By Olivia Schmid || Layout Assistant

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Racial justice has become a much more significant focus in 2020 than in recent years; the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, the fight against white supremacy, and the desire to learn how to be a better ally have all moved to the forefront of the minds of millions — and rightfully so.

I’m here to highlight some influential books that are all phenomenal resources and should be, without a doubt, on everyone’s “must-read” list for the upcoming year.  As sad as it may seem, books written by Black authors are still overlooked and it’s about time they get shown their due respect and time.

  1. Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018)

As the first African American to serve as First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama offers a unique perspective to life in America, detailing her journey from the South Side of Chicago all the way to the White House.  Brutally honest and incredibly raw, Obama tells her story without holding anything back.  She shares her triumph and her failure, and her happiness and her sadness as she ages into the woman she is known as today.  This memoir offers a reflection so powerful that it will have you on the edge of your seat — as it should.

  1. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015)

Written as a letter to his son, Coastes displays the harsh reality of what it’s truly like to be Black in America in the 21st century.  It’s the story of how he became aware of his social status as a Black American without privilege and the impact that identity had on how he viewed himself for decades.  As Toni Morrison says right on the front cover, “this is required reading.”

  1. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (2010)

Alexander strives to explain that although it’s no longer considered acceptable to discriminate and exclude someone on the basis of race, Black Americans are denied their basic human rights even still.  Additionally, she contributes the point that it is perfectly fine to put convicted criminals at a disadvantage in nearly all the ways in which it was once considered “fine” to discriminate against people of color.  Despite being published a whole decade ago, the message of The New Jim Crow still rings true.  Despite being published sixty years after the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, the message still rings true — and how sad is that.

  1. How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi (2019)

This how-to guide by activist Ibram X. Kendi dishes out a plethora of antiracist ideas to help his readers understand the depths of racism and discrimination worldwide and how we can make small steps to better combat it.

  1. Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock (2014)

In this book detailing the hardships of growing up in America as a biracial, transgender woman, New York Times bestselling author Janet Mock unloads the actuality of a marginalized community such as the one she was raised in.

  1. Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama (1995)

Yes, another Obama on the list!  And rightfully so.  In his own memoir, Obama gives his audience a look into the difficulties of being a biracial American and the impact his late father had on him as he worked towards becoming the first Black President of the United States.

  1. You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Have To Explain by Phoebe Robinson (2016)

Does the name Phoebe Robinson sound familiar?  If so, you may recognize her as the host of the 2 Dope Queens podcast.  In her collection of essays, Robinson tackles common issues that many might not even take note of prior to reading the novel.  Topics discussed range from being called “the Black friend” to being followed in the grocery store and offer fresh and necessary perspective on things that are unfortunately all too familiar.

  1. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown (2018)

The New York Times gives readers a perfect summary when it’s stated that, “From a leading voice on racial justice, an eye-opening account of growing up Black, Christian, and female that exposes how white America’s love affair with ‘diversity’ so often falls short of its ideals.”  After discovering the true intention behind the name she was given, Austin sets out in the novel to find for herself what it truly means to be Black in America in this day and age.  Highly personal and raw, this book will have you contemplating how we’ve let racism go on this long.

Arguably the best way to educate yourself on ways to improve your part in fighting for equality of all races would be to hear directly from the source — that is, directly from the people that have been affected by racism and white supremacy for centuries: our black community.  And while these novels are great places to start, don’t allow the discussion to stop here.  

The learning does not stop after reading about 1 Black American’s experience (or even 2 or 3).  Talk to your Black family, friends, neighbors and coworkers.  Ask them how you can be a better ally.  Ask them what America is like for people of color.  Because as these books prove, it’s not the great America many people (mind you, many white people) claim it to be.  Let’s aim for some change in 2021.

First-year Olivia Schmid is a Layout Assistant. Her email is