books equality race

Four books about race

As I’ve been researching climate and race over the last couple of years, I’ve read a lot about both topics. As this is a sustainability blog, I’ve reviewed the climate books and not the race ones. Since there’s a lot of interest in the topic at the moment and some of those books are currently bestsellers, I thought I’d pass on a handful of recommendations.

How to be An Anti-Racist, by Ibram X Kendi
Kendi argues that there is no neutral ground when it comes to racism – no option to be simply ‘not racist’. In an unjust system you are either perpetuating the system or working to fix it. The book explains how racism works across many different aspects of society, using the author’s own experiences as jumping off points – including his own racist opinions that he has learned about and worked to redress. It’s imaginative and full of insights I haven’t found elsewhere. In particular, Kendi draws attention to the way that racist ideas support the powerful. If you want to really change things, work to change racist policy. If you want to be part of the solution, this is a deeply thought provoking and useful book and it’s my top recommendation.

White Fragility, by Robin Diangelo
Written by a white race educator for the benefit of white readers, Diangelo draws on years of hosting conversations about race in workplaces and organisations. The ‘fragility’ refers to the way that white people take offence easily, because talk of race is so often understood as personal moral failure rather than systemic privilege. “The way we are taught to define racism makes it virtually impossible for white people to understand it” says Diangelo. Readers with a bee in their bonnet about political correctness will not get on with White Fragility. I disagree with a lot of it myself, and it gets bogged down in policing personal behaviour rather than addressing systemic issues. Still, I’m including it because it effectively highlights some of the ways that race conversations go astray – just don’t make it the only book you read on the subject.

Between the World And Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Echoing Baldwin’s famous The Fire Next Time and taking the form of three extended essays addressed to his teenage son, Coates writes about navigating modern America in a black body – how people like him have to take extra care, steer clear of the police, and stay alert to how they are being perceived and how their behaviour is being interpreted. It touches on politics, violence, history, education and much else besides, shining a light on fears and stresses that are unknown to me and revealing a very different experience of the world. Some readers might prefer more focused argument, but I’m an admirer of Coates’ extempore style, and I find his words poetic and visceral and moving.

Why I am no Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo Lodge
British readers will probably be aware of this book, which has been a number one bestseller this year, three years after its release. It’s a polemic, no doubt about that – a blast of frustration at the state of race conversation, the denial of Britain’s past and current racism, and the inability of white people to not make it all about them. A lot of books on race are written by Americans, but race is so much more charged in America that it’s easy for casual observers (or Cabinet members, for that matter) to compare the US and Britain and conclude that the UK is not a racist country. Eddo-Lodge’s book looks specifically at black British experiences, explaining the history and the current situation, and why it is different but by no means resolved.

Those are four books on race that I’ve found useful. I’d love to be able to recommend something that connects race and the environment, but most of what I’ve read in that department is either academic (Robert Bullard, Dorceta Taylor) or about specific situations (Standing Rock, Hurricane Katrina). If you’ve got any recommendations, on race and the environment or on race generally, please do share them in the comments.


  1. You might also consider Angela Saini’s book Superior the return of race science which is on my list to read.

  2. DiAngelo’s book isn’t only badly written but also deeply counter productive. As Matt Taibbi wrote, “DiAngelo isn’t the first person to make a buck pushing tricked-up pseudo-intellectual horseshit as corporate wisdom, but she might be the first to do it selling Hitlerian race theory. “

    Jason Riley’s “Please Stop Helping Us” is good

    1. I don’t know who Matt Taibbi is, but he ought to think long and hard about calling anything ‘Hitlerian’.

      White Fragility isn’t a great book. It’s far too interested in the inter-personal and not enough in the systemic. I disagree with quite a lot in it, including the idea that black people can’t be racist – something Ibram Kendi would have little time for. Where I found it useful is in its descriptions of how and why conversations about race are derailed. They become about white people estabilishing that they are not racist, rather than dealing with the issue itself. The lists of common responses are particularly interesting.

      Jason Riley gets a couple of mentions in Kendi’s book as evidence that black people can reinforce and pass on racist ideas and policies.

      1. One white guy telling another white guy that a Black guy isn’t Black enough. Really?

        These are the knots that listening to Critical Race Theory devotees gets you into.

        The circular thinking of DiAngelo is poor even for them. You white people are racist and either you agree, which shows it’s true, you don’t which means you are showing ’white fragility’ which proves you are racist. No one with an ounce of reasoning skills should promote it.

        1. You’ve really got a thing about this, haven’t you? I wouldn’t ever say someone isn’t black enough, that’s a bizarre thing to say and those are your words, not mine. And I’ve recommended four books with considerable diversity and even disagreement between them, so don’t lecture me about who I listen to.

          1. 2 comments is ‘a thing’ is it? I guess if you say so.

            My concerns is that perhaps inadvertently modern anti-racists end up sounding like white suprematists. It’s divisive and damages relations. A quick video to show my point.

  3. Number of comments is not the issue, but the use of Hitler and the idea that anyone with an ‘ounce of reasoning’ would see straight through it. But then you send me a YouTube video with a comedy caricature of anti-racism to make your point.

    These are all intelligent books by intelligent people. You don’t have to read them or agree with them, but don’t ridicule what you won’t take the time to understand.

    1. Back on your high horse with a side order of patronising condescension I see. When in doubt patronise. Perhaps you should check your feet for clay first?

      Despite your implication I am intelligent. I do understand these books. I just happen not to agree with some of them. In fact I believe some of them to be downright dangerous to a civil society. Taking a serious topic and forcing a destructive ideological view as the only acceptable way to address it (as certainly Kendi and DiAngelo do) is going to harm those you claim to wish to help.

      I do know that given the total lack of the warm humanity of humour associated with this moment, a lack shared by Green miserablism, that laughter and ridicule is the best antidote.

      If you think progress is going to be achieved by saying the same things as white supremacists and forcing everyone to have ‘difficult conversations’ (struggle sessions) is going to win good change them you are stuck in your bubble. But at least you can keep telling yourself that you are the better person.

      1. I don’t doubt your intelligence – I said the books were intelligent, and so the unintelligent anti-racist caricature in the video doesn’t remotely reflect what I’m talking about. And can you read your own comments back before you call me patronising? What kind of implication lies behind “No one with an ounce of reasoning skills should promote it.”?

        You say you understand these books, but what you’re railing against is a straw man version of ‘woke’ culture. I don’t use that term, I don’t know what a struggle session is, and a lot of the Twitter shaming and nitpicking that is associated with that culture is – as you say – really counterproductive. But I’m not part of that. This post isn’t doing that. These books are not part of that, with the possible exception of Diangelo’s book in occasional moments.

        You seem to think you know what Kendi is saying and that’s it’s a destructive ideology, but you clearly haven’t read it. If you had, you would know that the whole book is rooted in Kendi’s own racism as a black man – towards whites and towards other blacks. So don’t write it off or assume you know what it says if you haven’t read it.

        As is often the case on the internet, all the noise comes from the shallow end, but that’s not where the adults are.

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