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.
Feature image by James Eades