In so many ways, to understand what anti-Black racism is requires one to dig into the true unapologetic and uncensored history of this country (the U.S.) and the wider world. Anti-Black racism is global. It is colorism. It is the ways in which Black people the world over have been subjugated and abused by people of all ethnicities. The ways in which it has been acceptable to pillage, plunder, rape, and murder the Continent of Africa and the indigenous people who sprung forth from those lands. It is in the ways in which white identified and white adjacent people of color diminish, erase, violate, and visit violence upon the bodies, souls, minds, and opportunities of Black people.
In diving into the work that illuminates anti-Black racism, it is important to suspend defensiveness, learn to get comfortable with discomfort, and learn to sit in that discomfort. So much of the history of this country has been whitewashed, deculturalized, and the violence against Black people erased. Our contributions to this country have been erased. Our lives have been the bargaining chips of history against which most white and white adjacent people of color have wagered against. Anti-Blackness is also so engrained within this society that many Black people have internalized these violent lessons. And yet, like Maya Angelou has said, still we rise. We have made a way out of no way and too often had only bad choices to choose from as we work to build a better life for ourselves and the future generations. And we are still here, fighting for justice, fighting for recognition, fighting to be heard. Most often, it was Black people who clearly saw the threads of anti-Black racism and corruption.
There is no shortage of material created by Black people, speaking about anti-Black racism. If you’re not finding it, it’s because you’re not looking for it (which speaks to white supremacy by minimizing, invalidating, and ignoring our work), your viewing our work as entertainment (which speaks to white supremacy seeing Black people as only entertainers, not knowledge makers), or you’re actively avoiding it (which is another layer of white supremacy and anti-Black racism, erasure).
I think to understand anti-Black racism, one needs to have read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, W.E.B. DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk, some Frederick Douglas, Zora Neale Hurston, and Sojourner Truth. Mix in some James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Angela Davis, and Assata Shakur. And to be sure, there is no shortage of foundational readings.
I also highly recommend following people like Michael Harriot, Bree Newsome Bass, Nikole Hannah Jones, Bishop Talbert Swan, and others on social media – the named people are all on Twitter. Their laser focus is helpful and illuminating.
It means diving into Black music – the Blues, Jazz, and Hip Hop. Listen to Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit and NWA’s Straight Outta Compton, specifically, F*ck the Police, and really listen to the lyrics. Listen to TuPac, Brenda’s Baby and Changes and Dear Momma and any of his other tracks. Listen to Lauryn Hill’s entire album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Listen to Public Enemy. And most of all, listen to what all of these people are saying, the story they are telling the listener. Google the lyrics to get a deeper and better understanding. Listen with an open heart and mind.
Beyond that, dig into scholarly and non-scholarly sources. Watch documentaries and movies: Ava DuVernay’s 13th and When They See Us, just about anything from Spike Lee – old school and more contemporary, Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Us, and BlacKkKlansman. Watch some TV shows like the HBO series The Watchmen or Lovecraft Country, or Misha Green’s Underground (she is also responsible for Lovecraft Country), Netflix’s BlackAF. Prime time shows like Kenya Barris’ Black-ish, Mixed-ish, and Grown-ish (he also does BlackAF). Heck, go back and watch Good Times, All in the Family, and The Jeffersons. Watch Kimberly Jones’ YouTube video, How Can We Win? Watch some Dave Chappelle and really listen to his comedy. Watch The Road to Brown about how Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas came to be and the groundwork laid for it to wend its way to SCOTUS.
In many ways, these forebears were speaking to anti-Black racism from the start and laid the groundwork for many writing and thinking about this now. Some contemporary people to read are Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Atlantic article, The Case for Reparations. It was so foundational to my understanding of the ways in which the government implemented and supported policies of exclusion and exploitation beyond chattel slavery around housing, building of generational wealth, and such. It’s an important piece – or you can pick up his book We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy which is a beautiful tome for many things. It illuminates how his thinking and learning has evolved through each essay. He has reflections for each chapter (which were essays published in the Atlantic) that discuss what he was reading, what he was thinking and struggling with. Or read his Between the World and Me, which was just released on HBO Max in a star studded dramatic reading. Also, Catrice Jackson’s Antagonists, Advocates, and Allies or The Becky Code or any of her other titles are excellent and is Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism: Notes From the Women the Movement Left Behind. Also, Monique Morris’ Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools or Mica Pollock’s Colormute: Race Talk Dilemas in an American School.
Dig into history with The 1619 Project and accompanying podcast. Read Carol Anderson’s White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. And definitely read Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. She does a good job of highlighting how everything in this country is built around anti-Black racism as caste and ends with how white people are not voting against their own interests when they vote for racism. They are voting to uphold the racial caste system that serves them, which is very much voting for their best interests. Building a solid understanding of history and the interlocking components of oppression that were too often internationally woven is critical to fully seeing how anti-Black racism is woven into everything. But to understand that, you may need to read about specific people and movements. For that, I recommend reading Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panthers by Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin. For more on history, read Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, Who We Be: A Cultural History of Race in Post-Civil Rights America, or We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation. Chang breaks down how gangs came to be – to protect the communities in which they resided, for survival, and support in Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop and how hip-hop changed and shaped music. He discusses the challenges faced by artists of color and the various ways in which they shaped contemporary art and how the art connects to social movements, resistance to oppression, and more. Read The Perfomative Significance of Race: Reflections on Black Culture and the Politics of Identity by Bryant Keith Alexander to learn both about history and the intersection of gender identity, gender and sexuality orientations, and race.
I love Rethinking Schools’ Teaching for Black Lives (https://rethinkingschools.org). I am a Bettina Love superfan and appreciate everything she puts out. I’ll be reading Love’s new book: We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom and Laurence Ross’ Blackballed: The Black + White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses in the coming weeks. I also plan to read Joy DeGruy’s Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury & Healing and Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown in the coming weeks. I expect I will have so much more to say about these books as they each look so promising and have been highly recommended by many friends across various intersectional identities.
Here are some other resources on anti-Black racism:
The UNLV Anti-Black Racism Task Force (https://www.unlv.edu/diversity/anti-black-racism)
The NYU Anti-Black Racism Education Resource List (https://www.nyu.edu/alumni/news-publications/nyu-connect-newsletter/june-2020/antiracism-education-resource-list.html) – many of the resources I was going to recommend
This resource at U Pitt looks promising and helpful as well (https://www.provost.pitt.edu/anti-black-racism-history-ideology-and-resistance-final-course-syllabus) – it’s a syllabus but the readings and videos look good
This from the Urban Institute provides a pretty good but brief history with links (https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/anti-black-racism-where-we-were-and-where-we-are-today)
I like this PBS collection as it is geared to middle and high school students and might be helpful for people who are beginning their journey of discovery (https://kcts9.pbslearningmedia.org/collection/confronting-anti-black-racism/#.X9J72i1h0Q8)
This list of resources from UCSF also has some good resources (https://mrc.ucsf.edu/racial-equity-anti-black-racism)
While I’m not a religious person, I appreciate the multi-pronged focus of this resource from Bread for the World (https://www.bread.org/blog/reflection-anti-black-racism)
This from Yes! Magazine has some good suggestions for curriculum and learning (https://www.yesmagazine.org/education/2020/04/07/lets-talk-about-anti-blackness/)
Okay, I’m sure I could go on and on but I’ll drop two more potential resources. After the 2016 election I realized I had so so much more to learn about race and racism in this country and challenged myself to read 2 books per month about resistance, Black history, etc. I did a blog post on it with reviews about the books I read. I would highly recommend so many of them. Much from that list is gold. This is an annotated list, so people can learn a little bit about the lessons I took from the books.
Last summer I pulled together a list of resources for a doctoral class on race, identity, and representation course I was teaching. This list is not annotated, it is just a list and up to the person engaging to explore on their own. It offers many ways into the work: from reading scholarly and non-scholarly books and articles, various genres of books and essays, music, movies, TV shows, and video clips. No list will be inclusive of all of the possible resources.
I would also highly recommend exploring some of these resources that have some primary documents and various pieces of historical documents: The Freedom Archives, The Black Panther Party Legacy & Alumni, The 1619 Project New Literary Timeline of African-American History, the Black Freedom Struggle in the United States, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (and definitely visit this museum if in Washington D.C. and plan to spend the entire day exploring).
There is no shortage of material to engage with. Black people have been creating and producing material that speaks to the experiences of Black people, the history, the realities, etc for generations. It is about if and how you choose to consume and listen. Be present, think with an open and critical mind, use your information literacy skills. Further, I’m going to argue that anti-Black racism is maybe less a field of scholarship or a specific area of study but rather a lens for seeing, grounded in critical race theory and connected to history. White supremacy veils the historical connections, CRT illuminates these connections and how those connections function that make anti-Black racism visible, the patterns through history. It’s more about the person doing the work and the person engaging with the work than the work, specifically. Many point it out, many more do not. It’s left up to the person engaging with the work to draw the connection. Seeing anti-Black racism is a matter of present engagement. At least that is my argument for now. There are so many ways into this work, find a path and educate yourself because we have all been miseducated and indoctrinated into white supremacy and racism through anti-Black racism as a foundational guiding principle since the first ship carrying kidnapped enslaved Africans landed on what is now the U.S. shores of Virginia in August of 1619. As Michael Harriot’s grandmother said, “a Black person’s humanity can never be fully realized in the presence of whiteness.” Whether you’re a white person seeking to learn, a person of color working to expand your knowledge, or a Black person working to re/member yourself and your heritage, this learning is critical to our own emotional, social, and epistemic growth but also impacts our ability to move forward with more intentionality to dismantle unjust racist systems.