Ten Books Every White Person Should Read

If you’ve ever thought, “I’m not any race. I’m just white.”

Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of RaceWaking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving

“Waking Up White is the book Irving wishes someone had handed her decades ago. By sharing her sometimes cringe-worthy struggle to understand racism and racial tensions, she offers a fresh perspective on bias, stereotypes, manners, and tolerance. As Irving unpacks her own long-held beliefs about colorblindness, being a good person, and wanting to help people of color, she reveals how each of these well-intentioned mindsets actually perpetuated her ill-conceived ideas about race. She also explains why and how she’s changed the way she talks about racism, works in racially mixed groups, and understands the antiracism movement as a whole.”

If you’ve wondered how you’ve profited from racist things your ancestors did

Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights BattleSomething Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle by Kristen Green

“In the wake of the Supreme Court’s unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision, Virginia’s Prince Edward County refused to obey the law. Rather than desegregate, the county closed its public schools, locking and chaining the doors. The community’s white leaders quickly established a private academy, commandeering supplies from the shuttered public schools to use in their all-white classrooms. Meanwhile, black parents had few options: keep their kids at home, move across county lines, or send them to live with relatives in other states. For five years, the schools remained closed.”

Kristen Green’s family was involved in establishing the private school for white children only. She went to school there herself decades after the public school reopened. How do you talk about racist family legacies? What happened to the generation of black children who had to move away from their families if they wanted a basic education?

Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in AmericaSome of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America by Tanner Colby

“The bleak fact is that black people and white people in the United States don’t spend much time together—at work, school, church, or anywhere. Tanner Colby, himself a child of a white-flight Southern suburb, set out to discover why.
Some of My Best Friends Are Black chronicles America’s troubling relationship with race through four interrelated stories: the transformation of a once-racist Birmingham school system; a Kansas City neighborhood’s fight against housing discrimination; the curious racial divide of the Madison Avenue ad world; and a Louisiana Catholic parish’s forty-year effort to build an integrated church.”

Tomlinson Hill: Sons of Slaves, Sons of SlaveholdersTomlinson Hill: Sons of Slaves, Sons of Slaveholders by Chris Tomlinson

“Internationally recognized for his work as a fearless war correspondent, award-winning journalist Chris Tomlinson grew up hearing stories about his family’s abandoned cotton plantation in Falls County, Texas. Most of the tales lionized his white ancestors for pioneering along the Brazos River. His grandfather often said the family’s slaves loved them so much that they also took Tomlinson as their last name.

LaDainian Tomlinson, football great and former running back for the San Diego Chargers, spent part of his childhood playing on the same land that his black ancestors had worked as slaves. As a child, LaDainian believed the Hill was named after his family. Not until he was old enough to read an historical plaque did he realize that the Hill was named for his ancestor’s slaveholders.

A masterpiece of authentic American history, Tomlinson Hill traces the true and very revealing story of these two families.”

If you need to catch up on Black History

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa ParksThe Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Presenting a corrective to the popular notion of Rosa Parks as the quiet seamstress who, with a single act, birthed the modern civil rights movement, Theoharis provides a revealing window into Parks’s politics and years of activism. She shows readers how this civil rights movement radical sought—for more than a half a century—to expose and eradicate the American racial-caste system in jobs, schools, public services, and criminal justice.”

Freedom's Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970Freedom’s Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970 by Lynne Olson

“In this groundbreaking and absorbing book, credit finally goes where credit is due — to the bold women who were crucial to the success of the civil rights movement. From the Montgomery bus boycott to the lunch counter sit-ins to the Freedom Rides, Lynne Olson skillfully tells the long-overlooked story of the extraordinary women who were among the most fearless, resourceful, and tenacious leaders of the civil rights movement.”

A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in AmericaA Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in America by Allyson Hobbs

“Between the eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, countless African Americans passed as white, leaving behind families and friends, roots and community. It was, as Allyson Hobbs writes, a chosen exile, a separation from one racial identity and the leap into another. This revelatory history of passing explores the possibilities and challenges that racial indeterminacy presented to men and women living in a country obsessed with racial distinctions. It also tells a tale of loss.”

Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil RightsFreedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights by Tananarive Due


“Patricia Stephens Due fought for justice during the height of the Civil Rights era. Her daughter, Tananarive, grew up deeply enmeshed in the values of a family committed to making right whatever they saw as wrong. Together, in alternating chapters, they have written a paean to the movement—its hardships, its nameless foot soldiers, and its achievements—and an incisive examination of the future of justice in this country. Their mother-daughter journey spanning two generations of struggles is an unforgettable story.”

If you need a reminder of what racism can do

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New AmericaDevil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


“In 1949, Florida’s orange industry was booming, and citrus barons got rich on the backs of cheap Jim Crow labor. To maintain order and profits, they turned to Willis V. McCall, a violent sheriff who ruled Lake County with murderous resolve. When a white seventeen-year-old Groveland girl cried rape, McCall was fast on the trail of four young blacks who dared to envision a future for themselves beyond the citrus groves. By day’s end, the Ku Klux Klan had rolled into town, burning the homes of blacks to the ground and chasing hundreds into the swamps, hell-bent on lynching the young men who came to be known as “the Groveland Boys.””

This is the most shocking true crime story I’ve ever heard. It starts slow but once you get into the actual case you won’t put it down and you won’t believe that this is a true story.

InkInk by Sabrina Vourvoulias
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


“What happens when rhetoric about immigrants escalates to an institutionalized population control system? The near-future, dark speculative novel INK opens as a biometric tattoo is approved for use to mark temporary workers, permanent residents and citizens with recent immigration history – collectively known as inks. Set in a fictional city and small, rural town in the U.S. during a 10-year span, the novel is told in four voices: a journalist; an ink who works in a local population control office; an artist strongly tied to a specific piece of land; and a teenager whose mother runs an inkatorium (a sanitarium-internment center opened in response to public health concerns about inks).”

This is the only fiction book on the list. It imagines what could happen if current racist rhetoric is taken to its logical conclusion. It is scarily possible.


What Other Books Would You Recommend?



    As someone with a background in Civil Rights Law, I always find it interesting to see book lists for suggestive titles based on race, as they seem to center on only one or two narrative perspectives. Over the past few years, I’ve been delving more and more into classism and it’s effects racism in America, especially among Europeans, such as Eastern Europeans, the Irish, and Jewish communities of nineteenth and twentieth century America. Communities that were victims of persecution and crimes of hate by the hands of other whites. Interestingly enough, I’ve found few books dealing with racism beyond the scope of the African American experience. Often racism seems to exclude in list Asian, Hispanic, and Native American perspectives. Or other insidious situations such as the free people of color of the eighteenth century, the placage Creole culture, where free people of color enslaved fellow African slaves themselves. It would be great to one day see a list that says “books that the ten percent wealthiest Americans inflict on the other ninety percent of Americans”, or perhaps “how to stop viewing history through the lenses of 21st century Hispster culture.” Great list!

  • Tanya @ Mom's Small Victories

    What a great list about race. I think the one about whether a white person has profited from the crimes of their past would be interesting. Thanks for sharing with Small Victories Sunday Linkup. Pinned to our linkup board and hope you join us again this weekend.

  • looloolooweez

    This is a great list, thank you. The Tomlinson Hill book really caught my eye. I’ve been doing a bit of genealogy research over the past couple of years and, well, some of my family’s history is pretty ugly. A lot of people around here want to act like Texas was barely involved in slavery / the Civil War, but that’s just a fairy tale born of shame.

    • heather

      I’m a northerner from way back so I never thought much about my family having anything to do with slavery until my grandfather mentioned in passing once that he had some relatives that moved south just before the Civil War. He thought they had slaves. I haven’t been able to confirm that yet in my research but it was shocking.

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