These 16 Books Explain White Supremacy In The US

The Charlottesville rally has thrust white supremacy into headlines. These are the books, recommended by leading scholars, that will help you understand its history and effects.

Following the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, people looking to get informed about the history of systemic racism and white supremacy in the US are turning to reading lists.

For those looking to take a deep dive into these themes in social, political, and cultural landscapes, BuzzFeed News put together a list of books — with help, via email from the following experts:

- Carol Anderson, professor of African American studies at Emory University

- Nathan Connolly, professor of history at St. John's University and cohost of the podcast BackStory

- Shannon Sullivan, chair and professor of philosophy at UNC Charlotte

- Terrance MacMullan, professor of philosophy at Eastern Washington University

- Ian Haney López, professor of law at University of California, Berkeley

- Irene Nexica, writer and cultural critic

1. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

Bloomsbury, Emory University

In the aftermath of the Ferguson riots, Carol Anderson wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post arguing the nation's attention should be on the rage that had sparked them — but, she wrote, it wasn't black rage. In her 2016 book, Anderson continues her piercing analysis of white rage, and the ways in which it has fueled, and continues to fuel, political decisions which push back against the advancement of black Americans.

"Anderson’s writing is uncompromising, exactingly documented and heartfelt," Terrance MacMullan told us. "The greatest value of this work is its ability to help us see how the events like those in Charlottesville (and Ferguson, the election of Donald Trump, the War on Drugs, the Southern Strategy, and countless other racial flashpoints in our history) are not just isolated events, but are instead moments in our nation’s dreadful history of white rage. She challenges white people to see that at least as far back as Reconstruction we have failed to live up to our nation’s still-unrealized promise to treat all people as equal because we lash out in fear at any perceived threat to our power and we still do not know how to live in peace with people of color."

2. American Lynching by Ashraf H.A. Rushdy

Yale University Press,

In American Lynching, Ashraf Rushdy gives a comprehensive, eloquently interpreted history of lynching as it has evolved and been redefined over the course of three centuries in American history.

"This book offers a critical discussion of the distinctiveness of mob violence in the United States by linking it to the traditions of white popular sovereignty," wrote Nathan Connolly. "Historically, Rushdy points out, white people, not the state, have been understood as the highest source of political authority in America. Lynching represented a violent articulation of 'We the People.' And the country’s own struggles to realize democracy in the nineteenth and twentieth century can be understood, in part, as a struggle to make the rule of law either sovereign over or in line with perceived white interests."

3. Representation, edited by Stuart Hall, Jessica Evans, and Sam Nixon

SAGE Publications

Representation might be less famous in the mainstream than others on this list (Nexica attributed this to the fact that it was "intended as a university textbook"), but it is a key tool for understanding the ways in which media informs our understanding of identity. Nexica pointed specifically to Hall's essay "The Spectacle of the Other," which, she said, "uses popular culture examples to talk about the ways that whiteness is centered in journalism (including sports reporting), advertising, and 'high' art. I consider this essay a great primer in the complex social constructions that overlap to create represent 'truths' that impact people with their re-presentations."

Temple Press,

In The Possessive Investment in Whiteness, George Lipsitz offers an exhaustive analysis of the many ways in which whiteness is centered and rewarded in housing, education, health care, employment, and culture, as well as an examination of white privilege as it's long been defined and critiqued in radical black culture.

"Lipsitz deftly weaves a diverse set of knowledge into social histories of popular culture that simultaneously shapes and is shaped by society with analyses that are both accessible to a general reader and containing sharp cultural critique," wrote Nexica. "The Possessive Investment in Whiteness looks at whiteness in America from many angles, including OJ Simpson ('White Fear: O.J. Simpson and the Greatest Story Ever Sold'), Stephen King's Lean on Me (where Lipsitz complicates things by describing how 'not all white supremacists are white'), and the ways that different nonwhite communities are impacted by whiteness."

5. Racism Without Racists by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva

Rowman & Littlefield,

In Racism Without Racists, political sociologist Bonilla-Silva illuminates the insidious form of racism that exists among those who insist they don't see race at all. By poking holes in deracialized justifications for things like nonwhite communities' higher rate of imprisonment and poverty and lower levels of education and health care coverage, Bonilla-Silva exposes the weakness of any claims that America is "post-racial." Professor Robin Kelley, in one review, praised the book for its ability to "make many readers uncomfortable, as it should," adding, "With care and a wicked sense of humor, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva explores the kind of subtle, everyday racism that some of 'our best friends' unconsciously perpetuate."

6. Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority by Tim Wise

City Lights Publishers,

In response to the rapidly growing tea party movement, anti-racism activist and essayist Tim Wise published a scathing call for white Americans to disabuse themselves of the belief in their oppression and the notion of a better past.

"In a style that is biting, honest yet occasionally humorous, Dear White America is a direct appeal to white Americans that takes us to task for failing to see how we continue to benefit from white privilege," wrote MacMullan. "This is a tough read for any white person, especially so for someone who thinks that white people are somehow on the receiving end of racism."

University of Chicago Press,

In A World More Concrete, Nathan Connolly takes two assumptions held widely among those interested in race in America — that urban renewal projects and power of public domain were ultimately tools for white property owners to enact racism at the expense of black citizens — and complicates them. Looking specifically at South Florida, Connolly draws out ways in which modern segregation was profitable for property owners across color lines, and examines how both black and white Americans adapted to real estate laws for their own benefit and at the expensive of integrated equality. In a blurb by Princeton professor of history Julian Zelizer, Connolly is praised for "meticulously analyzing all the various institutional actors who shape this market in order to understand the political economy of racism."

8. When Affirmative Action Was White by Ira Katznelson

W. W. Norton,

Political scientist and Columbia professor Ira Katznelson's book is a shrewd and revelatory examination of civil rights programs which came out of the 1930s and 1940s, exposing the deep discriminations that allowed the economic gap between blacks and whites to continue to widen after the war. When the book published in 2006, historian Eric Foner described it as an "incisive book [that] should change the terms and debate about affirmative action, and about the last seventy years of American history."

9. The Future of Whiteness by Linda Martín Alcoff


As the country's demographics shift, and white Americans find themselves making up less than half the population, we're seeing a violent national action among some of those whites to "take back" the country. In The Future of Whiteness, philosopher Linda Martín Alcoff dissects present turmoil and changes among white Americans in their perception of white identity, especially as they become aware of the ways in which that identity affects nonwhites in the US and abroad. Sullivan called it "especially valuable for its careful treatment of class differences between white people as it envisions a future without white exceptionalism, in which whiteness is merely one race among others."

Oxford University Press,

Ian Haney López has written extensively on the evolution of racism in the US since the 1960s, and his latest book hones in on the links between racism and the growing wealth gap. According to López, Dog Whistle Politics "details how the right has mobilized white anxiety over the last fifty years in order to (1) stoke fear and resentment toward people of color, (2) foment hatred toward (liberal) government, and (3) build popular support for politicians beholden to the billionaire class." Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, described it as "required reading."

Westview Press,

In Cannibal Culture, art history professor Deborah Root gives an unsparing criticism of the ways in which Western culture reduces, commodifies, and consumes the identities and ideologies of the other — or, as Root refers to it, the "so-called 'native experience.'"

Nexica praised the book for its many illustrations, which "show how complex images are, especially at talking about power, the creator and the viewer," adding, "[Root] gives examples from and referring to places throughout the world to describe the different ways and logics used by European eyes in creating (often imaginary and fictional) 'others' depending on the histories at play. The attention she gives to the role of colonialism in classical works of art, travel advertising, and fashion invites Americans to think about how 'we' view the world and where those ideas originate."

12. Habits of Whiteness by Terrance MacMullan

Indiana University Press, Terrance MacMullan

MacMullan's book focuses on those who see whiteness as a problem, but don't quite know what to do about it. Weaving in the work of thinkers and writers like John Dewey, W.E.B. DuBois, and Gloria Anzaldua, MacMullan urges white Americans — especially those who consider themselves free of prejudice — to recognize the habits that reveal inherited racism, and unlearning them.

MacMullan reemphasized via email the need for "white folks to first do the hard work of uprooting habits of white racism and privilege, but then plant the seeds of cultural habits that can be sources of pride for white people that are free of the violence and exclusion of the past." Otherwise, he warned, "we will continue to see young white people fall for the lie of white power as we did in Charlottesville."

13. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

The New Press, Facebook: Michelle

Alexander's best-selling book dismantles the notion of color-blindness through the lens of the criminal justice system. By targeting black communities through programs like the War on Drugs, stop and frisk, and "broken windows" policing, Alexander argues, the government has enacted a new type of racial control — mass incarceration. Cornel West called it an "instant classic" and "a grand wake-up call in the midst of a long slumber of indifference to the poor and vulnerable."

14. The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness, edited by Birgit Brander Rasmussen, Irene Nexica, and Eric Klinenberg

Duke University Press

Following the controversial 1997 UC Berkeley conference of the same name, this collection looks at whiteness from a multitude of perspectives, featuring essays from academics, community organizers, and anti-racist activists. In her review, Duke professor Wahneema Lubiano called the book a "brave work; it proceeds without guarantees of its own outcome, without knowing what questions it might settle."

15. White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism by Kevin Kruse

Princeton University Press, Twitter: @kevinmkruse

In White Flight Kevin Kruse looks at the transition of Atlanta during and following the civil rights era — shifting from a site of rare racial harmony to one which whites rapidly fled. Reassessing the assumptions around this "white flight" to suburbs, Kruse digs deep into the meaning of white resistance, demonstrating that it's one aspect of a conservatism that transformed during struggles over segregation and gave birth to causes like tuition vouchers and privatization of public services. In his review, NYU professor Thomas Sugrue wrote, "This important book has national implications for our thinking about the links between race, suburbanization, and the rise of the New Right."

16. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Spiegel & Grau,

Ta-Nehisi Coates' massive 2015 hit is a heartfelt meditation on the realities of life in the US as a black man, and a damning appraisal of the systems and beliefs that make that reality a dangerous one. Written as a letter to his son, it sees Coates touch on the lived experiences that formed his ideology, weaving in the reporting and analysis that have made him one of the leading voices on race today; Toni Morrison called the book "required reading."


A previous version of this post incorrectly labeled a photo of Kevin Decker as Terrance MacMullan.