In Observance of MLK Jr. Day: How Books Today Provide an Insight into Modern Racism

In case you weren’t aware, yes, racism exists in all forms. But if you (or a friend!) are of the variety that like to stick your head in the sand and ignore it if it’s not in KKK robes, this post is for you. Today, I’m going to be exploring how racism has evolved in the modern world. (Some places) have moved away from segregation and choose more…discrete (not really) tactics to leave black people at a severe disadvantage.

The Hate U Give by: Angie Thomas

The first book on this list is an obvious one, and has been getting a lot of hype recently due to the film adaptation, which includes a star studded cast including Amandla Stenberg, Common, Sabrina Carpenter, Anthony Mackie, Kian Lawley, and more. But in short, it is a book Starr (Stenberg) learning to live in a world that took her best friend Khalil away just for the color of his skin.

“That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”
  • The first way we see modern racism in this book is in the form of the officer that shoots Khalil. He stops the car (for NO REASON), and as Khalil is very blatantly complying, shoots him anyway and threatens Starr.
  • But we also see it in the way that one of Starr’s friends, Hailey (Carpenter) admits her uncomfortableness with Starr’s Tumblr as she reblogs things like the Emmett Till case, and her low-key racist remarks about Maya, who is Asian. Hailey’s character embodies everything about racist people these days (the ones who won’t admit that they are), literally the physical incarnation of “I’m not racist! I have one black friend!”
  • The book doesn’t end happily (spoiler alert), but with the message to keep fighting. There is a list in the book a page long about the people who were killed via police that still need justice. If you were ever confused about how scary the world is for other people, this book is for you.

All American Boys by: Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Here, we have a book on how a tragedy can divide a community, but also open eyes. Written from two perspectives, All American Boys is about Rashad, who is brutalized by a cop over nothing, and Quinn, who knows the cop personally and can’t imagine what Rashad could have done to spark such a response…nothing. As the two boys live in the aftermath, they begin to realize the world is much harsher than either of them could imagine, and that they’ll have to set aside their differences to see the real problem at hand. Personally, I think people will find this one easier to relate to than THUG, because although Rashad doesn’t die, his injuries speak for themselves and causes other people to fight back.

“Had our hearts really become so numb that we needed dead bodies in order to feel the beat of compassion in our chests? Who am I if I need to be shocked back into my best self?”

“Because racism was alive and real as shit. It was everywhere and all mixed up in everything, and the only people who said it wasn’t, and the only people who said, “Don’t talk about it” were white. Well, stop lying. That’s what I wanted to tell those people. Stop lying. Stop denying. That’s why I was marching. Nothing was going to change unless we did something about it. We! White people!”

  • Rashad is racially profiled, and not given a chance to explain himself before being brutally attacked by someone meant to protect him.
  • The charges that follow paint Rashad as a thug, and a cop who was scared.
  • Quinn has to deal with realizing that his friends are literally racists, even if he doesn’t want to admit it to himself. Half of the community is on the cop’s side, and he struggles with it as he begins to sympathize with Rashad.

Dear Martin by: Nic Stone

Don’t think I could have gone this whole post without mentioning my girl Nic. Basically, this book is about Justyce McAllister, who struggles with connecting lessons from Martin Luther King Jr.’s to today’s society.

“Yeah, there are no more “colored” water fountains, and it’s supposed to be illegal to discriminate, but if I can be forced to sit on the concrete in too-tight cuffs when I’ve done nothing wrong, it’s clear there’s an issue. That things aren’t as equal as folks say they are.”

“People often learn more from getting an undeserved pass than they would from being punished.”
  • Modern racism via social media is something I’ve never really seen covered in YA, but it’s very prevalent in real life, and we might not even realize it. Such as when Justyce’s friend, Manny, hangs out with people who think its okay to dress in KKK robes on Halloween as a “joke” and post it online. We give (white) people too many passes and its what’s created this culture of being subtly racist, especially on the Internet.
  • A tragedy rips Justyce in two, and he struggles to keep his hopes up in a world that just wants to tear him down.

Between the World and Me by: Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book is not really YA, but it is a letter from a father to son about racism. A series of essays about being a young black man in America. And everyone should read it. ‘Nuff said.

“Then the mother of the murdered boy rose, turned to you, and said, “You exist. You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid to be you.”

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