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Black Lives Matter: a reading list for university students

For students wanting to educate themselves on racism and antiracism, Professor Preston Lindsay has provided a definitive reading list to help kick-start your education and awareness

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Preston Lindsay

June 19 2020
Toni Morrison, beloved, antiracism, black lives matter, racism, literature,


Systematic and structural distribution of resources, power, and access largely benefit white people and has effectively excluded people of colour.

This reality is made possible by institutional racism, which of course is the same system that was designed to bolster white supremacy and patriarchy and was responsible for the enslavement of approximately 12.5 million Africans.

If you are a white person: student, faculty, professional or other who lacks deep understanding of the true history and the present-day experiences of Black people, it’s time that you recognise you are part of the problem. It’s also time to understand that the idea of racial hierarchy remains entrenched in society and ways of thinking, and that race and class have shaped the lives of Black people in complex ways.

As a black organisational psychologist and university professor I am professionally concerned with the collective liberation of my people, for the American workforce and the Black experience are inextricably symbiotic.    

I began, long ago, to curate a library of what I refer to as “liberating reads”, with the intention of learning all that I could about the truth of the plight of black people.

To help you on your journey to become more antiracist and knowledgeable about the plight of Black people, I share a few of these “liberating reads”. These range from essay collections and memoirs to works of journalism and novels. These books challenge deeply held socialised beliefs and indoctrinated ideas.

While plans for dismantling systems and structures of oppression are necessary for disrupting the status quo, we cannot hope to achieve this outcome without doing the work of dismantling our individual racist and oppressive behaviours.

Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

Written by award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning explores anti-Black racist ideas that are enshrined in American society. He does this through examining the life stories of five major American intellectual figures and how their ideas have helped to challenge or embed racist ideas in society.

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Professor Robin DiAngelo coined the term “white fragility” to describe the defensiveness of white people when discussing racism. This book explores this idea even further through a sociological lens and tackles some of the questions around what triggers these reactions and how we can move beyond them to engage with the issues. 

How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi 

How to be an Antiracist is part-memoir, part textbook sharing Kendi’s own awakening to racism while simultaneously laying out how everyone has their own deeply held beliefs around race and society. Weaving personal experience with teachings from ethics, history, law and science, this book shows that everyone can be complicit in racism at times and how to challenge those habits.  

The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges are Failing Disadvantaged Students by Anthony Abraham Jack

The aim of this book is to explore how and why disadvantaged students struggle at elite colleges and what schools can do differently to encourage these students to thrive. As a first-generation African American student from an underprivileged background and now a researcher working in a prestigious institution, Jack provides an authentic voice on this issue, combined with those of the students he interviewed for this book. 

Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein

Focusing on American politics, Klein shines a light on how divisions within society, be it race, class, culture, religion and geography have led to a divide in politics and how this has had a wider impact. 

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

All Boys Aren’t Blue is a series of personal essays from journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson exploring his childhood and university years in the US. The essays cover a range of topics including gender, identity, toxic masculinity, families and many others to portray the experiences of Black queer boys.

To Die for The People by Huey P. Newton

As the founder and leader of the Black Panther Party, Huey P. Newton is known as one of the most important figures in revolutionary philosophy. This collection of essays encompasses some of his writings and speeches, charting the development of his political thinking as well as the changes that took place within the Black Panther Party in the early days. 

Panther Baby by Jamal Joseph

Jamal Joseph’s memoir covers his fascinating journey from being an honour student who joined the Black Panthers at 15, to a prisoner who earned three degrees during his incarceration to becoming the chair of Columbia University’s School of the Arts film division.

Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver

The essays in Soul on Ice are divided into four thematic sections – crime and prisons; race relations; a letter to Cleaver’s lawyer and one written back to him by his lawyer, and gender relations, black masculinity and sexuality. 

Black Boy by Richard Wright

Partially autobiographical, Black Boy is an honest and unflinching account of racism in America and a childhood as a Black boy in the South. 

I am not your Negro from texts by James Baldwin

I am not your Negro is a documentary based on a piece of work that writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin was working on before he died. It is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and recounts the lives of Baldwin’s close friends and civil rights leaders Malcolm X, Martin Luther King JR and Medgar Evans.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates has penned this poignant letter to his teenage son about what it is like to be Black in the United States. He draws from instances in the country’s history and how racism is embedded in US institutions. The book is heavily influenced by the works of author James Baldwin.

Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Y. Davis

This wide-ranging collection of essays by scholar and author Angela Y. Davis seek to understand what it means to be free. She reflects on the importance of black feminism, intersectionality and prison reform while discussing historical examples of struggles for freedom.

We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nahisi Coates

While this collection of essays by Ta-Nehisi Coates primarily focuses on the impact of the presidency of Barack Obama, it also introduces new ideas and voices offering commentary on this period and the outcome of the election that followed.

What Moves at the Margin by Toni Morrison

What Moves at the Margin collects 30 years worth of author and professor Toni Morrison’s work covering her life, her literature and American society. The works included in this anthology span from 1971 when she was an editor at Random House, to her time as an author, to 2002 when she was a lecturer at Princeton University and a Nobel Laureate. 

Nobody by Marc Lamont Hill

Nobody is a well-researched investigation into issues of race and class in America explored through the deaths of many Black individuals, mass incarcerations and the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Written by lawyer and activist Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow explores how racial discrimination has not ended with the abolition of slavery but been redesigned, and how this has led to the mass incarceration of African Americans and a denial of their rights. 

Beloved by Toni Morrison

An iconic Pulitzer-prizewinning novel that tells the story of Sethe and her daughter after they escape from slavery. Their home is haunted by a spirit, which Sethe believes is the spirit of her daughter who died nameless and was buried under a tombstone engraved with the word “Beloved”. The novel explores themes of racism, mother/daughter relationships and trauma. 

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing is an epic story beginning with the lives of two-half sisters, Effia and Esi. Effia marries an Englishman and lives a comfortable life while Esi is sold as a slave in America. The story then diverges into two threads, one following Effia’s descendants and one following Esi’s covering 300 years and the impact of the slave trade on individuals across time.  

Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire draws on his own experiences of teaching impoverished adults in Brazil to read and write, to discuss how every human can reach their full potential through cooperation, conversation and critical thinking.

Read more: Best historically black colleges and universities in the United States


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