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An in-book version of the work of New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning Nikole Hannah-Jones challenging a white supremacist framework for the founding of the nation, leads a wide array of published books on inequality in the United States this year.
The 1619 project is important not only for its ambition to reframe how generations of historians, educators, artists and white media have portrayed the founding of the nation on Indigenous lands and the role slaves played in its construction. The backlash matters too. Critics of Project 1619, which used a “critical race theory” inaccurately and broadly defined as scarecrow, aim to silence discussion and scholarship on the deeply rooted and structural racism addressed in Little near all the other books that we highlight here.
Other notable books on inequality published in 2021 address segregation in public colleges and universities, the racist roots of the Second Amendment, discriminatory systems fueling and perpetuating poverty, mass incarceration and policing, and the design of the US tax system.
The 1619 project
Nikole Hannah-Jones’ Project 1619 builds on work she wrote and edited for The New York Times. In more than 600 pages of essays, poems and fiction, the book seeks to “reframe our understanding of American history by placing slavery and its continuing legacy at the center of our national narrative.”
A companion book for all ages, Born on water, is a “book of lyrical images in verse [that] recounts the consequences of slavery and the history of black resistance in the United States.
The whiteness of wealth
In The whiteness of wealth, law professor Dorothy A. Brown explains how the country’s tax code is helping to widen the country’s huge racial wealth gap. From what’s taxed and what isn’t, to real estate, retirement savings, and marriage, she presents evidence of a system rigged against black Americans.
The State must provide
Adam Harris, editor for The Atlantic, details the country’s violent struggle to prevent black Americans from getting a college education. The State must provide explores the origins of historically black colleges and universities and the funding disparities and double standards that persist to this day.
Broken in america
In Broken in america, Joanne Samuel Goldblum, founder of the National Diaper Bank Network, and journalist Colleen Shaddox analyze the persistence of poverty in the United States with chapters on the discriminatory systems faced by families trying to access water, food, shelter, electricity, transportation, personal hygiene and health care.
After writing the book on Suppressing Modern Voters and Jim Crow’s Common Thread to Trump’s Election (One person, no vote), and a masterful look at the white backlash model to civil rights gains (White rage), Carol Anderson, professor at Emory University, was back this year with The second. He argues that the Second Amendment was “designed to deny the rights of African Americans since its inception.”
Public Integrity spoke to Anderson after the “not guilty” verdict in Kyle Rittenhouse’s recent trial and just before the convictions of three white men for the murder of black jogger Armaud Arbery.
“We basically see the roots of slavery operating in our courts today,” she said. “So the Rittenhouse decision was about whether you could have a white vigilante and he could do the job of containing and controlling black lives. “
We do this until we break free
With We do this until we break free, Mariame Kaba, activist and educator who has worked to end youth incarceration, advocates for the abolition – of prisons, of police services as we know them, of the country’s criminalization and justice system – in this collection of lectures, interviews and essays.
News for the rich, the whites and the blues
Nikki Usher, professor at the University of Illinois, questions the popular perception that American journalism has of itself as a force helping the underprivileged and the powerless to News for the rich, the whites and the blues. It depicts a media ecosystem run by people disconnected from ordinary people’s lives and making business model choices and investments that widen the gap in access to quality information.
The essential report of the Kerner Commission
Jelani Cobb, editor at The New Yorker, wrote a landmark government report, released to a flashpoint of the country’s civil rights movement in 1968, available to a 2021 audience in The essential report of the Kerner Commission. In a new introduction to the report, which is rare for an official government report as it has been brutal to deal with systemic racism and police violence, Cobb shows how the report’s recommendations have been mostly ignored. over the years and decades that followed.
Looking for more? Other essential readings from the recent past include:
- The color of the law, Richard Rothstein’s 2018 take on housing redlining and discrimination.
- Caste, a selection from Oprah’s Book Club last year by Isabel Wilkerson from Heat of other suns cheer. He compares the history of racial discrimination in the United States to the caste systems in India and Nazi Germany and shows through stories from real people the impact it still has on everyday life.
- From here to equality, by Professor Duke William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen. Published last year, the book details the failure of Reconstruction and argues for meaningful economic reparations for American descendants of slavery.
- Political Whistle Dog, by Professor Ian Haney López of the University of California-Berkely. This explains the attractiveness of Trump’s politics in 2015 before he took office using the tactics of racial resentment in the book details of the Reagan and Nixon eras and beyond.
- To die of whiteness, by Jonathan Metzl. The book, published last year, includes in-depth interviews with troubled white Americans who, due to the politics of racial resentment described in López’s book, support politicians and politicians who literally kill them.
Matt DeRienzo is editor-in-chief of the Center for Public Integrity. He can be contacted at [email protected]
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