As grievances on systemic anti-blackness reach a boiling point, it isn’t enough for white people and us non-black POC to be silently non-racist; we must strive to be antiracist. Being an ally, after all, is a continuous action, and in order to dismantle oppressive systems, we must first unlearn the oppressive notions we have internalized. Below are some films and books, all by black creators, that can aid in our understanding of anti-blackness, institutional violence, and police brutality.
One would expect that the abolishment of something like slavery be absolute, but in the case of the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, there was a loophole: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” 150 years later, this clause paved the way for the disproportionate incarceration of black people. This documentary traces then to now, how “progress” only metamorphosed racist systems instead of taking them apart. Its final act focuses on Black Lives Matter—DuVernay says, “Every line, every frame of this film leads you to [the movement]. The whole film is a virtual tour through racism. The film was 150 years in the making.”
13th is available to stream on Netflix.
Based on the best-selling young adult novel by Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give is centered on 16-year-old Starr (Amandla Stenberg), who was riding shotgun when her best friend Khalil (Algee Smith) was pulled over and unjustly murdered by a white cop. It is personal and political and potent; depicting how people close to victims of police brutality are rarely warranted space to grieve, particularly Starr, who is often in white spaces. Through Starr’s rich characterization and the plot’s awareness of the sociopolitical context in which it exists, the movie is comprehensive and, while not based on anyone in particular, a true story.
The Hate U Give is available to stream on Hulu.
Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old from California, was fatally shot by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer in the early hours of New Year’s Day in 2009. This film reconstructs the last 24 hours of his life, down to the fight that breaks out in Fruitvale that led to his detainment. Coogler, in his assured filmmaking, rises above the dramatization too often present in more pandering movies. It is subdued, paced almost mundanely; because Coogler knows there is no stronger political commentary than the truth.
Fruitvale Station is available on digital.
Another directorial effort from Ava DuVernay, When They See Us is a four-episode miniseries based on the 1989 Central Park jogger case and the five men wrongfully prosecuted on charges related to sexual assault. DuVernay’s empathic and thoughtful approach, coupled with the series being widely available on a mainstream streaming service, sparks a collective desire for justice. It rips open not only a rotten legal system, but layers of unjust social structures rooted in race and class—systems that failed the Central Park Five even before they got wrongfully accused.
When They See Us is available to stream on Netflix.
This documentary is based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House, a collection of notes and letters that recount the lives of his friends, civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcom X, and Martin Luther King Jr. They were the mouthpieces of people so shackled by oppressive systems that the line between American history and their biographies does not exist. Through the juxtaposition of footage of police violence from the ‘60s and now, we realize Baldwin’s sentiments on black deaths still ring true today; its timelessness a reminder that we have a long way to go.
I Am Not Your Negro is available on digital.
By redefining the opposite of “racist” as actively antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi reenergized conversations around racial justice and provided a more tangible, long-term approach to activism. He critiques bottom-up—beginning with the anti-black social conditioning we internalized and apply to our intimate relationships, to the larger social structures that make such conditioning possible in the first place. He further argues that anything, be it an idea or action, is either racist and in support of the system that upholds racism, or antiracist, meaning it is actively trying to dismantle such a system. By using as the book’s framework his personal experience with unlearning his deeply held racist beliefs, How to Be An Antiracist is cathartic as much as it is enlightening.
The UK’s Equality Act of 2010 aims to protect color, nationality, and ethnic or national origins; author and lecturer Emma Dabiri is fighting for hair to be included. “Hair is as much of a signifier of African ancestry as color is, which means it’s a characteristic that can leave us vulnerable to discrimination,” she told Vogue. “This is why it needs to be explicitly named in the act; there has been so much shaming of black people for our hair, and the idea that it is deviant and wrong.” Don’t Touch My Hair details the history and subsequent stigmatization of black hair, from pre-colonial Africa to today’s natural hair movement.
The heightened violence caused by the police have so far warranted only band-aid solutions—diversity, revised training, enhanced community relations. These achieve no tangible results, as the problem is rooted in the system of policing itself. From the origin of police forces as a buffer for the elite to their role in social control today, The End of Policing presents comprehensive research written with an urgent approach, shedding light on how any reform in law enforcement is no match to policing alternatives like restorative justice.
The End of Policing ebook is available for free at Verso Books.
When she was 7, author Austin Channing Brown learned that her parents named her “Austin” to trick future employers into thinking she was a white man. In this memoir, she sheds light on the role white, middle-class Evangelicalism plays in racial hostility, through the lens of her own journey with self-worth as someone who grew up in predominantly white spaces. She is also critical of white people’s inability to recognize racism as a complex system they benefit from whether they like it or not: “White people desperately want to believe that only the lonely, isolated ‘whites only’ club members are racist. This is why the word racist offends ‘nice white people’ so deeply. It challenges their self-identification as good people,” she writes. “Sadly, most white people are more worried about being called racist than about whether or not their actions are in fact racist or harmful.”
For years, Reni Eddo-Lodge was frustrated with how conversations about racism in Britain were led by people unaffected by it. She wrote a blog post that turned into this book, in which she said, “[White people] truly believe that the experiences of their life as a result of their skin color can and should be universal. I just can’t engage with the bewilderment and the defensiveness as they try to grapple with the fact that not everyone experiences the world in the way that they do.” In the book she expands these sentiments with the discussion of whitewashed feminism, the erasure of black history, and the political purpose of white dominance.