So You Want to Read About Race?
Over the past couple of years there has been an increase, in my life, of folks asking me for book recommendations. Almost always these requests are asking from the lens of anti-racism work and I am happy to oblige! On anyone’s anti-racism journey it is important to learn, grow, and explore narratives or experiences you may be unfamiliar with. As conversations and Supreme Court cases turn to the topic of Affirmative Action and race consciousness, we are at an important impasse to be better prepared to learn and support students and others. I hope you enjoy this introduction to three of my top picks to read about race and anti-racism!
In Disrupting Postsecondary Prose: Toward a Critical Race Theory of Higher Education, Patton (2016) connects whiteness, capitalism, and higher education through her to propositions. These propositions inform readers of educational inequity in college and university contexts and the embedded complexities of racism/White supremacy:
Proposition 1: The establishment of U.S. higher education is deeply rooted in racism/White supremacy, the vestiges of which remain palatable.
Proposition 2: The functioning of U.S. higher education is intricately linked to imperialistic and capitalistic efforts that fuel the intersections of race, property, and oppression.
Proposition 3: U.S. higher education institutions serve as venues through which formal knowledge production rooted in racism/White supremacy is generated (Patton, 2016, p. 317).
Patton (2016) continues to illuminate the complex relations between race, property, and oppression represented in higher education by elaborating on these propositions. Despite demographic shifts in the U.S. population, higher education remains disproportionately white in terms of the numerical representation of white students, whiteness represented in curriculum, campus policies, and campus leadership. Patton challenges a misconception that seemingly objective fields of study can’t be active participants in racism from a curriculum standpoint by using Pine and Hillard’s (1990) argument that “Historically, every academic discipline-psychology, biology, geography, religion, philosophy, anthropology, literature, history-has been used to justify colonialism and racism” (p. 595).
In his 2009 book, Racism without Racists: Colorblind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States, Bonilla-Silva challenges colorblind ideology by describing a variety of ways in which people experience and make sense of race and refutes claims of a present post-racial society. Bonilla-Silva (2009) illustrates that white folks, and some folks of color, fail to understand the relationship between racism and performance outcome disparities in education; instead, they minimize the effects of racism and posit that disparities must have more to do with some other factor like group behavior, work ethic, or values. Bonilla-Silva’s (2009) study illuminates a tendency of people, all people but more frequently white people, to believe racism to be viewed as extreme and explicit acts of violence commitment by a few bad apples and not as “a machine that runs whether we pull the levers or not” (Oleuo, 2018, p. 410). Bonilla-Silva’s Racism Without Racists illuminates how racism functions whether or not people are individually hateful to each other, and even when there is kindness abound.
In his book How To Be An Anti-Racist, Kendi (2019) states, “There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups” (p. 18). Given higher education’s intricate past and present relationship with racism, institutions must actively and arduously work toward anti-racist policies practices to combat presently racist policies and practices. There are a variety of ways and means for anti-racism to be introduced to colleges and universities at many levels: faculty, staff, hiring, promotion, finances, recruitment, etc. However, to generate a student body with the awareness necessary to have these conversations, students must first be introduced to critical consciousness building and begin to question and understand the world they have been socialized within. To ignore these demonstrated relationships between racism and higher education would be to continue a history of racialized violence and trauma.
Please remember, reading and knowledge are important, and actions taken toward racial justice is crucial. As you learn, read, and grow, I hope you will also find ways to be actively anti-racist in the ways you have access to do so. Not sure where to start? Please visit AntiRacistGuide.org to learn more! For more content and learning, you can find me at @victoriaalxndr on all social media.