Educate yourself: essential readings on anti-Black racism, police brutality 

Actively dismantling white supremacy in our systems, ourselves
Don’t know where to being reading? Start with these books. JOSIE KAO/THE VARSITY
Don’t know where to being reading? Start with these books. JOSIE KAO/THE VARSITY

Over the past two months, it has become undeniably apparent that we, as a society, can no longer pretend that anti-Black racism is not a problem. We must all take the time to educate ourselves ⁠— not only to engage in constructive conversations about privilege and police brutality, but also to actively fight to dismantle racism in our systems and in ourselves.

This list of books is a starting point for this education, but it is far from an exhaustive list. I urge you to do your own research when you are finished reading.

Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present by Robyn Maynard

In Policing Black Lives, Robyn Maynard challenges Canadian ideals of multiculturalism and tolerance, which serve to mask the existence of anti-Black racism in Canada. By tracing the ongoing legacy of systemic oppression of Black and Indigenous peoples, Maynard shows how state institutions have perpetuated anti-Blackness in contemporary Canadian society through the “surveillance, criminalization and punishment” of Black people. She also addresses the intersectional impact of systemic violence in Canada, which is all too often overlooked.   

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander 

In the New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander argues that the US criminal justice system creates a racial caste system in America. By tracing the evolution of racialized social control in the US from slavery and Jim Crow laws to the present day, Alexander shows how the war on drugs and discriminatory law enforcement activities have contributed to the mass incarceration of millions of Black men and their relegation to “permanent second-class status” in what is considered as post-racial America. 

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates 

Written in the form of a letter to his teenage son, Ta-Nehisi Coates reveals the harsh realities of being Black in America in Between the World and Me. Coates shares his journey in coming to terms with his place in society while challenging the distorted version of American history that overlooks the degradation of Black bodies and perpetuates the contemporary injustices that Black people face.    

“It is not necessary that you believe that the officer who choked Eric Garner set out that day to destroy a body,” Coates writes. “All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black.”

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi 

In How to be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi introduces readers to the concept of anti-racism. Kendi argues that we shouldn’t just be “not racist.” Rather, we should be anti-racist. Everyone claims not to be racist, but they do nothing to challenge their own racist beliefs, judgments, and actions that reinforce and perpetuate white supremacy. Being an antiracist entails moving beyond the basic understanding that racism exists and instead actively fighting against it. By appealing to a variety of academic disciplines in addition to his personal account, Kendi explores the forms and consequences of racism. 

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo 

In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo provides both white and racialized people with the tools to engage in difficult and honest conversations about race and racism. By framing each chapter in the form of a question, such as “Why am I always being told to ‘check my privilege’?” or “Why can’t I touch your hair?” Oluo explores how racism continuously manifests itself in our public and private lives while addressing topics such as intersectionality, police brutality, cultural appropriation, and microaggressions. 

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo 

Robin DiAngelo unpacks how white people perpetuate racism through the ways they respond to racial inequality and injustice in White Fragility. By adhering to the simplistic understanding of racism as an individual act that is only committed by bad people, DiAngelo argues that white people tend to become defensive, outraged, or silent when they are confronted with “racial stress.” This serves as a barrier to constructive conversations about racial oppression between white people and racialized communities, which enables the system of white supremacy to remain unchallenged. 

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