Updated: Jun 19
The very first thing you should know before reading this post is that I'm white. As a white person, I have the difficult task of unlearning the deeply rooted systemic oppression of Black people and the system of white supremacy in our country. Part of that process for me has been understanding how the environmental movement is intertwined with the movement for racial justice.
As an environmentalist, I am particularly aware that this movement has historically oppressed BIPOC voices and continues to do so today. It is therefore vital that we recognize that until there is racial and social justice, there will be no climate justice. In the books below you will learn about how people of color are more likely to live near landfills, more likely to be exposed to air pollution, more likely to live in lead filled homes, and more likely to feel the impacts of climate change than white folks.
Get Uncomfortable with Discussing Race
A huge portion of the work I have done is beginning to have conversations about race. They have always been uncomfortable. But I know that feeling uncomfortable is the first step to having meaningful conversations with those white folks around me.
I am in no way an anti-racist expert. I am just simply a white, cisgendered, straight woman beginning to do some long overdue work on herself. Below I have compiled a list of books that address environmental racism, climate justice, white privilege, and racial justice that may help you do the same.
Although some of these books deal directly with the environment, some are simply about discussing race. We cannot separate our work to take care of and heal this planet with the need to heal our relationships with fellow human beings. If that makes you uneasy or you wish I had kept it "not political", then read these books. They will answer your questions way better than I ever could.
Check out other reading lists including Best Books about the Environment and the Ultimate List of Zero Waste Guide books!
Support Independent and Black-Owned Bookstores
For each title I have linked to the book on BookShop.org, a B-Corp company supporting independent bookstores across the U.S. which I am affiliate of. I cannot control where you purchase or borrow the book from, but I highly encourage you to NOT use Amazon and instead use an independent bookstore, library, or purchase it directly from the author themselves whenever possible. Where you spend your money matters!
BookShop.org is an alternative to Amazon that provides independent book stores across the U.S. a way to sell books online - you can also search for specific local bookstores and then all of the proceeds will be directed towards them! For a list of Black-owned bookstores, check out this list by the African American Literature Book Club. Purchase from the bookstore directly or look them up on BookShop.org to see if they are a partner.
Books about Environmental Racism, White Privilege, and Climate Justice
Although I would like to say that I have read all of the books on this list before, I have only gotten through the first three so far. The rest are on my list to listen to and come highly recommended!
1. A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind by Harriet A. Washington
2. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
3. Garbage Wars: The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Chicago by David Naguib Pellow
4. As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Stand Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker
6. Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices From the Grassroots by Robert D. Bullard
7. If You Poison Us: Uranium and Native Americans by Peter H. Eichstaedt
8. There's Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous & Black Communities by Ingrid R.G. Waldron
9. Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States by Carl Zimring
10. Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility by Dorceta Taylor
11. Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage by Dianne D. Glave
12. Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability by Alkon, Agyeman, et al.
13. The Yellow House: A Memoir by Sarah M. Broom
In addition to the above books, white folks especially may find it helpful to read books specifically about race and white privilege.
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin Diangelo
How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi