Free Your Mind Summer Reading List

Summertime is the perfect time to kick back and expand your mind – or your corporate library -with some good reads. So, I asked some raceAhead experts to help.

The question was simple: What book would you recommend to someone seeking to better understand the diverse world around them? For this column, I asked corporate librarians, academic experts and D&I practitioners for their best advice. They did not disappoint.

Suggestions are still trickling in, so I’ll update the column later today. If you like, I’ll also make this a semi-regular feature, and tap other folks, like artists, journalists and entrepreneurs for their personal favorites.

But for now, free your mind, and the rest will follow.

Race and Immigration

  • Patrice Rankine, University of Richmond School of Arts and Sciences Dean recommends Jeff Chang’s We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Re-Segregation. “This book addresses the problem with diversity and issues of campus climate. It also focuses on how those two things fit in with Black Lives Matter and addresses some framework for hope for how we move forward.”
  • Rankine also recommends The Faithful Scribe by colleague and journalism professor Shahan Mufti. Mufti draws on his personal experiences to capture the story of Pakistan, the world’s first Islamic democracy, and its relationship with America. “The issues of Muslims in America and immigration are themes in the book that were not as prevalent a few years ago when the book was published, but they have become much more important to talk about and discuss now,” says Rankine.
  • Francisco Gago-Jover, Spanish professor and dean of the class of 2021 at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., recommends Make Your Home Among Strangers, by Jennine Capo Crucet. “I found the story of Lizet (a first generation Cuban-American college student), the main character, very compelling, as she struggles to balance her new life in college, with the expectations her parents have, and her own expectations,” he says.
  • Bernard Coleman, the Global Head of D&I for Diversity at Uber echoed the choice of Whistling Vivaldi (link appears blow), and added two more. Of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum, he says, “this book opened my eyes on racism and racial identity. It’s a good primer for folks who are starting their D&I journey.”
  • White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson,“talks to our nation’s racial divide and illustrates how deep those vestiges run. I read this book right before the 2016 presidential election and tied together one of the many reasons why our candidate lost,” he says.
  • Tara de Souza, from Goucher College, offered a selection from their summer reading list. “Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, is an incisive and thorough look at the prison industrial complex and the way it targets the most vulnerable members of society,” she says. Goucher is currently only one of a few colleges in the US that offers Bachelor’s degrees to currently incarcerated students. Learn more here.

How Bias Works


  • Mary Beth Wynn, head of HR at Jellyvision, an employee benefits technology company, recommends The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida. “Not only does it provide incredible insight into how a person with autism experiences the world, it was a great reminder for me that everyone has their own unique set of emotional needs that may present very differently in behavior from how I might behave, and empathy for that difference is important,” she says.
  • Sarah Rose, an Associate Professor of History and the director of University of Texas at Austin’s Minor in Disability Studies, recommends Cece Bell’s, El Deafo, “a fantastic graphic novel that explores the author’s experience of what it was like to suddenly become deaf and how she turned her awkward body hearing aid into a superpower that helped her integrate into the school community.”
  • She also recommends Corbett Joan OToole’s Fading Scars: My Queer Disability History, calling it a jargon-free book of lyrical essays exploring life as a queer disabled person and parent. “Corbett OToole has played a key role over the disability rights movement over the past 40 years,” she says.

Bonus: Fiction!

  • Kellie Raffaelli, director of Michigan Technological University’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion, has three fiction recommendations – The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick, Esperanza Rising, by Pam Munoz Ryan and Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler. Her one one non-fiction selection is Waking Up White, by Debbie Irving. All of these books give the reader an opportunity to view the world from a different perspective. Once we see the world from someone else’s viewpoint, we begin to include them in the decisions we make, especially decisions that affect everyone,” she says.

Want to start a raceAhead reading club thing? Hit me back.


On Point

The return of DuVernay’s Queen Sugar delights audiences and critics alikeThe series, about three siblings suddenly responsible for their family’s farm, is resplendent, with the kind of rich cinematography and dramatic flourishes usually reserved for top shelf cinema. Each episode is directed by a woman, many of color. That it is also the complex story of black family legacy in America – and presented by two daring black artists, executive producers Oprah and Ava DuVernay – is part of the power of the series. “The very existence of ‘Queen Sugar’ is an act of black daring,” argues critic Melanie McFarland. Even if you’ve not watched the series, which I highly recommend, there’s more context than spoilers in this review, so do click through. But the second season promises to bring some key themes to an even higher place, so get on season one if you can. Also in a higher place are the ratings. In a rare sophomore year achievement, the second season debut rated higher than its original premiere last year. The base turned up and out.Salon

The life of Philando Castile, in inventory
By now you must have seen the newly released dash-cam video of the shooting death of Castile, and raceAhead has already shared the shocking analysis of the driving-while-black harassment Castile experienced during his short life. But this simple story, an inventory of the items Castile and his partner had in his car when they were pulled over, hits home in a way that’s hard to describe. A life interrupted laid out in crime scene evidence photos and inventory. Among the items: Groceries for the evening’s dinner, three spare uniforms for his job, a child’s worksheet called “Write and Find the Number 12,” loose change, a receipt for an Icee, and the capper, at least for me, red lens repair tape for fixing a broken tail light. Rest in power.

What happened to Black Lives Matter?
Buzzfeed’s Darren Sands attempts to answer a question which at first glance, seems unanswerable. After a meteoric rise to fame – and despite one of the most divisive presidents in modern history – the movement seems to have stalled. After a meeting in late November failed to yield a unified consensus on next steps, Sands says, the core mission continues in an array of groups, some formally allied, and some not, operating locally and mostly online. Some say the passion, talent and urgent need are keeping things moving. “But we can’t pretend that we’re not plagued by some of the issues and concerns that have taken down the movements in the past. We’re not immune to it,” says one BLM organizer based in Florida. But there is this: “In interviews with 36 people inside and allied with the movement — both the optimists and the disillusioned — activists largely agreed that the identity of the movement, its existential purpose and aim, remains unresolved,” says Sands.

Kenya considers a ban on donated clothing
While the loving impulse to donate often yields jarring contradictions – there’s nothing like seeing a community elder at a meeting wearing a previously loved Justin Bieber t-shirt – there are other reasons why emerging economies are not so keen on donated clothes. Here’s one: the secondary market for buying and selling the 100,000 tons of donated clothes that Kenya takes in every year is undermining their once booming garment industry. Yet a change to the system would put millions of Kenyans at risk. Besides being a source of meaningful income, these often colorful cast-offs are the only clothes many can typically afford. “Here in Kenya, we can’t afford to wear clothes and leave them as secondhand like [Americans] do,” says one woman who also sells used baby clothes from a stall.

What’s next for Uber?
Few journalists have taken on the toxic culture at the ride sharing company, fewer still have paid the price. Sarah Lacy offers a quick review of her own troubles with the company – targeted for her early critiques - and then quickly moves to what’s next for the future CEO. She offers several pieces of advice - she starts by suggesting that they acknowledge the company is not worth anywhere near $70 billion, and then gets real. Real boring. The next CEO shouldn’t be a maverick, a bro or a “Marissa” [Mayer], they should be dull. A boring operations wizard. “Uber does not need a product visionary… It needs an operational, logistical genius.”

The Woke Leader

Understanding the LGBTQ community
Tip of the hat to raceAhead sister Katrina Jones for pointing out Catalyst’s helpful guide to the LGBTQ population around the world, filled with helpful stats describing the lives and remaining barriers to full inclusion for LGBTQ employees around the world. While stigma and data collection issues make it difficult to confirm an accurate population count, there are some solid numbers. Though 72 countries prohibit discrimination in the workplace, most don’t, and there are no federal laws protecting the rights of LGBTQ workers in the U.S. But business is leading the way: As of 2016, 92% of Fortune 500 companies have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation. 82% have non-discrimination policies that include gender identity. Nice work. Click through for more.

“Don’t sneak. It means you’re doing something wrong”
This charming, short animation from StoryCorps is also part of the “It Gets Better” Series sponsored by The Trevor Project, and it will make your day. To be a gay kid in the 1950s was a fraught exercise in confusion and longing. But to be a gay kid in rural Washington state was another matter entirely. Patrick Haggerty thought he was hiding things pretty well until one day his brother, alarmed by Haggerty’s interest in glittered makeup for a school play, outed him to their father. Their dad showed up at the school, straight from the farm, overalls on, cow crap on his boots. I won’t spoil the lovely life lesson that follows, but suffice it to say that Haggerty, who tells this story in voiceover to his adult daughter, was surprised that his plain-spoken father managed to affirm both their costumes.

Cool dad turns his kid’s drawings into real life and they are wonderful
The stick-figured creatures created by kids are always an escape and delight. But what if the drawings become real? Six-year-old Dom inspired his artist father, through the magic of I don’t even know, to turn the characters his son drew into the weirdest creatures you’ve seen in awhile. Come for the elephant, stay for the clownfish.
Bored Panda


On our own we simply don't know how to get things done the same way you do things. But, like everyone else, we want to do the best we possibly can. When we sense you've given up on us, it makes us feel miserable. So please keep helping us, through to the end.
—Naoki Higashida

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