Resources for Understanding Racism and Prejudice in America

I’ve been engaged in quite a bit of recent discussion about the presence of racism and prejudice in the United States today. This is a list of resources that come to mind this morning and are thus weighted towards the recent. I think they are useful as background or direct input for consideration of the issue of racism in the United States today (June of 2020). I decided to document them in one place (and possibly update the list over time) in order to be able to share the resources list easily. Note that this list is particularly oriented towards the issue of racism related to African Americans. I’ve read, watched, or listened to all of these. I’m sure there are others that are valuable that I have forgotten or never experienced. I have attempted to leave out mere political demagoguery.

Some definitions are in order. First of all, some decades ago one of my teachers helped clarify some definitions for me after a race riot at my high school. As an African American teacher, he explained that racism is a belief in the superiority of one race over another. He further clarified that prejudice is a preconceived opinion or expectation. Thus prejudices may or may not be racist. I found this a useful distinction. Many people will admit to prejudices. Not that many will admit to racism. This distinction may prove useful in breaking the ice in what can be heated discussions. It won’t change the reality; but it might be helpful in defusing the heat.

On to the resources…

Bryan Stevenson‘s work at the Equal Justice Initiative. There is also a Wikipedia article about him. Quoting the Wikipedia article, “Bryan Stevenson is an American lawyer, social justice activist, founder/executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and a clinical professor at New York University School of Law. Based in Montgomery, Alabama, Stevenson has challenged bias against the poor and minorities in the criminal justice system, especially children.”

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption – This is a book by Bryan Stevenson that I believe should be (if such a thing were possible) mandatory reading for every American Christian. The witness of Stevenson as he offers aid to the abandoned and condemned is challenging. His redemptive and loving response to racist attacks upon himself and others is even more telling. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. And yes, it was made into a feature movie called Just Mercy. The movie is really great. The book is better. See the movie. Buy and read the book. There has been progress; but what you see here is not over. Bryan Stevenson, whom I have never met, is a hero of mine nonetheless.

John Perkins books and life work. I have listened to John Perkins tell his story, teach, preach, and have met him personally. Rarely does any human being impress me so deeply as a godly man. He is genuinely an American hero, and a man of God whose leadership and teaching I admire greatly. He has founded several organizations and authored numerous influential books. I highly recommend his book Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win. I have given away many copies of this book, including to many of the leaders of Long Beach Friends Church. Immediately after writing that book, he wrote another: One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race. It’s excellent too. John Perkins has written and co-authored quite a few other books. I’ve read most of them. Good stuff. You can find him on YouTube and other places. The Christian Community Development Association has many audio recordings of John Perkins. He tells his story in a ten-minute video. There’s a longer, 21 minute video available on YouTube also.

The “Minnesota Paradox” episode of The Indicator from Planet Money: “OK. So in those particular instances, everybody’s acting rationally. There are a lot of racial disparities that occur that are not meant to be racial disparities, that were not intentional to be racial disparity. But they happen.

The “Melissa Dell On Security and Prosperity” episode of The Indicator from Planet Money… This one is an episode with implications for race in the United States rather than presenting conclusions: “I think that the main questions that motivate me are thinking about why poverty and insecurity persist and what society needs to do if they want to promote economic growth, if they want to promote security.

“The Persistence of Poverty” episode of The Indicator from Planet Money: “Why are some parts of Peru and Bolivia poor and others are not? The answer actually explains a lot about the modern world. And one of the economist Melissa Dell’s papers answers it by looking at something that happened roughly 450 years ago.” (Again, this podcast episode is one with implications for today’s America rather than directly addressing it.)

What A 1968 Report Tells Us About The Persistence Of Racial Inequality“, a Planet Money newsletter. This newsletter has a number of links to interesting reports. “Fifty years later, Americans are taking to the streets again, protesting systemic inequities that haven’t gone away. How much has really changed?

Minneapolis Ranks Near The Bottom For Racial Equality“, a Planet Money newsletter. This newsletter has a number of links to interesting reports. “So, about Minneapolis… we found it, and the Twin Cities area more generally, has some of the most abysmal numbers on racial inequality in the nation. Here is a snapshot…”

The Economist for June 6, 2020 has several relevant articles addressing issues brought on by protests over the killing of George Floyd.

Race in America 2019, published before the recent awful incidents and resulting protests, this Pew study shows perceptions of race in America. “More than 150 years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, most U.S. adults say the legacy of slavery continues to have an impact on the position of black people in American society today. More than four-in-ten say the country hasn’t made enough progress toward racial equality, and there is some skepticism, particularly among blacks, that black people will ever have equal rights with whites, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast had an episode on the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling entitled Miss Buchanan’s Period Of Adjustment that revealed the unintended consequences of the decision. What a shocking mess we have made!

How much does your name matter in influencing whether you get a callback for a job interview? Here’s a summary article from the National Bureau of Economic Research. You can also find a Freakonomics podcast covering this topic. (Searching shows that there should be a transcript online. But I cannot access it as I type this list.)

I’ve heard a lot of talk about the Haitian Revolution – the “only successful slave rebellion” – and its tactics recently in discussion of violence associated with recent protests. I certainly pray we don’t go there. Hate, injustice, and violence begets hate, injustice, and violence. If you are a podcast listener, Mike Duncan covered Haiti in his Revolutions podcast. Chapter 4 was the Haitian Revolution, which he began podcasting about on December 6, 2014. It is quite the story of developing racial perceptions and prejudices and hates and, well, unspeakable violence by and against all sides. You can begin listening to the episodes on this revolution here.

A 14-part film series called Eyes on the Prize was broadcast on PBS as a part of The American Experience beginning in 1987. It is quite good as a background primer on the struggle for civil rights for black Americans.

A film called Freedom Riders was broadcast on PBS as a part of The American Experience in 2010. It is another good background primer on the struggle for civil rights for black Americans. You will be able to find quite a few relevant films from The American Experience series.

The New York Times published The 1619 Project. There is some scholarly dissent from the data and conclusions presented in this project. In addition to the history and interpretation of history, and relevant to racial issues today, episode 5 (in two parts) details the experience of black sugar cane farmers June and Angie Provost and their family in Louisiana. Find the 1619 podcast wherever you get your podcasts.

Whatever you think of the case for reparations, it is worth at least understanding an intelligent young black man’s perspective. You may or may not find yourself agreeing with Ta-Nehisi Coates 2014 argument. However, understanding his perspective is key.

Former president Barack Obama @BarackObama recently tweeted “In our @MBK_Alliance town hall yesterday, I mentioned James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. From 1962, it remains a seminal meditation on race by one of our greatest writers and relevant for understanding the pain and anger behind the protests.” You can read an excerpt online at the New Yorker. I can say that the pain and anger certainly come through. James Baldwin is, indeed, quite a writer. It will stir you up and inform you of his perspective. I will say up front that I found his understanding of Christianity and scripture quite flawed, but his experience of the church all too true of much common practice in America. Regardless, he represents a perspective that has been prominent for the better part of a century.

Update June 13, 2020Here is one fairly elaborate definition of “systemic racism”. It’s surprisingly difficult to find an agreed upon definition! I just think we continue to have a problem with racism and prejudice in the United States. I don’t care that much about the labels – except we need to communicate. 

Update June 15, 2020 – Here is a new Planet Money podcast episode on “patent racism” that is illuminating in many ways.

Phil Vischer, the man behind Veggie Tales and What’s in the Bible made a 17-minute history overview entitled Race in America intended to explain what people are protesting about in these days.

Update June 19, 2020 – The second season of the podcast series Scene on Radio is called Seeing White. It is about that “structural racism” that you hear folks talk about. Listen carefully. It’s very easy to think the topic is individual attitudes of bigotry or prejudice. It is not, even though that’s what most people think of when they hear the word “racism”. One could argue that the term “structural racism” is confusing for most people – and maybe it is. It is about pervasive systems that maintain a power imbalance in favor of white people, whomever “white people” are. Do you know who is white? How do you know? Are you white? Are you being co-opted to be white? Is there such a thing as “good white”? You may find yourself challenged by this listen. I learned a lot when I listened to it.

Update June 27, 2020 – My friend Art Gray posted publicly as below on Facebook recently. He is such a treasure and gift to the church in Long Beach!

Update November 26, 2020 – I found an article on Christian nationalism and racism that is brief and helpful.

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