In 2017, I inherited my father’s large collection of history books. He’d buy and read just about anything analyzing the impact of systemic racism on Indigenous and colonized peoples in Canada, the U.S., India and South Africa. This history formed part of his identity and, therefore, part of mine.
I never felt quite ready to delve into the collection while I was growing up. The books were always there waiting for me, as was my dad. My attitude changed when he passed away.
What began as part of a grieving process resulted in an appreciation of the message my father tried to send me: that the way to improve biased systems and structures is to educate yourself and do whatever you can to advocate for what’s right.
If you’re a reader, and you’re interested in building a more equitable world, here’s a partial list of recommended books. Most are newer publications that supplemented the history books I inherited. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. And I hope they prompt you to take action.
Race and Racial Equity
Peace and Good Order, by Harold R. Johnson. The shortest, but perhaps most important book on I’ve read in the past two years. Johnson’s words should be required reading for everyone involved in Canada’s justice system. I recognized many of the stories he shares about practicing law in Northern Saskatchewan. His call for Canadians to “give a damn” about our Indigenous neighbours shouldn’t go unheard. If you read nothing else on the list, read this.
In No Uncertain Terms, by Helen Suzman. A founding member of South Africa’s Progressive Party, Suzman was an early and inexhaustible stalwart of the struggle to end apartheid. She served in parliament from 1961-1989, often as the lone voice opposing horrific legislation and its effects. Her memoir proves one person can, indeed, make a difference.
Dying of Whiteness, by Jonathan Metzl. This book could save lives. A compassionate and remarkably well researched examination of the intersection of race, gender, inequality and its devastating consequences in three US states. I’ve never read anything that so clearly explains how our neighbours to the south have arrived at this fragile moment and how important it is that they vote in the best interests of their entire electorate rather than a select few.
The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You, by Dina Nayeri. What do people arriving in Western countries really feel and think about their new home? What do they miss about their old one? In this poignant memoir, Nayeri recounts her experiences (and those of many others she encounters) as she reflects on her identity and her place in the world. Her writing is forthright and compelling. Your conversations with immigrants and refugees won’t be the same after you read this book.
- The Inconvenient Indian, by Thomas King.
- White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
- How to be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi
- In this Together: Fifteen Stories of Reconciliation, edited by Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail
- Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance
Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, by Rebecca Traister. When this book was published in fall 2018, Christine Blasey-Ford had just finished testifying at Brett Kavanaugh’s U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearing. It was the latest in a slew of galvanizing moments that brought women’s anger to bear on professional, political and societal standards long overdue for change. Traister’s analysis jolted me awake. It reminded me of how far we’ve come, and taught me how much further we have to go.
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, by Caroline Criado-Perez. It never occurred to me that urban planning principles might help men make money than women. Nor had it occurred to me that the safety mechanisms in my car might protect a six-foot man better than a five-foot woman. Closing the gender data gap could mean the difference between retiring comfortably at 65 or working until you’re 80, or, more seriously, surviving a life-threatening illness. This book will change the way you look at the world and the way it’s built.
The Problem with Everything: My Journey Through the New Culture Wars, by Meghan Daum. After reading the two books above, this one was a relief. Traister’s book inspired me to raise my slack feminist standards, but Daum’s reminded me of who I am – a cynical Generation X-er who understands how complicated life is, who has made plenty of her own mistakes and who knows it will take more than a series of outrage-filled tweets to change our flawed systems.
- Why We Can’t Sleep, by Ada Calhoun
- Shrill, by Lindy West
- The Girl Who Smiled Beads, by Clementine Wamariya
- Educated, by Tara Westover
Reading about the issues we need to face is just a start. We need to take a genuine interest in each other, to listen and to change our current systems if we’re going to move forward in any meaningful way. We have a lot of work to do. I hope we can persevere.