The significance of the 2020 presidential election cannot be overstated. If you’re not a card-carrying member of the cult of Trump, you know that a change is essential to maintain any semblance of a participatory democracy in the U.S. As much as I wish I could blame all of our societal ills on Trump and his enablers, many of the major problems we face today—most notably, racism—have been deeply embedded in American society for hundreds of years.
Of course, the Trump administration has exacerbated the situation considerably, leading to (necessary) civil unrest not seen since the 1960s. Before the election, I recommend consulting these five books, all of which tackle historical and present-day racism, especially how many of the positive changes made in the last 60 years have been derailed in the last four.
Why Didn’t We Riot? by Issac J. Bailey (Other Press, Oct. 6): It’s a fair question for any Black denizen of what the author calls “Trumpland.” As Bailey writes in this hard-hitting, fact-based diagnosis of a rotten social landscape, “Trumpland includes places throughout the United States where white people overwhelmingly support Trump in spite of—or maybe because of—his open bigotry and racism. They are places where black people have for decades been forced to swallow racist bullshit in order to respect the wishes and wants and feelings of racists, as well as those who excuse and apologize for the racists.” Pair this one with Mychal Denzel Smith’s Stakes Is High, a finalist for this year’s Kirkus Prize.
The Purpose of Power by Alicia Garza (One World/Random House, Oct. 20): Civil rights activists are more important than ever, and leading the way on many fronts is the Black Lives Matter movement. Garza, the co-founder of both the Black Lives Matter Global Network and the Black Futures Lab, delivers a “pragmatic, impassioned guide to vital current affairs.” The book is well-written and accessible, and it benefits greatly from the author’s perspective as a queer Black woman: “I am used to environments where women, usually women of color, are carrying the lion’s share of the work but are only a minuscule part of the visible leadership.”
White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad (Catapult, Oct. 6): Reading this book was an eye-opening and rewarding experience for me. Our starred review sums it up perfectly: “With scholarly but highly engaging prose, Hamad details White women’s roles in oppression across continents, a much-needed history lesson for those inclined to reduce racism to individual behavior. The author clearly examines how this legacy of centuries of racial violence and White settler colonialism plays out today in the lives of Black, Asian, Latina, Indian, Muslim, Arab, and Indigenous women from around the world, told through their collective geopolitical histories and personal anecdotes. For readers truly interested in dismantling White supremacy, this is a must-read….An extraordinary book for anyone who wishes to pay more than lip service to truly inclusive, intersectional feminism.”
Culture Warlords by Talia Lavin (Hachette, Oct. 13): One of the most insidious plagues to emerge during the Trump era has been the acceptance of White supremacy and far-right nationalism into the mainstream. A courageous journalist, Lavin “probes into the deepest recesses of White supremacism”—much of it simmering in dark corners of the internet—emerging with a significant and sickening portrait of racism, hatred, and violence. In a starred review, our critic concludes, “righteous indignation meets techie magic to shine light on one of America’s most malignant warts.”
Down Along With That Devil’s Bones by Connor Towne O’Neill (Algonquin, Oct. 13): As awareness of racism grows, so does the need to reassess the many racists elements of American history, and one of the main symbols of that history is the Confederate monument, the subject of this book. Our critic writes, “O’Neill’s NPR podcast, White Lies, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in audio recording. In his first book, the author widens his inquiry into race and violence with an urgent and eye-opening look at Confederate monuments in the South.”
Eric Liebetrau is the nonfiction and managing editor.