Women, Race & Racism: Recommended Reading

Here is a non-exhaustive list of books by women that approach issues of race and racism from a variety of perspectives. The ones with asterisks have been read and recommended by participants in the Feminist Reading Group, a project of the Women’s Committee of We Stand Together / Estamos Todos Juntos with the crucial support of the West Tisbury Free Public Library.

  • Note #1: I am thrilled that so many of the books published by feminist presses in the 1980s are still in print. These are the works that shaped my own thinking about feminism, race, sex, class, and all the rest of it.
  • Note #2: While looking up publishers, I found several new-to-me titles that are now on my to-read list.
  • Note #3: Needless to say, male writers have written excellent books exploring these issues. I particularly recommend anything by James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates (especially Between the World and Me), and Ibram X. Kendi (especially How to Be an Antiracist).

Please feel free to recommend titles that have been important to you. You can either leave a comment (if you don’t want your comment published on the site, let us know) or use the contact form at the end of this post.

— Susanna J. Sturgis

Akasha (Gloria T.) Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith, eds., (All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men) But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies (1982; Feminist Press at CUNY, 2015)

Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983; Mariner Books, 2004)

Angela Davis, Women, Race, and Class (1981; Vintage, 2011)

Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider (1984, Crossing Press Feminist Series; Penguin Classics, 2019)

Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (Persephone Press, 1982)

*Austin Channing Brown, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness (Convergent, 2018)

Barbara Smith, ed., Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press,1983; Rutgers University Press, 2000)

bell hooks, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (South End Press, 1981; Routledge, 2015)

bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (South End Press, 1984; Pluto Press, 2000)

bell hooks, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black (South End Press, 1989; Routledge, 2015)

Beverly Guy-Sheftall, editor, Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought (The New Press, 1995)

Carol Anderson, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (Bloomsbury, 2016)

Charlene Carruthers, Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements (Beacon, 2018)

Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, editors, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (originally published by Persephone Press in 1981, reprinted by Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 4th ed. now available from SUNY Press, 2015)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions (Anchor, 2017)

*Debby Irvine, Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race (Elephant Room Press, 2014)

Donna Brazile,Yolanda Caraway, Leah Daughtry, and Minyon Moore, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics (St. Martin’s, 2018)

Elly Bulkin, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Barbara Smith, Yours in Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives on Anti-Semitism and Racism (Long Haul Press, 1984; Firebrand Books, 1988)

Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987; Aunt Lute Books, 2012)

Gloria Anzaldúa, editor, Making Face, Making Soul; Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color (Aunt Lute, 1990)

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861; Dover, 2001)

*Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race (Seal Press, 2018)

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Random House, 2010)

Keyanga-Yamahtta Taylor, How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective (Haymarket, 2017)

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969; Ballantine, 2009). This was followed by six subsequent books of memoir: Gather Together in My Name (1974), Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas (1976), The Heart of a Woman (1981), All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986), A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002), and Mom & Me & Mom (2013).

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, 2012)

Michelle Cliff, The Land of Look-Behind (Firebrand Books, 1985)

Michelle Obama, Becoming (Crown, 2018)

Morgan Jerkins, This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America (Convergent, 2018)

Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought (Routledge, 2008)

Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (1984; HarperPerennial, 2002)

*Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (Beacon Press, 2018)

Ruth Frankenbert, White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness (University of Minnesota Press, 1993)

Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers, They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South (Yale University Press, 2019)

Toni Cade [Bambara], ed., The Black Woman: An Anthology (Mentor, 1970)

Toni Morrison — anything, but consider starting with her first two novels, The Bluest Eye and Sula

Vicki L. Ruiz with Ellen Carol Dubois, eds., Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women’s History, 4th ed. (1990; Routledge, 2008)

Zora Neale Hurston, I Love Myself When I Am Laughing — and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive, edited by Alice Walker (1979; Feminist Press, 1993)

Suggestions for additional readings?

Women in Film Festival

The M.V. Film Society hosting a Women in Film Festival from Friday, October 25, to Sunday, October 27, at the M.V. Film Center in Vineyard Haven. It looks great!

The festival features six films made between 2017 and 2019, directed by and/or produced by women filmmakers and featuring women’s perspectives on an array of issues. For more information about the films, including trailers, click here. Festival passes are $60 ($50 for Film Society members), and can be bought here. Tickets are also available for individual films.

I Am Not a Witch (Friday, Oct. 25, 4 p.m.) is a magical-realist satire about a young girl sentenced to a state-run witch camp. Young star Margaret Mulubwa has received rave reviews for her performance.

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché (Friday, Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m.) marks the rediscovery of a pioneer filmmaker who had faded from sight by 1919 and has been largely forgotten. Writer-director-producer Pamela Green will be on hand for a Q&A after the film.

Sensitivity Training (Saturday, Oct. 26, 6 p.m.). Rude, crude, and unapologetic microbiologist Dr. Serena Wolfe is ordered to undergo an attitude adjustment courtesy of perpetually chipper sensitivity coach Caroline. The  two develop an unexpected bond in this “fresh and welcome spin on the classic buddy comedy.”

Paradise Hills (Saturday, Oct. 26, 8:15 p.m.). Paradise Hills is a facility, run by the mysterious Duchess, where high-class families send their daughters to become perfect versions of themselves. “With exquisite sets and costumes and a bounty of strong actresses, Paradise Hills is a fantasy confection with a dark horror center.”

A Fine Line (Sunday, Oct. 27, 4 p.m.). A behind-the-scenes look at restaurant culture with women at the helm, exploring why fewer than 7% of head chefs and restaurant owners are women. A conversation after the film will be led by Jan Buhrman of the Vineyard’s Kitchen Porch.

Atlantique [Atlantics] (Sunday, Oct. 27, 7:30 p.m.) This drama about young lovers separated by circumstance in Senegal won the Grand Prix at Cannes. Says BBC.com: “Dreamy yet sensual, fantastical yet rooted in uncomfortable facts, [Mati] Diop’s beguiling film may even have reinvented a genre.”

Feminist Book Group to Meet Nov. 1

book coverFor the November 1 meeting the first book we will be discussing is Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist.  By the historian and author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, Kendi’s new book offers specific suggestions and strategies for how to start to fix this scourge of American daily life.

The second book is Jen Deaderick’s She the People: A Graphic History of Uprisings, Breakdowns, Setbacks, Revolts, and Enduring Hope on the Unfinished Road to Women’s Equality. This is an illustrated, accurate, and sometimes tongue-in-cheeky overview of U.S. women’s history since 1776.  As the publisher notes, the book “highlight[s] changes in the legal status of women alongside the significant cultural and social influences of the time, so women’s history is revealed as an integral part of U.S. history, and not a tangential sideline.”

Both books are available through the CLAMS regional library network (there are only a few copies of She the People, however). They can be bought through online retailers or local bookstores.

We will continue to meet in the program room at the West Tisbury Public Library at 5:15 on the first Friday of every month. If you get to the library after they close at 5 p.m., come around to the porch in back on the right side and knock on the program room door. Refreshments will be served, and you are welcome to bring something to share.

Future meetings will continue to explore feminist topics through a variety of suggested readings so that you can choose which books interest you.  Feel free to leave your suggestions here in the comments section or use the handy comment form.

Hope to see you on November 1!

Ellen Miller, book group moderator

The Feminist Book Group Is Back!

From Feminist Book Group coordinator Ellen Miller:

September has flown by! Our October meeting will be on Friday, October 4, 2019, at the West Tisbury Free Public Library in the main floor program room starting at 5:15 p.m. If you get to the library after they close at 5 p.m., come around the building on the right and come in the door from the porch. Snacks will be provided, and you are welcome to bring something to share.

Please bring your suggestions for nonfiction books we can read together. Several of us want to explore racism in further depth. In addition to the books we have read and/or recommended so far, two works to consider are Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and How to Be an AntiRacist, both by Ibram X. Kendi.

Book Group Meets on May 3

By Ellen Mller
Moderator, Feminist Book Group

At the next meeting of the Feminist Book Group, we will continue our exploration of racism in the U.S. The meeting is on Friday, May 3, at 5:15 p.m. in the West Tisbury Public Library, and all are welcome. (We meet on the first Friday of every month.)

For more about the group, see this introductory post. The books we had originally suggested on this subject are

  • So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
  • Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race, by Debby Irving
  • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo

In addition some of us are reading

  • White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, by Carol Anderson
  • Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum
  • Women, Race and Class, by Angela Y. Davis.
  • I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, by Austin Channing Brown
  • This Will Be My Undoing, by Morgan Jerkins

Please read whatever appeals to you according to your life experience and interests. We had a wonderful discussion last month with a surprising amount of laughter considering the serious nature of the topic. Thank you to all of the 17 people who showed up and participated!

If you have not been to one of our meetings before, note that if you do not get to the library before it closes at 5 p.m., you need to enter through the program room door, which is off the porch in the back on the right side of the building. If you would like to bring a snack please do so, and bring any women friends you think might be interested, as well as your ideas for topics and books to read. (In choosing books to read as a group, we need to make sure they are still in print and readily available both through the library system and for purchase.)

Our mission is to inform ourselves about the history, legal, economic, and cultural issues confronting women today (particularly here in Massachusetts and on Martha’s Vineyard), and then to figure out how we can help effect change.

Book Group to Focus on Race & Racism

By Ellen Miller
Moderator, Feminist Book Group

The books chosen for April are on the topic of racism and how it impacts women in our culture. The first book we will discuss is So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. Recently on the NY Times best-seller list, Oluo has written a personal and balanced and brutally honest book in which she presents complicated situations in a way which makes them seem simple.  It is brilliant in its insights, plus she uses humor to help us understand things which are really not very funny.   Depending on your experience with racism, you are also encouraged to read Waking Up White by Debby Irving, and  White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo.

The April meeting will be on Friday, April 5, at the West Tisbury Free Public Library starting at 5:15 p.m. If you do not get to the library before they close the front doors at 5 p.m., come in the program room door which is off the porch in the back on the right side of the building. If you would like to bring a snack please do so, and bring any women friends you think might be interested, as well as your ideas for topics and books to read.

There seems to be some confusion as to what the book group is all about. We are a project of the Women’s Committee of We Stand Together / Estamos Todos Juntos, although you don’t need to be affiliated either one to participate in the book group. Susanna Sturgis put together a film festival of women’s films last year.  Five of the six Island libraries hosted at least one film, and they were great. The Women’s Committee also compiled a list of recommended films mostly by and always about women.

Partly out of that experience we decided to put together a book group. Our mission is both to inform ourselves about the history of the women’s movements in the U.S., and about legal and economic and cultural issues confronting women in our country today (particularly here in Massachusetts and on Martha’s Vineyard), and then to figure out how we can help effect change.

Although there are hundreds of wonderful books about women’s lives, fiction and nonfiction, novels and biographies (all of which I will include on the book list as you recommend them to me), the focus of the group needs to be on books from which we can gain insights into particular issues confronting women in our culture.  In addition, in choosing books to read as a group we need to make sure they are still in print and readily available both through the library system and for purchase.

We are certainly interested in suggestions both for books and for topics. Just to give you a heads up, the topic for May will be the history of the women’s movement in the U.S. If you have a particular resource you want to read (or have read), please let me know and we will try to find it.

MV Women’s March 2019

The weather was blustery, the forecast daunting, but about a hundred Vineyarders turned out for last Saturday’s march, delighting organizers who were expecting far fewer to show up. And unlike most Vineyard demonstrations, it really was a march: after rallying at Five Corners in Vineyard Haven, most of us walked down the Beach Road, over the drawbridge, and down New York Avenue to Washington Park, near Oak Bluffs harbor.

Five Corners is the go-to place for island demonstrations, with good reason: it’s centrally located, there’s plenty of room to stand (crowd estimates for last summer’s “Families Belong Together” demo ran as high as 350), and even in January the traffic in all directions is pretty much continuous. Five Corners, however, is both noisy and windy, which means that demos there almost never include speeches or music.

Organizer Margaret Emerson addresses the crowd. Photo by Daniel Waters. Used by permission.

Here too, Saturday’s Women’s March broke with tradition by featuring two speeches and the reading of a poem. Organizer and Women’s Committee member Margaret Emerson, aided by a blue bullhorn, kicked off the event, saying:

We are here at a great time in our nation’s history. In spite of the terrible daily news coming out of Washington about the current administration, we live in a time of renewed awareness of what our democracy means and how we can be involved to keep our government on the right track and our democracy strong.

The 2017 Women’s March brought about changes in our federal, state, and local government. Women became mobilized to the point that more women were elected to the US Legislature than ever before; Women-lead political groups were formed in our state and our island, and political activity has energized us to run for office, lobby, work on campaigns and make a difference in the lives of many. Ask any spouse, partner, child, or friend and they will tell you the change is here and it is here to stay and to be passed on to the next generation of activists.

She went on to list the “Why we march?” priorities of the national Women’s March: civil rights and liberties, environmental justice, LGBTQ rights, racial justice, reproductive rights and justice, disability rights, economic justice and workers’ rights, and an end to violence against women.

Carla Cooper of Indivisible Martha’s Vineyard. Photo by Daniel Waters.

Next up was Carla Cooper, founder of Indivisible Martha’s Vineyard, who spoke of how the 2016 election and the 2017 Women’s March changed her life:

I went to the first Women’s March in Boston in 2017 because I didn’t know what else to do with my fear and my anxiety. I didn’t know where to put it. It was the first time I ever participated in anything remotely political. And it was a life-altering experience for me. I was surrounded by thousands of beautiful people who turned my desperation into hope, and inspired me into action. And while two years ago, the Women’s March for me was all about Trump, today it’s not about him. It’s about us, and what we have been able to accomplish, in spite of him.

Out of the smoking crater of the 2016 election arose a monumental upswelling of grassroots activism all across the country. We emerged from the dark fog of the aftermath of the election, and we found each other. We’ve grown from a community of reluctant resisters to a community of eager activists and leaders. During the last two years, we organized, we rallied, we protested, we campaigned, we registered voters, we knocked on doors, we wrote thousands of postcards, we laughed, and we cried – and we drank a lot of wine. We agonized over our defeats and we celebrated our victories. We watched women run for office and get elected in record numbers. 102 women were elected to the US House of Representatives! 14 women were elected to the US Senate! And 9 women will serve as Governors! And we helped create the blue wave that won back the House of Representatives!

The rally concluded with the reading of “Who Will Mend Me?,” a poem by Lorraine Parish, another Vineyarder who was called to action by the 2016 election. Despite the bullhorn, most of the words got lost in the wind and traffic noise. Fortunately palmcards with the entire poem, in which the poet speaks in the voice of the United States, were passed out to listeners. Here it is.

Women’s Committee members Cathy Walthers, Maggie Brown, and Maria Black all attended the Boston Women’s March, where they helped with the activities of the Massachusetts Coalition to End Child Marriage. (You’ll be hearing more about this issue. A new bill to end child marriage in this state was recently introduced.)

Also at the Boston march was Lorraine Parish, which is why she wasn’t at Five Corners to read her own poem.