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10 books that can help you have conversations about race

19 October 2023

These texts offer a starting point for open discussions at home and in the workplace. 

10 books that can help you have conversations about race
Most of these books have been recommended in the ICE’s Anti-Racism Toolkit V2. Image credit: Valeriy K/Shutterstock

If you’re new to talking about race, the following books might guide you by providing some understanding of the topic and potentially, a different perspective on the matter.

“Running book clubs for inclusion becomes a space for learning and sometimes to have difficult conversations,” says Georgia Thompson.

A design delivery manager and rail engineer, Thompson is co-founder of D-VERS-TY, which is dedicated to transforming company culture in engineering and technology. Thompson runs social book clubs as well as book clubs for businesses.

“By exchanging personal stories and insights, we get an opportunity to understand how another thinks and feels to the same stimuli,” she says.

Most of these books have been recommended in the ICE’s Anti-Racism Toolkit V2.

Access the toolkit

1. My Little Black Book: A Blacktionary by Jane Oremosu and Dr Maggie Semple OBE (2023)

When going into conversations about race, some of us might feel a little tongue tied. We’d like to be sure that we’re using the right words.

Through their work advising organisations all over the world on equity, diversity and inclusion, Jane Oremosu and Dr Maggie Semple OBE identified the need for a guide to the language of race.

Enter My Little Black Book: A Blacktionary, an A-Z pocket guide containing definitions as well as tips on creating a more inclusive workplace.

For those wanting to know the difference between equity and equality, or understand the meaning and impact of microaggressions, this book can be an incredibly helpful tool.

2. What White People Can Do Next by Emma Dabiri (2021)

"In the history of humankind, 'white people' are babies. You have only existed since 1661! (To be fair, so have 'Black people')," writes Emma Dabiri.

Dabiri’s What White People Can Do Next: From Allyship to Coalition teaches us how to transform demonstrations of support into meaningful, tangible change.

The essays in the book bring together “historical context with contemporary commentary and analysis in a direct, accessible style...” as Suyin Haynes writes for Time magazine.

Alongside analysis of anti-racism, the book interrogates social media posts about race and racism, which risk over-simplification, distortion and/or missing the point altogether.

3. Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Renni Eddo-Lodge (2018)

“I'm no longer engaging with white people on the topic of race. Not all white people, just the vast majority who refuse to accept the legitimacy of structural racism and its symptoms...” writes award-winning journalist Renni Eddo-Lodge.

Part of a piece on her blog titled, ‘Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race’, Eddo-Lodge voiced her frustration about how discussions of racism in Britain were led by people who weren’t affected by it.

After the post went viral, Eddo-Lodge delved deeper into the matter and wrote this book with the same title.

According to Bloomsbury Publishing, the book covers ‘everything from eradicated Black history to the inextricable link between class and race’ and is ‘the essential handbook for anyone who wants to understand race relations in Britain today’.

4. Living While Black by Guilane Kinouani (2021)

Living While Black brings together ‘eye-opening research and effective coping techniques’ to protect Black people’s mental and physical health from the effects of white supremacy, says Penguin Books.

Guilane Kinouani, a radical psychologist, has 15 years’ experience in teaching Black people how to:

  • Set psychological boundaries and process trauma.
  • Protect children from racism.
  • Handle difficult race-based conversations.
  • Understand the complexities of 'Black love'.
  • Find connection, beauty and joy in the world.

5. Racism at Work: The Danger of Indifference by Binna Kandola (2018)

Binna Kandola’s book highlights that though progress has been made in the last 50 years, racism hasn’t been eradicated.

Why? Because, like a virus, prejudice has mutated, Kandola argues.

Using research, direct observations and decades of professional experience, Kandola examines how racism has become more subtle and nuanced.

Yet, it affects people’s lives and careers significantly, from recruitment to how we perceive leaders.

This book takes a deep dive into the actions we need to take to make our organisations more equal.

6. How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi (2019)

Ibram X Kendi argues that you’re either racist or anti-racist, there’s nothing in-between.

Apart from us as people, it extends to ideas, actions and policies, as Afua Hirsch, a writer for The Guardian, explains.

They’re either racist because they contribute to a history of treating different races as inherently unequal, or anti-racist because they’re trying to dismantle this history.

By demolishing myths about post-racial society, he essentially shows us that neutrality isn’t an option. Either we’re part of the solution, or we’re part of the problem.

7. Mismatch by Kat Holmes (2018)

Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design discusses the fact that designed objects sometimes reject their users.

A computer mouse that doesn’t work for left-handed people is a clear example.

Holmes shares the stories of the pioneers of inclusive design, many who innovated due to their own experience of exclusion.

The book shows that inclusive design can be a source of innovation and growth.

This is one of the texts that Georgia Thompson discusses in her book clubs.

She explains what grounding the discussion in design helped them achieve: “Rather than defensiveness and awkward pauses, because of the design focus, the discussion becomes one of genuine enquiry and discussion in what is effectively a safe professional space.”

8. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (2018)

Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through topics that can be difficult to approach when having conversations about race.

Some of the subjects covered include police brutality, cultural appropriation, the model minority myth, white privilege and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Oluo makes ‘the act of unlearning beliefs and tendencies accessible’, as reviewer Mya Nunnally put it.

Nunnally adds: "[Oluo] underscores that our society is built on a systemic type of racism—one that leads to complicity in a racist system regardless of whether or not you want to be.”

9. Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala (2018)

Natives, the memoir/polemic by award-winning musician and political commentator, Akala, covers how race and class shaped his life and perspective.

Some of the issues it covers include police, education, identity, politics, sexual objectification and the far right.

10. White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (2018)

Coining the term ‘white fragility’ in 2011, DiAngelo uses her experience from decades of running racial awareness workshops to show us how to have more honest conversations about race.

Katy Waldman, writing for the New Yorker, explains that the term ‘white fragility’ describes “the disbelieving defensiveness that white people exhibit when their ideas about race and racism are challenged—and particularly when they feel implicated in white supremacy”.

The book examines how this fragility develops and how it protects racial inequality.

What books would you recommend?

Access the full Anti-Racism Toolkit

The ICE has published a second version of its Anti-Racism Toolkit to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to EDI.

The aim of the toolkit is to offer a voice to the lived experiences of the ICE’s Black and minority ethnic members. It seeks to ensure that civil engineering is an industry that is representative of those who work in it.

It’s no longer enough to be non-racist or not overtly offensive. The ICE calls for the industry to treat racism the same way it treats a health and safety issue – stop and report it.

The Anti-Racism Toolkit

  • Ana Bottle, digital content editor at ICE