An Anti-racist Reading List

The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’

The heartbeat of racism is denial.

— Ibram X. Kendi

It’s been said that racism is so American that when we protest racism, some assume we’re protesting America.

— Beyoncé Knowles

Now is a good time to read these books, follow these authors, confront our history, and unpack what we need to unpack.

Systemic racism is a machine that runs whether we pull the levers or not, and by just letting it be, we are responsible for what it produces. We have to actually dismantle the machine if we want to make change.

Source: Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race (pp. 29-30).

When social scientists describe racism as “systemic,” we’re referring to collective practices and representations that disadvantage categories of human beings on the basis of their perceived “race.” The key word here is “collective.” Much of the racial stupidity we encounter in everyday life derives from the fact that people think of racism as individual prejudice rather than a broader system and structure of power.

The thing about white supremacy is that it socializes all of us to minimize its terror, to systematically deny or underestimate the harm. “We’ve come so far,” “Things are getting better,” “It could be worse”—all of these tropes minimize racial terror. Americans have been socialized to look on the bright side despite centuries of colonial and racial violence, torture, and the oppression of minorities. Our problem is not and has never been overreacting to racial terror. Our problem is the hegemony of under-reaction, denial, minimization. Ours is a society that has always socialized white folks to live in the midst of racial oppression but go on with their lives like normal. At every turn, those who oppose white supremacy have been met with denial, violence, “race card” accusations, or magnificent claims about progress. It seems that in the minds of many white liberals, we should all be celebrating the fact that most of us are not physically in chains. White supremacy wants you to look at four hundred years of uninterrupted racial terror and conclude “Things aren’t so bad.”

Source: Fleming, Crystal Marie. How to Be Less Stupid About Race (p. 12, pp. 128-129).

Being seen racially is a common trigger of white fragility, and thus, to build our stamina, white people must face the first challenge: naming our race.

White people in North America live in a society that is deeply separate and unequal by race, and white people are the beneficiaries of that separation and inequality. As a result, we are insulated from racial stress, at the same time that we come to feel entitled to and deserving of our advantage. Given how seldom we experience racial discomfort in a society we dominate, we haven’t had to build our racial stamina.

Source: DiAngelo, Robin J.. White Fragility (pp. 1-2, p. 7).

White rage is not about visible violence, but rather it works its way through the courts, the legislatures, and a range of government bureaucracies. It wreaks havoc subtly, almost imperceptibly. Too imperceptibly, certainly, for a nation consistently drawn to the spectacular—to what it can see. It’s not the Klan. White rage doesn’t have to wear sheets, burn crosses, or take to the streets. Working the halls of power, it can achieve its ends far more effectively, far more destructively.

The trigger for white rage, inevitably, is black advancement. It is not the mere presence of black people that is the problem; rather, it is blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, with aspirations, and with demands for full and equal citizenship.

The truth is, white rage has undermined democracy, warped the Constitution, weakened the nation’s ability to compete economically, squandered billions of dollars on baseless incarceration, rendered an entire region sick, poor, and woefully undereducated, and left cities nothing less than decimated. All this havoc has been wreaked simply because African Americans wanted to work, get an education, live in decent communities, raise their families, and vote. Because they were unwilling to take no for an answer.

Source: Anderson Ph.D., Carol. White Rage (p. 3, p. 6).

History duels: the undeniable history of antiracist progress, the undeniable history of racist progress. Before and after the Civil War, before and after civil rights, before and after the first Black presidency, the White consciousness duels. The White body defines the American body. The White body segregates the Black body from the American body. The White body instructs the Black body to assimilate into the American body. The White body rejects the Black body assimilating into the American body—and history and consciousness duel anew.

The Black body in turn experiences the same duel. The Black body is instructed to become an American body. The American body is the White body. The Black body strives to assimilate into the American body. The American body rejects the Black body. The Black body separates from the American body. The Black body is instructed to assimilate into the American body—and history and consciousness duel anew.

But there is a way to get free. To be antiracist is to emancipate oneself from the dueling consciousness. To be antiracist is to conquer the assimilationist consciousness and the segregationist consciousness. The White body no longer presents itself as the American body; the Black body no longer strives to be the American body, knowing there is no such thing as the American body, only American bodies, racialized by power.

Source: Kendi, Ibram X.. How to Be an Antiracist (p. 33).

Racist and Antiracist Definitions from “How to Be an Antiracist”

How to Be an Antiracist” opens up each chapter with a racist and anti-racist definition. I copied them out for my own reference.

Chapter 1, Definitions

RACIST: One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.

ANTIRACIST: One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.

Chapter 2, Dueling Consciousness

ASSIMILATIONIST: One who is expressing the racist idea that a racial group is culturally or behaviorally inferior and is supporting cultural or behavioral enrichment programs to develop that racial group.

SEGREGATIONIST: One who is expressing the racist idea that a permanently inferior racial group can never be developed and is supporting policy that segregates away that racial group.

ANTIRACIST: One who is expressing the idea that racial groups are equals and none needs developing, and is supporting policy that reduces racial inequity.

Chapter 3, Power

RACE: A power construct of collected or merged difference that lives socially.

Chapter 4, Biology

BIOLOGICAL RACIST: One who is expressing the idea that the races are meaningfully different in their biology and that these differences create a hierarchy of value.

BIOLOGICAL ANTIRACIST: One who is expressing the idea that the races are meaningfully the same in their biology and there are no genetic racial differences.

Chapter 5, Ethnicity

ETHNIC RACISM: A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between racialized ethnic groups and are substantiated by racist ideas about racialized ethnic groups.

ETHNIC ANTIRACISM: A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between racialized ethnic groups and are substantiated by antiracist ideas about racialized ethnic groups.

Chapter 6, Body

BODILY RACIST: One who is perceiving certain racialized bodies as more animal-like and violent than others.

BODILY ANTIRACIST: One who is humanizing, deracializing, and individualizing nonviolent and violent behavior.

Chapter 7, Culture

CULTURAL RACIST: One who is creating a cultural standard and imposing a cultural hierarchy among racial groups.

CULTURAL ANTIRACIST: One who is rejecting cultural standards and equalizing cultural differences among racial groups.

Chapter 8, Behavior

BEHAVIORAL RACIST: One who is making individuals responsible for the perceived behavior of racial groups and making racial groups responsible for the behavior of individuals.

BEHAVIORAL ANTIRACIST: One who is making racial group behavior fictional and individual behavior real.

Chapter 9, Color

COLORISM: A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequities between Light people and Dark people, supported by racist ideas about Light and Dark people.

COLOR ANTIRACISM: A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between Light people and Dark people, supported by antiracist ideas about Light and Dark people.

Chapter 10, White

ANTI-WHITE RACIST: One who is classifying people of European descent as biologically, culturally, or behaviorally inferior or conflating the entire race of White people with racist power.

Chapter 11, Black

POWERLESS DEFENSE: The illusory, concealing, disempowering, and racist idea that Black people can’t be racist because Black people don’t have power.

Chapter 12, Class

CLASS RACIST: One who is racializing the classes, supporting policies of racial capitalism against those race-classes, and justifying them by racist ideas about those race-classes.

ANTIRACIST ANTICAPITALIST: One who is opposing racial capitalism.

Chapter 13, Space

SPACE RACISM: A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to resource inequity between racialized spaces or the elimination of certain racialized spaces, which are substantiated by racist ideas about racialized spaces.

SPACE ANTIRACISM: A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity between integrated and protected racialized spaces, which are substantiated by antiracist ideas about racialized spaces.

Chapter 14, Gender

GENDER RACISM: A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between race-genders and are substantiated by racist ideas about race-genders.

GENDER ANTIRACISM: A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between race-genders and are substantiated by antiracist ideas about race-genders.

Chapter 15, Sexuality

QUEER RACISM: A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between race-sexualities and are substantiated by racist ideas about race-sexualities.

QUEER ANTIRACISM: A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between race-sexualities and are substantiated by antiracist ideas about race-sexualities.

Chapter 16, Failure

ACTIVIST: One who has a record of power or policy change.

It was about slavery.

Do the racists in your family claim the Civil War wasn’t about slavery but instead about states’ rights?

Yeah, mine too. A steady diet of the Southern Strategy and the Confederate Catechism is evident in their morally convenient ahistorical revisionism.

Civil War lessons often depend on where the classroom is.” In the classroom of our family, we teach our kids to consult primary sources, in this case the declarations of secession of South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and our home state of Texas as well as the ordinances of secession.

Historian Kevin Kruse offered a helpful breakdown of these declarations on Twitter.

Here’s an embed of the video mentioned in the thread.

If that institution was discredited in the eyes of the world, then the Confederacy itself would be discredited in the eyes of history. So, it became a psychological necessity, I think, to deny that the Civil War was about slavery.

Source: Was the Civil War about Slavery? When did States Rights Become A Popular Explanation for Secession? – YouTube

Historian Kevin Gannon offered a great thread on the history of Robert E. Lee.

What about non-slaveholding southerners fighting in the Civil War? Historian Keri Leigh Merritt explains how oligarchy, then as now, brutalized and divided us all.

One of my favorite resources for teaching American history and social studies is “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong”. Here it is on the states’ rights argument and how textbooks have misrepresented the Civil War.

Slavery was the underlying reason that South Carolina, followed by ten other states, left the Union. In 1860, leaders of the state were perfectly clear about why they were seceding. On Christmas Eve, they signed a “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.” Their first grievance was “that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations,” specifically this clause, which they quote: “No person held to service or labour in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labour, but shall be delivered up . . .” This is of course the Fugitive Slave Clause, under whose authority Congress had passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which South Carolina of course approved. This measure required officers of the law and even private citizens in free states to participate in capturing and returning African Americans when whites claimed them to be their slaves. This made the free states complicit with slavery. They wriggled around, trying to avoid full compliance. Pennsylvania, for example, passed a law recognizing the supremacy of the federal act but pointing out that Pennsylvanians still had the right to determine pay for their officers of the law, and they refused to pay for time spent capturing and returning alleged slaves. South Carolina attacked such displays of states’ rights:

But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations. . . . The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them.

Thus South Carolina opposed states’ rights when claimed by free states. This is understandable. Historically, whatever faction has been out of power in America has pushed for states’ rights. White Southerners dominated the executive and judicial branches of the federal government throughout the 1850s—and through the Democratic Party, the legislative branch as well—so of course they opposed states’ rights. Slave owners were delighted when Supreme Court Chief Justice Taney decided in 1857 that throughout the nation, irrespective of the wishes of state or territorial governments, blacks had no rights that whites must respect. Slave owners pushed President Buchanan to use federal power to legitimize slaveholding in Kansas the next year. Only after they lost control of the executive branch in the 1860 election did slave owners begin to suggest limiting federal power.

South Carolina’s leaders went on to condemn New York for denying “even the right of transit for a slave” and other Northern states for letting African Americans vote. Before the Civil War, these matters were states’ rights. Nevertheless, South Carolina claimed the right to determine whether New York could prohibit slavery within New York or Vermont could define citizenship in Vermont. Carolinians also contested the rights of residents of other states even to think differently about their peculiar institution, giving as another reason for secession that Northerners “have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery.” In short, slavery permeates the document from start to finish. Of course, the election of Lincoln provided the trigger, but the abiding purpose of secession was to protect, maintain, and enhance slavery. Nor was South Carolina unusual; other states used similar language when they seceded.

Despite this clear evidence, before 1970 many textbooks held that almost anything but slavery—differences over tariffs and internal improvements, the conflict between agrarian South and industrial North, and especially “states’ rights”—led to secession. This was a form of Southern apologetics. Never was there any excuse for such bad scholarship, and in the aftermath of the civil rights movement most textbook authors came to agree with Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural “that slavery was somehow the cause of the war.” As The United States—A History of the Republic put it in 1981, “At the center of the conflict was slavery, the issue that would not go away.”

Source: Loewen, James W.. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (pp. 139-140). The New Press. Kindle Edition.

This is hard history, but as the states’ rights racists in our families reveal, we have to teach it and do a much better job than we have done so far.

It is often said that slavery was our country’s original sin, but it is much more than that. Slavery is our country’s origin. It was responsible for the growth of the American colonies, transforming them from far-flung, forgotten outposts of the British Empire to glimmering jewels in the crown of England. And slavery was a driving power behind the new nation’s territorial expansion and industrial maturation, making the United States a powerful force in the Americas and beyond.

Slavery was also our country’s Achilles heel, responsible for its near undoing. When the southern states seceded, they did so expressly to preserve slavery. So wholly dependent were white Southerners on the institution that they took up arms against their own to keep African Americans in bondage. They simply could not allow a world in which they did not have absolute authority to control black labor—and to regulate black behavior.

The central role that slavery played in the development of the United States is beyond dispute. And yet, we the people do not like to talk about slavery, or even think about it, much less teach it or learn it. The implications of doing so unnerve us. If the cornerstone of the Confederacy was slavery, then what does that say about those who revere the people who took up arms to keep African Americans in chains? If James Madison, the principal architect of the Constitution, could hold people in bondage his entire life, refusing to free a single soul even upon his death, then what does that say about our nation’s founders? About our nation itself?

Slavery is hard history. It is hard to comprehend the inhumanity that defined it. It is hard to discuss the violence that sustained it. It is hard to teach the ideology of white supremacy that justified it. And it is hard to learn about those who abided it.

We the people have a deep-seated aversion to hard history because we are uncomfortable with the implications it raises about the past as well as the present.

We the people would much rather have the Disney version of history, in which villains are easily spotted, suffering never lasts long, heroes invariably prevail and life always gets better. We prefer to pick and choose what aspects of the past to hold on to, gladly jettisoning that which makes us uneasy. We enjoy thinking about Thomas Jefferson proclaiming, “All men are created equal.” But we are deeply troubled by the prospect of the enslaved woman Sally Hemings, who bore him six children, declaring, “Me too.”

Literary performer and educator Regie Gibson had the truth of it when he said, “Our problem as Americans is we actually hate history. What we love is nostalgia.”

Slavery isn’t in the past. It’s in the headlines.

These recent events reveal, at least in part, how American schools are failing to teach a critical and essential portion of the nation’s legacy-the history and continuing impact of chattel slavery. Research for this report reveals that high school students don’t know much about the history of slavery in the United States, with only 8 percent able to identify it as the central cause of the Civil War. This should not be surprising, given that most adults wrongly identify “states’ rights” as the cause. Widespread ignorance about slavery, the antebellum South and the Confederacy persists to the present day, and is on display in controversies over monument removal in places like New Orleans, Louisiana, and Charlottesville, Virginia, where protests turned deadly in the summer of 2017. Students and adults alike may even hold fringe beliefs, including notions propagated by white nationalists, such as the idea that slavery wasn’t “so bad,” or that the Irish were enslaved.9 Few Americans acknowledge the role slavery played in states outside the South.

Teachers struggle to do justice to the nation’s legacy of racial injustice. They are poorly served by state standards and frameworks, popular textbooks and even their own academic preparation. For this report, we surveyed more than 1,700 social studies teachers across the country. A bare majority say they feel competent to teach about slavery. Most say that the available resources and preparation programs have failed them. Almost all regret this deficiency, recognizing that teaching the history of slavery is essential. When we reviewed a set of popular history textbooks, we saw why teachers felt a lack of support: Texts fail in key areas, including connecting slavery to the present and portraying the diversity of the experiences of the enslaved. State content standards, which are meant to set clear expectations for instruction, are scattershot at best, often making puzzling choices such as teaching about Harriet Tubman long before slavery, or equivocating on the cause of the Civil War. When we consider the available landscape of materials and expectations, it is no wonder that teachers struggle.

Source: Teaching Hard History: American Slavery