Racism always provokes questions of justice, and these books help us to explore the many injustices of racism, from the personal to the systemic and more enduring legacies of racism that still remain to this day.
Jackie Hodgson, Professor of Law and Deputy PVC (Research) suggested Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
" This is a letter from an African American father to his son. It speaks of what it is to be a black man in America – to be valued less and invisible in a society where black bodies seem worthless and their abuse not deserving of sanction. The themes are familiar, especially following Black Lives Matter, but the everyday experiences of growing up as a black boy in Baltimore, of going to University and of experiencing the death of a friend at the hands of the police, take the reader along a journey reflecting what for the author was a series of awakenings. It also helps us understand the ways that slavery and segregation continue to shape American black lives today.”
Tor Krever recommends George Jackson’s Soledad Brother:
"In 1960, an 18-year-old George Jackson was accused of stealing $70 from a gas station in Los Angeles. He would spend the next ten years in Soledad Prison, seven and a half of them in solitary confinement. In 1970, shortly after being transferred to San Quentin Prison, he was shot to death by a tower guard. Published less than a year before his murder, Soledad Brother collects Jackson’s prison letters, written between 1964 to 1970. His life and letters offer an uncompromising indictment of a racialised criminal justice system and the barbarism of capitalism.”
Adam Slavny, Associate Professor, recommends Tony Morrison’s Beloved, which is set after the American Civil War, and is inspired by the story of an African American slave, Margaret Garner, who escaped slavery in Kentucky late January 1856 by fleeing to Ohio, a free state.
"One thing in Beloved that really stuck with me was the way the main character, Sethe, poignantly mythologises her own pain. I also interpreted Sethe’s struggle to rebuild a sense of self after her experiences as a metaphor for the difficulty, or impossibility, of rectifying the historical injustice of slavery in America. Although the book is intensely personal, it made me reflect on how, if at all, contemporary responses to historical injustice can address trauma that leaves such deep scars on the collective memory.”
Professor Vanessa Munro suggested Bowling & Phillip’s Racism, Crime and Justice.
“I first purchased this book in November 2001 (I know that because, at that point in time, I still diligently wrote my name and month of purchase in the inside cover: a practice I wish I’d kept up, but didn’t). This would have been not terribly long after having finished my PhD, and I suspect I bought it to help me with developing a module on Criminology at the University of Reading, where I then worked. It is intended as a student textbook, and so it is a beautifully accessible work; but it brings together theoretical and conceptual frameworks, political/policy concerns, and empirical on-the-ground analysis of the operation and effects of the criminal justice system with a level of sophistication that really sets it apart from a lot of textbooks.
In the wake of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, which concluded that the criminal justice system had failed to ‘provide an appropriate or professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin’, this book set out an agenda for research on race, racism and crime that responded to the resulting outcry. It is an agenda that remains equally pressing today: in a social context in which the problem of racism has become no less acute, and yet also refracted in complicated ways by contemporary waves of islamophobia, populism and moral panics over gangs and knife crime.”
I am recommending Akala’s book, Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, because it is was a valuable reminder to me that racism is not just endemic in North America, and black people in the UK have systemically faced racial injustice in education, criminal justice and culture.
"Part memoir, part social commentary, the book was instructive for me in understanding issues of identity in mixed race Britons. The book was a powerful read because it focused on how the legacy of colonialism has constructed racism in the UK and continues to impact on the way in which politicians and policymakers continue to engage with other countries, especially, those from the Commonwealth.”
In this book, Superior, Angela Sani debunks race science and shows how the rise of white supremacists is foreshadowing a return to overt racism:
" The book challenges some ideas about freedom of speech, because this freedom has allowed racist ideas to thrive and racists to even form their own peer-reviewed journal. In a time of increased authoritarianism, this is an important book, giving leaders arsenal to resist prejudicial issues ranging from equality to immigration.”
Raza Saeed, Assistant Professor, recommends Confronting Empire, a posthumous collection of Eqbal Ahmed’s interviews:
"One of the most prescient theorists of race, class and Empire, and a persistent activist against global-social injustices, Eqbal Ahmed is relatively little known within western academia. But he was a theorist considered by the likes of Noam Chomsky and Edward Said to be a ‘model to try and follow’ and ‘the shrewdest and most original anti-imperialist analyst of Asia and Africa’. In the conversations covered in this book, Ahmed talks about various political trends and current affairs, and highlights the unbreakable link between race, class, power and Empire. His call, in the wider corpus of his work, is to recognise that systemic injustices, whether they stem from class or racial boundaries, are systemically perpetrated by imperialism in its various guises, and are to be recognised and resisted everywhere.”
Alan Norrie, Professor of Law, suggests three books: In the 1960s, John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me explained the experience of black people in the US to a white audience, and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s Weep Not Child described the devastating effects of colonialism on black families in Africa. He also recommends Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing, which depicted black-white relations in an apartheid society.
“Growing into adulthood in the early 1970s, I became aware through these books of how black people were treated differently from white people (Griffin), yet they were no different in terms of their love for their families and their hopes for a better life (Ngugi), and it was the nature of white society to push black people into subservient roles (Lessing, Ngugi, Griffin). I began to think that many of the taken for granted notions I had picked up in family and at school were wrong and that British colonialism, like others, bought wealth and comfort for white people at the expense of black and brown peoples. Books like these taught me these things.”