I have read fairly widely around various issues of race, but certainly, there are far more books that I have not read than that I have read. So a book not listed here is likely not here because I have not read it or haven’t written about them. I fully realize that this is an overwhelming list. Don’t think of it as something to be completed, but as a resource to find books that particularly interest you.
I strongly believe that books and topically reading should be personalized. Everyone has different interests and different backgrounds. Because of that, no list of books should be assumed to be universal.
I also am biased toward reading books by Black, Brown, Indigenous, or other people of color on issues of race, not exclusively, but primarily.
I am also biased toward history and biography more than ‘self-help’ styled books. It is not that books that are oriented toward psychology or sociology or in other modes trying to explain racial issues are not important, they are, but without a background in the actual history, there is often missing information that impacts the conversation.
I am also primarily putting this list together for White people to read about race.
Links below are to my posts on the various books.
Various Starting Points and Categories
Survey History: The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby – This is a book oriented toward US history and framed for Christians, talking primarily about Protestant history. It is a good overview, just over 200 pages, and designed as a starting place. There is also a video curriculum if you want to use that instead of the book.
Primer to Talking about Race: So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo – Oluo writes like a blogger with short chapters, lots of stories and illustrations, and clear definitions. I think this book handles concepts of privilege, intersectionality, and microaggressions as well as any introductory book I have read. This quote gives a good sense of the book “A lot of people want to skip ahead to the finish line of racial harmony. Past all this unpleasantness to a place where all wounds are healed and the past is laid to rest.” An alternative would be How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi.
Racial Identity: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race By Beverly Tatum – The 20th Anniversary version of this book has a 70-page introduction covering the racial history of the 20 years from the original publication and it is a great addition to the book. This is a wide-ranging book, but where it shines is descriptions of racial identity acquisition, education, and youth issues around racial identity and good discussion about cross-racial dialogue. An alternative from a memoir orientation is Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin Curtice which is about a Potawatomi woman trying to grapple with her Native American heritage and identity.
White Authored Book on Race: Good White Racist?: Confront Confronting Your Role in Racial Injustice by Kerry Connelly. This is a no-nonsense book, not intended to make White people feel good about race, but to particularly focus on why so often, White people want to be perceived as ‘one of the good ones’. The message of the book is “the very first rule in antiracism work: stay in the room, even when it gets hard and uncomfortable.” Good White Racist is a Christian book. Other examples that I also would recommend as alternatives are White Awake by Daniel Hill or America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis or if you are looking for a secular author White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.
Building Relationships Across Racial Lines: Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation by Latasha Morrison – Story matters a lot to the way that many understand racial issues. This is part memoir, part organizational mission, part ‘how to reach across racial lines’. It is hard to separate Latasha Morrison’s story from the work of Be The Bridge and her passion is the mission of the organization and that mission has a clear method. An alternative book in a similar vein is Black and White: Disrupting Racism One Friendship at a Time by Teesha Hadra and John Hambrick.
Bible Study: Who is the Holy Spirit? A Walk With the Apostles by Amos Yong – It has been nearly a decade since I first read this commentary on Acts. It is not particular about race, but it does pay attention to how Acts is situated around crossing boundaries, ethnicity, gender, class, and other lines. Yong’s commentary is a great example of how White Americans can misread the bible and so I suggest pairing the commentary with Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien. Misreading Scripture again is not about race, but about culture and the issues of culture do matter. Two more supplementary books that are helpful would be One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal? and Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible by Willie James Jennings.
Graphic Novel Formatted History: March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell – This is a trilogy of graphic novels that tells the civil rights era through the story of John Lewis. He was a central figure and the format of the graphic novel works very well, not just for young adults, but also for adults. The same artist did The Silence of Our Friends, which is historical fiction based on the father on one of the authors. And a graphic novel version of Kindred, which I don’t think is quite as good as the full novel but still worth reading. Kindred is a novel about a Black woman in the 1970s that is sent back in time to save her White slave-owning ancestor and who is enslaved in the process. There is also a short book on John Brown.
Theology: The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie James Jennings – If you are interested in a more theological book, this is where I would start once you have some of the basic ideas and concepts of racism. This is a theological exploration of the origins of race similar to Stamped from the Beginning but tracing the theological history. An alternative that I recommend just as highly is The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H Cone. I find it hard to recommend Cone if you do not read his memoirs because if you do not understand his life and motivations, it can be hard to fully understand his theology. If you are going to read one memoir, read his last Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody but if you have time to read both, read My Soul Looks Back first.
Autobiography/Memoir: I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown – This is brief, beautifully written, and written in a way that is intimately familiar with the White Evangelical world but not centered on the White Evangelical world. This is a book primarily written for and to Black women but with the intention that others read along to overhear that conversation. A secular alternative would be Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I also want to recommend With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman, but Thurman was writing from a significantly older generation.
Race and the Evangelical Church: Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America – This is the classic book on the White Evangelical relationship to racial issues. It is dated. It came out 20 years ago and the research was before that. But it is still relevant and still very helpful and one of the books I hear recommended more than almost any other. There is a new follow up book that is being worked on now. A more recent alternative that is not particularly targeted at the White Evangelical church is Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice by Eric Mason.
Local History: White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism by Kevin Cruse – I live just outside of Atlanta and this history of White Flight in Atlanta and the various issues of integration and desegregation of transportation, housing, education, and other arena was fascinating and helpful to current political issues. Another example of an excellent local history is Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips which details Forsyth County’s 1912 riots that forced out all Black residents of the county. The county did not start to integrate again until the late 1990s. In 1997 the Census Bureau estimated that there were 39 Black residents and in 2000, the county was the Whitest county in the country of the 600 most populous. National history is important, but often there is local history that significantly matters to how we should understand our local community.
Economics: The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward Baptist – This book more than anything else that I have read has convinced me of the need for reparations. The economic system of the US was built largely on the stealing of land from Native Americans and slavery. There are some controversial aspects of the math in some of the estimates. But the history is fairly uncontroversial. The first half of the book that is oriented around describing slavery is brutal to read. The second half about the economic history is not as stomach-churning in the same way, but it is convicting.
Housing/Education: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein – What I think that many do not understand is that US housing segregation is not a matter of choice, but the legacy of legally mandated housing segregation as national policy. That has impacted schools and churches and communities in many ways, but it was certainly not accidental.
Native American Issues: Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way by Richard Twiss – I have overwhelmingly oriented my learning about race with the Black/White dichotomy. There are significant weaknesses to that approach and I have been trying to round out my reading. I am mixed about what book to put first here, but I think Richard Twiss does an excellent job pushing boundaries about the traditional ideas of syncretism and enculturated Christianity. I would follow up Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery by Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah which centers the Native American story, but is primarily about the legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery and colonialism.
Latinx Issues: Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and Identity by Robert Chao Romero – I have not done enough reading around Hispanic and Latinx issues of race. But this is a very good overview which I recommend.
Asian Issues: They Called Us Enemy by George Takei – This is a graphic novel history of Takei’s time in the Japanese Internment camps inside the US during World War II. Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering by Makoto Fujimura – is both about Japanese culture and the book Silence.
History of Racism: Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram Kendi – This is a history of modern racism. It is long, dense, and very helpful. A much shorter and much less thorough book, but still helpful is Mark Noll’s God and Race in American Politics: A Short History. Noll is writing outside of his main area of expertise and but this is a natural follow up to the very excellent and highly recommended The Civil War as Theological Crisis. Also, there is a young adult version of Stamped from the Beginning that is worth reading, especially if you have young adult kids that you can discuss it with.
Politics: Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul by Eddie Glaude Jr – Democracy in the US has a ‘values gap’ between the ideals and reality. If you are interested in some more radical political takes Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis is a collection of essays that definitely stirred me toward thinking about alternative political arrangements. We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a collection of his Atlantic essays that are mostly about political issues, although not entirely. And tangentially related is Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States. Also America’s Constitution: A Biography by Akhil Reed Amar handles racial issues around the constitution and how it has been changed and used very well.
Post Civil War History: Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 by Eric Foner – I highly recommend this and David Blight’s Civil War and Reconstruction history class on podcast as an essential background to understanding history that matters to the development of Jim Crow. Foner has a follow-up book that is just about the Reconstruction Constitutional Amendments which is much shorter. Reading Foner’s survey history and then reading David Bright’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory follows up on how the history of reconstruction and the memory of the Civil War have shaped later racial developments.
Jim Crow History: Slavery by Another Name by Douglas Blackmon – During the Jim Crow era, slavery was effectively recreated by a distorted criminal justice system which ‘rented out’ prisoners for labor by businesses or individuals throughout the south. The abuses were widespread and in many ways worse than slavery because there was no incentive to keep the prisoners alive. Doctrine and Race: African American Evangelicals and Fundamentalism between the Wars by Mary Beth Swetnam Mathews is a more narrow history, of the way that the Black church related to Evangelicals and Fundamentalists between the two world wars.
Civil Rights History: The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-Ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation by Stephen Haynes – This would not be my only recommendation for a Civil Rights-era history, but as someone that is oriented toward Christian history, a history of church desegregation protests is something that I think many should know more about. One that is also not a central book, but one I really like because it is about an unknown person is While the World Watched by Carolyn Maull McKinstry with Denise George. She was a friend of the girls that died in the 16th Street Church bombing and a participant in the Children’s March in Birmingham. Where this book shines is not glossing over the negatives of participating in the civil rights movement and the trauma that many were subjected to.
Criminal Justice: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson has been widely read and turned into a movie. It deserves is praise. Another that is more policy-oriented book is Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice That Restores by Dominique DuBois Gilliard
Biographies: Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight – There are far too many biographies that I could list here. But this is among the best I have read. I don’t think you can really talk about race in the US without knowing at least a little bit about Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. The joint biography The Sword and the Shield by Peniel Joseph is a good way to get started.
Classics: The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin – Classics are classics for a reason. This short book, two long essays really is essential. Similarly, Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman was written in 1949 based on earlier lectures, but it was an intellectual undergirding of the Civil Rights movement. Souls of Black Folks by WEB DuBois is a series of essays which did help change the discussion of race in the US.
Martin Luther King Jr.: Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? by Martin Luther King Jr – King really does deserve his own section. Where Do We Go From Here is his last book the one that is more likely to be read of his few books. Radical King is a compilation of writing, speeches, and sermons that was edited by Cornell West. Bonhoeffer and King: Their Legacies and Import for Christian Social Thought is about his social thought. The Seminarian: Martin Luther King Jr. Comes of Age by Patrick Parr is about the three years he was in seminary. Birmingham Revolution: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Epic Challenge to the Church by Edward Gilbreath is about that most important letter. And April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King Jr’s Death and How it Changed America by Michael Eric Dyson. Also, you should read My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King with Barbara Reynolds to get a fuller picture of MLK Jr.
Organizational Realities to Racism: The Minority Experience: Navigating Emotional and Organizational Realities by Adrian Pei – This is a book on organizational change, particularly around racial issues mostly based on his work with Cru and other White parachurch organizations. A very different book but in a similar vein in Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership is Overlooked in White Churches and Institutions.
Discipleship: Discipleship is a necessary part of understanding racial issues. One good introduction is Soul Care in African American Practice by Barbara Peacock and another is The Way Up Is Down: Becoming Yourself by Forgetting Yourself by Marlena Graves.
Early Church History Focused on Africa and Asia: My first recommendation is the new book by Vince Bantu A Multitude of All Peoples: Engaging Ancient Christianity’s Global Identity. Two other books in a similar vein are The Lost History of Christianity by Philip Jenkins and How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind by Thomas Oden
- Becoming by Michelle Obama – If you are an audiobook person, this is well narrated by her.
- Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah – Great on audiobook
- Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride
- Reflections by Rosa Parks: The Quiet Strength and Faith of a Woman Who Changed a Nation – Short book written toward the end of her life reflecting back
- Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston – Memoir of the early life of Zora Neale Hurston concentrating on the time before she became a novelist and writer.
- The Awkward Thoughts of W Kamau Bell – Memoir of comedian W Kamau Bell who is the current host of United Shades of America.
- Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Granddaughter by Sidney Poitier
- Kindred by Octavia Butler – A Black woman in the 1970s gets sent back in time to save her White slave-owning ancestor.
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker – the famous novel that has been turned into a movie and a stage show.
- If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin – My favorite of Baldwin’s fiction that I have read. About a young couple where the husband is falsely arrested and charged with rape.
- Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin – A semi-autobiographical novel
- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – Historical Fiction imagining the underground railroad as an actual railroad.
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston – Novel about a woman in the early 20th century trying to find her own place.
- The Good Lord Bird by James McBride – Historical Fiction about John Brown and the raid at Harper’s Ferry.
- Deep River by Shusaku Endo – Story of four Japanese tourists on a trip to the Ganges River.
- Song Yet Sung by James McBride – Historical fiction/Magical Realism novel about a slave that escapes in 1850 Maryland.
- Washington Black by Esi Edugyan – Historical Fiction about a slave ‘freed’ by an abolitionist in the 1830s.
- Binit Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor – There are three Africanfuturism sci-fi books. The second is Home and the third is the Night Masquerade
- Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward – Sort of ghost story, but a novel about generational realities.
- The Darkest Child by Delores Phillips – Brutal story of a teen during late stages of Jim Crow.
- Akata Witch and Akata Warrior – First two of what will be a longer series about African magical system. Sort of modern fantasy.
- Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafo – post-apocalyptic Africa
- Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler – One of the best dystopian novels I have read. I have read all but one of Butlers other books
- Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson – A memoir of a childhood in the 1960s, told in verse. Great on audiobook
- On the Come Up by Angie Thomas – set in the same neighborhood as the earlier Hate U Give, this is about a young woman rapper.
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – fiction about a police shooting
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds – the young adult adaptation of Ibram Kendi’s history of racism
- Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March – short history of the Selma Voting Right March recounted by a woman who turned 15 during the march.
- Solo by Kwame Alexander – story of a young man coming to terms with a mother he did not know.
After you read those:
- Can “White” People Be Saved?: Triangulating Race, Theology, and Mission – This is an academic conference book based on a Fuller Seminary conference about Race and the church. The conference is on youtube if you want to watch instead of read.
- Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance by Reggie Williams – biography of the year that Bonhoeffer spent in NYC and the influence of the Black church on the rest of his life. Also a history of the Black Renaissance and how that culture also influenced Bonhoeffer.
- Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marble – Malcolm X is an important figure that should be understood.
- Twelve Lies That Hold America Captive: And the Truth That Sets Us Free by Jonathan Walton – A discussion of the difference between ‘White American Folk Religion’ and true Christianity. A book I refer to often.
- Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart by Christena Cleveland – Not only about racial disunity but more broadly about disunity in the church and the importance of working toward honest unity.
- Backlash: What Happens When We Talk Honestly about Racism in America by George Yancy – Recounting of the Blacklash to his 2015 opinion piece in NYT calling for White America to understand the reality of racism. The book expands the editorial, processes the backlash, and how racism is a system. Yancy is a philosopher and the tools of philosophy are used here well. This was a very influential book for me.
- Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove – A book about distortions of White Evangelical theology.
- White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson – History of five White racial backlashes against increased Black rights.
- One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race by John Perkins – Perkins’ pledge to commit the rest of his life to racial reconciliation in the church. There is some weaknesses to the book but anything by Perkins has value.
- The Spirituals and the Blues by James H Cone – Music is important to Cone. All of his books are full of music. This is a book about the theological roots of the spiritual and the blues a perfect example of why White seminary students need to be reading widely.
- Dream With Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win by John Perkins – A more personal recounting of what is important to John Perkins toward the end of his life, including reflections about how he would approach his ministry differently if he was doing it over again.
- Follow Me to Freedom by Shane Claiborne and John Perkins – a joint book with alternating chapters about the principles of Christian Community Development
- Welcoming Justice: God’s Movement Toward Beloved Community by John Perkins and Charles Marsh – A joint book on reconciliation and justice
- Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman: Portrait of an American Hero by Kate Clifford Larson – Biography fo Harriet Tubman.
- Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin – A collection of literary and personal essays written in the mid-1950s.
- James Baldwin and the 1980s: Witnessing the Reagan Era by Joseph Vogel – A biography of James Baldwin toward the end of his life.
- The Black Presidency by Michael Eric Dyson – How Obama’s presidency impacted the Black community.
- Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson – a wide-ranging book by a Black pastor and academic calling White America to repentance and relationship.
- What Truth Sounds Like: Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America by Micheal Eric Dyson – A book riffing off the history of a meeting between Robert Kennedy, James Baldwin and many other civil rights era leaders.
- The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken Wytsma – Discussion of privilege and inequality for White Christians.
- Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah – A current events focused commentary on Lamentations and the importance of Lament to the church
- The End of White Christian America by Robert P Jones – A demographics focused book that describes why White Protestant (Christian) America is declining in cultural and demographic authority.
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou – Early memoir of Maya Angelou recounting her early life.
- Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lies by Dick Gregory – Written write before his passed away this is a mix of little known history, humor, and a bit of conspiracy theory
- Stokely: A Life by Peniel Joseph – Biography of the man most attached to the Black power movement
- Burying White Privilege: Resurrecting a Badass Christianity by Miguel de la Torre – About moving Christianity away from White normativity and toward a decolonized faith
- How Not to Get Shot: And Other Advice From White People by DL Hughley and Doug Moe – Satire about advice from White people about how to not get shot by police.
- How to Fix a Broken Record: Thoughts on Vinyl Records, Awkward Relationships, and Learning to Be Myself by Amena Brown – Part memoir, part life skills, part spiritual direction, lots of humor and heart. Amena Brown is a writer and spoken word artist.
- Critical Race Theory: An Introduction by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic – An introduction to the concepts, critique and future of Critical Race Theory
- A Better Freedom: Finding Life as Slaves of Christ by Michael Card – An exploration of biblical slavery and comparisons with the race-based chattel slavery of the US.
- Sermons on the Parables by Howard Thurman – Collection of sermons on the parables with good introductions and context.
- Living Wisdom of Howard Thurman – an audio collection of snippets of sermons, speeches and prayers.