and documentaries. If you’re looking for representation of Black experiences on the TV and movie side, I’ll dive into that next week.

Books

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

This book is a great start if you’re just diving into this subject matter. Oluo breaks down what exactly race is, in terms of how it operates in our society, and how to navigate conversations about it. The book’s Table of Contents is organized in response to questions like “Why can’t I say the N-word?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What are microaggressions?” It’s the perfect read for anyone looking for an educated answer for when that one family member asks, “Why does it always have to be about race?”

“The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander

In an age when many white people think of racism exclusively as an individual hatred, “The New Jim Crow” proves it runs much deeper than that — it’s woven into the building blocks of our society. Alexander, a civil rights lawyer, dives into the criminal justice system and how mass incarceration serves as a new way to suppress people of color, predominantly Black people. This book is a must for truly understanding the criminalization of Black men, through racially-coded programs like The War on Drugs and disproportionate policing in Black neighborhoods.

“White Fragility” by Robin Diangelo

Diangelo lays out plain and clear why white people are so uncomfortable talking about race, from their insulation from racial stress to white ideologies like colorblindness and individualism. She details how racism evolved after the Civil Rights Movement into our anti-Blackness, then complacency and then well-meaningness. This book forces us to recognize every facet of our own external privilege as well as our internal subconscious and offers education on how to overcome white fragility and be a better ally.

Documentaries

“13th” by Ava DuVernay (Netflix)

This is a great supplement to “The New Jim Crow,” and it even features Alexander as a key subject. “13th” explains how the 13th amendment never actually abolished slavery  — it just transformed slavery into mass incarceration, which disproportionately impacts people of color, overwhelmingly Black people. Angela Davis, Cory Booker, Van Jones and more dive into the racism within our criminal justice system and how things like prison labor, minimum sentencing and the ALEC organization perpetuate slavery’s infamy.

“Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland” by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner (HBO)

One of the myriad elements of white privilege? Getting pulled over in a routine traffic stop and not fearing it will cost me my life. Activist Sandra Bland was pulled over for failure to signal a lane change in Prairie View, Texas. The officer pulled her from her car and onto the ground, arresting her for assaulting a public servant (though video footage contradicts this). Bland was found dead in her cell three days later on July 13, 2015. The documentary features harrowing testimonies from Bland’s sisters and is an eye-opening watch about the privilege us non-Black folks have in everyday situations.

“True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality” by Peter, George and Teddy Kunhardt (HBO)

This documentary follows Alabama attorney Bryan Stevenson’s fight for equality in the criminal justice system. Stevenson explains how police departments have been rooted in white supremacy, tracing back to their origin of exclusively protecting rich white people. He chronicles the exponential growth of prisons and how the U.S. uses heavy policing as a solution for social problems. Simultaneously, this documentary serves as a reminder of how systemic racism makes it more difficult for Black people to find employment in upper-level professions — video footage reveals many of the obstacles he’s faced as a Black attorney in a predominantly-white system.

Featured Image: Courtesy Netflix

About Author

Haley Arnold

Haley Arnold

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