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Summer Reading: Over 40 Books on Race, Racism, and the Black American Experience to Read Now, as Recommended by Rutgers-Newark Faculty

In these socially charged times, one of the most important things in the fight against systemic racism and our own internal biases is education. Faculty at Rutgers University-Newark teach and work at one of the most diverse university in the United States, and their research covers race and bias from across a wide range of disciplines in the arts, humanities, sciences, business and law. We put out a general call asking for book recommendations on the black experience in America, and the response was immediate and overwhelming. Below, our faculty recommend their current and classic favorites and tell us why we should read them now.  

Most Recommended:   

  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, Richard Rothstein  

  • From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor 

  • In the Castle of My Skin, George Lamming 

  • The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin 

These books were named multiple times as essential reading. The Color of Law is a “hard-hitting and sobering book [that] traces the role of local, state and federal housing policies in segregating the races in the United States,” says Tom McCabe, who teaches a History of Newark course at RU-N. "If you ever wondered how your neighborhood came to be all-white, all-black-or-brown, or if you ever wondered the same about your schools, read this book," adds Belinda Edmondson, acting chair of African American and African Studies. 

Melissa Valle, an assistant professor in Sociology says From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation “provide[s] much needed structural analyses and context for this latest spate of uprisings around the country. Lamming’s novel, In the Castle of My Skin, is “A powerful story about the relation between the UK and its Caribbean colonies,” says Sadia Abbas, associate professor of English. And finally, Mark Krasovic, says The Fire Next Time, is a classic for reasons including “the stunning beauty of its language in the face of ugliness and its constant reminder of our interconnected fates, whether they ultimately be liberatory or destructive.” 


Full Reading List 

Sadia Abbas Book Recommendations

Sadia Abbas, Associate Professor, English 
Research Interests: postcolonial studies, the idea of Europe, religious fundamentalisms, neoliberalism, the rise of the global right  


  • In the Castle of my Skin, George Lamming  

“A powerful story about the relation between the UK and its Caribbean colonies and the ways in which race structures experience in the colony and the colonial center.  Characterized by Lamming's densely suggestive storytelling and analytical style.” 

  • Disforming the American Canon: the African-Arabic American Slave Narrative, R.A. Judy   

“Professor Judy is originally from Minneapolis. The book brings together critical theory, the suppressed Muslim history of american slavery, antiblack racism and the philosophical tradition. It's a significant and brilliant contribution to several disciplines and a profound meditation on language, thought and the possibilities of different varieties of signification.” 

  • Romance in Marseilles, Claude Mckay 

“A powerful and slily brilliant modernist text about race, poverty and disability.” 

  • Black and Blur, Fred Moten    

“The first volume of Moten's trilogy, consent not to be a single being, this book is a collection of brillliant and anarchic, brilliantly anarchic, deeply thoughtful essays aesthetics, politics, life and blackness.” 


Sahar Aziz, Professor, Chancellor's Social Justice Scholar, Rutgers Law School 
Research Interests: Intersections of national security, race, and civil rights; adverse impact of national security laws and policies on racial, ethnic, and religious minorities in the U.S. 


  • Whitewashed: America's Invisible Middle East Minority, John Tehranian 

  • White by Law, Ian Haney Lopez  

  • Merge Left: Fusing Race and Class, Winning Elections, and Saving America, Ian Haney Lopez

Gaiutra Bahadur book recommendations

Gaiutra Bahadur, Assistant Professor, Arts, Culture and Media 
Research interests: global migration, literature, British imperial history and postcolonial studies, race and xenophobia in the United States 


  • We Can't Breathe: On Black Lives, White Lies and the Art of Survival, Jabari Asim 

“This collection of essays by writer, cultural critic and Emerson College professor Jabari Asim explores our contemporary moment of emergency as an afterlife, marshaling the past to shed light on the present. Asim salvages hope through a focus on black resilience and black survival. The collection was a finalist for PEN's Art of the Essay award last year. Asim has also written children's books about African-American history.”  

  • Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol, Kelly Lytle Hernandez 

“This is the first and only substantive history of the U.S. Border Patrol, by UCLA African-American Studies professor Kelly Lytle Hernandez, who won a MacArthur Genius Award last year. Just as interrogating the history of policing in the United States is key to understanding black lives and Black Lives Matter, knowing the history of how our borders are policed is key to understanding the lives of immigrants and racialized Others in the United States.” 

  • America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States, Erika Lee  

“Minneapolis-based author and scholar Erika Lee provides a tragically timely genealogy of hate directed at "aliens" in American society, beginning with Ben Franklin and ending with Trump's travel bans. Lee is director of the Immigration Resource Center at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Her comprehensive narrative shows how a nation of immigrants is, paradoxically, also a nation of xenophobia.” 


Ariane Chebel d'Appollonia, Professor, School of Public Affairs & Administration (SPAA) 
Research Interests: racism, immigration policies, discrimination, integration of minorities 


  • A Short History of Racism, George M. Fredrickson 

“It’s easy to read and provides useful background." 

  • Routledge International Handbook of Contemporary Racism, George Solomos

“Provides theoretical background, comparative perspective.” 

  • In the Castle of My Skin, George Lamming

“This is a great novel by a major writer.” 


Belinda Edmondson, Professor, English and African American & African Studies, Acting Chair, African American & African Studies 
Research Interests: Caribbean, African and African diaspora literature


If you ever wondered how your neighborhood came to be all-white, all-black-or-brown, or if you ever wondered the same about your schools, read this book.

  • American Poison: How Racial Hostility Destroyed Our Promise, Eduardo Porter 

"It argues that the reason we, the residents of the richest country on earth, find ourselves in a pandemic without enough hospital beds or indeed (for 10 percent of the population) without even healthcare; or with barely enough  unemployment insurance policies to cover the masses of suddenly unemployed people, is because in the United States the white majority would rather shrink the social welfare net than pay into any system that supports "undeserving" people of color."

  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, Richard Rothstein  

"It examines recent US history to argue that the segregation that plagues our cities and contributes to the kind of explosive racial strife we are currently experiencing is the result of decades of consistent anti-integration local, state and federal policies in housing and education. If you ever wondered how your neighborhood came to be all-white, all-black-or-brown, or if you ever wondered the same about your schools, read this book."

  • The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, Edward Baptist

"This book builds on the argument, first advanced by Trinidadian historian (and eventually prime minister) Eric Williams that slavery and capitalism are intrinsically linked by illustrating how slavery did not simply contribute to but actually provided the foundation for America's present wealth. In so doing it refutes the belief that African Americans are somehow marginal or play a supporting role in the creation of this country's wealth when their ancestors provided the very basis of it."

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander 

"It links the present injustices--the systematic incarceration of mostly African American men, the denial of voting rights to ex-felons who are disproportionately African American--to the nation's shameful "Jim Crow" era of the past century, arguing that the segregation era has never ended, only resulted in (to paraphrase Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man) a more efficient blinding."

  • The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin 

"A classic." 


Barbara Foley, Distinguished Professor, English
Research Interests: Marxist theory, African-American literature, twentieth-century U.S. literary radicalism


  • Langston Hughes' poetry

"My main advice is that what is needed right now, above all, in this era of COVID-19 and BLM, is class-conscious antiracist literature that points to the material interests that most people in the 99% share when it comes to eradicating racism.  Some poems by Langston Hughes in the 1930s are particularly powerful and accessible e.g., "Always the Same"; "Open Letter to the South"; "White Man!"; "Rising Waters" -- and there are plenty more. 

  • The Oxygen Man, Steve Yarbrough

"A novel that explores the need for antiracist class consciousness among working-class whites in the South."

  • Two short stories: "A Party Down at the Square", Ralph Ellison, and "Like a Winding Sheet", Ann Petry

"These two stories from the 1930s have worked for me time and again in the classroom. This last short story is just wonderul for the way it links the alienation of labor to sexist and racist ideology and practice."


Kent Harber, Professor I, Psychology
Research Interests:  social psychology, interracial feedback, in particular white instructors' feedback to learners of color versus white learners, "positive feedback bias"


  • "Stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination", Handbook of Social Psychology (4 ed.). 2 (1): 357–411, Susan T. Fiske

“This is a comprehensive review article by one of the premier social psychology researchers of this topic. In it, Fiske distinguishes between the three anti-social tendencies, between motivated prejudice and prejudice that arises from mental short-cuts (automatic processes), and between overt, conscious expressions of prejudice and more subtle, implicit forms of prejudice.”  

  • Social stigma: The psychology of marked relationships,  Jones, E.E., Farina, A., Hastorf, A.H., Markus, H., Miller, D.T., & Scott, R.A.  

“This book, although a bit old, provides an excellent review of what it feels like to be stigmatized--as well as why stigmatization happens.  Chapters discuss how stigmas affect the way one is treated, how it restricts relations with others and limits one's own public behaviors, and how it affects one's own sense of self.  This is a text I go back to often.” 

  • Conscience and courage: Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust, E. Fogelman

“This is a somewhat unconventional choice, but it may be an important part of the total story. Fogelman tries to understand the motives and characters of people who overcame their prejudices and did so at a crucial time under the most trying of circumstances. Knowing how and why prejudices are overcome may provide some markers on our way out of the current difficulties.” 


Mark Krasovic, Associate Professor, History 
Research Interests: US cultural and political history 


  • The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin 

“I recommend this for so many reasons, including the stunning beauty of its language in the face of ugliness and its constant reminder of our interconnected fates, whether they ultimately be liberatory or destructive.” 

  • Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement, Barbara Ransby

“Read this for its chronicle of the life of one of our nation’s most remarkable thinkers and organizers, for its detailing of her 'radical democratic vision,' and for its conviction that there is no shortcut around that vision in our search for peace and justice.” 

Laura Lomas Book Recommendations

Laura Lomas, Associate Professor, English 
Research Interests: comparative American studies, Latina/o literature and culture, ethnic and immigrant literature of the United States and the Americas and feminist cultural studies 


  • How we get free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, Yamahtta-Taylor, Keeanga  

“This book makes connections between the founding organizations and publications of intersectional black feminism in the 1970s, the radical abolitionism of Harriet Tubman and leaders of the Movement for Black Lives today...  The book recounts how Black queer feminists, survivors of violence, have historically and recently organized themselves to demand freedom. As Yamahtta-Taylor's title suggests, this primer shows how to get free by drawing on lessons from history and responding with alacrity, passion, and creativity to violence and crisis.” 

  • Minor Feelings: An Asian-American Reckoning, Cathy Park Hong  

“Cathy Park Hong recalls the long history of Anti-Asian racism and incarceration in the United States. This precisely written anti-racist manifesto addresses complex feelings of guilt, shame, and rage through readings of the brilliant Afro-Latino standup comic Richard Pryor; meditations on migrating while Asian; and unflinching assessments of quotidian, startlingly normalized racist violence that characterizes the United States from the 1882 race-based Chinese Exclusion Act through the first decades of the twenty-first century.” 

  • Racial Migrations: New York City and the Revolutionary Politics of the Spanish Caribbean, Hoffnung-Garskof, Jesse 

“The first generation of formerly enslaved Hispanic Caribbean migrants arriving in New York and South Florida in the 1870s organized themselves into clubs that gave them a voice in a revolutionary political party, created a self-funded voluntary night school, and created newspapers where they published their opinions and engaged in interpretation, critique and debate.  

Members of this tight-knit Afro-Latinx community eventually founded the Schomburg Collection... at a time of extreme anti-black racial terror and Supreme Court decisions that made racial segregation and exclusion from full citizenship the law of the land. These Afro-Latinx thinkers offer a model for how to get organized to bring about change that is relevant during the economic and policing fallout of the COVID19 global pandemic.” 

mccabe recommendations

Tom McCabe, Adjunct Professor of History 
Research interests: Urban History, History of Newark 


  • Blood Done Sign My Name, Timothy B. Tyson

“Part history, part memoir this page-turner lays bare a 1970s racial murder in North Carolina, and it also eloquently elicits a time and place in America that seems like it was a long time ago, but it wasn’t. Tyson experienced these events and tries to make sense of them through the lens of the humanist-historian.” 

  • No Cause for Indictment: An Autopsy of Newark, Ron Porambo

“A New Journalism account of the Newark Rebellion of 1967, Ron Porambo’s book is a years-long investigation of institutional racism and corruption that spread from the top of city and state governments to local police forces in the state’s largest city.” 

  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, Richard Rothstein 

“This hard-hitting and sobering book traces the role of local, state and federal housing policies in segregating the races in the United States. Rothstein, who spoke at the HLLC a year or so ago, details how the government and our courts upheld racist policies to maintain the separation of whites and blacks.” 


Norma Riccucci, Board of Governors Distinguished Professor, SPAA 
Research Interests: social equity; cultural diversity in the workplace; civil rights law 


  • Home, Toni Morrison

  • Passing, Nella Larsen

  • All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, Maya Angelou


Luis M. Rivera, Associate Professor, Psychology 
Research Interests: Social Psychology/Role of implicit biases in social inequities. 


We can counteract our own prejudices. The first step is to turn a hidden bias into a visible one.

  • Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji  

“A deep dive into the origins of implicit bias for all readers by the two researchers who put implicit bias on the map with their ground-breaking work.  A take-home message is that we may not have much power to eradicate our own prejudices, but we can counteract them. The first step is to turn a hidden bias into a visible one.” 

  • Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, Jennifer Eberhardt 

“Dr. Eberhardt makes a connection between implicit bias and system racism.  She exposes racial bias at all levels of society, including law enforcement. And she also offers us tools to address it.” 


Beryl Satter, Professor, History 
Research interests: urban history, African American history, women’s history, cultural and intellectual history 


  • Racecraft:  The Soul of Inequality in American Life, Karen E. Fields and Barbara E. Fields   

“This book makes the critical distinction between race, which is a construct, and racism, which is a real and devastating set of behaviors that create oppression and distort democracy. Progress will not be possible until the nation recognizes and acts upon the fact that racism, not 'race,' is our biggest problem. Racecraft can be read in tandem with Melissa L. Cooper’s brilliant intellectual history Making Gullah:  A History of Sapelo Island, Race, and the American Imagination. Cooper’s book details how white Americans created a 'racial' identity for African Americans from Georgia’s coastal islands, and how black Sapelo Islanders understood their own history and identity as one of struggle against oppression.  It thereby shows the critical distinction between 'making race' and 'fighting racism' in U.S. life.” 

  • The Condemnation of Blackness:  Race, Crime and the Making of Modern Urban America, Khalil Gibran Muhammad  

“Muhammad’s study of Progressive-era Philadelphia shows how easy it was for white “experts” to manipulate seemingly neutral statistics about crime to support their belief that African Americans were inherently criminal.”    

  • The Color of Law:  A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, Richard Rothstein  

“White Americans’ ongoing economic exploitation and cultural denigration of African Americans has been strongly facilitated by residential segregation. Rothstein’s comprehensive study details the multiple ways that U.S. laws at the local, state and federal level have consistently buttressed segregation. He demonstrates how at least some Americans have demonstrated a willingness to live in integrated communities, only to have their efforts thwarted by often obscure forms of institutionally racist laws. Until these laws are exposed and replaced by policies facilitating integration and fairness, segregation and its attendant evils will remain a primary support for the American racism.” 

  • Blackout, James Goodman   

“This book examines the famous power outage and subsequent looting that hit New York City in the summer of 1977 through multiple perspectives, but makes the fundamental point that looting and civil unrest is ultimately caused by a maldistribution of power.”  

salamishah recommendations

Salamishah Tillet, Henry Rutgers Professor, African American and African Studies, English, Founding Director of  New Arts Justice; Associate Director of the Price Institute
Research Interests: American Studies, twentieth and twenty-first century African American literature, film, popular music, cultural studies, and feminist theory


  • In Darkness and Confusion, Ann Petry, a 1947 short story about the Harlem Riot of 1943 which appears in Petry's 1971 collection. 

  • The Movement: Documentary of a Struggle for Equality, Lorraine Hansberry - a book-length brochure by the Civil Rights group, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) with text by Lorraine Hansberry. 

  • "The Riot" Gwendolyn Brooks - a series of three poems about the Chicago Riots of 1968. 

The three books that I've chosen are lesser-known works by authors renowned for championing racial and gender justice. As importantly, they were written as Ann Petry, Lorraine Hansberry, Gwendolyn Brooks engaged with the respective social justice movements of their time and how they as black women turned their words into being witnesses to and weapons to injustice. 


Book covers

David Troutt, Distinguished Professor, Justice John J. Francis Scholar, Rutgers Law School; founding director of the Rutgers Center on Law, Inequality and Metropolitan Equity (CLiME)  
Research Interests: Race, class and legal structure; intellectual property; torts and critical legal theory. 


  • Faces at the Bottom of the Well, Derrick Bell 

  • And We Are Not Saved, Derrick Bell 

“I would recommend Faces at the Bottom of the Well by Derrick Bell because it is such an important read of the condition of racism through a legal and political lens but with such narrative creativity. Books like this that are rich and provocative yet nontraditional and accessible invite vigorous discussion. Plus he’s just so smart about so much. And We Are Not Saved is equally good for similar reasons.” 


Melissa Valle, Assistant Professor, Sociology and African American Studies
Research Interests: Racial justice, urban space, culture 


  • From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor 

  • Nobody: Casualties of America's War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond, Marc Lamont Hill  

  • Freedom is a Constant Struggle, Angela Davis

“All three books provide much needed structural analyses and context for this latest spate of uprisings around the country. Taylor focuses specifically on the Black Lives Matter movement and the purposes of these kinds of protests. Hill uses high-profile and controversial cases of State violence similar to the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (e.g., the police killings of people like Mike Brown, Kathryn Johnston and Freddie Gray, as well as the poisoning of the water in Flint, MI) to demonstrate that such cases are “a symptom of a deeper American problem,” and that at the root of each case “is a more fundamental set of economic conditions, political arrangements, and power relations that transform everyday citizens into casualties of an increasingly intense war on the vulnerable” (p.xxii). Davis provides insights into what a just future could and should look like and the need for a radical re-imagining of the criminal justice system that abolishes prisons.” 


Antonio Y. Vázquez-Arroyo, Associate Professor, Political Science 
Research Interests: Critical Theory, Catastrophes and Politics, Transatlantic Political Thought   


  • Race Matters, Cornel West 

  • From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor 

  • Toward Freedom, Touré F. Reed  

“These books constitute serious scholarship that combines historical sense with uncompromising anti-racism. Each places the question of race in historical, political and ideological contexts in the United States while avoiding the perils of race reductionism or reducing racism to a question of perception or individual prejudice. Required reading to enable effective anti-racism in the context of broad emancipatory politics in the United States.” 


Jerome D. Williams, Distinguished Professor, Marketing, Rutgers Business School; Prudential Chair  
Research Interests: Multicultural marketing and marketplace discrimination 


  • Consumer Equality: Race and the American Marketplace, Geraldine R. Henderson,  Anne-Marie G. Hakstian, and Jerome D. Williams (2016), 

“Typically, when we think of racism, our focus is on major events that generally receive widespread news coverage. However, racism also occurs in everyday, mundane situations such as those that occur in the marketplace. It is in this context that we often see what researchers describe as microaggressions, microassaults, implicit racism, etc. This research-based book provides not only empirical evidence of marketplace discrimination, but it also examines the legal issues and historical contexts of such marketplace phenomena.”