Taking action for Racial Justice: Resources, Ideas, People-to-Follow
I’ve been grappling, again, with what to do with the feelings of anger, anguish, helplessness, grief, fear, and despair after the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, which are just the most recent and most publicized lives lost to a systemically and systematically racist, unequal society.
As a first step, I decided to do the following:
- Take stock of where I’ve been: Create a List of What I’ve Read and Done
- Synthesize What I’ve Learned
- Consider How to Do Better: Compare What I’ve Done with Recommendations — e.g. 75 Things White People Can Do — and outline strategic next steps for getting involved.
I’m *not* saying these are the best things to have read or done, just what is true for me so far. I created this for myself to take stock, and I offer it now in case it’s helpful for others who may be asking, “where do I start?”
This is a work in progress: it’s in no way meant to be a definitive list, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. I will update as people send recommendations of organizations, books, podcasts, people — please send, comment, etc.
1. WHERE I’VE BEEN
A. Educating Myself on the History of Systemic Injustice & Different Perspectives (a selected list of mind-blowing favorites I’ve already read and highly recommend)
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness — Michelle Alexander (link to pdf)
- Just Mercy — Bryan Stevenson
- Between the World & Me — Ta-Nehisi Coates
- How to Be AntiRacist — Ibram X. Kendi
- Pedagogy of the Oppressed — Paulo Freire
- We Make the Road by Walking — Paulo Freire & Myles Horton
- Beyond the Messy Truth — Van Jones
- White Fragility — Robin DeAngelo
- Beloved — Toni Morrison
- Hillbilly Elegy — J.D. Vance.
- Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination — Robin D.G. Kelly
- All About Love — Bell Hooks
- Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us & What We Can Do — Claude Steele
- We Should All Be Feminists — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Critical Race Theory — Crenshaw, Gotanda, Peller, and Thomas (Eds)
- Becoming — Michelle Obama
- Tattoos on the Heart — Gregory Boyle
- Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life — Annette Lareau
- Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity & Sexuality in High School — C.J. Pascoe
- The Source of the River:The Social Origins of Freshmen at America’s Selective Colleges and Universities — Massey, Charles, Lundy, and Fischer
- Ain’t No Makin’ It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood — Jay McCleod
- Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood — Trevor Noah
- The Massacre at El Mozote — Mark Danner
- Savage Inequalities — Jonathan Kozol
- Education and Equality — Danielle Allen
B. Educating Myself on Broader Issues of Power and History and Society and the Brain — i.e. how people and societies work (selected list of favorites)
- Why We’re Polarized — Ezra Klein
- The Price of Inequality — Joseph E. Stiglitz
- Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty — Acemoglu & Robinson
- Seeing Like a State — James C. Scott
- The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics & Religion — Jonathan Haidt
- Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow — Daniel Kahneman
- The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger — Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett
- Why We Do What We Do: Deci
- The Communist Manifesto — Karl Marx
- The Wealth of Nations — Adam Smith
- The Social Contract — Jean Jacques Rousseau
C. Following Social Justice Leaders, Seeing them Speak, Listening to their Interviews
- Michelle Alexander : TEDX: The Future of Race in America; The Spirit of Justice (with Michael Bennett)
- Bryan Stevenson (Equal Justice Initiative @eji_org); TED: We Need to Talk about an Injustice; Just Mercy; Podcast (Ezra Klein): On Why the Opposite of Poverty isn’t Wealth; Podcast (Oprah): The Power of Mercy & Forgiveness; Podcast (Yale): Slavery and Its Legacies; Podcast (Aspen): Confronting History
- Danielle Allen (@dsallentess); CSPAN: Our Declaration; Podcast (Ezra Klein): An Inspiring Conversation about Democracy
- Nadine Burke Harris (@drburkeharris); TED: How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime
- Michael Bennett (@mosesbread72); The Spirit of Justice (with Michelle Alexander)
- Van Jones (@VanJones68); SXSW: The Messy Truth; TED: The Economic Injustice of Plastic
- Ta-Nehisi Coates; The Atlantic: In Conversation
- Nikole Hannah Jones (@nhannahjones); 1619 Initiative
- Zaki Smith (@zakithebarber); #endperpetualpunishment
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC)
- Representative John Lewis (@repjohnlewis)
D. Other things I “do”…
- Run a monthly book club for REENVISIONED focused on education, equality, and democracy.
- Meet every two to three weeks with a small group of friends about how to put ideas into action toward creating an antiracist society — we discuss ideas, set commitments about actions, and hold each other accountable.
- Participate in events like Showing Up for Racial Justice, #EndPerpetualPunishment
- Talk with my family and other friends about racism, inequality, global injustice
- Donated to AntiRacist organizations like Southern Poverty Law Center, Equal Justice Initiative, Black Lives Matter, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Minnesota Freedom Fund
- Committed my career to building a more just, equitable society through schooling organized for equity, human flourishing and democracy.
2. WHAT I’VE LEARNED
- I’m not doing enough. At least not in the ways that use power to leverage material change. I’ve learned a lot, but what I have not yet learned how to do is take action in ways that use power to change outcomes, particularly at a systems level. As someone who has benefitted from my identity privilege and luck of birth in so many ways (white, cis-gendered female, non-disabled, American, Minnesotan, middle class, family who loves and supports me), and who also believes that my liberation is bound with our collective liberation, I have not found the right ways, or done enough, to get powerfully involved yet.
- The problem is policies, not people. People are people are people. When life outcomes of any kind can be highly correlated with race, ethnicity, or religion, the issue lies in unjust policies, not those individuals. This is not to say we don’t have agency, just that we are shaped personally (and the options or possibilities available to us are shaped even more profoundly) by the social and political contexts in which we are embedded. There may be individual people who are lazy, disingenuous, poorly intentioned, or even evil — but that is true regardless of skin color, religion, nationality, or political affiliation. Most people are just people, trying to do the best they can — and highly influenced, whether they know it or not, by the policies and systems that surround them. This means we shouldn’t be acting to “fix” people, rather fix the systems they’re in.
- Racist and Anti-Racist are not fixed identities. We all think and do racist things, no matter our skin color. Ibram X. Kendi speaks to this beautifully in How to Be Anti-Racist. We are quick to label people, and this leads to shame, which is a barrier to transformation, not a catalyst for it (shout out Brene Brown). As Bryan Stevenson asserts, we are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. We can all examine ourselves, our actions, our words, and learn to be more compassionate, more antiracist, daily.
- Our racial tension is not accidental, it is actively maintained. There are those who benefit greatly — financially and politically — by keeping white people and people of color suspicious of one another and feeding the flames of tension. We should be skeptical about any attempts to paint an entire group — whether white, black, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, American, Mexican — as having particular characteristics. As Kendi says, “the problem of race has always been at its core the problem of power, not the problem of immorality or ignorance.” Or, as Coates says, “race is the child of racism, not the father” — since the beginning of humans those in power have invented differences between groups and used it to keep power. The reasons have included nationality, ethnicity, religion, skin color, and more. Every time poor white and black leaders have come together in America, there’s been a concerted effort by some in power to undermine it, to fuel poor white racism, and keep the poor from working together across racial lines to challenge the status quo.
- #AdultHumansaretheRealProblem — No “ism” or “ocracy” will save us from ourselves. In fact, there is no one “capitalism” “socialism” or “democracy” or “communism”. Each is debated in theory, and altered in practice in ways that make them unrecognizable from theory or from one another. Systems are constantly evolving and as soon as institutions are established, people will be devising ways to use them to their own advantage. Humans are driven by multiple motivations, and we always have to acknowledge that, whether intentional or not, there has never been a system that does not oppress or discriminate. Which is why we have to establish visions, principles, and values we share, and evaluate our systems and policies around those, not around an ideology or ism. The devil is in us, and the details. So is the hope.
3. WHERE I’M GOING
- Choosing three new things to do each week from 75 Things
A. Educating Myself on How to Take Action Locally
I realized I know embarrassingly little about how local decisions are made.
I’m finding out who represents me, following them, and starting to learn about local government:
- My Reps Resource — this told me every single person who represents me, based on my address.
- Haas Center ‘How to Influence Your Local Government’ workshop docs/video
- Committing to a first step of finding out where/when to attend next local city council meeting and where/when to attend the next local school board meeting
B. Continuing to learn: “Up Next”
(books/films I’ve *already* purchased)
- Where Do We Go From Here? — Martin Luther King, jr.
- Things that Make White People Uncomfortable — Michael Bennett
- Capital in the 21st Century — Thomas Piketty
- Race in Minnesota: A Good Time for the Truth — Sun Yung Shin
- My Grandmother’s Hands — Resmaa Menakem
- Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom — Condoleeza Rice
- Stamped from the Beginning — Ibram X. Kendi
- Evicted — Matthew Desmond
- 13th — Netflix
- Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board — Danielle Allen
- Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in defense of Equality — Danielle Allen
- Indigenous Healing Psychology — Richard Katz
Added Bonus: RECOMMENDATIONS FROM OTHERS (Thank you! Please comment or message me more that should be added)
(likely to be done/read/watched/purchased/checked out from the library soon)
- Anti-Racism Resources for White People
- Working for Social Justice — Barbara Love
- How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America — Manning Marable
- White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son — Tim Wise
- Capital and Ideology — Thomas Piketty