Race, Injustice, Black Lives Matter: Recommended reading from faculty and staff
June 3, 2020
Given the heartbreak and anger that many in the College community are feeling in light of recent police brutality that is rooted in centuries of anti-Black racism in the U.S., the Record reached out to faculty and staff members for recommended educational resources on racism, inequality and other forms of injustice.
Each contributor shared unique lists accompanied by their own written thoughts, which we have included here. Where possible, we have hyperlinked the contributor’s personal website, where readers can learn more about the contributor’s work. The contributing faculty and staff, listed in alphabetical order, draw from expertise in diverse disciplines, including literature, art, Africana studies, social psychology, environmental science, political science and more. The list includes articles, books, poems, essays, films, music and podcasts. We hope that these selections curated by our teachers and mentors can help inform our understandings of current events in this time of tragedy and protest.
Swank, a media resource freely accessible to students at the College, offers a wide collection of movies and documentaries, including some in this list. Articles are hyperlinked when possible, and other scholarly works, including course syllabi, may be accessible through the College’s library login.
All the links for books will direct you to a Black-owned community bookstore across the country: AfriWare Books in Maywood, Ill.; Books and Crannies in Martinsville, Va.; The Dock Bookshop in Ft. Worth, Texas; Eso Won Books in Los Angeles, Calif.; Eye See Me in St. Louis, Mo.; Frugal Bookstore in Roxbury, Mass.; Loyalty Books in Silver Springs, Md.; Mahogany Books in Washington, D.C.; Malik Books in Los Angeles, Calif.; Source Booksellers in Detroit, Mich. and Uncle Bobbie’s in Philadelphia, Pa.
We hope you will support these and other Black-owned businesses.
To keep ourselves accountable as a predominantly white newspaper board and to ensure that we too are engaging with these resources, Record editors will read and interact with as many pieces as possible in this collection.
This is a growing list; if you are a faculty or staff member whose scholarship relates to this work and would like to contribute, please email [email protected]
Laylah Ali ’91
Francis Christopher Oakley Third Century Professor of Art
This is a very good interview from “Democracy Now” with Tamika Mallory.
“Democracy Now” is an important news source that people/students don't often know about.
Website: Laylah Ali
Assistant Professor of Art
Some immediate resources I’d recommend are as follows:
We’re at the point where the very words people use to plead for their lives can be repurposed as shorthand for completely separate tragedies.–Codeswitch
Website: Michelle Apotsos
Rashida K. Braggs
Associate Professor of Africana Studies and Faculty Affiliate in Comparative Literature and American Studies
I have listed below some books and films that may be helpful. Though there are many texts that come to mind, I’ve posted ones that may not have already come to the top of others’ lists:
The past is a life sentence, a blunt instrument aimed at tomorrow.–Claudia Rankine ’86, Citizen
Website: Rashida K. Braggs
Gaius Charles Bolin Fellow in English
Website: Franny Choi
Professor of Psychology
Although I certainly always encourage people to read Whistling Vivaldi [by Claude Steele], I think the social psych book I’d most recommend at the moment is by another Stanford social psychologist, albeit a much younger one. I’d recommend a book by Jennifer Eberhardt called Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do.
I’d also encourage students and others to check out the collective research publications of another person whom Claude Steele mentored, Phillip Atiba Goff, who does a lot of very important social psychological work on racial biases involving the police. Eberhardt and Goff are both really outstanding African American social psychologists who publish some really innovative research that shed light on some of the sources and consequences of systemic racism and biases in policing, as well as in a variety of other contexts.
I just finished teaching my seminar this past semester, entitled [PSYC 341/WGSS 339] Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination, and my students and I spent the entire semester discussing the issues that the nation is now discussing this week. I like to begin the semester by discussing how important it is to understand how prejudice and discrimination operate on multiple levels, including individual, institutional, and cultural. Although social psychologists, among others, have been talking about systemic racism, in addition to individual racism, for many years, it has only been recently that systemic racism has begun to make its way into more national discussions, and I’m glad that we’re beginning to see more of that.
I’d also encourage everyone to listen carefully to Springsteen’s “American Skin (41 Shots)” and Childish Gambino's “This is America” right now.
Prejudice between groups is still a major cause of group segregation throughout the world.–Claude Steele
Website: Steven Fein
Rev. Valerie Bailey Fischer
Chaplain to the College
Yes, here we go again. This is not a new story – police brutality against an African American man. We take to the streets, looking for the next wave of activists. Many of us are not waiting for that wave, they are joining that wave. However, in addition to activists, I think we need to find the next wave of persons who will inspire the activists. Social injustice is a complex, three-dimensional puzzle of entangled pieces. This could be one reason for why it takes so long to change anything, especially systemic racism.
For moving one piece of a three-dimensional puzzle could entangle two more pieces. Perhaps what we need are more people who can come up with new ideas. Perhaps locked in someone’s imagination is a new idea or thought that might disentangle the mess that has allowed for some police agencies to continue to target and harass black men and women.
On the eve of the civil rights movement, when the Jim Crow laws seemed relentless, there were those activists who acted quietly, but their words and actions inspired other activists. Their writings and actions introduced new ideas into complex situations. Yes, we know Dr. King taught non-violence, but who was the one who introduced him to the concept of non-violence resistance? Yes, we know Rosa Parks sat in the front of the bus but who inspired her to take that action?
Here is a small collection of people who inspired some of the civil rights activists. These people were often activists in their own right, but gained far less notoriety than civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.
Ella Baker was a key person behind the scenes of some of the most influential civil rights organizations including the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Visit the website of her center to learn more about her groundbreaking work.
Howard Thurman was one of the ministers/teachers who inspired Dr. King, especially his book, Jesus and the Disinherited.
To learn more about Howard Thurman, you may also visit the PBS show: “Backs Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story”
Another activist who inspired those who were able to bring about institutional change was Pauli Murray. Murray inspired Thurgood Marshall and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Murray’s story is told in two books, The Firebrand and the First Lady: A Portrait of a Friendship – Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Struggle for Social Justice by Patricia Bell-Scott and in Murray’s posthumously published autobiography, Song in A Weary Throat: Memoir of an American Pilgrimage.
And finally, of course Toni Morrison, whose last collection of writings, The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches and Meditations starts with a chapter titled “Peril,” which says the following:
“Authoritarian regimes, dictators, despots are often, but not always, fools. But none is foolish enough to give perceptive, dissident writers free range to publish their judgments or follow their creative instincts. They know they do so at their own peril. They are not stupid enough to abandon control (overt or insidious) over media. Their methods include surveillance, censorship, arrest, even slaughter of those writers informing and disturbing the public. Writers who are unsettling, calling into question, taking another, deeper look. Writers – journalists, essayists, bloggers, poets, playwrights – can disturb the social oppression that functions like a coma on the population, a coma despots call peace, and they stanch the blood flow of war that hawks and profiteers thrill to.
That is their peril…
Certain kinds of trauma visited on peoples are so deep, so cruel, that unlike money, unlike vengeance, even unlike justice, or rights, or the goodwill of others, only writers can translate such trauma and turn sorrow into meaning, sharpening the moral imagination. A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity.” (page vii-ix.)
Morrison was speaking to our present situation: an administration that tries to control the media and brave writers who continue to challenge oppression, even before it has a name. I hope you find something new in this collection that you have never seen before, especially if it is a book or essay, picture or artwork that gives name to the unspeakable and therefore a new point on the roadmap to justice and peace. And perhaps you may find yourself naming the present horror and to give meaning to the newest piece of the complex three-dimensional puzzle that is the institutionalized racism that continues to haunt all of us, especially African Americans.
Website: Rev. Valerie Bailey Fischer
Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies
The Combahee River Collective Statement
Danez Smith, Don't Call Us Dead
(Huang: “A gorgeous, devastating collection of poems including ‘summer, somewhere’”)
Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? and Freedom is a Constant Struggle
No One is Disposable: Everyday Practices of Prison Abolition
Website: Vivian Huang
Professor of History and Faculty Affiliate of the Davis Center and the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
I point you to the Charleston Syllabus and Baltimore Syllabus.
Also to this timeline from the Root.
Unprintable word at the end.
The syllabi are copious, but there are some real winners of books and articles there. Dive in.
I really hope that students will take the opportunity to enroll in classes at Williams that explore the history and reality of racism. Commit to attending scholarly talks or performances about race. Bring a friend. Keep learning.
Website: Gretchen Long
Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Faculty Affiliate in History
Robert D. Bullard and Beverly Wright, The Wrong Complexion for Protection: How the Government Response to Disaster Endangers African American Communities
(Martin: “The book was published before the Covid-19 pandemic, but the parallels are clear: Racism shapes disasters, and it also shapes disaster response.”)
David Naguib Pellow, What is Critical Environmental Justice?
(Martin: “This book connects environmental justice scholarship explicitly to recent work in critical race theory and gender and sexuality studies.”)
Website: Laura Martin
Sorkin Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science
In terms of a reading list, I can offer my syllabus on protest movements that is centered on the civil rights movement.
There’s a lot there, but watching the multipart PBS documentary “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Movement 1954-1985” would be great for reference.
In terms of racism, there’s a lot here — “I Am Not Your Negro” documentary is worth watching, and Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction in America is still essential reading.
There’s been a lot of debate on the effects of riots, and this article has been very influential recently: “Agenda Seeding: How 1960s Black Protests Moved Elites, Public Opinion and Voting”
Another argument is here: “Moderate liberals’ weak case against riots”
In terms of motivational material, the song “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” (there’s a Bruce Springsteen version too) that is used in the documentary is very powerful in terms of lyrics and melody.
Website: Aleksandar Matovski
The only thing that we did was right / Was the day we started to fight / Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on, hold on.—“Keep Your Eyes on the Prize”
Gaius Charles Bolin Fellow in the Environmental Studies Program
For now, I can offer a few reading suggestions:
Website: Brittany Meché
Assistant Professor of Political Science
I chose this because it’s the words of Toni Morrison and because every word she ever wrote to me is love. Her last published novel is dedicated to me (it says, For You), and it’s one long letter of love that weaves through pain, trauma, self-doubt, agony, injustice, injustice, injustice, injustice. Injustice. What breaks through is love. Within this long love letter (God Help the Child), a series of shorter love letters make their way between two characters, finding their intended recipient even though the letters are never actually sent. This is from Booker to Bride in the novel, and from Toni Morrison who flew away from us but writes us every day:
You should take heartbreak of whatever kind seriously
with the courage to let it blaze and burn like the
pulsing star it is unable or unwilling to be soothed into
pathetic self-blame because its explosive brilliance rings
justifiably loud like the din of a tympani.
Website: Nimu Njoya
Ianna Hawkins Owen
Assistant Professor of English
Here is a list of texts I assigned for ENGL 152: Direct Action and Other Black Political Acts:
Here is the list of texts I assigned for the most recent offering of ENGL 132: Black Writing to/from/about Prisons:
And these video clips:
Articles by Ianna Hawkins Owen (website):
Website: Ianna Hawkins Owen
Rowan Ricardo Phillips
W. Ford Schumann Distinguished Visiting Professor in Democratic Studies
This is a situation that is immediate, historical, and obviously deeply intertwined with our uncertain future. Therefore, some reading is required that tackles the myriad of subjects head on, some is required to tie together disparate historical threads, and some is required to be visionary. The most important thing is to read voraciously and to be empathetic.
Chicago Public Library Reading List
Teju Cole's Spotify playlists
Website: Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Assistant Professor of Theater
Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferals of information.—Paulo Freire
Be the change that you wish to see in the world.—Mahatma Gandhi
There is no point in making yourself believe everything is going to be alright. In doing your best, you can leave this world a better place.—Sadhguru
Website: Shanti Pillai
Associate Professor of English
Here are a few resources that come immediately to mind, esp. having to do with the connection between meditation/spirituality and the work of anti-racism and racial justice:
1. "The Spiritual Work of Black Lives Matter": an episode of the podcast On Being recorded in 2016, featuring one of BLM's co-founders, Patrisse Cullors (along with fellow guest Dr. Robert Ross and On Being host, Krista Tippet).
Here is the episode description: "Black Lives Matter co-founder and artist Patrisse Cullors presents a luminous vision of the spiritual core of Black Lives Matter and a resilient world in the making. She joins Dr. Robert Ross, a physician and philanthropist on the cutting edge of learning how trauma can be healed in bodies and communities. A cross-generational reflection on evolving social change."
When we show up on the freeway, when we chain ourselves to each other, that’s an act of love. That act of resistance is an act of love, that we will put our bodies on the line for our community and really for this country. In changing black lives, we change all lives.—Patrisse Cullors
2. The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming our Communities Through Mindfulness, a book by Rhonda Magee.
About the author: "Rhonda V. Magee is a professor of law at the University of San Francisco. Also trained in sociology and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), she is a highly practiced facilitator of trauma-sensitive, restorative MBSR interventions for lawyers and law students, and for minimizing the effects of social-identity-based bias. Magee has been a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Law and Society and a visiting professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley."
3. Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing by David Treleaven. An excellent book on how to practice and teach mindfulness in a trauma-sensitive way. Includes some good discussions of the trauma that can result from just living in a racist, white supremacist society. I attended a workshop with Treleaven on trauma-sensitive meditation instruction, which was excellent. His approach informs the way I now think about and teach meditation myself.
4. Ruth King and Kamilah Majied are leading a free two-hour long meditation retreat this Sunday, June 7, from 3-5 p.m. Eastern Time on Zoom, called "Black Wellness in the Era of COVID-19: A Retreat For and With Black People."
From the description of the retreat: "We are painfully living through what the emerging data confirm: that Black people are dying at disproportionate rates and experiencing more negative economic, legal, health and safety consequences due to COVID-19 and the ensuing Shelter in Place mandates. This is having a profound impact on our communities and on each of us personally and professionally. We also know that the causes and effects of these difficult times are deeply rooted in generations of injustice and neglect. Yet our well being depends on our response as leaders. It is time that we gather as Black practitioners, educators, artists, activists, and leaders and share the wisdom of our beautiful collective community. We invite you, our beloved Black community, who do so much holding, caring, and leading, into a space of learning about how meditative practices can help us awaken to and sustain our physical, emotional, social, and communal wellness. All the practices offered in this 2-hour session will seed your capacity to further nurture wellness in the Black communities you practice and lead in, thus enabling you to feel more fortified in guiding your respective communities towards surviving and thriving through the pandemic and beyond."
Ruth King, who is a meditation teacher in the Insight Meditation tradition, is the author of an excellent book on meditation and anti-racism called Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out. I bet this retreat will be wonderful. For more info about the retreat, including info about how to register, click here.
Website: Bernie Rhie
Chair and Associate Professor of Africana Studies and Faculty Affiliate in Political Science and Religion
[Linked is the] syllabus for the capstone seminar, "[AFR 450] Sylvia Wynter, Black Lives, and Struggle for the Human."
In addition, one of my earliest publications has been useful these last few days to scholars and activists thinking through race, racism, and protest, specifically on the question of violence.
This tweet provides information.
The direct link to the open access article is here.
Website: Neil Roberts
Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies and Political Science
While racial inequality and violence have a long history in the United States, the specific form they have taken in American cities is a product of the 20th century — of redlining, employment discrimination, and changes in policing practices. Tom Sugrue’s classic history of postwar Detroit shows how racism in housing and labor markets produced racial isolation and deprivation — setting the stage for the riots of the late 1960s and laying the groundwork for today’s urban inequality. Elizabeth Hinton’s landmark history of the war on crime is an essential starting point for understanding the role police play in contemporary American cities. And Matt Lassiter’s article on the war on drugs in suburbia details the flip-side of racial inequality: It was simply politically impossible to police affluent suburbs the same way as urban neighborhoods. This is “white privilege” embodied in governance: Middle-class white parents had the political and cultural power to stop destructive practices that Black communities could not.
Street politics of the kind we are seeing in cities across the country is, among other things, a response to the perceived failure of normal political processes and institutions. In this recent op-ed, the historian Keeyanga-Yamahtta Taylor (whose book Race for Profit was recently a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize) shows how the current protests reflect, not only outrage at police violence and the devastating impact of Covid-19 on communities of color, but also the failures of the democratic state which facilitated these injustices, and the seeming incapacity of American politics to offer meaningful opportunities to address them.
A bestseller in its own time but too often overlooked during the postwar years, Ann Petry’s literary thriller The Street tells the story of Lutie Johnson, a single mother struggling to raise her son amid the lures and snares of World War II-era Harlem. Petry’s unflinching and richly psychological novel brings to life the daily experiences of racism, sexism, and poverty which would see Harlem erupt during the 1943 riots while offering an incisive commentary on the American dream.
Website: Mason Williams
Graphics by Rebecca Tauber. Article design by Nigel Jaffe. Compiled by Jeongyoon Han, Nigel Jaffe, Dominic Madera, Tali Natter, Bellamy Richardson, Rebecca Tauber and Kitt Urdang.