A Quaker Antiracist Reading List

It’s not enough to say the United States is haunted by its racist past—in many ways, the spirit of racism continues to animate our cultural and social institutions, even when we don’t realize it, and especially when we think we’ve banished it for good. White Americans have a responsibility to recognize, acknowledge, and work to deconstruct their privilege in this world… and many feel overwhelmed by that responsibility, unsure of where to begin. For years, Quakers have been alternatively avoiding and confronting racist systems of oppression both within and outside of the larger Religious Society of Friends—a topic Friends Journal has covered in the past and one we’re committed to continuing to address into the future.

Last year, award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi created a reading list for the New York Times, a set of classic and contemporary books presented as “a stepladder to antiracism, each step addressing a different stage of the journey toward destroying racism’s insidious hold on all of us.” More recently, activists Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein shared their own list of resources, including Prof. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist. Over the years, Friends Journal has discussed many of the works they selected, as well as other books about the legacy of racism in American culture. We’ve made a partial list below, with excerpts from our reviews. Any one of these books will help readers gain a fuller understanding of what life is truly like for non-White Americans today, and present ways to work toward a better, more just country for people of color.

How to Be an Antiracist

COVER: How to Be an Antiracist“We can look at racism as a problem much the same as a cancer that needs to be gotten rid of at its source. And that source is within us all. That source allows us to enact laws that block the progress of Black and Brown people in this country. That source determines how we vote and how we treat each other. The question is how do we use Spirit to be courageous, so that we become not just ‘not racist’ but actively anti-racist?”

Between the World and Me

COVER: Between the World and Me“Coates has to wake each day and go to sleep each night knowing that any encounter his son might have with the police might mean the end of his son’s life. That is an aspect of life in twenty‐first‐century America that white Americans need to wrap their collective brain around, if we are to truly understand what is meant when activists and others say “Black Lives Matter.” Coates has laid this out for the benefit of his son…. America—white America especially—just has to have the courage to listen.”

So You Want to Talk About Race

COVER: So You Want to Talk About Race“Oluo wants you to do something and do it now—another hard thing for Friends who are used to ‘seasoning’ and ‘waiting for guidance.’ People of color have been waiting for centuries and need help now. Our very lives depend on action from White folks, and this book shows what that action looks like. She breaks down the process of opening your mind, thinking about these concepts, and then making a plan for action.”

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America

COVER: This Will Be My Undoing“To break free of a white‐centric feminism takes more than an abstract commitment to equality, which can all too often manifest as ‘colorblindness’: a willful determination to be, yes, blind to the complex knot of injustices and privileges and cruelties and pride that make up racial identities in the United States.… When articulated by those in positions of racial privilege, the question ‘can’t you just stop talking about race?’ reiterates a conversation where the terms are dictated by the people who are already in power.”

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation

COVER: From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation“Taylor does not simply lay out the national problems that the Black Lives Matter movement is addressing. She also encourages her readers to take personal responsibility for being a part of the solution. She makes me feel proud to be a part of the movement, as she explains that ‘justice is not a natural part of the lifecycle of the United States, nor is it a product of evolution; it is always the outcome of struggle.'”

Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority

COVER: Dear White America“The first, perhaps most valuable, takeaway from Dear White America is recognizing the distinction between guilt and responsibility in matters of race. Guilt is what we feel for things we have done. Responsibility is what we take on willingly because of who we are, not because our concerns are the fault of anyone currently alive. The first responsibility for white people is to extinguish any feeling of obligation to make up for the past. Wise is not interested in guilt about the past: ‘We are not to blame for history—either its horrors or its legacy, but all of us together—black and white—are responsible for how we bear that legacy and what we make of it [today].'”

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

COVER: White Fragility“Because the culture usually protects white people from having to think about race, many become upset when that protection does not work. Because racial discrimination is now considered shameful, white people often deny discriminatory behavior rather than change it. The author identifies ‘patterns of white fragility.’ These include assuming our experience is available to everyone, unwillingness to listen to people of color who share their experiences, needing to look good, and wanting to jump to ‘solutions’ rather than do the hard, personal work.”

Backlash: What Happens When We Talk Honestly about Racism in America

COVER: Backlash“Those of us who are White have a great work of lamentation to do about the evils and heartbreak of racism, and a great work of pulling blinders from our eyes, peeling away the layers of defense that we built up to protect our goodness in the face of this ugly reality. Yet our goodness is secure. And Yancy is with us, seeing the opportunity for greater humanity and wholeness on the other side.”

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide

COVER: White Rage“We need to be on guard against new attempts to reverse progress for people of color and other minorities. We must be ready to stand up, to have the backs of people targeted by intolerance. But we also must look inward. In retrospect, we are all appalled by the reversal of Reconstruction and the violence used to terrify and control African Americans for many decades. Yet I confess to having been disturbed, perhaps, but not outraged by the examples of pushback to black progress within my lifetime.… So we must be watchful and learn to question continually not only public policy and political action, but our own perceptions.”

Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion

COVER: Reconstructing the Gospel“As Jonathan Wilson‐Hartgrove notes, most of contemporary U.S. Christianity is still wounded and twisted to a greater or lesser degree by the oppressive legacy of an imperial slaveholder religion. This, he believes, is certainly true of the White evangelical Southern Baptist faith tradition he grew up in and, too often, even in his own heart. As I read his book, I had to ask if this is also true of modern Quakers, including me.”

America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America

COVER: America's Original Sin“Jim Wallis uses terms like sin, repentance, and redemption to discuss racism… As someone not accustomed to using or hearing those words, I was not sure how I would respond to them. But I found that these words were just what was called for in describing racism, and furthermore, I think their use in this concept deepened my understanding of this rich vocabulary.”

Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism

COVER: Trouble I've Seen“Hart believes that the crux of racism is not individual cultural ignorance or personal prejudice on either side of what W.E.B. DuBois called “the color line.” The bigger—and too often ignored—problem is white supremacy, a deeply institutionalized and evolving racial hierarchy built over centuries that still privileges white people at the expense of other racial groups of people. It is this racialized system of imperial hierarchy, among other imperial hierarchies, in which we all still live, move, and breathe, which advantages and overvalues some and disadvantages and devalues others, that must be made visible, resisted, and transformed by the faithful friends and followers of Jesus.”

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