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7 important books for building an anti-racist workplace

Add these to your reading list if you want to create a truly inclusive work environment.

7 important books for building an anti-racist workplace
[Photo: Pixabay/Pexels]

As massive crowds fill the streets to protest police brutality following the death of George Floyd, many people are also taking another important action: reading.

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Educating yourself about privilege and the United States’ history of racism is critical in order to build explicitly anti-racist communities. Of course, developing self-awareness and finding good resources is just a first step. But productive actions spring from a willingness to learn.

With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best reading if you want to create a truly inclusive work environment. Where possible, we’ve linked to Black-owned bookstores from across the country. (Some of these books are temporarily sold out because of the increased demand, but these picks are all worth adding to your reading list.)

1. So You Want to Talk About Race — Ijeoma Oluo

This book takes a closer look at a prevailing theme in today’s political discourse, which Oluo calls “the nation’s oldest pyramid scheme”: white supremacy. She acknowledges that conversations around race are difficult for some. Not every person feels they have the right words or store of knowledge. This book provides clear guidance for readers who need a basic primer on topics like intersectionality and microaggressions—especially relevant issues when it comes to the well-being of POC in the workplace.

2. The Fire Next Time — James Baldwin

A modern-day classic, Baldwin’s 1963 bestseller consists of two essays and coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Described by The Atlantic as “unsettling,” Baldwin’s powerful writing makes clear the deep divisions which existed at the time—and which still exist to this day.

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3. The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, with a New Preface — Khalil Gibran Muhammad

How did Black Americans come to be labeled as criminals in American cities? That is the question posed by the author in this sociological review of the evolving connection between race and crime. The book, beginning after the 1890 census, dissects the origins of the myth of Black criminality, laying bare how consistently our past informs our present.

4. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge

This insightful book by British author Reni Eddo-Lodge burst onto the scene as the companion to her wildly popular 2014 essay of the same name. Her book takes a larger view of the rise of whitewashed feminism, along with discussions of white dominance in politics, to offer a framework for those seeking to broaden their understanding of race, class, and the danger of white obliviousness.

Eddo-Lodge places special importance on the idea of intersectionality—a concept managers and leaders should understand as they work to diversify workplaces. (Unfortunately, there is still much work to be done: Top business leaders are still overwhelmingly white and touted “progressive” hiring practices continue to fall short.)

5. Stamped from the Beginning — Ibram X. Kendi

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American University professor and director of the school’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, Ibram X. Kendi makes the case that not actively speaking out about racism is just as problematic as doing or saying explicitly racist things. Moreover, Kendi explains that racists are far from willfully ignorant or obtuse; instead, they are people obstructing change, trying to maintain racial disparity and long-held policies in American society.

6. Diversity in the Workplace — Bärí A. Williams

Tech executive, author, and Fast Company contributor Bärí A. Williams’s book is chock full of insightful interviews from business leaders. As Williams explains in the book, many companies are simply not aware that their ethical problems may actually be diversity problems. Diversity in the Workplace takes on topics like battling unconscious bias and provides concrete examples of professional successes that were either lifted up by diversity or temporarily obstructed by a lack of it.

7. How to Be Less Stupid about Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide — Crystal M. Fleming

Sociologist and Africana studies professor Crystal M. Fleming points out the noticeable holes in our modern conversation about race. Fleming makes the argument that, despite years of struggle, the message is still not getting across to those that need to hear it.

As Fleming points out, POC still encounter inequity as a part of daily part of life. While navigating the workplace, many POC confront racism and microaggressions regularly. “Almost all people of color are forced to make certain accommodations to white supremacy while surviving within a violent, unjust system.” Fleming says.

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About the author

Diana is an assistant editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. Previously, she was an editor at Vice and an editorial assistant at Entrepreneur

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