What We’re Reading: The Fight for Racial Equity, Justice and Black Lives

Since demonstrations against anti-Black racism and police brutality began in late May, Pocket has recommended dozens of articles, essays, and interviews on the fight for racial justice and Black lives — from the history of anti-Black racism in America to reflections on Black resilience and remembrances of those lost. Below is a small sampling of these recommended reads.

The Protests

The Power of Black Lives Matter

Jamil Smith • Rolling Stone

How the movement that’s changing America was built and where it goes next.

The Minneapolis Uprising in Context

Elizabeth Hinton • Boston Review

A proper understanding of urban rebellion depends on our ability to interpret it not as a wave of criminality, but as political violence.

Don’t Understand the Protests? What You’re Seeing is People Pushed to the Edge

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar • Los Angeles Times

“What I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice.”

Why Are Black Women and Girls Still an Afterthought in Our Outrage Over Police Violence?

Brittney Cooper • Time

Why does it remain so difficult for outrage over the killing of Black women to be the tipping point for national protests challenging state violence?


A Timeline of Events That Led to the 2020 ‘Fed Up’-rising

Michael Harriot • The Root

Without the proper context, it is impossible to understand the mushroom cloud of uprisings that are exploding across the country in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others.

Tulsa Race Massacre: This is What Happened in Tulsa in 1921

Special Report • Tulsa World

In 1921, Tulsa was home to one of the most prosperous African American communities in the country. But in a span of just more than 12 hours, the thriving community known as Black Wall Street was wiped out by white mobs.

The Great American Press Release

Maurice Carlos Ruffin • Oxford American

“It occurred to me that like a wedding or a funeral announcement, a lynching was a kind of press release.”

Big Fires Everywhere: How the Haitian Revolution Inspired Today’s Protesters

Orly Clerge • Zora

The sparks of global rebellion we are seeing today are rooted in the Haitian Revolution, the first successful Black-led uprising for racial equality and independence in the modern world.

Reading the History of Slavery: 3 Experts Offer Book Recommendations

Age of Revolutions

Perhaps more than ever, we need to better educate ourselves on the history of slavery, and consider the ways in which it informs how we have arrived at the present.

America Wasn’t a Democracy, Until Black Americans Made It One

Nikole Hannah-Jones • The New York Times

Our founding ideals of liberty and equality were false when they were written. For generations, black Americans have fought to make them true.

Getting it Twisted

Jabari Asim • The Yale Review

“What could be more American than pretending truths were self-evident when they seldom were?”

The Endless Call

David Montgomery • The Washington Post

Demands for racial equity and justice have always been part of the American story. While the images here span the past two weeks, the words paired with them span the past 100 years.

In Memoriam

A Mother’s Birthday Tribute to Breonna Taylor

As told to Angelina Chapin • The Cut

“It’s hard to breathe without her.”

George Floyd, From ‘I Want to Touch the World’ to ‘I Can’t Breathe’

Manny Fernandez and Audra D. S. Burch • The New York Times

George Floyd had big plans for life nearly 30 years ago. His death in police custody is powering a movement against police brutality and racial injustice.

Twelve Minutes and a Life

Mitchell S. Jackson • Runner’s World

Ahmaud Arbery went out for a jog and was gunned down in the street. How running fails Black America.

George Floyd Left a Gospel Legacy in Houston

Kate Shellnutt • Christianity Today

As a person of peace, “Big Floyd” opened up ministry opportunities in the Third Ward housing projects.

Essays and Reflections

The Trayvon Generation

Elizabeth Alexander • The New Yorker

“I call the young people who grew up in the past twenty-five years the Trayvon Generation. They always knew these stories. These stories formed their world view. These stories helped instruct young African-Americans about their embodiment and their vulnerability.”

The American Nightmare

Ibram X. Kendi • The Atlantic

To be black and conscious of anti-black racism is to stare into the mirror of your own extinction.


Erica Dawson • The Paris Review

Black lives matter and so do the characterizations of those lives that lead to their demise.

Maintaining Professionalism In The Age of Black Death Is….A Lot

Shenequa Golding • Medium

“I just witnessed the lynching of a black man, but don’t worry Ted, I’ll have those deliverables to you end of day.”

What Didn’t Kill Her

Bernice L. McFadden • Longreads

Bernice L. McFadden ruminates on all the things her mother has endured only to find herself spending her golden years in the midst of a deadly plague and state-sanctioned racism.

What It’s Like To Be Black in Naperville, America

Brian Crooks • Chicago Tribune

“The first time I was acutely aware of my Blackness, I was probably 6 or 7 years old.”

It Does Not Matter If You Are Good

R. Eric Thomas • Elle

On Omar Jimenez, George Floyd, Christian Cooper and the myth of being non-threatening.

Walking While Black

Garnette Cadogan • LitHub

“I wasn’t prepared for any of this. I had come from a majority-black country in which no one was wary of me because of my skin color. Now I wasn’t sure who was afraid of me.”

Long Time Woman

Niela Orr • The Believer

On the eve of her birthday, in a moment of extraordinary darkness, a critic explores questions of aging and visibility through two exceedingly different works of art.

Whose Grief? Our Grief

Saeed Jones • GQ

For Saeed Jones, generations collapse into seconds during an American week of chaos and sorrow.


Yes, Black America Fears the Police. Here’s Why.

Nikole Hannah-Jones • ProPublica

Shots were fired in Long Island, but there was no rush to call 911. It made perfect sense to this reporter.

How Racist Policing Took Over American Cities, Explained by a Historian

Anna North • Vox

“The problem is the way policing was built,” historian Khalil Muhammad says.

The City That Really Did Abolish the Police

Katherine Landergan • Politico

And rebuilt the department from the ground up. The strange, hopeful, politically complicated story of Camden, N.J.

From Soldier to Worker

Maya Dukmasova • Chicago Reader

Police unions were born of resistance to discipline for brutality. Do they belong in the labor movement?

“The Charged Vapor”

Aaron Mak • Slate

How tear gas went from a World War I weapon to police’s favorite anti-protester tool.

On TV, Cops Are Always the Main Characters

Kathryn VanArendonk • Vulture

TV perfected the cop show, metastasized it, and then franchised it into ubiquity. How does that affect the way audiences think about police?

What America Can Learn From Nordic Police

Ryan Cooper • The Week

Nordic nations have both enormously smaller police departments and prison systems than the United States, and much less violent crime, especially murders.

The Short, Fraught History of the ‘Thin Blue Line’ American Flag

Maurice Chammah and Cary Aspinwall • The Marshall Project

The controversial version of the U.S. flag has been hailed as a sign of police solidarity and criticized as a symbol of white supremacy.

The Personal Cost of Filming Police Brutality

Joshua Nevett • BBC

When videos of controversial police encounters generate headlines, there’s an important figure in the story that we rarely hear about – the person filming.

The Police Have Been Spying on Black Reporters and Activists for Years. I Know Because I’m One of Them.

Wendi C. Thomas • ProPublica

Wendi C. Thomas is a black journalist who has covered police in Memphis. One officer admitted to spying on her. She’s on a long list of prominent black journalists and activists who have been subjected to police surveillance over decades.

Black Resilience, Art, and Joy 

Racism Is Terrible. Blackness Is Not.

Imani Perry • The Atlantic

So many people taught us to be more than the hatred heaped upon us.

The Videos That Rocked America. The Song That Knows Our Rage.

Wesley Morris • The New York Times

Awash in the ghastly video mosaic shot by black people’s cameraphones, I found myself doubled over the kitchen sink. Then a lyric gave me strength.

Refusing to Give Death the Last Word

Nyle Fort • Boston Globe

Between the coronavirus and police killings, Black communities are coping with seemingly endless grief. The absence of funerals during the pandemic has been particularly devastating to a culture in which collective mourning plays a vital role.

Black Communities Have Always Used Food as Protest

Amethyst Ganaway • Food & Wine

For 500 years, Black communities in America have sustained and supported protest through food.

Don’t Just Read About Racism—Read Stories About Black People Living

Nic Stone • Cosmopolitan

Nic Stone, author of the best-selling young adult novel Dear Martin, explains why your anti-racist reading lists aren’t enough.

On Carefree Black Boys

Doreen St. Félix • MTV

Understanding the appeal of the ‘carefree’ aesthetic to black male musicians from Young Thug to Chance the Rapper.

You Should Have Been Listening to Octavia Butler This Whole Time

Alicia A. Wallace • Electric Literature

“Parable of the Sower” isn’t just a prescient dystopia—it’s a monument to the wisdom of Black women and girls.

The Role Publishing Plays in the Commodification of Black Pain

L.L. McKinney • Tor.com

“Black readers need to see themselves in narratives outside of racism, slavery, Jim Crow, police brutality. As do non-Black readers. In order to create a safe world for Black people, books that don’t focus on “issues” need to be given just as much space.”

Going It Alone

Rahawa Haile • Outside

What happens when an African American woman decides to solo-hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine during a summer of bitter political upheaval? Everything you can imagine, from scary moments of racism to new friendships to soaring epiphanies about the timeless value of America’s most storied trekking route.

Just Don’t Forget That Black Pain Isn’t All We Have

Panama Jackson • The Root

“I don’t know exactly when I decided to stop writing about whiteness and focus purely on blackness. What I do know is that for the past few years I specifically made a decision to write about the celebration of blackness and black culture and whatever comes with it.”

Dear White People

Reckoning With White Supremacy: Five Fundamentals for White Folks

Lovey Cooper • Scalawag Magazine

If you’re a “well-meaning” white person feeling lost in your own self-actualization process, here are five basic ideas you must grasp.

White People, Read This Before You Text Your Black Friends

Tomi Obaro • BuzzFeed News

If you’re not black and you have black friends whom you are only reaching out to now, be thoughtful about how you do it.

The Least You Could Do

Emmanuel Dzotsi • Reply All

Black people all across the US are receiving the world’s weirdest form of reparations: Venmo payments from white people. In this podcast, producer Emmanuel Dzotsi investigates.

My White Friends Are Buying Books About Racism. I Wish They’d Talked To Me Instead.

Megan Reid • Bustle

Mostly, my non-Black friends are doing all of the right things this week, both online and off. But that doesn’t stop me from being mad.

Confronting Racism is Not About the Needs and Feelings of White People

Ijeoma Oluo • The Guardian

Too often whites at discussions on race decide for themselves what will be discussed, what they will hear, what they will learn. And it is their space. All spaces are.

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man

Emmanuel Acho • YouTube

Emmanuel Acho sits down to have an “uncomfortable conversation” with white America, in order to educate and inform on racism, system racism, social injustice, rioting & the hurt African Americans are feeling today.

Black Bereavement, White Condolences

Marina Magloire • Boston Review

“This sudden attention to the ongoing grief of black life can also feel like a slap in the face. Didn’t you notice we were dying?”


Angela Davis: ‘We Knew That the Role of the Police Was to Protect White Supremacy’

Lanre Bakare • The Guardian

The veteran civil rights campaigner on growing up in segregated America, the opportunity of the Black Lives Matter movement and what inspires her to keep fighting.

The Long View

Zak Cheney-Rice • New York

John Lewis, congressman and civil-rights legend, will never lose hope.

Bryan Stevenson on the Frustration Behind the George Floyd Protests

Isaac Chotiner • The New Yorker

“Changing the way we police, prosecute, judge, and punish is the essence of criminal-justice reform,” the famed civil-rights lawyer and founder founder of the Equal Justice Initiative says.

What Does ‘Hood Feminism’ Mean For A Pandemic?

Karen Grigsby Bates • NPR

Talking about race, feminism and COVID-19 with Mikki Kendall, author of the new book Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot.

Why Ta-Nehisi Coates is Hopeful

Ezra Klein • Vox

The author of Between the World and Me on why this isn’t 1968, the Colin Kaepernick test, police abolition, nonviolence and the state, and more.

Jailed Ferguson Protester Joshua Williams Wants to Be Out There With Everyone

Zach Baron • GQ

In a rare interview, the activist opens up about the George Floyd protests, police brutality, and the conditions in the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center after a staffer came down with coronavirus.

Pleasure Activism: A Feel-Good Approach to Changing the World

Emma Bracy • Man Repeller

An interview with adrienne maree brown on why changing the world doesn’t have to be just another form of work.

Rachel Cargle Insists Rest Is the Real Revolution for Black Women

Harper’s Bazaar

Activist and academic Rachel Cargle takes us into the weeds of America’s systems of oppression with womanist scholar EbonyJanice Moore.


Black Fatherhood In The Wake Of George Floyd

Under The Radar Staff • WGBH Radio

In Black families, it’s known as “The Talk”: the discussion Black parents have with their kids about what to do should they end up in an interaction with a police officer.

The Sacrifice Black Children Shouldn’t Have to Make

Stacia Brown • The Cut

This country prizes Black children’s precocity — insists on it, even, much of the time.

“No, I Am Not Okay”: A Black Journalist Addresses His White Friends

Jimmie Briggs • Vanity Fair

With a new daughter entering a world defined by protests and a pandemic, a middle-aged father feels his faith in America—or, more accurately, “Great-Again America”—slipping away.

Becoming a Parent in the Age of Black Lives Matter

Clint Smith • The Atlantic

When the Movement for Black Lives began, I did not have children. Now the fight means more to me—coupled with fears that are even deeper.

‘Only White People,’ Said the Little Girl

Topher Sanders • ProPublica

On a playground, the messy birth of a 5-year-old’s “otherness.”

How Can I Stay Positive for My Kids When I’m So Overwhelmed?

Allison Briscoe-Smith • Greater Good Magazine

Even for a psychologist who studies how kids understand racism and violence, talking to her own children about it is difficult.

What’s Next?

It Really Is Different This Time


Two dozen experts explain why.

How Do We Change America?

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor • The New Yorker

The quest to transform this country cannot be limited to challenging its brutal police.

Beyond the Hashtag: How to Take Anti-Racist Action in Your Life

Zyahna Bryant • Teen Vogue

A Charlottesville-based activist, organizer, and social impact strategist — offers insight into how people can take anti-racist action.

Why Anti-Racism Is Our Best Chance at Creating Real Change

Shanita Hubbard • Shondaland

An expert breaks down what anti-racism actually is, and how we can truly embrace it.

America, This is Your Chance

Michelle Alexander • The New York Times

We must get it right this time or risk losing our democracy forever.

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