Education Opinion

Summer Reading Suggestions on Race

By Elena Aguilar — May 31, 2016 3 min read
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I love reading, summer reading, summer learning, and learning about race. Learning about race is not only essential if you’re driven by a commitment to creating equitable schools, but also--because it’s an exploration of identity--it reaches into the core of who we are; it’s personal for all of us. So this post, Educating Ourselves on Race, by David Cohen caught my attention. I’m intrigued by David’s suggestions for podcasts and shows, and want to add to his reading list.

Here are my recommendations for summer reading on race.

1. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates.

I came to see the streets and the schools as arms of the same beast. One enjoyed the official power of the state while the other enjoyed its implicit sanction. But fear and violence were the weaponry of both."

This is Coates’ poetic memoir and reflection on what it means to be a black man in the United States, written in the form of a letter to his 15 year old son. Read it because it’s a message you won’t hear anywhere else, read it because it offers a provocative suggestion for how to live with the racial reality of our country, read it because the questions raised are the questions we must grapple with. This is a book to read multiple times and to be discussed with others, and one that educators, especially, must take the time to read.

Here’s another excerpt:

It does not matter that the 'intentions' of individual educators were noble. Forget out intentions. What any institution, or its agents, 'intend' for you is secondary. Our world is physical...But a great number of educators spoke of 'personal responsibility' in a country authored and sustained by a criminal irresponsibility. The point of this language of 'intention' and 'personal responsibility' is broad exoneration. Mistakes were made. Bodies were broken. People were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. 'Good intention' is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream."

Read this book.

2. For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education, by Christopher Emdin.

I’ve only just started this, but I love what I’ve reading. Emdin’s stories and anecdotes are direct and powerful and clearly illustrate microaggressions and implicit bias. This book really is for all educators--there’s much for all of us to learn in here.

3. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander

This is a hard book to read, and an essential one. This is the book to read to understand the school to prison pipeline. For a taste of Michelle Alexander’s thinking listen to this podcast interview she did on the show On Being.

4. Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation, by Derald Wing Sue.

Understanding microaggressions is critical if we’re going to uproot racism in our country, and this is the book to read in order to understand what this is all about. This book is unfortunately expensive, and it’s dense, but it is one of the most useful things I’ve ever read on the subject of race. Every school should have at least one copy of this book in it’s staff library.

5. Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankin.

This poem/essay is an exploration of how racism pervades our society. It is heavy and hopeful, a meditative memoir that made me look inward and outward and that stayed with me for a long time. It’s the counterpart of Sue’s book (last recommendation) as it provides the personal and artistic texture for his research.

6. Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys, by Victor Rios.

This book should be getting more circulation in our schools than it is: it’s another exposé of the school to prison pipeline, with many examples from within our classrooms. Read this before you read Michelle Alexander’s book--it’s so relevant and the connections are immediate to our work.

Looking for short reads or podcasts?

Try these:

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ articles in the Atlantic are always enlightening. This one, The Case for Reparations, is a brilliant history of institutionalized racism in the U.S. Start there.

James Baldwin and Margaret Mead’s conversation on race. Insightful and unique conversation between two very interesting people.

This American Life’s The Problem We All Live With is a brilliant two part show about racism, segregation, and our schools. There is even a suggestion (backed by research!) for an Answer to our education inequities. It’s a challenging answer to consider--but definitely important to know. Listen to these two podcasts. They’ll stay with you for a long time.

Krista Tippet (the host of On Being) also recently interviewed professor john a. powell in a show called Opening the Question of Race to the Question of Belonging. This was a powerful listen.

I would love to hear from you--what would you add to this list?

The opinions expressed in The Art of Coaching Teachers are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.