As current events and renewed anti-racism movements have revealed, our country still grapples with issues of race. But this isn’t just a “political” issue. It’s a faith issue for those of us who follow Jesus: Do we care about the racial divide in the American church? Will we look outside of our own experience and consider diverse voices?
I recently wrote a post sharing about my journey relating to race. If I had to sum up everything I tried to say there–and why I believe it’s so important for Christians to be engage this issue–I’d put it like this: Learning about race is a powerful way I can love my neighbor as myself.
And boy did I have a lot to learn.
I thought I’d share a list of books I’ve read (and a few that are still on my “To Read” list) that might help other Christians who’d like to learn more about race. This certainly isn’t a comprehensive list. But these books have helped me understand the terms being used in conversations about race, and they’ve opened my mind and heart to perspectives I had never truly considered before. I hope you’ll be inspired to pick up one of these books and join the cause of understanding and addressing racism today.
(*Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means at no cost to you, I will earn a small percentage on items you buy through this link. Thanks for helping me support the blog!)
America’s Original Sin by Jim Wallis
This book outlines the history of racism in America. I’d learned the basics of things like slavery, desegregation, and Jim Crow back in my high school days, but this book offered deeper insight about these periods of history (and some historical realities I’d never been taught at all). Wallis spells out how these racist roots affected not only our country, but the Church as well. He shares insight about the current state of race in America, challenging Christians to consider how our willingness to engage racial issues–or lack thereof–will affect our witness to a watching world.
White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White by Daniel Hill
Written by a pastor engaged in community development, this book also shares a white person’s journey in “waking up” to race realities. I love how he walked through the various emotions/reactions that he experienced along the way (denial, disorientation, shame, self-righteousness, awakening). I saw my own feelings reflected in the author’s words and appreciated the sound Christian wisdom and encouragement he offered. A great read to start with if you’re just beginning to engage issues of race.
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum
This book was recommended to me by a man at the grocery store: He had raised an “Oreo” daughter (black on the outside, but raised in a white home) and struck up a short conversation when he noticed me with my own black daughter. I’m so thankful for that conversation, and this book recommendation, because it became my first foray into “race territory.” It was extremely helpful in defining racism, offering perspective on how racial identities are formed, and encouraging readers to consider their own response to racism.
Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
Originally published in 1962, this book is the account of a white journalist who decided to cross the color line by living for a number of weeks as a black man. It’s a remarkable story that captures the nuances of the Jim Crow era in a way that no sterile history book from my formal education had detailed. I found it to be a sobering reminder of our not-so-distant past–and the reality that pure, ugly racism can make itself at home in a democratic society, if we let it.
Waking Up White by Debby Irving
A personal account of one white woman’s journey to understand race. In many ways, I identify with the author’s experience as someone who truly didn’t “see” the ongoing problems of racism in our country. Over time, Irving “woke up” to racial realities, and she shares about the honest struggle and pushback she felt along the way. I especially appreciated the way she addresses “white identity” in this book: It helped me see how my own race culture has shaped me as a white person, for good and for bad.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This is not an easy read for many reasons, but Coates is a prominent voice in the current national dialogue about race so I believe it’s worth a read. Coates is not a believer, and without God’s grace to offer light, his perspectives in this book felt harsh and dark to me. But I think it’s important to consider how racial struggles can affect people–believers or not. It certainly sounds like a cry that the Church needs to hear, because if we are willing, we may be able to offer true hope for the struggle that Coates writes about so well.
The Power of Proximity by Michelle Ferrigno Warren
This book challenged me precisely because I do not live in close proximity to the marginalized and disadvantaged. I realized how easy it’s been for me to develop opinions from my white, middle-class perspective without ever truly listening to different perspectives. I have deep respect for Christians who live in and actively engage in community development among poor and marginalized communities, and I think we have much to learn from them about being the hands and feet of Jesus. Reading this book is one small way to make yourself more proximate to the disadvantaged.
Books on My “To Read” Shelf:
Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith
I heard this title recommended on a recent podcast discussing how white people can become allies in seeking racial equality. This book looks like an intriguing discussion about evangelicalism and the obstacles to racial reconciliation in the church.
Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nationby Jonathan Reider
I’ve heard and read snippets of MLK’s words in so many places over the years, especially in these recent readings about race. I’d like to go back and read the full text of his letter from Birmingham jail, and this book also adds helpful commentary about MLK’s life and times.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Another book I’ve heard recommended in various places for a better understanding about current race relations in the US. Mass incarceration and police brutality are significant touchpoint issues for recent anti-racism movements (such as Black Lives Matter) and I’m hoping this book will give me a deeper understanding of their perspectives.
This book is on the shortlist for the racial reconciliation small group I’ve recently joined, so I figured it should make the shortlist here too. It was recommended as a great primer for white evangelicals in addressing the systemic issues of racism in the US.
A caveat: Many of these books are by white people, and the irony is not lost on me. I’m looking forward to continuing this journey and reading more books by authors of color. Yet there’s something inspiring about this reality too: The white writers above provide living examples that we can actively resist racism while living in white skin.
If you’ve read other helpful books on the issue of race, I’d love to hear about them. Drop a comment below and share your suggestions with me!