Books for White Folks Part 7: The Histories

Many people do not like history because their experience with it has been boring, dull, or absence any authentic representations of themselves in it.  Many of us are familiar with the dry and unexciting regurgitation of historical facts year after year in K-12.  In my US public education experience, we revisited US history most years in K-8 and then at least one more in grades 9-12 (we also have world history and “current affairs”).  

But historically, the kind of history taught in K-12 grades has been superficial and limited, often glossing over controversies, complexities, and significant historical questions.  This gloss-over comes in part because to unpact the complexities would mean to disrupt and really undermine the typical patriotic (if not at times, jingoistic) history.  It’s also taught in a fashion of “everything’s getting better” view that detracts from asking more critical and genuine questions of US history.  

The argument for this approach stems from the belief that children won’t get it.  It’s too complicate for them to understand or it would be introducing them to things they’re not ready to talk about.  Talking about injustice, inequality, and a complicated past is much like talking to children about sex--avoidance or minimizing the complexity does no one any favors.  


Book cover for Ibram X Kendi - Stamped from the Beginning
This rambling introduction is to say that for many of the white folks here, you’re likely to encounter histories in this listing that are going to challenge your understanding of the United States--and they should.  These histories are accounts and views of the US culture from lenses that you may have never tried on before.  

Some of these will be hard to read; some will be downright disturbing. But they are important reads to consider in the development of the US and how we get to here.  Like elsewhere, not all of these are concerned specifically with African Americans or even the US, but they are all books covering history that I feel have better informed my understanding of race, identity, and privilege.   

The book from this listing that I offer up for one and all to definitely tackle is Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi.  Through five lives from the 1600s to the present, Kendi traces the lives of five people (Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. DuBois, and Angela Davis) and uses each to explores racist ideas and how they fall into categories of segregationist, assimilationist, and antiracist.  There’s so much to unpack here but it goes well with a later specific recommendation in this series (The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander).  

The Recommendations

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
  • Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Ari Berman
  • African History for Beginners by Herb Boyd
  • Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck by Adam Cohen
  • Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment edited by Angela J. Davis
  • The Uses of Haiti by Paul Farmer 
  • We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch
  • Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America by Saidiya Hartman
  • White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg
  • Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word by Randall Kennedy
  • Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq by Stephen Kinzer
  • Still I Rise: A Cartoon History of African Americans by Jr., Roland Owen Laird
  • The Making of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee
  • The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity by Jill Lepore
  • March: Books 1-3 by John Robert Lewis
  • Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James Loewen
  • Rethinking Our Past: Recognizing Facts, Fictions, And Lies In American History by James Loewen
  • Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class by Eric Lott
  • The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class by David Roediger
  • The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin 
  • Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America's Universities by Craig Wilder
  • American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good by Colin Woodward
  • A People's History of American Empire by Howard Zinn
  • A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn
You can find the full list of books in the genre of race, identity, and privilege on Goodreads.  For all posts in this series, check out:
  1. The Introduction
  2. The Ambassadors
  3. The Fiction
  4. The Classics
  5. The Memoirs and Personal Accounts
  6. The Comics
  7. The Histories
  8. Education
  9. Identities and American Culture
  10. The Systematic Critiques
  11. The Peripherals
  12. Since I Started...


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