More voices like Obama's to help me understand race?
July 21, 2013 11:59 AM   Subscribe

I have been struggling to understand and form opinions on racial issues in the US for most of my adult life. The whole conversation is so loaded with value-judgments that my thinking gets all tangled up. I feel like I'm missing a strong philosophical and moral framework from which to form opinions about individual issues. I'm ready to do some reading and heavy thinking so I can think more clearly about this. President Obama's speeches on race have really resonated with me. Any suggestions for books or writings with a similar attitude?

I'm mostly interested in black-white race issues (but even better if I can establish a framework that makes me more comfortable with issues regarding other minorities and also people with disabilities).

I am white and my social circle is mostly composed of your standard white liberal urban crowd. My community is very diverse, but my professional field has almost no black people working in it. I feel like my thinking is becoming distressingly racialized, and I having a growing resentment over how something that's innocuous to me can be interpreted as racist and privileged to others. At the same time, I have the experience of being "the other" in areas other than race. It's all very confusing for me.

I find Obama's speeches really clear and honest, not patronizing or filled with blame. I'm looking for similar stuff to read that can help me work this out for myself.
posted by Gravel to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
The blog of Ta-Nehisi Coates is excellent.
posted by ghharr at 12:02 PM on July 21, 2013 [27 favorites]

Race Matters by the estimable Cornel West.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:05 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Henry Louis Gates' autobio.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:10 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Losing the Race by John McWhorter

Winning the Race by John McWhorter

Authentically Black by John McWhorter

Online articles by John McWhorter

Bloggingheads diavlogs between Glenn Loury and John McWhorter

Oh, did I mention John McWhorter?
posted by John Cohen at 12:16 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm really struck by how literally every suggestion on this list so far is by men.

Alice Walker. Toni Morrison. Sikivu Hutchinson. bell hooks. Maya Angelou. The Crunk Feminist Collective. Aaronette M. White.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 12:24 PM on July 21, 2013 [14 favorites]

Jane Elliot brought prejudice into sharp focus with her blue eyes brown eyes experiments.
posted by Max Power at 1:01 PM on July 21, 2013

In addition to the above, I'd suggest getting historical context by reading the Narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs. They are autobiographies, but also acute commentaries on race in 19th century America.
posted by third rail at 1:14 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

In the realm of non-personal historical work, I highly recommend Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns (the story of the Great Migration of African-Americans out of the South post-World War II) and Nell Irvin Painter's The History of White People (the story of how "white" has been redefined over the years -- as Ta-Nehisi Coates has said, "the idea of race in American life has never been a rock, but clay fashioned as the racists of every generation need it to be.").

Also, in addition to Coates' blog, The Beautiful Struggle is an amazing autobiography that tells what it was like to grow up in a proud African-American community (with all its highs and lows) -- he is among the best writers on American class and culture working today.
posted by Etrigan at 1:31 PM on July 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Thirding Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog, including the comment section. Lots of smart women and men over there.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:44 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum

White Like Me by Tim Wise

White Privilege by Paula Rothenberg (ed.) (I particulay recommend Richard Dyer's essay in this one and Peggy McIntosh's seminal essay)

But Some of Us Are Brave by Gloria Hull (ed.) To read about the experience of Black women

Color Blind by Ellis Cose

This list comprises white, black, male and female writers so you get a bit of each, and they're all very readable. If you're ever interested in going deeper, memail me. This just scratches the surface.
posted by janey47 at 2:13 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen Obama's memoir Dreams From My Father mentioned. He's a very impressive writer.

One of my most formative authors (as a tutor in the South Side of Chicago) was Jonathan Kozol, whose focus is the gross racial inequities in the educational system. Start with Amazing Grace.
posted by seemoreglass at 2:50 PM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also: MLK's Letter from a Birmingham Jail and the essays of James Baldwin
posted by seemoreglass at 3:02 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

From a different perspective, the blog We Are Not Trayvon Martin is a collection of personal anecdotes from people who have realized that their lives contain a sense of Privilege that the lives of others don't contain.
posted by CathyG at 3:52 PM on July 21, 2013

Nthing Mr. Coates' blog. As an African-American woman, post-70s, hip-hop generation baby, I can honestly say that Coates' is one of the most authentic, thoughtful voices of our generation.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 4:07 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Maybe the Smiley and West radio program?
posted by thelonius at 4:25 PM on July 21, 2013

Another vote for Cornel West. Reading Race Matters in my mid-20s was pretty life-changing for me.
posted by scody at 4:54 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I got some great suggestions here, when I asked specifically for books to fill in the gaps in my education about Civil Rights activists in the 50-60-70's.
posted by crush-onastick at 5:31 PM on July 21, 2013

Another View is an African American centered weekly hour long radio show. I listen as often as possible and it always makes me think.
posted by Requiax at 6:09 PM on July 21, 2013

The Week in Blackness site and podcast generally and especially Angry Black Lady Chronicles.
posted by cushie at 6:25 PM on July 21, 2013

Studs Terkel, Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession. though it's a bit old, the content about race is still relevant. for example, one interviewee talks about how being black in america is like wearing ill-fitting shoes.
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:40 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is a lot of value in the historical voices - the women listed by Enchanting Grasshopper for sure, and then add these in:

Frantz Fanon - his work is from a totally different time and even place, but you can see the commonalities affecting the diaspora so easily with his clear writing. Also, he's got a great mind and his words show it very well. While Wretched of the Earth is his best-known classic, my favourite one for getting deep is Black Skin, White Masks.

James Baldwin - passionate, brilliant, and prolific. Notes of a Native Son reveals much of the infrastructure for the current climate. Mr. Baldwin was also gay, and you'll find some of his other work delves into that a bit more.

Ida B. Wells - she was best-known for her speeches, so she's a great historical voice along the same line of what you like from the President.

And to get a bit more modern:

Greg Tate - he has a way of describing perception and experience that is very readable. His essays in Flyboy in the Buttermilk give insight into our conflicted cultures in a way that opens more thoughts rather than closing minds.

An overall perspective that I think invites even more understanding and knowledge-seeking: Nigger: the Strange Career of a Troublesome Word by Randall Kennedy

...and that, of course, made me realise Dick Gregory's important autobiography hasn't shown up yet, so I'm fixing that.
posted by batmonkey at 9:16 PM on July 21, 2013

PostBourgie and Racialicious are good blogs for unpacking how race plays out in pop culture.
posted by mellophone at 1:48 PM on July 22, 2013

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