Powerful Books About Anti-Black Discrimination and Structural Racism

Jenn Paquette, Adult & Teen Services Coordinator

We recognize the importance of educating ourselves and of holding space for, listening to, and learning from people who have been targeted for oppression.

Check out some of our favourite books to spark conversation about anti-Black discrimination and structural racism for a variety of readers – available here at your library.

Books for Young Readers:

Dream Big, Little One by Vashti Harrison – This book may be small, but it’s packed with big dreams to inspire young readers. Harrison profiles eighteen trailblazing Black women from history who all took a stand against a world that didn’t accept them!

Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel – This picture book reclaims a charged phrase as part of a Black girl’s everyday life–hands up for a hug, hands up in class, hands up for a high five–before culminating in a moment of resistance at a protest march.

My Hair is a Garden by Cozbi A. Cabrera – Mackenzie is teased at school for her unruly hair, until her wise and comforting neighbour Miss Tille teaches her that natural Black hair is beautiful.

Books for Ages 9-12:

Blended by Sharon M. Draper – Eleven year-old Isabella struggles to feel whole; she’s constantly switching between her divorced parents’ houses. With a Black father and white mother, Isabella also feels like she’s constantly shifting identities. Will she ever feel whole if she’s only seen as half of this and half of that? It seems like nothing can bring Isabella’s family together – until Isabella and her brother Darren are stopped by police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun and shots are fired.

It’s Trevor Noah : Born a Crime : Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah – The host of The Daily Show, Trevor Noah, tells the story of growing up half Black, half white in South Africa under and after apartheid in this young readers’ adaptation of his bestselling adult memoir.

Hidden Figures : The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly – This book celebrates the pivotal contributions of NASA’s African-American women mathematicians to the American space program, including how Jim Crow laws segregated them despite their successes.

Books for Teens:  

Dear Martin by Nic Stone – Justyce McAllister is at the top of his class at his predominantly white prep school, but he’s becoming increasingly aware of the microaggressions of his classmates. When Justyce and his classmate attract the attention of an off-duty cop, and shots are fired, Justyce finds himself at the centre of a racial profiling case.

Black Enough : Stories of Being Young & Black in America edited by Ibi Aanu Zoboi – Zoboi edits this anthology of stories by some of our favourite authors for teens, including Jason Reynolds, Renee Watson, and more. The variety in their work lets us know there are innumerable ways to be “Black enough”.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – Sixteen-year-old Starr finds herself in two worlds: the poor (mostly Black) neighbourhood where she lives with her family and the fancy (mostly white) prep school she attends. The balance between her two worlds shatters when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer. Starr is the only one who can speak the truth about what happened that night, but what she has to say (or doesn’t say) has serious consequences.

Books for Adults:

The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power by Desmond Cole – Cole writes with intimate knowledge of the systematic inequality in our country, and more specifically in law enforcement. Cole tackles Canada’s “smugness and naïve assumptions of a post-racial nation” by chronicling a single year, 2017, in the struggle against racism in this country.

So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo– Not sure where to start? Oluo offers readers a user’s guide to starting and navigating conversations about race. She addresses issues like privilege, police brutality, micro-aggressions and the Black Lives Matter movement head-on and with a rare ability to be straightforward and funny at the same time.

 No Ashes in the Fire : Coming of Age Black & Free in America by Darnell Moore – a deeply personal memoir from journalist and activist Darnell Moore about growing up subjected to racism and homophobia in Camden, N.J., in the 1980s and ’90s. While Moore shows the brutality that many young, queer Black people face, his book offers hope for building a world where “those who survive on society’s edges can thrive”.

You’ll find more great reads on these lists:

Ibram X. Kendi: An Antiracist Reading List

10 Recent Books on Racism in Canada and the US

NPR: This List…is a Start, Not a Panacea