For #amplifymelanatedvoices, my top five works and people that have shaped how I understand race in America (and every single one of them is shorter than a book and available for free on the internet):
1. “The Case for Reparations,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates’s 2014 cover story for The Atlantic is a masterpiece, illustrating how 250 years of slavery was compounded by 90 years of jim crow, 60 years of segregation, and 35 years of racist housing policies to bring about the racial disparities we currently see in socioeconomic status, educational attainment, health outcomes, and more. Coates is an infuriatingly good writer and his powers are on full display here: He’s a masterful storyteller and a meticulous reporter, at once blowing your mind and breaking your heart. Should be required reading for every American.
2. Roxane Gay is one of my favorite essayists. Her writing is incisive and penetratingly clear, and she tackles complicated, intersecting questions about race, politics, feminism, and sexuality with nuance and clarity. You can find her work in the New York Times, where she’s an opinion writer; Gay, her magazine on Medium; and – if you’re up for a book – Bad Feminist, her best-selling collection of essays that was bona-fide life-changing for me.
3. Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer, law professor, and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (an organization you should be donating to), where he and his team represent innocent death row inmates in the South. Desmond Tutu has called him America’s Nelson Mandela, and the analogy is not hyperbolic. I’ve learned more from him about the ways in which the criminal justice system is stacked against black and brown defendants than anyone else. Stevenson is known for his best-selling book Just Mercy, but if you like articles, his 2016 New Yorker profile is excellent; if you like videos, his 2012 TED Talk is legendary; and if you like podcasts, his interviews on Fresh Air and Alec Baldwin’s Here’s the Thing legit changed my life.
4. 13TH, directed by Ava DuVernay. Speaking of the criminal justice system, DuVernay’s 2016 documentary illustrates how a loophole in the 13th amendment incentivized the incarceration of black people in the united states. it is meticulous, unassailable, and infuriating – not just because it meticulously outlines the hundreds of years of systemically criminalizing blackness that our government has done, but because our schools teach almost none of it. The Peabody- and Emmy-award winning documentary is available to stream on Netflix.
5. Another Round, hosted by Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu. This is my favorite podcast of all time. It ran from 2015-2017 (and will hopefully return again), and it was just two black writers, then at BuzzFeed, doing segments on whatever they wanted: politics, culture, interviews with writers and actors and athletes of color, professional advice, Tracy’s bad jokes. Getting to listen in on conversations between two black women taught me more about their everyday experiences than I could have learned anywhere else, and the fact that Clayton and Nigatu are hilarious and smart and deeply fond of each other made the podcast an utter joy. And two people of color hosting a podcast that was about whatever the fuck they wanted – and not just People of Color Issues, though they brought their lenses and experiences to whatever they were discussing – was revolutionary and inspiring for me. You can find this wherever you get your podcasts.
Happy to discuss further or offer more recommendations!