Books for White Folks Part 10: The Systematic Critiques

Welcome to part 10 in this series looking at books recommendations that every white person should consider reading or exploring.  Check out the previous entries at the end of this post for more recommendations!

Ok, for many white folks, these are the books that will make you question society and wonder about your place in it.  That is, these books will do that if you come to it with an open mind and a listening to the voices and experiences of other human beings who have witnessed many things that you have not.  

When I talk about the systematic view, I mean how white supremacy is woven into the texture of our culture and society from the laws to education to the environment to how we look at one another.  These books address those threads across a myriad of system and institutions within our culture.  

Many of them are hard reads;  I’ll warn you right now.  By hard, I don’t necessarily mean complicated (though some certainly are), but many of them expose readers to horrible realities of what it means to live in the US in the absence of privilege--to live in a country that for hundreds of years, was ok with enslaving, mutilating, raping, and performing other violence upon some groups of people because they were not seen as human as white people (or even conceived as humans for that matter). Other reads are hard because they illustrate the length and means by which white people have intentionally denied other people an equal opportunity in our country and still do today.  


Book cover to Michelle Alexander - The New Jim Crow
Tackling these reads with an open mind will be hard for some.  There will be a burning desire to stop reading, disregarding the research, or find ways of trying to explain it away.  But taken in their totality, how each book informs one another or helps to fill in the different systems of power that tilt towards whites, they do provide a rich tapestry of understanding about that which many whites are actively trained not to see.   

Choosing the one to start with is hard within this collection because most are powerful and mind-opening works in their own right.  But if I were to encourage you to start with one book to begin to understand the systematic view in this collection, I would have to go with The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.  This book fundamentally changes people’s understanding of racism and white supremacy in our culture. It has for me and for everyone I know that has taken the time to read it.  Alexander’s ability to explain the history of Jim Crow from the end of slavery through many different means by which our legal codes and cultures have been a proxy for racial injustice and inequality is pretty effectively delivered and shown.  It’s hard to walk away from this book and ever see the criminal justice system or the legal system as a whole in a fair light ever again.   

The Recommendations

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
  • White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
  • Electoral Dysfunction: A Survival Manual for American Voters by Victoria Bassetti
  • Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado
  • Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Ari Berman
  • Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It by Lisa Bloom 
  • They Take Our Jobs!: And 20 Other Myths about Immigration by Aviva Chomsky
  • Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by by Angela Y. Davis 
  • Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment edited by Angela J. Davis
  • Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom by Lisa Delpit
  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
  • The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
  • Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life by Karen Fields
  • Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class by Ian Haney-L√≥pez
  • Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild
  • Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream by Arianna Huffington
  • 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
  • Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools by Jonathan Kozol
  • The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America by Jonathan Kozol
  • Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life by Annette Lareau
  • The Possessive Investment In Whiteness by George Lipsitz
  • Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics by Lisa Lowe
  • Lower Ed: How For-Profit Colleges Deepen Inequality in America by Tressie McMillan Cottom
  • The Racial Contract by Charles Mills
  • Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique Morris
  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress by Becky Pettit
  • Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color by Andrea J. Ritchie
  • Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education by Noliwe M Rooks
  • White Male Privilege: A Study of Racism in America 50 Years After the Voting Rights Act by Mark Rosenkranz
  • Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in Our Daily Lives by Howard Ross
  • Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market by Eric Schlosser
  • Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us by Claude Steele
  • I Can't Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street by Matt Taibbi
  • 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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