A List of Readings, Movies, and Other Resources For People Wanting to Critically Engage

I have been asked by friends and family wanting to explore their white privilege and race issues the past several days, at first I thought that I would curate a list. Then I remembered/realized that many others have already created lists. I don’t feel that I need to rehash what has already been done. So maybe instead, I will give some suggestions of resources I think are particularly valuable in examining some of these things, provide some insight as to why I think they are valuable, and share some of the curated lists I am familiar with. There are so many other topics – environmental racism, medical racism, economic racism, and more that I would love to explore, but for now, I will work to keep this focused. I may add to this list as others make suggestions. What would you add?

Exploring White Privilege

  • Peggy McIntosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack – For those just beginning to explore privilege, this is a really good start. Some of the areas are a bit superficial, but I would argue that we all tend to see things superficially before we can really engage and explore at a deeper level. This essay and list are non-threatening and provide an avenue to explore the ways in which we all experience privilege and oppression (unless you are affluent, male, white, Christian, heterosexual, have no disability, etc…)
  • Tim Wise’s White Like Me (book) – This book is Tim’s reflection about his coming to learn about his own privilege as a white male and how to advocate for marginalized communities. The historical moments he remembers are a great reminder about where we, as a nation, have been. Further, this book is a really good lesson to anyone wanting to engage in allyship to a community different from their own – how to be a good ally without being patronizing. So regardless of your own identity, this book is a great resource to help you explore your own points of privilege and how to be an ally to different groups.

Educating Yourself About Race, Racism, and Inequality

  • Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail – This is perhaps one of Martin Luther King’s best essays (I don’t know for sure as I haven’t read them all, it is referenced a lot in many things I have read and by many antiracist activists). This essay critiques many white arguments about marginalized people protesting. So many of these arguments continue to be made today. This essay is just as relevant today as it was in 1963.
  • Curriculum for White Americans (free and short readings) – I have looked over this list and recognize many of the resources – there are images, videos, and essays. These are all written for the regular person wishing to explore privilege, race, racism, etc…
  • Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities (book) – While this book is a little dated, Kozol does a brilliant job of painting the picture of the towns and schools he visits as he travels the U.S. He documents through careful observation, documents, and interviews and conversations with those living, working, and attending schools in these areas and tries to explore nearby more affluent schools for comparison. It is insightful and heartbreaking.
  • James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son (book) – This book, originally written in 1955, is still so relevant today. Baldwin traces the myth of black criminality in the modern (then) U.S. and breaks it down. He explores the distrust of black Americans toward the political system. He explores his own rage and through that love for humanity. And he explores his own humanness. It is a poignant book and striking how very very relevant what he is saying in 1955 (with some essays dating to the mid-1940s) is still the same struggle today.
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me (book) – Ta-Nehisi Coates was awarded a McArthur Fellowship in 2015. These awards recognize genius. And Ta-Nehisi Coates certainly qualifies. This book is timely, in light of the over policing, mass incarceration, and state-sanctioned murdering of black and brown people. In this book he is talking to his young son, working through his own memories of trauma and pain, toward hope and resilience. It is a powerful, sometimes heartbreaking, and necessary read. I think one thing he does well is illuminate that the violence we are seeing pop up on social media against black and brown men and women is not new and has happened in myriad ways. I also highly recommend his article in The AtlanticThe Case for Reparations. In this essay, he outlines the history of redlining, mortgage fraud, and other economic racism faced by blacks from Emancipation to the housing bubble bursting and makes a strong case for reparations.
  • Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow (book) – This book was perhaps the first, certainly the first popular book, to outline how mass incarceration is just an extension of Jim Crow. Michelle Alexander has developed a new analysis, rooted in the deep and dark history of this country that speaks to why we are seeing what we are seeing and it set the stage for others to come in and extend her work.
  • Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy (book) – Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer working with people on death row. This book highlights his work, some of his clients, many of the injustices in the system, and the broken parts of the justice system. He does not make excuses for his clients, instead he illuminates the ways the justice system is broken and inhumane.
  • Ava DuVernay’s – 13th (documentary, available on Netflix) – This movie extends Michelle Alexander’s and Bryan Stevenson’s work, connecting even to Baldwin by tracing some of the rhetoric of the mythical black criminal to politicians (Nixon, Reagan, Clinton). Every stone is overturned to explore the lasting and painful impact this language has had on people and the U.S. It is a powerful documentary, worth watching.
  • Kill the Messenger (movie) – I remember in the 1980s when crack cocaine became popular. I remember some people discussing how the government brought crack to the ghettos and got people of color addicted. At the time I blew it off as paranoia. However, I have read a lot more about some of this over time and this movie illuminated even more for me about the government’s role in this. Turns out, that paranoia I blew off has more truth to it than not. And lest anyone think I am just basing this on a movie – I think reading Jeff Chang’s book, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of Hip Hop, might illuminate some aspects of the argument in this movie as well as watching some of the episodes of Gangland, specifically the ones related to LA and Chicago gangs.
  • I would also like to suggest watching Straight Outta Compton (movie) and listening – really listening to the words – of hip hop/rap from the time period and today. These young men and women are speaking to their lived experiences and life circumstances. Whether you get rap or not, listen and try to understand what they are saying and what they are experiencing.
  • Skokie (movie) – This movie explores the impact of a proposed Neo-Nazi march in Skokie, Illinois – a largely Jewish community. While many of the youth within the community felt compelled to support First Amendment rights to free speech, the elders in the community struggled with those tenets and the continued threat to their existence. Many of the elders were survivors of Nazi concentration camps and were closer to that history than the youth. The movie demonstrates a community coming together in unity and resistance to the proposed march.

Educating Yourself About LGBTQ+

  • The Normal Heart (movie) – This movie, while a little choppy, gives a really good history lesson about how Reagan ignored the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and many thousand people died – somewhere in the hundreds of thousands. I remember these times too. People were terrified of this epidemic, there was a lot of myth surrounding the disease, and the government did little to intervene. Imagine if President Obama had ignored Zika and allowed it to spread without government intervention or action. Reagan ignoring HIV/AIDS set research on this disease back decades.
  • The Laramie Project (movie) – A little dated now, especially as LGBT kids are being bullied and committing suicide at what seem very high rates (again I wonder if it is just that we are more aware because of social media.) This movie illustrates both how “normal” and “good” the guys who murdered Matthew Shepard seemed to other community members, how the community worked to make sense of this heinous crime, how Matthew’s friends came together at his funeral to protect the friends and family from hate, and how his family worked to ensure he would be remembered. This event was a real turning point for greater LGBT understanding.


  • Mica Pollock’s Everyday Antiracism (book) – I haven’t read this book, but have read other Mica Pollock books. I really appreciate her work and have this on my must read list.
  • Tim Wise’s list of resources – Tim Wise has curated a really good list of resources here. Some of which I have read and am familiar with, others are on my list, and some I have not heard of. I look forward to delving into this list myself.

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