Productive Interaction

2020 Antiracism Reading List: Annotated Fall Edition


Daniels, Gilda R. (2020). Uncounted: The Crisis of Voter Suppression in America. NYU Press. Attacks on the right of the traditionally marginalized to vote in the USA began almost as soon as that right was given. Daniels explores this reality through several lenses–history, race, law and the democratic process—and looks at how early overt attempts to deprive some voters access have been replaced by contemporary covert practices. She goes beyond these analyses to underscore not only the power of the vote but also methods to assure equal access. 

Higginbotham, A. Leon, Jr. (1978). In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process. The Colonial Period. Oxford UP. A scholar, a civil rights activist, and federal court judge, the author contrasts the actions of three states (Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia) that chose to apply increasingly exploitative and dehumanizing legislation against African Americans with three states (Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania) that chose more humane or “ambivalent” responses to the African Americans living in their jurisdiction. A legal historian, Higginbotham turns to legislation and court cases to develop his thesis.

Wilkerson, Isabel. (2020). Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Random House. Wilkerson “explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.” She illustrates this through comparisons with the caste systems of the Hindus in India and that of the Nazis in Germany, but also by carefully documenting the foundations and consequences of caste in the USA.

Autobiography and Biography

Lorde, Audre. (1981). Zami: A New Spelling of My Name: A Biomythograhy. Crossing Press. Audre described herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet. Living the intersectionality of many African American women, she constantly pushed against the forces that would deny one or another aspect of her being. In doing so, she challenged the cultures that tried to keep her within a world of traditional “respectability.” This biographical chronicle covers Lorde’s growing up in Harlem and coming to recognize the multiple levels of her identity.

Joseph, Peniel. (2020). The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Basic Books. Scholars and journalists have frequently contrasted these two civil rights activists on the basis of their distinct approaches to equity and justice, but Joseph follows each as their journeys converge. Later in their lives, they shared a recognition of and respect for the human rights of all peoples. Their willingness to champion these rights, no matter the opposition, brought them together in distinct but clearly revolutionary action.

Glaude, Eddie, S., Jr. (2020). Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own. Crown. ”Mixing biography…with history, memoir, and trenchant analysis of our current moment, Begin Again is Glaude’s endeavor, following Baldwin, to bear witness to the difficult truth of race in America today.” The author spent many years studying Baldwin’s literary and political contributions to the era of the Civil Rights Movement, but he sees Baldwin’s contributions to the USA going far beyond that era. Given Baldwin’s profound insights as a scholar and activist, he can help contemporary America move toward the ideal it claims but has yet to realize.

Communication and Technology

Doctorow, Cory. “How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism.” (August 26, 2020).

This challenging essay details the dangers embodied in recent innovations that have allowed a limited number of tech leaders almost unlimited access to personal data that can predict with uncanny accuracy a person’s behavior through sophisticated algorithms. Doctorow describes the practice as surveillance capitalism and suggests how society can counter its power.

Hicks, Donna. (2018). Leading with Dignity: How to Create a Culture That Brings Out the Best in People. Yale UP. Hicks, a conflict resolution specialist, lays out the intent of this work in its title. She understands dignity to be the individual value each person possesses inherently and shows “what it means to be human by exploring all the ways in which dignity contributes to our personal growth and development as well as our capacity to maintain vibrant relationships.”

Antiracism Foundations and Analysis

Butler, Judith. (2020). The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico-Political Bind. Verso. Butler “shows how an ethic of nonviolence must be connected to a broader political struggle for social equality…and argues that nonviolence is often misunderstood as a passive practice that emanates from a calm region of the soul, or as an individualist ethical relation to existing forms of power.” She argues nonviolence need not, must not, be passive and shows how a strong, assertive nonviolence is needed as a “response to violence, racism and increasingly aggressive methods of coercion.”

Delgado, Richard and Stefancic, Jean. (2017). Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. (3rd Edition). NYU Press. The authors provide a primer of the underlying concepts of critical race theory (CRT), including themes and issues of major concern to CRT scholars, such as the master narrative of the USA, questions of identity, perspectives on immigration, methods of inquiry, and critiques of traditional approaches to history and analysis. Each chapter includes questions and suggestions for additional reading.

Gaad, Layla F. (2020). me and white supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor. Sourcebooks. Gaad invites European Americans to challenge the racism and the sense of superiority their “whiteness” offers them. She asks readers to work through her book over 28 days, each day taking on an issue related to “white supremacy” as it affects them and the larger society. She urges participants to record their responses to the daily readings, to revisit these and reflect on the material regularly.

Menakem, Resmaa. (2017). My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies. Central Recovery Press. A counselor who has studied trauma and conflict extensively, Menakem exposes the trauma deeply embedded within the American psyche because of the assumption of “white superiority” and its record of both conscious and unconscious racism. He asserts that “the vital force behind white supremacy is in our blood—literally—and in our nervous systems.” He offers a specific, pragmatic approach to not only recognizing the traumatic embodiment of racism within Americans but also means to heal, to counter that trauma.

Podcasts and Documentaries 

Garbus, Liz, and Cortes, Lisa. (2020). All In: The Fight for Democracy. Amazon Prime. Though she was running for governor of Georgia when she approached Garbus and Cortes about making this documentary, from the start Stacy Abrams was interested in issues larger than her own election campaign. She was interested in exposing the larger history of voter suppression in the USA and how it has primarily affected African Americans, Latinx, the poor, and youth. In realizing Abrams’ vision, Garbus and Cortes interviewed scholars and civil rights activists not only to provide that history, but also to emphasize that voting is both a right and responsibility.

Greer, Bonnie. (2019). In Search of Black History. Audible Original Podcast. (8 episodes). Greer, a playwright, critic, and former trustee of the British Museum. begins these podcasts in the pre-historic world and brings listeners, century by century, into today’s world. Europeans have long controlled historical discourse, assuring their views and perspectives have dominated while giving short shrift to Africa and its people. Greer upends this approach by making Africa and Africans her central focus. Her goal, she says, is “to blindside” listeners as she shares one remarkable revelation after another.

Orlowski, Jeff. (2020). The Social Dilemma. Netflix. As computers, smart phones, and similar devices have proliferated and given hundreds of millions of people easy access to the internet and its services, a number of the tech geniuses behind those services have come to realize the dangers associated with their use. Led by Tristan Harris, formerly a Google design ethicist, they are exploring the cost to individuals and to society, are challenging what has become known as surveillance capitalism, and are developing paths to technologies “realigned with humanity’s best interests.” Study guides and critiques of the documentary help deepen viewers’ understanding of its themes.

Infinite Potential: The Life and Ideas of David Bohm. (2020). Distributor: Counterpoint Films. Contact for further information. Quantum Potential: A Pathway to Peace introduced this documentary in September 2020 as part of its celebration of the International Day of Peace. As its title suggests, it is both a biography and an exploration of the theories and insights physicist and philosopher David Bohm developed over a life time of study. His interests led him from collaborations with Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein to Jiddu Krishnamurti and allowed him to recognize the connections between science and spirituality.

Rossi, Andrew. (2020). After Truth: Information and the Cost of Fake News. HBO. This documentary briefly traces the history of fake news before complicating the term as it is used to undermine actual news via accusations of untruth. The spread of fake news of both kinds—actual and claimed—is evident in some current “news” stories, conspiracy theories, urban myths, and such. The result: confusion, mistrust, and increased divisiveness. As New York Times reporter James Poniewozik writes, “[fake news] is not simply a political abstraction. It’s a real offense that harms real people.” Rossi’s film illustrates this.

Compiled and Annotated by

Dr. J. Q. Adams, and

Dr. Janice R Welsch,