Antiracist works to broaden your perspective
World-revered civil rights activist Angela Davis once said, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.” We've been seeing that exact sentiment play out most recently with protests that sprang up worldwide over the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a white police officer. Floyd's death touched off a movement that rivals even the storied protests of the civil rights movement and Vietnam War. Today's rallying cry—that Black Lives Matter—is by design meant to do more than absorb everyone under the same "All Lives Matter" mantel and to instead actively work on shining a light on those whose lives have historically been diminished and deemed as less important simply because of the color of their skin.
From a young age, children learn about slavery in school classrooms. But many curriculums stop short of giving young people a complete picture of the institutional racism American economy and culture was built on—let alone the vivid horrors of what slavery (and subsequent sharecropping, Jim Crow Laws, segregation, and so forth) was actually like for the people who lived through it. Over the decades and centuries, there have been various movements to abolish this institution, from the Civil War to the civil rights movement. However, we are still grappling as a country with issues of race. Without a structural understanding of what racism is, who it benefits, and how it plays a role in our lives, it would be impossible to make relevant changes for all people. Good intentions and goodwill fall short of exposing us to our blind spots and helping to actually deconstruct institutionalized racism in all its forms.
To that end, Stacker has compiled a list of antiracist works to not only broaden your perspective but to enrich the way you think about race. To create the list, we sought works that give conceptual and historical understandings of various forms of racism (i.e. interpersonal, medical, systemic, etc.). We also provided works such as memoirs and poetry which give insight to the lives of those impacted by racism. Our list of antiracist works includes films, books, digital classrooms, podcasts, and even poetry. The subjects of the works vary from LQBTQ+ films made in the 1960s to medical histories of racist experimentation. The work in this list was not only produced by Black Americans, but also white scholars, historians, and writers who have had to grapple with conclusions about their own perceived roles in the world. We further explore commentary from outside sources regarding how these works were received.
Many of the works in this list conclude that we do not live in a post-racial world—and many Americans who live with everyday reminders of their race would say the same. Keep reading to broaden your perspectives on racism.
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Book: ‘How to Be an Antiracist’
“‘How to Be an Antiracist” is a New York Times bestseller by acclaimed writer Ibram X. Kendi. Focusing on his own previously held racist beliefs combined with history, science, and law, Kendi writes a guide on modern race relations. In a conversation with the New York Times, Kendi said, “I did not realize that to say something is inferior about a racial group is to say a racist idea. I thought I was serving my people, when in fact I was serving up racist ideas about my people to my people.” The book pushes readers to look past intent and enhance their awareness in order to foster true equality.
Documentary: ‘The Rape of Recy Taylor’
This 2017 film tells the story of Recy Taylor, a Black woman who was kidnapped by six white men while on her way home from church and brutally raped. The remarkable young mother and wife sought justice despite the Jim Crow South era she was living in, which forced her to endure additional abuse. The film highlights the recent history of racism toward Black women and features scholarly commentary, as well as Taylor’s firsthand account.
Book: ‘White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism’
In the New York Times bestseller “White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism,” sociologist Robin DiAngelo describes the factors that restrict white people from having conversations about race, including their inhabiting a space that allows systemic, cultural, and social protection from racial stress. DiAngelo writes, “White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.” The book explores how cross-racial conversations are not bred from “good intentions” alone.
Book: ‘Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism’
How can numbers reinforce human emotions or prejudice? In “Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism” Safiya Umoja Noble proves how racism is embedded into search engines. She describes data discrimination as a social issue in need of attention. Referring to the proliferation of negative Black and Latino stereotypes, Noble said on the Slate podcast "If Then" that most of the affected communities could not compete with the big money of advertising companies, economically exacerbating the problem.
Documentary: ‘The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson’
Icon Marsha P. Johnson was a self-identified drag queen, gay rights activist, and AIDS activist. “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson” celebrates her life and work and also investigates the suspicious circumstances of her death. The film pays fitting tribute to her work and vibrant character, winning the Kaleidoscope LGBT Festival Best Documentary Feature in the process, among other accolades.
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Book: ‘Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools’
At a time in history when black girls are becoming increasingly criminalized, “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools” seeks to illuminate the way schools and institutions misunderstand and control Black girls. Author Monique Morris explained in the Atlantic that “Black girls describe being labeled and suspended for being ‘disruptive’ or ‘defiant’ if they ask questions or otherwise engage in activities that adults consider affronts to their authority.”
“Selma” depicts the true, historic events that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, notably African Americans organizing marches to nonviolently protest the unfair practices they faced when seeking to vote. The marches inevitably drew violence from white opposition, culminating in the notorious “Bloody Sunday” attack that was televised and spread throughout the U.S. and world.
Poetry: ‘We Inherit What the Fires Left: Poems’
William Evans’ “We Inherit What the Fires Left: Poems” explores the personal experience of a Black man raising his daughter in white spaces, detailing the generational trials and desires of Black suburban life. Evans is an award-winning poet and co-founder of the website Black Nerd Problems.
Book: ‘White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide’
In 2014, in the midst of heightened racial tensions in Ferguson, Missouri, and throughout the United States, historian Carol Anderson wrote in an Washington Post op-ed "It will be easy to think of it as yet one more episode of black rage ignited by yet another police killing of an unarmed African American male. But that has it precisely backward. What we’ve actually seen is the latest outbreak of white rage. Sure, it is cloaked in the niceties of law and order, but it is rage nonetheless.” Anderson expanded her ideas into the multiple-award-winning, New York Times bestseller “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide,” which outlines the history of white rage from the end of slavery to the modern day.
Film: ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is a film adaption of the #1 New York Times bestselling book about a Black woman who was exploited in her illness and long after her death. Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cancer, and when her doctors took her cells without consent and discovered that they could live and grow without end, millions of dollars were generated—unbeknownst to Lacks and her family.There is some controversy surrounding the film, as some of her relatives were in disagreement regarding the facts around various matters.
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Podcast: ‘Yo, Is This Racist?’
“Yo, Is This Racist?” is a podcast hosted by Andrew Ti and Tawny Newsome based on Ti’s blog of the same name. Ti and Newsome invite guests to answer fan-submitted questions via voicemails and emails on whether various things are racist.
Book, film: ‘12 Years a Slave’
The book and film “12 Years a Slave” tells the true, remarkable firsthand account of Solomon Northup, a free Black man kidnapped and sold into slavery. In the entrancing memoir he states, “It is not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives. He cannot withstand the influence of habit and associations that surround him. Taught from earliest childhood, by all that he sees and hears, that the rod is for the slave's back, he will not be apt to change his opinions in maturer years.” The 2013 film won the Academy Award for Best Picture, in addition to multiple other awards.
Book: ‘Chokehold: Policing Black Men’
Former prosecutor Paul Butler demonstrates how the U.S. criminal justice system controls Black men in “Chokehold: Policing Black Men." A Washington Post Notable Book and NAACP Image Award (Outstanding Literary Work) Nominee, the book uses extensive research to conclude that most violent crime in the U.S. is committed by white men. The New York Times Book Review called it, “The most readable and provocative account of the consequences of the war on drugs since Michelle Alexander’s ‘The New Jim Crow.’”
Book: ‘They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South’
In Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers’ “They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South,” the hidden history of white women as active participants in this racist institution is uncovered, showing how white women were able to find legal loopholes such as suing their husband or maintaining an inheritance in order to ensure their dominance over slaves. Jones-Rogers said in an interview with The Washington Post, “Formerly enslaved people talk very much about mistresses that were very much masters… not only were white women capable of exercising mastery over them...they also were in some cases the only individuals who exercised mastery over them.”
Poem: ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’
“Citizen: An American Lyric” is a book-length poem that explores racism through everyday occurrences both large and small. The eloquently written work won the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism, NAACP Image Award, L.A. Times Book Prize, and the PEN Open Book Award.
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Film: ‘Malcolm X’
“Malcolm X” is Spike Lee’s highly acclaimed biopic of the storied activist’s life. Focusing on key moments in his complex, volatile life, the film portrays Malcolm’s coming of age and ascendance in the civil rights movement through his assasination. The 1992 film was nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes, also winning multiple NAACP awards.
Book: ‘Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II’
“Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II” is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historical account of the “Neoslavery” period following the end of the civil war. In this nonfiction work, Douglas A. Blackmon uses both narrative and primary sources to outline the ways in which slavery never ended.
Documentary: ‘LA ‘92’
While there is decades of evidence demonstrating the racial inequality of the American police, digital technology made it possible to demonstrate just how violent the brutality was. This was the case for Rodney King, a Black man in Los Angeles who was severely beaten by the LAPD while a civilian recorded the incident on his camcorder. The ensuing trial and verdict led to intense protests referred to as the Los Angeles riots. “LA ’92” uses images of the 1965 riots in the neighborhood of Watts to support the argument that racial tensions were always volatile in LA.
Documentary: ‘Difficult Love’
“Difficult Love” is a 2010 documentary by Zanele Muholi and Peter Goldsmid about the challenges Muholi faces being a Black lesbian in a highly racist country. The film places the work of this “visual activist” within the context of the LGBTQ+ community in South Africa.
Book: ‘Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present’
This award-winning work of nonfiction unveils the extensive history of experimentation on Black bodies from colonialism through to the ongoing development of Western medicine. Seeking to elaborate on disparities in African-American health, Harriet A. Washington takes years of research to shed light on the racist experimental foundations of healthcare. “Medical Apartheid” won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Oakland Award, the BCALA Nonfiction Award, and the Gustavus Meyers Award.
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Ava DuVernay’s 2016 film “13th” details the journey from slavery to overincarceration of African-Americans. Slavery did not end with the 13th amendment—in fact, the language of the amendment has a clause for the continuation of slavery. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime.” EDITOR’S NOTE: This slide seems unfinished and doesn’t clarify what the book specifically says about its subject.
Book: ‘How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America’
“How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America” details the stunning coming-of-age story of Kiese Laymon in Mississippi, a place with an ongoing, harrowing history of racism. Laymon had infamously been kicked out of university for arguing with the school’s administration on race, and this reputation for controversy has transferred over to his writing career. Prior to publishing his second book, he had stopped working with an editor who, as Laymon told NPR, complained that “the racial politics in this is too explicit.“ Luckily, Raymond was able to find an editor who didn’t water down his experience or erase his powerful voice.
Book: ‘Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty’
Published in 1997, “Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty” shares the dark history of Black women’s reproductive rights and health. Acclaimed nonfiction writer Dorothy Roberts outlines the systemic abuses enacted on the bodies of Black women. She further elaborates on how Black women's issues were discarded throughout important shifts in the fight for equality.
Kathryn Bigelow’s 2017 drama “Detroit” follows the story of the city’s historic riot of 1967, during which a task force killed three civilians at the Algiers Motel. After being called to the motel, officers shot out the windows, entered the hotel, and abused 10 teenagers. Two of the teens were white women who were stripped and further abused. The film was given the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Independent Motion Picture.
Book: ‘The Ways of White Folks: Stories’
Relations between Black and white people are told humorously in this collection of short stories. “The Ways of White Folks: Stories” was written by Harlem Renaissance legend and acclaimed poet Langston Hughes in 1934. Hughes is also considered a queer figure of that era, though he never formally came out.
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Miniseries: ‘When They See Us’
Ava DeVernay’s “When They See Us” sheds a light on the gross mismanagement of justice that took place against the Exonerated Five (previously known as the Central Park Five) during 1989’s Central Park Jogger case, one of the most notorious criminal cases in New York’s history. Under pressure to find the assailants of a woman found in critical condition after being attacked and raped, the NYPD picked up five young boys and wrongfully convicted them, exploiting racial biases to paint them as guilty.
Documentary ‘Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City’
“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” follows the personal story of eight Milwaukee families who struggle with poverty and homelessness. In the 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Matthew Desmond pairs years of research with personal stories to paint the harrowing image of poverty in the United States. In addition to giving readers an in-depth view of economic exploitation, Desmond also describes the hope that persists among its victims.
Book, film: ‘The Hate U Give’
“The Hate U Give” (or T.H.U.G.) is a novel and film about a teenage girl who witnesses the wrongful death of her best friend by police. The New York Times bestselling debut by Angie Thomas explores the polar experiences of living in a poor Black neighborhood while also sustaining the pressure of going to a school in a white neighborhood. The film won multiple awards from the NAACP, the MTV Movie & TV Award for Best Performance in a Movie, and BET Award for Best Movie, among others.
Audio project: ‘1619’
“1619” is the ongoing, Pulitzer Prize-winning audio project from the New York Times about the history of slavery and its modern-day implications, one which inspired schools to change curriculum in Chicago, Washington D.C., and parts of New York. Led by Nikole Hannah-Jones, the series faced serious opposition from some white historians. While history is often taught from the eyes of the oppressor, The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer counters, “Viewed from the perspective of those historically denied the rights enumerated in America’s founding documents, the story of the country’s great men necessarily looks very different.”
Film: ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’
“If Beale Street Could Talk” is a 2018 Barry Jenkins film based on a novel by James Baldwin. Set in the 1970s, the movie follows a woman whose partner is wrongfully convicted of a crime. Learning that she is pregnant, the protagonist seeks the support of her family in proving her partner’s innocence. The film was nominated for various awards, including Best Motion Picture (Drama) at the Golden Globes, and won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, in addition to countless other accolades.
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Book: ‘Are Prisons Obsolete?’
Revered civil rights activist Angela Davis makes the argument for the abolition of prisons in “Are Prisons Obsolete?” Davis challenges readers to look at the prison industry a means for control, discrimination, and capitalist exploitation. Davis puts forth convincing arguments that the idea of abolishing prisons is not mere fantasy but feasible and necessary.
Documentary: ‘Fists of Freedom: The '68 Summer Games’
Protests in sports are not new. “Fists of Freedom: The '68 Summer Games” is a documentary about one of the most memorable and important moments in sports: Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ Black Power salute during the 1968 Summer Olympics. The documentary explores the story and controversy behind this iconic moment in American history.
NPR’s podcast “Throughline” takes a deeper look at human history. Episodes such as “Why 2020 Isn't Quite 1968” and “A Race To Know” hold important conversations regarding issues of racism, humanity, and other sectors of culture.
Poetry: ‘Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry’
"Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry” is a collection of work by Essex Hemphill which explores various aspects of the LGBTQ+ community, exploring the intersection of gender, sexuality, identity, and race. It also reveals the extent of the devastation caused by AIDS within African-American communities. The book won the 1993 American Library Association's Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Book Award and the Stonewall Book Award-Barbara Gittings Literature Award.
Documentary: ‘Owned: A Tale of Two Americas'
“Owned: A Tale of Two Americas” is a 2018 documentary by Giorgio Angelini which uncovers the history of racism in U.S. housing economies. Homeowning is considered an integral part of the American dream, but many have not been able to participate in this achievement. The film investigates the systems that have made that dream unattainable for a number of the nation’s citizens.
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Book: ‘Men We Reaped: A Memoir’
In “Men We Reaped: A Memoir,” award-winning writer Jesmyn Ward gives a touching account of the parallel experiences of those in poverty in America and those who live comfortably without much thought to basic needs or awareness of racial inequality. After losing her brother and four other friends within five years, Ward’s writing allowed her to grieve and confront difficult questions about what it means to be Black in America.
Documentary: ‘An Outrage: A Documentary Film About Lynching in the American South’
The horrific ritual and lasting influence of lynching is examined in an “An Outrage: A Documentary Film About Lynching in the American South.” Lynchings were often done in public in front of crowds filled with average members of communities, but the brutality involved is often obscured in mainstream accounts. In “An Outrage,” directors Lance Warren and Hannah Brown Ayers demonstrate how recent the history of lynching really is through firsthand accounts from witnesses.
Book: ‘The Invention of the White Race, Volume 1: Racial Oppression and Social Control’
“The Invention of the White Race, Volume 1: Racial Oppression and Social Control” analyzes the creation of a “white” race in order to oppress and maintain superiority. The first of a two-part series, volume 1 draws correlations between Britain's rule over Ireland with the oppresion by white "settler" over Native Americans and African Americans.
Book: ‘When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir’
An instant New York Times bestseller, “When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir” is the poetic story of Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. In her memoir co-written with Asha Bandele, she tells of growing up with a single mother in a poverty-ridden community and how she was led to seek justice and equality for Black people. Her memoir questions and expresses themes of politics, womanhood, and being Black in America.
Documentary series: ‘Time: The Kalief Browder Story’
“Time: The Kalief Browder Story” is a series which tells the unsettling story of Kalief Browder, who at 16 was taken and jailed at Rikers Island for allegedly stealing a backpack, not allowed to post bail, and forced to spend two years in solitary confinement. The film examines the unjust criminal and economic systems which allowed Browder to be subjected to so much abuse. Following his release, Browder became a voice against the unfair practices of the U.S. criminal justice system before committing suicide two years later at the age of 22.
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Documentary: ‘Boss: The Black Experience in Business’
"Boss: The Black Experience in Business” recounts a history of Black enterprise often overlooked next to its whte counterpart. The historical documentary outlines the ideals and triumphs that allowed Black communities to contribute to the nation's economy. One thing to note: One of the interviewees, Essence CEO Richelieu Dennis, resigned after the making of the amid allegations of an unethical workplace.
Book: ‘White Negroes: When Cornrows Were in Vogue ... and Other Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation’
This study takes on the subject of cultural appropriation, particularly how white people plagiarize and profit from Black, Indigenous, and other cultures of color—from the Kardashian-Jenners to Miley Cyrus. In an interview with Vox, author Lauren Michele Jackson states, “Increasingly there’s this repeated story in our country where actually a whole lot of people don’t get to profit off of the creative insights that they have. That is totally racially structured. That is totally class-structured.”
Film: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’
“I Am Not Your Negro” is the award-winning, Oscar-nominated film based on the unfinished manuscript by writer James Baldwin, “Remember This House.” Samuel L. Jackson’s narration of the manuscript and other writings by Baldwin connects the history and modern-day issues of Black lives in America—though it leaves out Baldwin’s sexuality, which was a key aspect of his identity. Nevertheless, “I Am Not Your Negro” deftly weaves Baldwin’s predictions and insights with current issues.
Documentary: ‘Black Is, Black Ain't’
Marlon Riggs’ “Black Is, Black Ain’t” is a documentary about homophobia and diversity within the Black community. Winner of the 1995 Sundance Film Festival Filmmaker’s Trophy, the film questions identity, specifically the director’s own, as a gay Black man dying of AIDS.
Digital classroom: ‘The Great Unlearn'
“The Great Unlearn” is a digital classroom curated for white people seeking to learn history, gain empathy, and change their implicit biases. Created by writer and lecturer Rachel Cargle, the self-priced classroom contains lectures, syllabi, and other resources to help end racism. The New York Times wrote,“Example-based learning is a go-to in Ms. Cargle’s lesson plans. She often uses it to help her students develop new skills, like understanding the difference between intention and impact.”
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Poems: ‘Magical Negro’
“Magical Negro” is a collection of poems by highly acclaimed writer Morgan Parker. The poems detail varying experiences of Blackness. Literary Hub, in its glowing review, commented, “From dating white boys to imagining what Diana Ross was thinking in that famous photo where she licks her fingers after eating a pair of ribs, Parker’s second poetry collection runs the gamut. But each poem is written with her signature wry humor and caustic honesty.”
Film: 'Portrait of Jason'
“Portrait of Jason” is the restored 1967 film by Shirley Clarke focusing on a gay Black man, the vibrant Jason Holliday (or Aaron Payne), who speaks of the homophobia, racism, and experiences in his life as a hustler and cabaret personality. NPR reviewer John Powers states, “Clarke's movie gets you thinking about essential issues that most nonfiction naively or cynically ignores.”
Podcast: ‘The United States of Anxiety’
“The United States of Anxiety” is a WNYC Radio podcast described as “a show about the unfinished business of our history and its grip on our future.” When considering the intricacies of racism, many would say fear is the main reason the institution continues to survive. This idea pairs well with the concept behind the podcast, which takes a look at culture, politics, and history and offers commentary to widen listeners’ perspectives.
Podcast: ‘Busy Being Black’
The “Busy Being Black” podcast explores the intersection of queerness and blackness in the form of oral history and discourse. It’s about “learning to thrive at the intersections of their identity.” EDITOR’S NOTE: Can’t find a source for this quote; it might be on the podcast itself. With episodes such as “I Am Not a Stereotype” and “Too Black, Too White,” host Josh Rivers invites guests to share wisdom and experiences on varying topics regarding race.
TV series: ‘Dear White People’
“Dear White People” is a Netflix television series about Black students at an Ivy League University who face the challenges of modern-day race relations. The show was adapted from the Independent Spirit Award-winning film but approaches race in a different way than its earlier incarnation.
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