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5 Books for Boosting Your Juneteenth IQ

While Juneteenth is officially past, it’s a great excuse to pick up some books about Black Americans’ struggles for freedom, respect, civil rights, and equal opportunities in our history and today.

While Juneteenth is officially past, it’s a great excuse to pick up some books about Black Americans’ struggles for freedom, respect, civil rights, and equal opportunities in our history and today. We mentioned in our Monday newsletter the importance of nurses’ taking actionable steps to eradicate injustice based on race, including education. But taking formal professional courses is just one way to educate yourself. Another is to expand and diversify your reading list, and we’ve pulled together five recommendations for precisely that.

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed

What better way to start your reading than by understanding the day itself? Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when about 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, to let more than a quarter-million enslaved Black Americans know that they were free and had been for two years. Despite having been officially freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, Texas landowners hid that fact from enslaved people in Texas, who didn’t find out they were free until over a month after the Civil War ended.

Historian and native Texan Gordon-Reed weave together “American history, a dramatic family chronicle, and searing episodes of memoir,” as the book jacket says, to provide “a historian’s view of the country’s long road to Juneteenth, recounting both its origins in Texas and the enormous hardships that African-Americans have endured in the century since, from Reconstruction through Jim Crow and beyond.” 

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

It’s always hard to find a book you can call “definitive” on any subject, but if there’s any book that comes close to, as its title clearly states, becoming an anti-racist, it’s this one. Melding together social commentary and memoir, Kendi, a historian and founder of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center at American University in Washington, D.C., pulls no punches in discussing concepts of racism. However, as the title promises, he offers solutions as well, making his suggestions accessible even to those new to the idea of actively working against racism. 

For the parents who want to know how they can make these ideas actionable in their homes, Kendi also just released—five days before Juneteenth—How to Raise an Antiracist. He’s even published a picture book, Goodnight Racism, for those who want a break from Goodnight Moon that also carries important social messages. 

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

We usually wouldn’t include two books by the same author on such a short list, but Stamped is such a remarkable and comprehensive history of racism in America that we can’t leave it off. Be prepared: it’s not light reading. This tome clocks in at more than 580 pages, but it didn’t win the National Book Award in Nonfiction in 2016 for nothing. 

It’s been so influential that Kendi has published two lighter versions with African American author Jason Reynolds for younger audiences: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, and Stamped (For Kids): Racism, Antiracism, and You. If you’re not ready to dive into the heavier complete book, there’s no shame in starting with the YA version for teens. 

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story by Nikole Hannah-Jones 

Though it started as a New York Times multimedia feature project, the 1619 Project has now been compiled into a book that pulls together all the remarkable research and writing by project leader Nikole Hannah-Jones and her team at the NYT. Hannah-Jones, who won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary with her introductory essay to the project, has seen no shortage of criticism for her ambitious project, which aimed to reframe U.S. history through the lens of what slavery has meant from the very beginning, from the foundations of the country being built on the backs of stolen Africans to the consequences that reverberate today. 

Aspects of the 1619 Projects have been controversial, and it’s worth reading a bit about the robust discussions about how we think about and define history that the book sparked. But regardless of what your verdict of the book is, there’s no question that it’s now firmly a part of the anti-racism canon of American literature. 

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo 

In her #1 New York Times bestseller, the inimitable writer, speaker, and social justice educator Ijeoma Oluo (who you should follow on Instagram) creates an accessible guide for, as the title says, talking about race. This is the book for you for those who feel intimidated about where to start in learning about racial injustice and how to begin thinking and talking about it. It not only provides actionable ways for people to fight racism but also introduces readers to various concepts they may have less familiarity with, such as cultural appropriation and the “model minority” myth. 

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