A Reading List for America

By Maira Liriano, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division
July 12, 2016
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Protest in response to the Philando Castile shooting

Protest in response to the Philando Castile shooting in St. Paul, Minnesota on July 7, 2016. Photo by Fibonacci Blue, via Flickr

Last night while reading about the horrific events in Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas, I also read "Death in Black and White," an Op-Ed essay by acclaimed public intellectual and best-selling author Michael Eric Dyson for the New York Times.  Professor Dyson writes about what white America fails to see. 

As a librarian who works at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a 91-year old research library recognized as the world's leading repository focusing on materials related to the global Black experience, I present this reading list as a response to recent events and to help foster literacy of the American Black experience. 

The Fire Next Time

"The Fire Next Time" in Collected Essays  by James Baldwin (1963)


“The American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed the collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes, that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen, or that Americans are invincible in battle and wise in peace, that Americans have always dealt honorably with Mexicans and Indians and all other neighbors or inferiors, that American men are the world's most direct and virile, that American women are pure. Negroes know far more about white Americans than that; it can almost be said, in fact, that they know about white Americans what parents—or, anyway, mothers—know about their children, and that they very often regard white Americans that way. And perhaps this attitude, held in spite of what they know and have endured, helps to explain why Negroes, on the whole, and until lately, have allowed themselves to feel so little hatred. The tendency has really been, insofar as this was possible, to dismiss white people as the slightly mad victims of their own brainwashing.” 


The New Jim Crow

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander  (2010)


“The fate of millions of people—indeed the future of the black community itself—may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society.” 







Just Mercy

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (2014)

“It is about how easily we condemn people in this country and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger, and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us.” 









The condemnation of blackness

The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban Americaby Khalil Gibran Muhammad (2010)

“For white Americans of every ideological stripe—from radical southern racists to northern progressives—African American criminality became one of the most widely accepted bases for justifying prejudicial thinking, discriminatory treatment, and/or acceptance of racial violence as an instrument of public safety.” 






Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015)

“Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered.” 


“It is not necessary that you believe that the officer who choked Eric Garner set out that day to destroy a body. All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black.” 





From #BlackLivesMatter to Black liberation

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (2016)


"Keeanga-Yahmatta Taylor’s has not written the average rushed first-wave book on a social movement. Taylor, a professor of African American studies at Princeton, is the rare academic writer whose sense of humor is as sharp as her scholarship. She’s written a sweeping yet concise history not just of the Black Lives Matter movement, but of the past seven years under the first black president and of how the 20th century led to our current state of woke uprising." The Guardian Feb 9, 2016.



Policing the Planet

Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter edited by Jordan T. Camp, Christina Heatherton (2016)

In Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter, writers, activists, poets, scholars #BlackLivesMatter co-founder Patrisse Cullors and Ferguson activist and St. Louis University law professor Justin Hansford discuss the global rise of the “broken-windows” strategy of policing. First established in New York City under Police Commissioner William Bratton, this doctrine has vastly broadened police power and contributed to the contemporary crisis of police brutality and killings. Combining first-hand accounts from organizers with contributions by leading scholars, Policing the Planet presents a probing collection of essays and interviews addressing police brutality and racial injustice.

Watch the livestream video from the April 26, 2016 Schomburg Center "Between the Lines" program with the editors. 

You can also watch the livestream video of Michael Eric Dyson in conversation with MSNBC correspondent Joy Reid from the February 17, 2016 Schomburg Center "Between the Lines" program where he discuss his latest book, The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America.

Lastly, the New York Times has compiled videos from the past 3 years that show violent and often fatal treatment of African Americans and Latinos. 

The Raw Videos That Have Sparked Outrage Over Police Treatment of Blacks

“A lot of white people are truly shocked by what these videos depict; I know very few African-Americans who are surprised,” said Paul D. Butler, a law professor at Georgetown University and a former prosecutor. “The videos are smoking-gun evidence,” he added, “both literally because they are very graphic, which generates outrage, and figuratively, because people believe their own eyes.”