• Erin Zaranec

So, you don't think you're racist?

Updated: Jun 4, 2020

We're in the middle of a global health pandemic that forced the world to shut down for a while - hell, it almost distracted from some of the other major issues that America has. In the past month, police brutality and racist acts have taken center stage in the headlines again - bringing a new wave of alarm in the treatment of black and brown people by those in positions of power.

Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. George Floyd. Tony McDade.

If those names don't sound familiar to you, stop right now and do some Googling. If they do sound familiar to you, read those names with the gravity of who they represent. People with families, people with loved ones, with goals and dreams and friends.

Breonna Taylor was serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic as an EMT. Ahmaud Arbery was enrolled in school to become an electrician, following the footsteps of his uncle. George Floyd once dragged a pool into a parking lot to help baptize members of a neighborhood. Tony McDade was on Facebook Live less than 24 hours ago, yet currently lays in a morgue.

All these facts aside, these were PEOPLE. It truly doesn't matter what they've accomplished or who they loved or who loved them - that shouldn't make their life worth more or less. What matters is that their life was taken by a system that was never set up to serve them.

We can't stop racism and systematic oppression overnight. But, we can take steps to question and dismantle the systems that have been set in place. When I say "we", please make no mistake that I mean white people.

The best first step to take is to learn (and donate, and support Black businesses - but more on that later).

Here are some resources that I've found do an amazing job in speaking to the systematic barriers faced by black and brown people. And, if you're thinking Erin, oh my gosh - I care but these resources just sound soooo dry, who wants to read about such horrible things?!

Get over it.

If that sounds harsh, I'm not sorry.

Books You Should Read (In No Particular Order):

*Please note, I have not read all of the books listed and am making my way through this reading list which was created based off personal experience, recommendations, and suggestions from bloggers and the Internet. All links direct you to a local (across the U.S.) Black-owned bookstore.

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard To Talk To White People About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

"In this 'vital, necessary, and beautiful book' (Michael Eric Dyson), antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo deftly illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility and “allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people’ (Claudia Rankine). Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence.

How To Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi

"In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas—from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilities—that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves."

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

"In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?"

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

"Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as "brave and bold," this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that "we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it." By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness."

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

"The Color of Law offers “the most forceful argument ever published on how federal, state, and local governments gave rise to and reinforced neighborhood segregation” (William Julius Wilson). Exploding the myth of de facto segregation arising from private prejudice or the unintended consequences of economic forces, Rothstein describes how the American government systematically imposed residential segregation: with undisguised racial zoning; public housing that purposefully segregated previously mixed communities; subsidies for builders to create whites-only suburbs; tax exemptions for institutions that enforced segregation; and support for violent resistance to African Americans in white neighborhoods."

Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

"Award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge was frustrated with the way that discussions of race and racism are so often led by those blind to it, by those willfully ignorant of its legacy. Her response,Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race, has transformed the conversation both in Britain and around the world. Examining everything from eradicated black history to the political purpose of white dominance, from whitewashed feminism to the inextricable link between class and race, Eddo-Lodge offers a timely and essential new framework for how to see, acknowledge, and counter racism. Including a new afterword by the author, this is a searing, illuminating, absolutely necessary exploration of what it is to be a person of color in Britain today, and an essential handbook for anyone looking to understand how structural racism works."

Evicted: Poverty and Property in the American City by Matthew Desmond

"In Evicted, Princeton sociologist and MacArthur “Genius” Matthew Desmond follows eight families in Milwaukee as they each struggle to keep a roof over their heads. Hailed as “wrenching and revelatory” (The Nation), “vivid and unsettling” (New York Review of Books), Evicted transforms our understanding of poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving one of twenty-first-century America’s most devastating problems. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible." 

Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum

"Walk into any racially mixed high school and you will see Black, White, and Latino youth clustered in their own groups. Is this self-segregation a problem to address or a coping strategy? Beverly Daniel Tatum, a renowned authority on the psychology of racism, argues that straight talk about our racial identities is essential if we are serious about enabling communication across racial and ethnic divides. These topics have only become more urgent as the national conversation about race is increasingly acrimonious."

Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First Century by Dorothy Roberts

"This groundbreaking book by the acclaimed Dorothy Roberts examines how the myth of biological concept of race—revived by purportedly cutting-edge science, race-specific drugs, genetic testing, and DNA databases—continues to undermine a just society and promote inequality in a supposedly “post-racial” era. Named one of the ten best black nonfiction books 2011 by AFRO.com,Fatal Inventionoffers a timely and “provocative analysis” (Nature) of race, science, and politics by one of the nation’s leading legal scholars and social critics."

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

"Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever."

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenburg In this landmark book, Nancy Isenberg argues that the voters who boosted Trump all the way to the White House have been a permanent part of the American fabric, and reveals how the wretched and landless poor have existed from the time of the earliest British colonial settlements to today's hillbillies.

Poor whites were central to the rise of the Republican Party in the early nineteenth century and the Civil War itself was fought over class issues nearly as much as it was fought over slavery. Reconstruction pitted white trash against newly freed slaves, which factored in the rise of eugenics - a widely popular movement embraced by Theodore Roosevelt that targeted poor whites for sterilization. These poor were at the heart of New Deal reforms and Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society; they are now offered up as entertainment in reality TV shows, and the label is applied to celebrities ranging from Dolly Parton to Bill Clinton. Marginalized as a class, white trash have always been at or near the centre of major political debates over the character of the American identity.

Surveying political rhetoric and policy, popular literature and scientific theories over four hundred years, Isenberg upends assumptions about America's supposedly class-free society - where liberty and hard work were meant to ensure real social mobility - and forces a nation to face the truth about the enduring, malevolent nature of class.

Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America's Heartland by Jonathan Metzl

"In election after election, conservative white Americans have embraced politicians who pledge to make their lives great again. But as physician Jonathan M. Metzl shows inDying of Whiteness shows, the policies that result actually place white Americans at ever-greater risk of sickness and death. Interviewing a range of everyday Americans, Metzl examines how racial resentment has fueled pro-gun laws in Missouri, resistance to the Affordable Care Act in Tennessee, and cuts to schools and social services in Kansas. e shows these policies' costs: increasing deaths by gun suicide, falling life expectancies, and rising dropout rates."

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lourde

"In this charged collection of fifteen essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change. Her prose is incisive, unflinching, and lyrical, reflecting struggle but ultimately offering messages of hope. This commemorative edition includes a new foreword by Lorde-scholar and poet Cheryl Clarke, who celebrates the ways in which Lorde's philosophies resonate more than twenty years after they were first published."

The next installment of this series will include podcasts and other media resources that can help broaden your understanding of systematic oppression and tell the stories of those who can no longer tell their own tale.


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