21 Books About Race White Parents Need to Read

As a feminist mom to three white sons, I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can raised my privileged kids to be good humans. I want my boys to be kind, empathetic people who understand that equality for everyone benefits everyone.

But my kids aren’t the only ones who need to learn these things. I am a white woman who has done and said racist things and benefitted from white supremacy. I have a responsibility to critically examine the racist systems that have benefitted me, and learn more about what I can do to tear them down. And that involves listening to marginalized people when they talk about the ways these systems have hurt them.

I do a lot of learning alongside my kids, which is awesome. But I need to go beyond a child’s level of understanding. I need to prepare myself for the hard questions my children ask (and they ask a lot of them!). Most of all, I need to be the type of person I want to raise, to the best of my ability.

Check out these Children’s Books About Police Violence

This isn’t a comprehensive list of all the excellent books about race written by authors of color, but it’s a starting point. If you devote the next six months to reading these books, your understanding will grow, and you may even discover new ways that you can take antiracist action in your own life.

21 Books About Race White Parents Should Read

books about race

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

There’s no better starting place for learning about race in America than this book. Ijeoma Olu tackles the tough questions that many white people have but are afraid to ask, like “Is police brutality really about race?” and “What is cultural appropriation?”

Olu’s voice is upfront but kind; she acknowledges how hard these conversations can be, but she doesn’t pull any punches. White readers will find this book convicting, but also motivating and helpful. I found especially helpful in shaping my conversations about race with other white parents.

If you only read one book on this list, read this one.

How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi

In this readable and revelatory book, Ibrim X. Kendi uses his own life as a backdrop for the journey to becoming antiracist. We see the ways that Kendi has been affected by racism, and also how he himself has failed to be antiracist in his thoughts and attitudes. The result is a book that inspires and motivates, rather than condemns. 

If you have read and enjoyed So You Want to Talk About Race?, I highly recommend following it up with this work from Kendi. I found the sections about education and the so-called “achievement gap” especially enlightening. 

Motherhood So White: A Memoir of Race, Gender, and Parenting in America by Nefertiti Austin

Before reading this book, I had never considered how whiteness shaped what we view as the motherhood “ideal.” Nefertiti Austin shares her experiences as a single adoptive parent of non-related children and dives deeply into what it means to raise black children in America.

I really appreciate Austin’s candor and honesty in this work. She shares stories from her own upbringing, looks closely at the history of adoption in Black families, and challenges many of the cultural biases we might not be aware that we hold. This is a book all parents should read.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

I knew for a long time that the criminal justice system in the United States was racist, but until reading this book, I was unable to articulate how. Michelle Alexander breaks down the entire system in this important work, showing exactly how the “war on drugs” was used to target black men and how it devastated communities of color.

Alexander clearly illustrates how mass incarceration is used to “legally” enslave Black people and keep them in a place of disadvantage. This book is a challenging and eye-opening call to action for anyone devoted to social justice.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

This is the first book I read that dealt with racism in the criminal justice system, and I am not exaggerating when I say it was life-changing. Reading the experiences of Bryan Stevenson and the inmates he represents opened my eyes to just how broken our system is.

In this book, lawyer Bryan Stevenson tells the story of founding the Equal Justice Initiative, and the death row inmates his organization represents. The main touchpoint of the story is the unfair conviction of Walter McMillan, but Stevenson weaves the stories of other inmates through the book, and paints a comprehensive picture of the racism that plagues the criminal justice system. This book is an absolute must-read, and I recommend the movie as well.

An African-American and Latinx History of the United States by Paul Ortiz

If you’re like me, you probably learned that the United States was grown through the white-centered ideas of westward expansion and “manifest destiny.” This book challenges that narrative, and shows that our nation’s history looks very different when we center marginalized voices.

Paul Ortiz uses a wealth of primary sources to show how our history changes when told through the voices of the oppressed rather than the oppressor. And don’t let the title fool you; Ortiz includes the stories of indigenous people groups and immigrants from around the world, showing how our experiences are inextricably linked.

I’m Still Here: African-American Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

This deeply personal memoir follows Austin Channing Brown’s journey to self-love in a world that says who she is isn’t enough. Brown shares her experiences growing up in predominantly white churches and schools, and how she had to learn to love her blackness.

Brown is a Christian and she takes a hard look at the evangelical church and the ways it has perpetuated and even encouraged racism throughout its history. This is an excellent book for everyone to read, but I especially encourage those who are or were once Christian to dive into Brown’s story.

Breathe: A Letter to My Sons by Imani Perry

In this book, Imani Perry opens up about the fear and anger she feels because of the risks her sons face as young black men. She beautifully expresses to her children that they are not a problem, but a gift.

Perry’s words resonated in my soul; our experiences are very different, but the love we have for our children is the same. This book is a powerful reminder of why we must fight for every child as if they are our own.

The Making of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee

This book is a comprehensive look at the history of Asians in America, from the 1500s until today. Erika Lee explores how Asian immigrants went from being a hated minority in the United States to becoming a “model minority,” and how both ideas are problematic in different ways.

This book taught me so many things I didn’t know about the history of Asian immigration. I highly recommend diving into this powerful and well-researched book.

The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America by Andrés Reséndez

This book explores what was, to me, an unknown phenomenon: the enslavement of Native Americans during the formative years of the United States. Andrés Reséndez has gone deep into primary source material to show how Native Americans were routinely kidnapped and forced into servitude, with no push for abolition from the public.

I won’t lie; this book is a difficult and heart-breaking read. But it’s also incredibly important and worth your time and energy.

Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family by Mitchell Jackson

In this book, Mitchell Jackson takes the history of his family and uses it as an example of how being black in America makes survival that much more difficult. Jackson powerfully illustrates how injustice and prejudice can affect a family for generations, and why the bonds of systemic racism are so hard to break.

This memoir is a powerful tale of what it means to be black in one of the whitest cities in America.

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

This is a history of the United States that is like nothing you learned in school growing up. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz dives deep into Indigenous history to show how Indigenous people resisted American colonialism, and how the actions taken by the United States government were acts of violence and genocide.

I have long had an awareness that the United States was founded on land stolen from Indigenous people, but this book provided me with the specifics. It shows how many of the ideals we see as “uniquely American” were promoted and romanticized to cover a legacy of racism and murder.

This is a powerful and sobering read.

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique Morris

This book is an eye-opening look at the double standards applied to black girls in the educational system, and how that leads to more young black women in the juvenile justice system. Monique W. Morris shows how black girls are often punished differently for the same offenses as white girls, and how the educational system demoralizes these young women and keeps them from wanting to achieve more.

This book is a compelling look at the ways gender and race intersect for young black women, and a glaring reminder of why our feminism must always be intersectional.

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum

This book was first published in 1997, but the subject matter is as relevant as ever, and this revised version published in 2017 is full of timely information. Dr. Tatum is an expert in the psychology of race, and she goes deep into the topic of identity and how it is developed.

This book doesn’t just examine the issues; it provides a way forward and a framework for talking about race across cultures. It’s also very readable, despite the big topics discussed. This is an important work for both parents and educators.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book is a heartfelt letter from father to son, but it’s also so much more. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes to his son about how to live as a black man in today’s society, and explores his own experiences, taking the reader not just through his own life but through the lives of black people throughout history.

White parents, we need to read these books that come from the heart of black parents. Coates is an amazing writer, and this book will take you on a heart-wrenching but necessary journey.

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele

There’s no better way to learn about the Black Lives Matter movement than to read about the experiences of one of its founders. In this book, Patrisse Khan-Cullors shares her own racist experiences with law enforcement, and her anger over the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer led her to form Black Lives Matter with Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza.

This book is both a heartbreaking and empowering read. It’s painful to see these women demanding justice be accused of something much more sinister. But it’s also inspiring to see how Khan-Cullors, Garza, and Tometi turned their anger into action.

Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent by Eduardo Galeano

I first read this book in college, and I was blown a way by what was, to me, a totally new perspective on American history.

Eduardo Galeano paints a picture of a country build through conquest and exploitation. He shows how the desire for wealth led to the abuse of and in some cases even the extinction of indigenous people groups in North and South America and the Caribbean. He uses both research and his gift for storytelling to paint a complete picture that will forever change the way you look at the founding of the Americas.

Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White by Frank Wu

Race in America is a deep and complex issue, and in Yellow, Frank Wu invites us to view issues like immigration and affirmative action through an Asian-American perspective. He explores how even seemingly positive stereotypes hurt Asian-American people, and shows how consistent “othering” keeps Asian-American people from truly being integrated into American culture.

How Does it Feel to be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America by Moustafa Bayoumi

This book is a deep dive into the lives of seven young Arab-American people living in Brooklyn. These young people both struggle with their own cultures and the perceptions of others, as they challenge cultural expectations while experiencing profiling and racism in their day-to-day lives.

I really enjoyed reading the experiences of these young people, and was inspired by how they are forging a new way forward that is true to themselves.

Chokehold: Policing Black Men by Paul Butler

In Chokehold, former federal prosecutor Paul Butler takes a critical look at the criminal justice system in America. Butler asserts that because most people view black men as dangerous, we have developed a system that judges every black man on site.

Butler also goes deep into data, to show the truth about black men and crime. He dispels many myths about black men being more violent than others, and offers a different path to curbing violence within the black community — one that limits the role of police.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley

It wasn’t until I read Malcom X’s autobiography that I realized just how much I had learned about him was flat out wrong and how much of that came from a racist perspective.

In a time when many had political motives, Malcom X was a true believer in the liberation of black America. His autobiography reveals his passion and his intelligence, and it gives a fascinating history of the growth of the Nation of Islam. Before you judge his character or his philosophies, read his story, written in his words.

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Crystal is an activist, feminist, and mom of three. She loves reading, crochet, and enjoying her family and friends. She lives with her family in Indianapolis.

2 thoughts on “21 Books About Race White Parents Need to Read

  1. What a great list! Thank you for writing this up – lots of great ideas for both myself & my 5 yr old son!

  2. I have a few of these on my list already, but I am going to save to Pinterest to come back. Thank you for compiling! I am excited to continue to learn and grow and teach my daughter to do the same.

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