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Book Recommendations for Black History Month

Updated: May 16, 2020

It’s Black History Month.  To be honest, I didn’t used to pay much attention to black history because I didn’t think it was relevant to me as a white person.  But over the last several years, I’ve been reading, listening, and learning.  I’ve come to understand that black history (along with the history of all ethnic groups) is important for all of us.  We live in a nation that has been plagued by the lie of white supremacy.  That lie didn’t die with the abolishment of slavery, and it didn’t die with the accomplishments of the civil rights movement.  That lie continues to infect our society and it affects us all more than we realize.

So we must take the initiative to listen and to learn.  We must break down the lies that we’ve been told and recognize the implicit bias that lives within us.  We must seek to understand how people of color have been affected, on both personal and systemic levels, by those lies and biases.  We must learn to see the beauty in cultures that are different from our own.  We must recognize the responsibility that each of us has to help bring about a world that truly offers liberty and justice to all.

So in honor of Black History Month, I wanted to share a few books that I’ve read in the last year that have been helpful in my journey of learning…

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander talks about the history of white supremacy in our country and how it has evolved through the systems of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and now mass incarceration.  It’s a very eye-opening look at how our criminal justice system works and how certain laws and policies (such as the War on Drugs) have been used to target people of color, even as our society claims to be colorblind. This book is heavily researched and builds a strong case for the need to completely rethink the way we see “justice.”  It is a dense book but very important and well worth the read.

The colorblind public consensus that prevails in America today – i.e., the widespread belief that race no longer matters – has blinded us to the realities of race in our society and facilitated the emergence of a new caste system. (pg. 11-12)For the foreseeable future, racial and ethnic inequality will be a feature of American life. This reality is not cause for despair. The idea that we may never reach a state of perfect racial equality – a perfect racial equilibrium – is not cause for alarm. What is concerning is the real possibility that we, as a society, will choose not to care. We will choose to be blind to injustice and the suffering of others. We will look the other way and deny our public agencies the resources, data, and tools they need to solve problems. We will refuse to celebrate what is beautiful about our distinct cultures and histories, even as we blend and evolve.  That is cause for despair. (pg. 243-244)

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson tells the true story of a man wrongly convicted of murder and the long, arduous journey to get the conviction overturned.  This truly compelling story is intertwined with the stories of many other vulnerable people who have experienced the dark side of our “justice” system.  Along the way, Stevenson, a lawyer who has given his life to standing up against injustice, shares what he’s learned as he’s gotten close to those who have been locked away.  This book will challenge you to look past the labels and stigmas we place on others and discover just how much we have in common.

We are bodies of broken bones. I guess I’d always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human. We all have our reasons. Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion. We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity. (pg. 289)

In I’m Still Here, Austin Channing Brown shares what it’s been like for her to go through life as a black female in a white world.  This one hit close to home as she shared her experiences in the church and working in Christian non-profits.  It was challenging at times to work through my defenses as I could hear myself making some of the same types of unintentionally offensive comments as some of her white co-workers.  I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn from Austin’s brave and vulnerable memoir and her challenge to push through what makes us uncomfortable in an effort to bring about true reconciliation.

Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort. It’s not a comfortable conversation for any of us. It is risky and messy. It is haunting work to recall the sins of our past. But is this not the work we have been called to anyway? Is this not the work of the Holy Spirit to illuminate truth and inspire transformation? It’s haunting. But it’s also holy. (pg. 117-118)

These are just a few of the vast resources out there that can awaken us to the past and current racial injustices in our country. (I have an ever-increasing reading list on my phone.)  But this is a great place to start (or continue) the journey.  I hope you’ll join me in listening and learning.


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