Social Justice and Critical Race Theory are concepts that have been around for years, but are just now gaining attention in the media. This is a ripe opportunity for educators and administrators to read, listen, and learn how to root out racism in education.
Summer Reads for Social Justice
As a teacher myself, I know firsthand how precious summer breaks are. They are a time to rest and recharge. But I also know and experience the drive to improve my practice and make plans for new lessons and texts to bring into the classroom. It’s a perfect time to have clarity and direction.
If you’re a teacher reading this, I would venture to guess that you’re having the same thoughts as I, and I’d like to offer some suggestions for books to read this summer that center around social justice and Critical Race Theory.
White Fragility is the notion that white people experience anger, fear, and guilt for racism, to the point of refusing to acknowledge it (and white privilege) because it makes them uncomfortable, which in turn perpetuates the cycle of racism. In White Fragility, author Robin DiAngelo breaks down how white fragility develops, how it perpetuates racism, and what we can do to break the cycle.
The term “antiracism” has surfaced as a more precise way to describe the necessity of being an upstander, a person who not only points out racism and speaks against it, but fights it as well. Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist, contends that antiracism is an action. It means taking action against the factors, policies, and ideologies that contribute to systemic racism. Kendi looks at racism from multiple lenses including economics, gender identifies, class, culture, geography, and upbringing as a way to recognize racism and identify steps to dismantling it.
Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow has sat on the bestseller list for hundreds of weeks (you read that right) for good reason. In it, she provides insight and startling accounts and statistics of mass incarceration and a significant dearth of eligible voters in the Black community as a result of the much-hailed War on Drugs and mandatory minimum sentencing. Instead of the Jim Crow era coming to a close and racism ending, Alexander argues that it shifted to creating a new caste system designed to keep Blacks from prospering and thriving, which she calls The New Jim Crow. This book will force readers to examine our country’s not-so-distant past and how policies formed then are shaping society (and the future) today.
Being a witness to an all-too familiar crime puts main character Starr Carter in the middle of a community-wide conflict. She witnesses her childhood friend being shot and killed by police officers and the media’s smearing (and misleading) of his character, painting him as a gang member and thug. She is the only witness to what happened and is forced to choose between telling the truth or protecting herself and her family. As horrific as this plot sounds, it’s not uncommon, and far too typical for Black people living in the United States today. This book is guaranteed to offer a very real and harrowing perspective of what it is like to grow up Black in America.
THE HATE U GIVE
Because The Hate U Give is such a significant and impactful book, I’ve created activities that accompany The Hate U Give that I use with my own students. The Hate U Give Infographic and Hey, Doodle, Doodle, Let’s Review: The Hate U Give are both perfect review activities to use after reading the novel. Each comes with both digital and print options to suit the structure of your classroom. So whether your class meets in person, meets virtually, or some hybrid version of the two, these activities will fit seamlessly into your lesson plans! My students love that these activities are more visual and allow students to be creative in how they respond and reflect on the text!
EMMETT TILL DILEMA ONE SHEET
To connect The Hate U Give with a real historic event, I combined The Hate U Give Infographic with the Emmett Till Dilemma One Sheet into a bundle. In the Dilemma One Sheet, I ask students to consider the question: “Is closure within the purview of the law?: an essential question that comes up in the study of Emmett Till. This product comes in both print and digital versions: EMMETT TILL GOOGLE SLIDES OR PRINT
LONG WAY DOWN
What an amazing book! Your students will love it! Hey, Doodle, Doodle, Let’s Review: Long Way Down
THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD
I was surprised to discover I had never read this book when I stumbled across it last year. I listened to it on Audible and still have the amazing voice of Ruby Dee in my head. If it has passed your must read list here is some information from Audible:
Their Eyes Were Watching God, an American classic, is the luminous and haunting novel about Janie Crawford, a Southern Black woman in the 1930s, whose journey from a free-spirited girl to a woman of independence and substance has inspired writers and readers for close to 70 years.
This poetic, graceful love story, rooted in Black folk traditions and steeped in mythic realism, celebrates boldly and brilliantly African-American culture and heritage. And in a powerful, mesmerizing narrative, it pays quiet tribute to a Black woman who, though constricted by the times, still demanded to be heard.
Originally published in 1937 and long out of print, the book was reissued in 1975 and nearly three decades later Their Eyes Were Watching God is considered a seminal novel in American fiction.
©1937 Zora Neale Hurston, Renewed 1965 John C. Hurston and Joel Hurston (P)1997, 2000, 2004 HarperCollins Publishers
I also have a Hey, Doodle, Doodle, Let’s Reivew product on this novel:
Condemning racism isn’t enough. One must be anti-racist, which means taking action. In schools, this means that professional development has to be more than lip service or required “multicultural” training. It has to be genuine and from a place of wanting change, and making it happen. Especially as Critical Race Theory is being challenged and criticized by people across the globe.
As you prepare for a new academic year, it is my hope that you enter it rested, recharged, and committed to making more empathetic and observant students. If there are books about social justice or critical race theory that you’ve read that are not on this list, please do share the titles!