If your Instagram feed looks anything like mine, you’re probably seeing a lot of people expressing shock about the unclear outcome of the US election right now.
On face value, it’s understandable – the pollsters suggested a Biden landslide. I myself have written about my dismay that it failed to materialise. But the thing is, this shouldn’t come as a shock.
For years, decades, Black and brown people have been screaming about the impact of white supremacy and the presence of systemic racism – not just in US society but in the UK and elsewhere too. Recently, as the concept of allyship and being actively anti-racist entered the fore of the public consciousness and black squares filled our social feeds, it became easy to believe we were finally tackling inequality where it needs to be tackled – in white homes, in businesses, in our places of power.
But performative allyship is one thing, genuine change quite another. And if the US election has shown us anything so far, it’s that much of this recent movement HAS been performative. Fifty-five per cent of white women voted for Trump. Let that sink in.
Like turkeys voting for Christmas, as these women have lent their votes to a man who has bragged about assaulting women, they’ve also backed his racism, his dishonesty and his aggrandising, aggressive urge towards unrest.
Shock is not the appropriate emotion here. We were warned that systemic racism remained rife. Now, we’re seeing in cold, black and white data the extent to which this is true. The real question now is less who’ll take the White House keys and more what we can do about it – and the only way to understand that is to really, truly explore the history behind our unequal societal structures.
Today, we’ve rounded up the books that can help you start that process. They’re not easy reads. They’re not fun. But then, this is not a game. Win, lose or coup, Trump’s legacy is going to live on long past 2020. It’s now up to every one of us to learn why.
Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think
First published more than 20 years ago, and updated in 2016 during Trump’s rise to power, this tome by George Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, is nothing short of revolutionary.
Rather than taking an issue-by-issue approach, Lakoff dissects the belief systems that lie behind decision making from both the left and right, the ways in which these systems become hard-wired by the societies we grow up in, and how they then enable us to ignore facts that don’t fit with our own moral codes. His framing of liberalism as a nurturing family, acting on the belief that people are largely born good, and conservatism as a strict father, influenced by the belief that the original sin has tainted us all and necessitated protectionism and moral guidance, blew my mind.
That’s a simplistic summary, but after reading Lakoff’s breakdown, contentious arguments on everything from abortion to gun ownership to the role of religion and race in politics start to make a lot more sense. If the key to changing minds lies in understanding opposing views, this is a very good place to start.
How to be Less Stupid About Race
Crystal M. Fleming
Confronting and essential, think of this book as a bitter medicine – hard to swallow, but ultimately necessary.
Fleming pulls no punches in her analysis of racism and white supremacy, and how its lasting legacy impacts us all. While at times her tone is academic, the wry personal anecdotes she throws into the mix are as simple as they are shocking, understandable to all.
While the ultimate message – that we are all guilty to some degree of upholding the institutional, systemic and societal inequalities that hold back more people than they empower – is difficult to face, by the time Fleming reaches her call to action, you’ll be unable to sit still a moment longer. Buy it, read it – then share it with anyone you know who posted a black square before going on their merry way. Any cheerful denial of the need to engage further in the fight for equality will be decimated within pages…
Subtitled The Lies That Divide Us, this bestseller, heralded by everyone from Oprah Winfrey to The New York Times, has only become more relevant since its publication in August 2020.
Taking the conversation beyond race or politics to the enduring notion of rigid caste systems, this book explores the way in which some sectors of society feel a need, even a birth right, to tower over others, and how that belief has shaped the world we live in today.
Drawing parallels between Nazi Germany, India and 2020’s USA, Wilkinson’s breakdown of the hierarchical but arbitrary ordering of human beings is terrifyingly, eye-openingly astute, and demonstrates all too clearly how these systems, which the western world likes to believe it has relegated to its past, continue to dominate our lives in so many unexpected ways.
From health inequality to racial injustice, Wilkerson takes a rigorous approach to breaking down caste’s continuing influence, before pointing forward to the potential routes out of the mess we find ourselves in.
Why Does Patriarchy Persist?
Carol Gilligan & Naomi Snider
Written in the aftermath of Trump’s first electoral success, this exploration of the enduring power of the patriarchy is essential reading for anyone trying to find reason and order behind his popularity with white women.
Veering from politics to psychology, the law to literature, Gilligan and Snider set out to unpick the structures that keep powerful men at the top – and keep women voting for them.
It’s a compact read, more a speech in writing than an insurmountable academic text, and its conversational tone allows us to apply its teachings to our own lives. As you make your way through its pages, it’s impossible not to see examples of patriarchal pervasiveness in our own stories. If you’ve found yourself staring at that 55 per cent figure in shock over the last few days (and who hasn’t), this is your starting point.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race
Think it’s only the US that has issues with systemic racism? Think again. One need only look back a fortnight to see a prime example of how the UK still tussles with its own racial realities.
In late October, Eddo-Lodge lodged a complaint with press watchdog IPSO, demanding a correction and apology from the Spectator, after it printed comments from junior minister for equalities Kemi Badenoch that the author says imply she supports racial segregation. Her move was supported by 100 black writers.
Badenoch also went on to suggest that teaching children about white privilege could be illegal, and questioned the effectiveness of unconscious bias training – proving just how divided our own nation remains on the need to tackle systemic inequality.
Eddo-Lodge’s bestseller, meanwhile, remains one of the best books out there on the subject.
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