One of my suggestions for moving the conversation about racism forward—from going around in circles, to actually making progress, even if incremental—is to read books by writers from a different culture, race, or ethnicity from your own. When I made that suggestion, I almost added a list of recommended reads, but then I changed my mind.
Why did I change my mind? Well, there are a couple of reasons. One reason is that there are a lot of lists out there, already. Another reason is that I don’t want to be the only voice speaking into this part of the conversation for you, although I may add a recommendation or two in the comments.
But the truth that is the most plain is that I wasn’t really sure you’d take me up on the book-reading challenge. Oh me of little faith.
I’ve seen some of you sharing about the book/s you are currently reading, or hope to read in the future. I thought it might be a good idea to build a list together, in the hopes of creating a resource—right here on the blog—as we work to do what we can, right where we are, to make a difference for good.
So, would you help a sister out? In the comments, tell us about an amazing book by a fabulous author who happens to be from a different race, culture, or ethnicity than yours. If possible, include a link to the book, along with a few words about why you’re adding this particular book to the list. Once we get a list of suggestions, I’ll consider the best way to compile that list into an easy-to-find resource that you can return to, or refer your people to.
Feel free to share this post and invite others to add to the list. Thanks in advance!
Photo credit. Used with permission.
I’m reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It’s right up there with some of the most beautifully written books, I’ve ever read. Truth can be very, very beautiful. Even if it hurts so very, very much. http://www.amazon.com/Between-World-Me-Ta-Nehisi-Coates/dp/0812993543
I haven’t read TNC’s newest book yet but his memoir The Beautiful Struggle is incredible.
I will put that on my list!
Hi, Deidra. I read a really good memoir, recently, by Walter Anderson, whose name you might recognize from Parade magazine. Anderson was an adult before he found out the man he thought was his biological father wasn’t and that, in fact, his biological father was Jewish. Anderson’s voice is amazing; I felt like I was sitting on the couch listening to him. And I like how he comes to identify as Jewish, especially because he seems to accept that he was even when he didn’t know about his parentage. I also just read Cupcake Brown’s memoir A Piece of Cake. It’s long and got a bit draggy for me in the middle, but I’m glad I read it. I’m still working out all the reasons why. She has an incredible story.
Cool. Thanks, Deidra. This is going to be helpful …
Agree with jane. Between the World and Me is heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.
Some of my Best Friends are Black: the strange story of Integration in America explores the history of school/housing segregation and its current impact among specific communities. More on the factual side, but still has some good narrative/personal stories intertwined.
Great idea, Deidra! Can’t wait to see the book list. Here are three of my faves from this summer — all memoirs or essays and from three very different voices. 1) Russian Tattoo by Elena Gorokhova Eleana moves to the US in her 20s and struggles to find her identity as a new American and hold on to the culture and traditions of her past. Seeing the US through a young immigrant eyes is powerful as is Gorokhova’s writing. 2) Miriam’s Kitchen by Elizabeth Ehrlich is a powerful memoir of longing and belonging. Ehrlich is a Jewish American who is ambivalent about her background. Told as essays around her mother-in-law’s kitchen she slowly reclaims the heritage she rejected as a young woman. 3) Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin. Baldwin is a writer’s writer. His essays on race and identity are passionate and thought provoking. I studied the essay Notes from a Native Son this summer in a memoir writing class and I’m still trying to process. All three of these memoirs deal with the struggle of identity — inherited race, culture, religion — and the desire to know and be known. Although I’m neither Russian, Jewish, or black I found myself rooting for each author absolutely identifying with the desire to belong and find a place at the table.
Riding the Bus With my Sister by Rachel Simon. Rachel is Jewish, so a different ethnicity. What I loved about this book is how it confronted my prejudice against mentally disabled people and changed my mind. It’s an amazing book about how Rachel spent a year riding the buses with her mentally disabled sister Beth. Rachel is honest about her frustrations but also admires her sister’s ability to make friends with bus drivers and she admires the drivers who are often quite wise about life.
Caramello by Sandra Cisneros helped me overcome my prejudice towards Hispanic people because I could relate to the struggles the main character had with her mother in law, but I also learned about the beauties of Hispanic culture.
The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World by The Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler talks about how racism and stereotyping are hot wired in us and offers practical tools for overcoming this. It is quite dry but I thought wise.
Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and The Black Panther Party Platform are two classics from the civil rights movement. (I’ve asked students which approach would they take?) Early on I taught the daughter of one of Louis Farrakhan’s body guards. She was one of the most deeply spiritual and at peace people I’ve ever met.
I always taught the Letter from Birmingham Jail as an example of the perfect argument.
Yes. I’ve used that too. And also paired it with Black Panthers Platform and asked students which they’d choose–King or the Panthers.
I am new to your blog, as of Aug 1st, through a link by Ann Voskamp. I’ve so appreciated it–and am reading my way through your 31 days series…so helpful for me! It was timely, as my heart has recently been burning with issues of race and our country, and how to live like Jesus and be the body of Christ…even if I feel naive and nervous about saying something unintentionally offensive. I, for one, Deidra, would really appreciate hearing your recommended reads–even if you’d prefer to send them through email. I feel so new to this conversation, that I’m not even sure where to start. Thanks!
I love this, and I, too, appreciate your voice on this issue. I’m sort of a client participate in this space because I’m trying to soak it all in and just learn. And because I just don’t usually have anything to add to the conversation. But I like this suggestions a lot! So a couple of books:
1.) A Mountain of Crumbs and Russian Tattoo by Elena Gorokhova: So, so good. She grew up in the Soviet Union, and her writing is immaculate, her story inspiring, and often quite funny. I loved her books.
2.) The Grace Effect is written by an American (Larry Taunton), but the story is about his adopted Ukrainian daughter and the experiences that shaped her as a youth in an atheistic society. It’s beautiful and compelling, and challenges our American notions of grace and faith.
Looking forward to the list you put together Deidra! 🙂
So many good books I could mention. One of my favorites is from poet Yusef Komanyakaa. He has lots of books, but Neon Vernacular is a good entry point, and the one for which he won the Pulitzer in the 1990s.
You can get a sense of his accessible, but rich style in his poem “Facing It’ about the Vietnam War Memorial:
The Good Women of China and Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother, both by Xinran, are glimpses into the lives of women in China. We adopted our daughter from China and I’ve made it my business to read up on her culture so I can understand where she came from and how she came to be mine. Also, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is beautiful and most of it takes place in an area where I lived for several years.
Jody Ohlsen Collins
“Invisible Girls” by Sarah Thebarge (from 2014 Faith and Culture Conference.) Her real life experience interfacing with Somali refugees in Portland….real eye opener to the immigrant culture present in so many parts of the country right now.
Thanks for asking!
I second this one as well! I LOVE this book.
Lynn D. Morrissey
Deidra, this is a wonderful idea. While I love memoir, I particularly wanted to read books that helped me know, personally, how to relate and what to do. I found A Credible Witness: Reflections on Power, Evangelism and Race by Brenda Salter McNeil to be one such helpful volume: http://www.amazon.com/Credible-Witness-Reflections-Power-Evangelism/dp/0830834826/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1439338600&sr=8-1&keywords=credible+witness
I notice that she has written other books on this topic as well.
I love children’s books and poetry, and found this illustrated book of Langston Hughes’s poetry to be inspiring:
The Dream Keeper and Other Poems http://www.amazon.com/Dream-Keeper-Other-Poems/dp/0679883479/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1439338835&sr=1-7&keywords=poetry+of+langston+hughes
Thank you for continuing the conversation. So much appreciated.
Lynn D. Morrissey
Oh, and I love the poetry of my deceased friend, prolific Jewish poet, Louis Daniel Brodsky. He has written extensively on many topics in his narrative poems, and particularly the Holocaust. He received recommendations from Maya Angelou.
Lynn D. Morrissey
D,I had meant to say that Brodsky had rec’d commendations from Angelou.
Thank you Deidra for leading the conversation in this area! I recommend My First White Friend: Confessions on Race, Love, and Forgiveness by Patricia Raybon. It won the Christopher Award and Books for a Better Life Award. Excellent collection of essays addressing racial healing, very real, raw, and relevant.
My First White Friend would also be my recommendation. I learned, but more importantly I felt. I also loved Patricia’s book on prayer, I Told the Mountain to Move.
Would this book be appropriate for young children?
I just finished “Picking Cotton” by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton — a memoir! A few years ago, I read “Some of my Best Friends are Black” by Tanner Coldby –another memoir that was eye opening and SO impacted me!
Looking forward to seeing this list compiled! THANKS SO MUCH!
Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy should be required reading. He started the Equal
Justice Initiative, a nonprofit legal practice dedicated to serving the
poor, the marginalized, the downtrodden. The book is part memoir, part treatise on the
state of the legal system. We follow the story of Walter, a man on
Alabama’s Death Row who proclaims his innocence, and meet Stevenson’s
other clients as he built his practice in the 1980s and the subsequent
areas of injustice they’ve battled to this day, including death penalty
sentences for children and the treatment of the mentally ill. This book
is a game changer. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0812994523/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0812994523&linkCode=as2&tag=hopefu-20&linkId=KARXDET2EQ3QCHEA
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was one of my favorite fiction reads from last year. Not sure if you want fiction suggestions, too.
I loved Misty Copeland’s memoir Life In Motion. I didn’t know much about her before
she was a guest judge on So You Think You Can Dance last summer but I
was quickly intrigued. She offered fantastic critiques of the dancers,
for one. Reading her memoir made me even more of a fan. She’s had quite
the life but her determination and dedication are what’s most notable.
I’m glad she chose to address the racism she’s encountered in the dance
world and even more glad she’s broken the barriers she has, hopefully
making it easier for other POC to follow in her footsteps.
I want everyone to read Christena Cleveland’s Disunity in Christ.
The trick is to focus on the ways YOU contribute to disunity in
the church, instead of coming up with a list of other people who really
should read it. We’re all guilty of othering but we don’t have to stay
there. Cleveland offers personal stories, research, and well-reasoned
theology to back up her points. She lovingly urges us to remove our
blinders and become part of the solution to the division and vitriol
that seems to be growing worse each year.
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande- and
I’m not just saying that as someone who used to work for hospice.
Profoundly insightful, well written, and engaging. These are good things
to think through NOW. If you haven’t talked to your loved one about
their end of life wishes or yours, this is the time to think through it
and start the conversation. Gawande didn’t start out in the place of
understanding he came to and he had the same questions and resistance
many of us do when it comes to the hard talks and that’s part of why
this book works so well.
I haven’t processed my thoughts on it yet but Charles Blow’s memoir Fire Shut Up In My Bones was incredible.
I can keep going!
I love what you said about all of being guilty of othering, but not having to stay there.
I’m working on Disunity in Christ–I have seen some of the author’s talks on Youtube and I am challenged and encouraged every time. Thanks for mentioning this book.
I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla – http://www.amazon.com/Im-Chocolate-Youre-Vanilla-Race-Conscious/dp/0787952346
I loved reading Same Kind of Different As Me, about an unlikely friendship between two men who are from opposite ends of life. Great list so far!
I loved this book. Loved.
I read “Yes I Can” by Sammy Davis Jr. when I was a teen. It opened my eyes. Really wide.
The Beauty of Different By Karen Walrond is beautiful.
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are – by Brené Brown
And Lacey Schwartz’s ethnicity is Jewish and she is a filmmaker , but her short film is on Netflix and excellent about growing up “white” ad looking black and seeking answers in the film: “A Little White Lie.” Link: http://goo.gl/VGhFM3
And that’s all I have right now…
Colleen Connell Mitchell
I have a lot of fiction favorites: Sandra Cisneros, House on Mango Street and Woman Hollering Creek, Louse Erdrich: The Beet Queen, Birchbark House, Love Medicine, Maya Angelou (all the things), Alice Waler (all the things), Toni Morrison (all the things), Ernest Gaines, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Zora Neale Hurtson: Their Eyes Were Watching God, Dust Tracks on a Road, Chinua Achebe (all the things), Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a Woman speech, Americanah, and so, so many more. This Women’s Studies/ English Writing/Psychology major could list. But this is a start.
God is in the City: Encounters of Grace and Transformation
By Shawn Casselberry
Talk about out of place, well get this…
Shawn is a tall skinny kid, a college grad, and he happens to be a white guy. Why he chose to come and live among us folk of a darker persuasion, I’ll never know. What I do know is that he has courage, and the wherewithal to put action to the things he says out of his mouth.
His book gives a unique perspective because it takes a look at people of color through an outsiders eyes. It gives a pointed view of places and areas that don’t have many residents who are NOT people of color. He pokes a pin in the bubbles of stereotype. The ones that existed in his own mind, as well as the minds of people like him.
I just finished Brown Girl Dreaming, a memoir written in free-verse poetry (but really accessible) by Jacqueline Woodson, which I absolutely loved. http://www.amazon.com/Brown-Girl-Dreaming-Newbery-Honor/dp/0399252517/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1439432582&sr=8-1&keywords=Brown+Girl+Dreaming (and thank you, Deidra – wow, what a list of books – we’ll need 3 lifetimes to get through them all! When Brad was studying for his PhD exams my dad sent him a t-shirt that said, “So many books…so little time.” I sort of feel like that, reading through all the great comments here!).
I cried my way through this book–it was so beautifully written!
I had to come back because I realized I left out poetry! Add the work of Saul Williams and Nikki Giovanni to the list. And it should go without saying: Langston Hughes.
I randomly picked up The Joy of Doing Things Badly by Veronica Chambers a few years ago. It hopped off the library shelf at me, and I ended up reading it quickly and loving it. She shares various lessons on life, work, writing, and little glimpses into her cultural upbringing. It’s not overtly on “the conversation” like many of the great suggestions already mentioned. But it’s (sadly/embarrassingly) one of the few books I’ve read by someone of a different race/culture/ethnicity from mine, and I felt far more similar to her and her experiences than I felt different. Sometimes the subtle bridges are just as important 🙂
Many of the books I’ve read in the last year are children’s books, but maybe some of you are looking for those kind of suggestions, too. I certainly am! A few we’ve read recently:
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (chapter book)
The Addy Walker books in the American Girl series by Connie Porter (chapter books)
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford (picture book)
Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold (picture book)
Firebird by Misty Copeland (picture book)
Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Dancer by Michaela DePrince and Elaine DePrince (chapter book/easy reader level 4)
Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down by Andrea Davis-Pinkney and Brian Pinkney (picture book)
Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange and Kadir Nelson
There are more, but this is a start!
So much to read, although I’m pleased to see I’ve read some of these. I have to mention Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns,” which is the history of the Great Migration. It totally changed how I view American history. And she tells it using the stories of three people, each of which represents a class, a place, a journey, and a destination. Plus her own history is dribbled in here and there to amplify.
Dolly @ Soulstops.com
Thanks for asking and for keeping the discussion alive…I read this recently http://www.curatormagazine.com/d-l-mayfield/the-book-we-needed/