Sunday, June 21, 2015

What Can I Do to Help End Racism?

This blog entry is for those who say they are disgusted by this country's treatment of African Americans and want to help do something about it. Their hesitation is that they don't know how they can help.

I believe the first step toward understanding how to become an ally in this struggle African Americans have been engaged in for centuries, is to do your homework and learn more about it

Many people of all colors/ethnic groups/"races" operate on a subconscious acceptance of white supremacy because that is the culture of this country and always has been. To not operate that way, you first have to be aware of how these cultural assumptions play out in daily life. To help create that awareness, I recommend reading/watching a few of the items on the following list of books and DVDs.

Whatever genre you prefer--biography, comedy, documentary, essay, history, film, novel, short story, television--there's something here for you, including material from real life as well as works of imagination. This list is not meant to be exhaustive or comprehensive; it is personal, consisting of items I am familiar with and that I think will be helpful. And since it is personal, I've included my own books. 

(I apologize for this blog program that has a mind of its own regarding spacing, formatting and fonts.)


Bennett, Lerone Jr., Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, Johnson Publishing Co./Penguin Books, 1986. Johnson Publishing Company’s (Ebony and Jet magazines) resident historian teaches us just how long ago Africans were brought to this land. Updated many times, it was originally published in 1961.

Franklin, John Hope and Alfred A. Moss Jr., From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, 6th edition, Knopf, 1988. Now in its 8th edition, considered the definitive history of African Americans. Originally published in 1947.

Giddings, Paula, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America, William Morrow & Co., 1984.

Hine, Darlene Clark and Kathleen Thompson, A Shining Thread of Hope: The History of Black Women in America, Broadway Books, 1998.

McKissack,Patricia and Fredrick, Scholastic books for young readers.

Van Sertima, Ivan, They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America, Random House, 1976.


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, Bantam Books, 1993.
Angelou writes movingly about her childhood with her grandmother in Arkansas.

Days of Grace: A Memoir by Arthur Ashe and Arnold Rampersad, Knopf, 1993. Ashe, a tennis player, wrote about his experiences playing a predominantly white sport.

Ella Baker: Freedom Bound by Joanne Grant, John Wiley & Sons, 1998.
Baker was active in the civil rights movement and founding adviser to Snick, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

The Time and Place That Gave Me Life by Janet Cheatham Bell, Indiana University Press, 2007. The story of an “ordinary” black family in the heartland (Indianapolis) coping with race in their daily lives.

Maggie’s American Dream: The Life and Times of a Black Family by James P. Comer, New American Library, 1988. Comer is a physician and the Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine's Child Study Center.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, Boston Anti-Slavery Office, 1845; Dolphin Books, 1963. A brilliant man tells the story of how he overcame the humiliation and depravity of those who “owned” him.

Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be by Myrlie Evers-Williams with Melinda Blau, Little, Brown & Co., 1999. The widow of Medgar Evers, the assassinated civil rights leader who was murdered in Mississippi in 1963, writes about that experience and her life subsequently.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself by Harriet A. Jacobs, edited by Jean Fagan Yellin, Harvard University Press,1987. An account of what it was like for a woman to be someone else’s property.

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (1878-1946) by Geoffrey C. Ward, Knopf, 2004. The experiences of the first black heavyweight boxing champion; also see the PBS Ken Burns documentary of the same title.

Vernon Can Read: A Memoir by Vernon E. Jordan Jr. with Annette Gordon-Reed, Public Affairs, 2001. The life story of a former president of the National Urban League and adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Born to Rebel: An Autobiography by Benjamin E. Mays, The University of Georgia Press, 1971. The late Dr. Mays was president of Atlanta’s historically black Morehouse College and an adviser to his student, Martin Luther King Jr.

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride, Riverhead Books, 1996. This memoir is a well-written account of what it was like growing up in Brooklyn with his white mom.

Makes Me Wanna Holler: A Young Black Man in America by Nathan McCall, Random House, 1994. A completely different kind of story by a Washington Post reporter who came of age in Portsmouth, Virginia.  

On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker by A'Lelia Bundles, Scribner, 2001. The life of the first female American millionaire who earned rather than inherited her money.

A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, by David W. Blight, Harcourt, 2007. The individual life stories of John Washington and Wallace Turnage who managed to free themselves from bondage.


Campbell, Bebe Moore, Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, Random House, 1993. This captivating story follows the lives of two families, one white, one black after a racist incident. Set in Mississippi in the 1950s.

Ellison, Ralph, Invisible Man, Random House, 1952. Classic, prize-winning novel about the journey of blacks in America.

Faulkner, William, Light in August, Vintage Books, 1991. A classic southern Gothic novel set in Mississippi with quirky characters including Joe Christmas who isn’t sure if he’s black or white. Originally published in 1931.

Hughes, Langston, The Ways of White Folks: Stories, Knopf, 1969. Individual stories about a variety of encounters between blacks and whites. Originally published in 1934.

Jones, Edward P., The Known World, Amistad, 2006. The story of the anomaly of a black man who owned slaves.

Morrison, Toni, The Bluest Eye, Plume, 1994. Morrison’s first novel is a story of how living in an environment where appearance, especially skin color, determines worth, can distort a child’s perception and esteem. Originally published in 1970.

Petry, Ann, The Street, Pyramid Books, 1966. A hard look at  a young black woman struggling to live and raise a son in Harlem in the late 1940s. Originally published 1946.

Tademy, Lalita, Cane River, Grand Central Publishing, 2002. Engrossing story of four generations of French-speaking black women in Louisiana based on the author’s own family.

Walker, Margaret, Jubilee, Bantam, 1966. The author imagines how her family survived in the years after slavery was abolished.

Williams, John A., The Man Who Cried I Am, New American Library, 1967. A novel about a secret assassin who kills every police officer who has killed a black person.


Baldwin, James, The Fire Next Time, Dell Publishing, 1963.

Baldwin, James, Notes of a Native Son, Bantam Books, 1955. 

Baldwin, James, Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son, Dial Press, 1961.

Baraka, Amiri (LeRoi Jones), Blues People: The NegroExperience in White America and the Music that Developed From It, William Morrow & Co., 1968.

Bell, Janet Cheatham, Victory of the Spirit:Reflections on My Journey, Sabayt Publications, 2011.

Bell, Janet Cheatham, Not All Poor People Are Black:and other things we need to think more about, Sabayt Publications, 2015.

Carter, Stephen L., Reflections of an Affirmative ActionBaby, Basic Books, 1991.

Cose, Ellis, The Rage of a Privileged Class, Harper Collins, 1993. A former columnist and writer for Newsweek, on the racism experienced by well-paid professionals.

Edwards, Audrey & Dr. Craig K. Polite, Children of the Dream: The Psychology of Black Success, Doubleday, 1992.

DeGruy, Joy, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, Uptone Press, 2005.

Golden, Marita, Saving Our Sons: Raising Black Children in a Turbulent World, Anchor Books, 1995.

Monroe, Sylvester and Peter Goldman, Brothers: Black and Poor—A True Story of Courage and Survival, William Morrow & Co., 1988.

Muhammad, Khalil Gibran, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, Harvard University Press, 2010.

Ogbu, John U., Minority Education and Caste: The American System in Cross-Cultural Perspective, Academic Press, 1978.

Painter, Nell Irvin, Creating Black Americans: African-American History and Its Meanings 1619 to the Present, Oxford University Press, 2006.

Phelts, Marsha Dean, An American Beach for African Americans, The University Press of Florida, 1997.

Robinson, Randall, The Debt: What America Owes toBlacks, Dutton, 2000.

Walker, Alice, The Way Forward is With a Broken Heart, Random House, 2000.

West, Cornel, Race Matters, Beacon Press, 1993.

Wilkerson, Isabel, The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Vintage Books, 2011. (Beautifully written, Pulitzer Prize-winning stories of the decades-long migration of black citizens fleeing the South in search of a better life.)

Williams, Patricia J., Seeing a Color-Blind Future: The Paradox of Race, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1997.

Woodson, Carter G., Mis-education of the Negro, Associated Publishers, 1969. Originally published in 1933.


TheAbolitionists  Dramatization of the movement to abolish slavery. ( documentary)

The Book of Negroes (Black Entertainment Television [BET] original movie; story of a woman captured in Africa and enslaved prior to America's Revolutionary War.) 

Deacons for Defense (political drama of blacks defending themselves against the KKK, set in Bogalusa, Louisiana in 1965) 

Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Movement 1954-1985 ( documentary)

The Feast of All Saints (a TV miniseries based on the Anne Rice novel of the same title) looks at the Louisiana custom of placage where wealthy white men and a few light-skinned free blacks select mixed-race women as mistresses.

Fruitvale Station (a dramatization of the life and murder of Oscar Grant who was killed in Oakland, CA.)

Huey P. Newton: Prelude to a Revolution (documentary)

Lackawanna Blues (a play by Ruben Santiago-Hudson makes a compelling drama about a rooming house in Lackawanna, NY)

Many Rivers to Cross: African American History with Henry Louis Gates Jr. ( documentary)

Marcus Garvey: American Experience ( documentary)

Mooz-Lum, (dramatization of post-9/11 suspicion and distrust of blacks who are Muslims.) 

Paul Mooney: Analyzing White America (a comedic analysis) 

Paul Robeson: Here I Stand (YouTube video on the life of Robeson, Sr., a successful actor, singer, football player, and lawyer, vilified for his uncompromising advocacy of equality.) 

Race: The Power of an Illusion (California Newsreel film carefully explains and documents the artifice of racial categorizations.)

Scottsboro: An American Tragedy (documentary about young black men falsely accused of raping two white women) 

Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell (a revolutionary [now cancelled] television series that took a comedic look at topical issues, including racism.)

Twelve Years a Slave (PBS dramatization of the book of the same title.)

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (Ken Burns documentary of the first black heavyweight boxing champion)

Waiting for "Superman" (documentary on America's failing school system)

Why We Laugh (documentary on history of black comedy)