Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Reading about race

Since yesterday's post was devoted to fun summer reading and fiction, I thought I'd focus today's post on some more meaty material--books about race and anti-racism.

I confess that this post is really inspired by the one at Anti-Racist Parent "If I Was in Charge of Revising MEPA: Some Books for White People Adopting Black Children." Lots of folks ended up writing in their own recommendations in the comment section.

So here are my own "Must Reads" for anyone interested in good books that cover issues of race and racism and anti-racist work. Some of them are theoretically dense, others are really a collection of excerpts from longer works. But all are really good at tackling issues of race.

*Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s. Michael Omi & Howard Winant. Second edition. New York & London: Routledge (1994).
--I was assigned the first edition of this work as a freshman at UCSB taking my very first Asian American studies class. It is required reading in any class I teach on race. There is supposed to be a third "Millennium" edition coming out, but the second, like the first, is solid work--especially Chapter 4 on "Racial Formation."

*"Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?": A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity. Beverly Daniel Tatum. Revised edition. New York: Basic Books (2003).
--A great book for anyone who has ever asked this question or been asked this question (or its variation) for why kids cluster along ethnic/racial lines (with the questioner sometimes implying that there is something wrong with this). Beverly Tatum is the current president at Spelman College and is an amazing scholar and speaker. And this book is foundational reading on child development and race in America. In many ways, it complements Omi & Winant by literally fleshing out the theory that they propose by looking at the actual adolescents and young adults going through the process of racial formation.

*White Privilege: Essential Readings on the Other Side of Racism. Paula S. Rothenberg, editor. Second edition. New York: Worth Publishers (2005).
--This is a great collection of essays on white privilege. And any discussion of race and racism should also be a discussion of white privilege. The list of contributors reads like a "Who's Who" of race reading and writing: bell hoooks, George Lipsitz, Tim Wise, and many others. One of my favorite essays is by Peggy McIntosh "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" (it's in Part III). In fact, the collection is dedicated to her as one "who led the way."

*We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity. Tommie Shelby. Cambridge: Harvard University Press (2005).
--This is probably the most dense reading in this recommended list, but it's also very thorough in its discussion of the history of black racial identity--its political and philosophical roots linked with the history of the U.S. and the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade. One of the things Shelby is trying to do is to talk about black identity as a social identity and viable group identity that isn't always commensurate with Black Nationalism. Shelby is careful not to dismiss Black Nationalism, but in the world of postmodernist philosophy and race, the dismantling of any ethnic-national groups is part of the status quo--Shelby is trying to show how group racial identities are still important while also acknowledging the fictive qualities of race and the problematics of relying solely on a Black National identity and political agenda.

*Honky. Dalton Conley. New York: Random House (2000).
--During the fall semester a few years back, I literally had a student in my "Mixed Race America" class chase me across campus and hand me this book. He had heard Conley speak at his high school and had been so impressed and thought that the issues we were discussing in class--ones about racial identity, cross-racial identifications, allies across color lines, class, race, gender, sexuality, and most importantly racism and white privilege, were all encompassed in Conley's autobiography. He was right. I finished the book in a weekend and was sorry that I had discovered it too late to put on my syllabus. Dalton Conley is a social psychologist at NYU, and his autobiography is informed by his social psychologist's eye. But it is also a raw, engaging, entertaining, thoughtful, and thoroughly honest look at race and white privilege through the eyes of a man who grew up the only white kid in a black-Latino housing project in NYC.

*Disoriented: Asian Americans, Law, and the Nation-State. Robert Chang. New York: New York University Press (1999).
--I'd be remiss not to include a work by a legal scholar who works in critical race studies, especially one as good as Chang. At a slim 180 pages (and that includes the footnotes and index) this book is a must-read for anyone who wants to be able to argue for affirmative action, especially because as Chang knows all too well, Asian Americans have been used as that wedge group to argue AGAINST those policies (and I've written about Chang and this issue before). The book, however, isn't only about affirmative action--it's also about the history of Asian Americans in U.S. jurisprudence and the primacy of placing Asian Americans into any discussion of race in the U.S.

Anyway, these are my recommendations for key books on race, racism, white privilege, and anti-racist practices. Feel free to leave your own in the comment section.


My ONE LOVE Life said...

I just found your blog, it's great! I've had a couple of those same finger pointing conversations in person and when I walk away swearing under my breath... Your perspective gave me a new vision and perspective for further approaches.

Jennifer said...

my one love life,
Thanks for leaving a comment and for the note of appreciation about the blog. I also hear you on the frustrating conversations with people. Don't you wish they had a social filter that was tuned a bit higher sometimes? (sigh) Guess the hard work still isn't over.