Resources on Race and Racism

Below is an ongoing list of resources for anyone interested in learning more about race, systemic racism, white supremacy, and racial justice. They are a combination of short online articles, videos, comprehensive websites, scholarly books, and more. Also see the list of links to Blogs, Magazines, and Podcasts on the side.

1. Race is not biological but rather a social construct. We hear almost every day that race is somehow innate, inherent, or natural. In other words, we’re often taught to believe that race is biological, but this is a dangerous myth that has been dispelled countless times. However, despite this work, the myth persists. These sources refute the myth that race is biological and explain what it means when we say there is no biological basis to race:

  •  Textbook Race: Are We So Different?, edited by Alan H. Goodman, Yolanda T. Moses, and Joseph L. Jones (and supported by the American Anthropological Association). I use this textbook for “Race in American Literature and Popular Culture,” an interdisciplinary course I designed at Raritan Valley Community College in NJ, and I found the textbook to be extremely effective. Its website (www.understandingrace.org), is also very helpful. The textbook is associated with a traveling exhibit of the same name, which I saw several years ago at the Liberty Science Center in NJ and strongly recommend.
  • PBS documentary: Race: The Power of an Illusion and corresponding website. While all three one-hour episodes are very insightful, the first is especially helpful as an introduction; my students respond to it very well. The film is currently available here: http://newsreel.org/video/race-the-power-of-an-illusion
  • “Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Race” (from Race: The Power of an Illusion)
  • What Scientists Mean When They Say ‘Race’ Is Not Genetic
  • Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First Century by Dorothy Roberts
  • Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History, edited by Keith Wailoo, Alondra Nelson, and Catherine Lee
  • Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture, edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Kathleen Sloan
  • The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference by Ann Morning
  • The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea by Robert Wald Sussman
  • Race in a Bottle: The Story of BiDil and Racialized Medicine in a Post-Genomic Age by Jonathan Kahn
  • The Race Myth: Why We Pretend Race Exists in America by Joseph Graves (see related article by author here)
  • Race?: Debunking a Scientific Myth by Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle

2. Race was invented at a specific moment in history. If race is not biological, then it must be something we created or invented, a social construct. If race is a social construct, why was it created? When? By whom? I’m especially interested in how race (including whiteness) was invented, at least in part, as a divide and conquer strategy to break up coalitions between European and African laborers. This developed especially in colonial Virginia in the mid to late 1600s (as in Bacon’s Rebellion). As many scholars have noted, with the invention of race, whiteness became associated with freedom and blackness with slavery. With the creation of a racial hierarchy, whiteness was positioned at the top, imbued with advantages, privileges, and a full sense of humanity. The sources below don’t all necessarily agree with each other on every detail, but they collectively provide an insightful understanding of this history. Shorter sources are listed first:

3. White people need to understand and recognize white supremacy in order to dismantle it. It can be very difficult for white people to think about and talk about how white supremacy (a racial hierarchy with white at the top) is at the heart of systemic racism, whether we’re looking at at colonial America or the present. Here are some sources that help address the challenge of confronting white supremacy:

4. Systemic racist persists. Just because race is a social construct doesn’t mean that racism isn’t very real. There are numerous sources that reveal the persistence of structural, institutional racism:

5. Systemic racism persists through mass incarceration. Please note I have a separate tab of Resources above related to the “new Jim Crow,” with a link below to information about this important book:

6. Focusing on economic inequality alone does not explain racial inequality. 

7. Race isn’t just black and white.

8. Intersectionality is extremely important because we can’t talk about race in isolation, as if it’s separate from gender, sexual orientation, class, etc. Doing so usually defaults to normative identities as this classic text on the issue shows in its title: All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies. In addition to the foundational work by Kimberlé Crenshaw, here are some additional sources to help explain the importance of intersectionality:

9. Take action! (Also see the list of links to Social Justice Organizations on the side – many have action plans.)

10. Many activists, scholars, and organizations have put together recommended reading lists.

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