Productive Interaction

2020 Annotated Antiracism Reading List

The Summer of Mr. George Floyd’s Murder

Recent scholarship by educators and activists who share a deep concern and commitment to equity and justice can help readers comprehend a world that continues to allow excessive violence against African Americans. Their work not only explores the roots of that violence, but also shares an understanding of the humanity of the persons who are especially hurt by that violence, an understanding that leads them to compassion and empathy. Since all members of our community have a responsibility to help make justice, equity, and diversity a reality, you may find these works of interest and value. Though by no means exhaustive, together, they cover a wide span of historical research, explore personal narratives, analyze ideological positions, examine approaches to communicating across differences, and ask readers to evaluate attitudes and perspectives based on unconsciously absorbed racist beliefs. Some underscore the historical context that has led us to this moment while others offer pragmatic guidance as we strengthen our ability to respond to every member of our community (and world) as, first and foremost, human.

We welcome additions to this list based on readers own experience and needs.

All of the books are available at WIU’s Malpass Library and the Macomb Public Library..


de las Casas, Bartolome. (2010). A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies. CreateSpace Independent Publishing. Originally written in 1552, de las Casas reveals early Old World attitudes toward native peoples as Europeans explored the Americas and developed ideas that led to the complete dehumanization and, in far too many cases, the genocide of indigenous peoples.

Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne. (2015). An Indigenous People’s History of the United States. Beacon Press. As a historian Dunbar-Ortiz offers evidence of the devastation perpetrated on native peoples and lands because of European settlers’ assumption of superiority and their adoption of a manifest destiny philosophy. Government officials, business and religious leaders, and civilians used these ideas to justify their ruthless killing of Indians and the takeover of land from the east coast to the west.

Isenberg, Nancy. (2017). White Trash. The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. Penguin Books. As the title suggests, Isenberg provides a history of class status from the colonialist period to today and undercuts the oft-repeated idea that the USA is a classless society that champions equality among all people.  Isenberg focuses on the poor, on people often treated as “waste,” however we refer to them, and traces, in revealing detail, their experience throughout the nation.

Kendi, Ibram. (2016). Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Nation Books. Kendi begins his history in Europe with a review of the philosophical theories of human hierarchy that settlers brought with them to the USA. He then explores the lives and times of five prominent figures–Cotton Mathers, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. DuBois, and Angela Davis—to show, through vivid and heartrending images, how early racist ideas morphed from one era to the next and permeated society in ways that consistently led to—and justified–racial violence and cruelty.

McRae, Elizabeth. (2018). Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy. Oxford University Press. McRae documents how women, primarily in the South, have consistently cited their responsibilities as mothers to justify white supremacy and their confederate views of history. Systematically working to control school curricula, teacher training, textbook content, and school district boundaries, these women maintained a powerful narrative of white supremacy while erasing African American achievements and perpetuating racial inequality. Antiracist activists and educators, in their efforts to ensure social justice, counter racial inequity, and portray USA history more honestly and comprehensively, could learn from the strategies these mothers used so effectively to impose racist values on a nation.

Rothstein, Richard. (2018) The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. Liveright. Through a meticulous analysis of policy, law, and court decisions from the era of Reconstruction into the 1970s, Rothstein demonstrates how our local, state, and national governments have systematically supported the segregation of African Americans in this country, and by doing so, have sanctioned injustice and inequity. He walks readers through the restrictions related to public housing, zoning ordinances, redlining, skewed New Deal benefits, and the carefully calibrated formation of school districts to show the employment, wage, and wealth inequality that results.

Sublette, Ned, and Constance Sublette. (2016). The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry. Lawrence Hill Books. In a note at the end of their introduction, the authors state: “[t]his book describes an economy in which people were capital, children were interest, and women were routinely violated. We have tried to avoid gratuitously subjecting the reader to offensive language and images, but we are describing a horrifying reality.” That reality, named in the title, was the for-profit breeding of enslaved African Americans for the profit of their “owners” without any regard for the human, familial bonds of the enslaved.


Hart, Carl. (2014). High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Every Thing You Know about Drugs and Society. HarperCollins. Hart is clear about his purpose in writing High Price: “. . . to show the public how the emotional hysteria that stems from misinformation related to illegal drugs obfuscates the real problems faced by marginalized people” and “contributes to gross misuses of limited public resources” (p. xi). He combines his own drug use “as a nameless black kid” from the projects with his research on drug use as a neuropsychopharmacologist at Columbia University in the departments of psychology and psychiatry.

Mandela, Nelson. (1995). Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Back Bay Books. Nelson Mandela begins his story with his childhood, takes readers through his growing political activism, involvement with the African National Congress (ANC), 25-year imprisonment, his eventual release, and his unprecedented election as president of South Africa. Though initially convinced violence was needed to end apartheid, his eventual adoption of negotiation proved the more effective strategy, one that was recognized worldwide when he and F.W. de Klerk were awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. He is undoubtedly one of the giants of the 20th century.

Ransby, Barbara. (2003). Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision. U of North Carolina Press. Ransby has written a comprehensive, carefully researched, and well written biography of Ella Baker, who used her organizational skills and deep commitment to Civil Rights to help establish and/or strengthen the NAACP, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She often worked behind the scenes, especially with students in SNCC, but she worked effectively and has been recognized as one of the most influential leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.

Communication Studies: Difficult Dialogues

Brooks, Arthur. (2019). Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt. Broadside Books. Brooks led the American Enterprise Institute for ten years while also serving as a professor of public leadership at the Harvard Kennedy College and as a senior fellow at the Harvard Business School. He consistently challenges the notion that liberals value compassion and fairness more than conservatives or that they are more invested in social justice. A behavioral scientist, he suggests dialogue between people with opposing views can be healthy and gratifying if issues rather than persons, action rather than emotion, are central. e our

Brown, Brené. (2018). Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, and Whole Hearts. Random House. Brown, a research professor in the College of Social Work at the University of Houston, comes from a different perspective than Arthur Brooks but, like him, hones in on similar themes and goals–compassion, cooperation, and dialogue that lead to productive working relationships. However, she places considerable weight on sensitivity to the emotions that can facilitate or undercut dialogue and emphasizes the value of understanding and respecting one’s own vulnerability as well as that of the people with whom we interact.

Ringer, Judy. (2017). We Have to Talk: A Step-by-Step Checklist for Difficult Conversations. Ringer, a  conflict and communication skills trainer, describes this article succinctly: “What you have here is a brief synopsis of best practice strategies: a checklist of action items to think about before going into [a difficult] conversation; some useful concepts to practice during the conversation; and some tips and suggestions to help you stay focused and flowing in general. . . .” Because conversations about topics such as race, oppression, and privilege can be difficult, having tools to draw on can prove helpful.

Rosenberg, Marshall. (2012). Living Nonviolent Communication: Practical Tools to Connect and Communicate Skillfully in Every Situation. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.

Rosenberg originated the concept and practice of nonviolent, compassionate communication and developed a center whose “mission is to contribute to more sustainable, compassionate, and ‘life-serving’ human relations in the realms of personal change, interpersonal relationship and in social systems and structures, such as business/economics, education, justice, healthcare, and peace-keeping.” In Living NVC, Rosenberg shows how the principles of NVC can be used in everyday encounters.

Sofer, Oren Jay. (2018). Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication. Shambhala. ( Marshall Rosenberg, the psychologist who developed Nonviolent Communication and Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, have influenced Sofer and served as guides in his approach to effective communication. He takes ideas from both and melds them into steps to guide individuals on both sides of a conversation to greater understanding. The steps can be summed up neatly as being fully present, speaking clearly, and listening attentively, but each step takes practice, something the author helps readers do through the exercises he offers.

Antiracism Analyses

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. (2015). Between the World and Me. Random House. Through a letter to his son, Coates writes about the world he and his son live in and must navigate daily as a Black man or teenager. He is clear and to the point when reviewing the history of violence against Black men and detailing the realities of living in a society that has absorbed an image of Black male bodies that generates fear and evokes irrational violence. It’s an image that veers far from the truth but jeopardizes Black lives.

DiAngelo, Robin. (2018). White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Beacon Press. Primarily addressing white readers, DiAngelo writes: “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.” This lack of racial stamina DiAngelo describes as white fragility. She not only explains the concept and its origins in our socialization, but shows readers ways to create the stamina needed to face and challenge racism.

Eberhardt, Jennifer. (2019). Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do. Viking. A professor of psychology at Stanford University and the recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant, Eberhardt effectively intertwines scientific research with personal stories in this “examination of implicit bias—what it is, where it comes from, how it affects us, and how we can address it.” As she writes in her introduction, “Implicit bias is a kind of distorting lens that is a product of both the architecture of our brain and the disparities in our society.” She not only explains its origins and how it works but offers readers practical suggestions on how to manage it.

hooks, bell. (2014, 3rd Ed). Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Routledge. One of the earliest texts to champion an inclusive feminism. bell hooks wrote this groundbreaking critique of feminism in the early 1980s as a response to her own experience as a Black child growing up in Kentucky and as a student at Stanford University. It broadens and deepens the significance of feminism by pushing it beyond the scope of white middle class, educated women to include women of color, the working class, and men. Feminism must become, in hooks’ words, “a mass based political movement if it is to have a revolutionary, transformative impact on society.”

Kendi, Ibram X. (2019). How to Be an Antiracist. One World. Kendi invites readers to join him on his journey from unconsciously racist teen to conscious, consistently striving antiracist adult. Because he links racism and antiracism to behavior rather than with personal defining characteristics, he can separate who a person is from what a person does. For conscious human beings, that allows them to focus on their behavior and to examine the ways they can reflect antiracism as they move through society and interact with people who are different from them without being stymied by a fixed perception of themselves. Kendi does this himself as he grows in maturity and in his deepening understanding of the multiple subtle ways racist lies permeate society.

Oluo, Ijeoma. (2019). So You Want to Talk about Race. Seal Press. Oluo set out to write a useful book on issues related to race when she wrote this book. She has succeeded. Beginning each chapter with a question, she addresses many of the issues people, whatever their color or ethnicity, have repeatedly asked her: “Is it really about race?” “Why am I always being told to ‘check my privilege’?” “Why can’t I touch your hair?” “What are microaggressions?” Oluo often connects her responses to vignettes from her own life before taking on the subject more fully. She is direct and pragmatic as she offers readers guidelines for action.

Stevenson, Bryan. (2017). Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. Spiegel & Grau. Stevenson, Harvard University graduate and MacArthur Grant recipient, has devoted himself to the practice of law within a particular framework, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) which he founded in 1989. The EJI is “committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, challenging racial and economic injustice, and protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.” Just Mercy chronicles Stevenson’s work, focusing primarily on the story of Walter McMillian, one of too many people who have been unjustly convicted of murder. Just Mercy is also Stevenson’s story of his unrelenting work to secure justice within a system that too often chooses convenience over justice.

Wilderson III, Frank B. (2020). Afropessimism. Liveright. Combining memoir with critical race theory, Wilderson’s work is a difficult read, both because of its theoretical underpinnings and the pain he has experienced throughout his life. He argues “that Black suffering is of a different order than the suffering of other oppressed people, and that Black suffering is the life force of the world (p. 200).” From the perspective of Afropessimism, “Blacks are not Human subjects” though their existence in the world is critical (p. 15-17). Readers willing to take the deep dive into the complexities of these ideas will be challenged but also riveted by the logic of Wilderson’s perspective as well as the details of his life as a child, a young college student, an anti-apartheid revolutionary, a writer, and a scholar.


Cup of Empathy: Marianne van Dijk, certified NonViolent Communication Trainer and Creator of the YouTube NVC Channel. (

Global Dignity: Imagine a World Where Understanding, Love, and Compassion Triumph. (

Greater Good Science Center: University of California, Berkeley. “Studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.” (

Mindful Educators Community: Twenty-five of today’s leading mindfulness experts and educators offer best practices for bringing mindfulness into the classroom. (

National Museum of African American History and Culture. Smithsonian Museum. Comprehensive history of racism in the USA. (

Compiled and annotated by

Dr. J. Q. Adams, and

Dr. Janice R. Welsch,