Skip to main content

03 July 2020

An illuminating reading list on racism and resistance

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, historians at King's College London have drawn together a selection of readings that offer important perspectives on histories of racism and anti-racist struggles.

Photo of open books
Image: Shutterstock

As the surge of protest, activism and debate prompted by the killing of George Floyd continues, the History Department at King's has compiled a list of readings that are examples of useful entry points for considering the deeper historical context behind contemporary racism and anti-racist movements.

The first section focuses on black diasporic histories, while the second addresses some additional global and regional dimensions of the histories of race, racism and resistance. Items which are starred can be accessed freely online without library membership.

Black diaspora 

Paul Gilroy, There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation (1987)

  • A pioneering study of racism in relation to British nationhood and identity
  • Features on the reading list for 5AAH1071, 'Black in the Union Jack? Black Lives in Modern London'.

*Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie and Suzanne Scafe, The Heart of the Race: Black Women's Lives in Britain (1985) 

  • An important history of black women's experiences in Britain and around the world, and a key text of the British Black Women's Movement, powerful in its critique of a feminism that did not also address itself to issues of race.
  • Features on the reading list for 5AAH2026, 'Sexuality and Gender in Modern Britain'.

(currently available as a free e-book via Verso)

*Catherine Hall, 'Gendering Property, Racing Capital,' History Workshop Journal 78 (Autumn 2014) 

  • An overview of the work carried out over the past ten years by the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project, which has been tracing the connections between slavery, abolition and the development of British capitalism, prompting some companies to apologise for their role in the slave trade.

(Free to access)

Kennetta Hammond Perry, London is the Place for Me: Black Britons, Citizenship, and the Politics of Race (2015)

  • Charts the history of Afro-Caribbean migrants to Britain, their resistance to racism and how they changed ideas of what it meant to be British.
  • Features on the reading lists for 5AAH1021, 'Imperial Britain? Britain and Empire, c. 1860-1960' and 5AAH1071, 'Black in the Union Jack? Black Lives in Modern London'.

Marc Matera, Black London: The Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century (2015)

  • A history of London as a site for the development of black internationalism and anticolonialism.
  • Features on the reading lists for 5AAH1021, 'Imperial Britain? Britain and Empire, c. 1860-1960' and 5AAH1071, 'Black in the Union Jack? Black Lives in Modern London'.

Barbara Bush, Imperialism, Race and Resistance: Africa and Britain (1999)

  • Explores the development of anticolonialism and opposition to racism through a focus on pre-1945 Britain, West Africa, and South Africa.
  • Features on the reading list for 5AAH1021, 'Imperial Britain? Britain and Empire, c. 1860-1960'.

Wendy Webster, Mixing It: Diversity in Second World War Britain (2018)

  • Explores the diversity that occurred in Britain during the Second World War as a result of unprecedented movements of migrants, refugees and troops, including from the Caribbean.
  • Features on the reading list for 5AAH1021, 'Imperial Britain? Britain and Empire, c. 1860-1960'.

*Una Marson, Tropic Reveries (1930) 

  • This is the first book of poems by the Jamaican feminist, anti-colonial campaigner, newspaper editor, publisher and BBC broadcaster Una Marson, a pioneer of 'intersectional' thinking.
  • Features on the reading list for 5AAH2026, 'Sexuality and Gender in Modern Britain'

(Free to read via British Library)

George Lipsitz, How Racism Takes Place (2011)

  • An exploration of the ways that white supremacy has shaped, and been perpetuated by, the organisation of US cities and suburbs, and how African Americans have used practices of place-making and a 'spatial imaginary' to resist racism.
  • Features on the reading lists for 5AAH0002, 'History & Memory II' and 7AAH5012, 'Harlem: From "Black Metropolis" to Gentrification'.

Angela Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude' Ma' Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday (1998)

  • A powerful account of how three African American female vocalists addressed the dynamics of racial and gender oppression through their music.
  • Features on the reading list for 6AAH3029/30, 'Red, White and Blues: Jazz and the United States in the Twentieth Century'.

*Ta-Nehisi Coates, 'The Case for Reparations,' The Atlantic (June 2014)

  • A widely-discussed essay that reignited the debate about reparations for slavery in the United States, the UK and around the world.

* US Congressional Hearing on Reparations (video), June 2019

  • Coleman Hughes and Ta-Nehisi Coates debate the merits of reparations.

W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

  • A renowned meditation on the place of black people within the society and culture of the United States, which makes a forceful case against compromise with racism.

Glenn Loury, The Anatomy of Racial Inequality (2002)

  • An economist considers how racial stigma and stereotypes serve to entrench and rationalise discrimination against black people within the United States.

Thomas Chatterton Williams, Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race (2019)

A memoir that challenges limiting and prescriptive notions of racial identity.

*‘Unheard,' The Last Archive

  • Historian Jill Lepore's podcast episode examines the types of evidence that our histories of African Americans are based on, from slavery to Black Lives Matter, via a discussion of Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man (1952).

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye (1970)

  • A novel offering an unflinchingly disturbing depiction of racial oppression and the oppression of women, set in the United States during the 1940s and still deeply relevant today.

*Elizabeth Hinton, 'The Minneapolis Uprising in Context,' Boston Review (29 May 2020)

  • A scholar of African American history considers Black Lives Matter protests and questions surrounding violent resistance in the longer context of African American freedom struggles.

Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness (1993)

  • A highly influential study theorising connections in historical experience and culture across the transnational terrain of the black diaspora.
  • Features on the reading lists for 5AAH3019, 'The "Good" Migrant? Migration, Citizenship and Nation in Twentieth-Century Britain' and 6AAH3029/30, 'Red, White and Blues: Jazz and the United States in the Twentieth Century.'

Hakim Adi, Pan-Africanism: A History (2018)

  • A wide-ranging account of the historical development of Pan-Africanism.
  • Features on the reading list for 5AAH1021, 'Imperial Britain? Britain and Empire, c. 1860-1960'.

C.L. R. James, The Black Jacobins (1938)

  • A classic study of the Haitian revolution and its significance in modern global history.
  • Features on the reading list for 7AAH5002, 'Transnational History.'

Laurent Dubois, Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution (2004)

  • A compelling narrative of how African slaves seized upon new democratic ideals, overthrew slavery and declared their independence from Napoleonic France in 1804.
  • Features on the reading list for 6AAH3065/66' Worlds of the French Revolution.'

*Oscar de la Torre, 'The Backlash Against Reparations for Slavery in Brazil' (2018)

  • A historian of slavery and emancipation in Brazil discusses two significant anti-racist programmes that Brazilian activists are currently fighting to retain.

*'Devyn Spence Benson on Race and Revolution across the Florida Straits' (2016)

  • An interview with a historian who studies how the Cuban Revolution of 1959 impacted Afro-Cubans.
  • Benson's work features on the reading lists for 5AAH3004, 'Forging State and Nation in Latin America since 1750' and 7AAH5018, 'Debates in Modern Latin American History.'

Johny Pitts, Afropean: Notes from Black Europe (2020)

  • A contemporary exploration of black diasporic life and identity across the continent of Europe.


Global and regional perspectives on race, racism and resistance

Francisco Bethencourt, Racisms: From the Crusades to the Twentieth Century (2014)

  • A major historical overview of ideas and practices of racism by a King's historian.

Bruce S. Hall, A History of Race in Muslim West Africa, 1600-1960 (2011)

  • A multi-layered history of ideas of racial difference in the region along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, spanning the precolonial and colonial periods.

Edward Said, Orientalism (1978)

  • Focused largely on the Middle East, this major text in post-colonial studies addresses the role of Western cultural representations of 'the Orient' in fortifying ideologies of imperialism and racism.

*Australian Journey

  • A collection of online documentaries, many (such as the episodes on Travelling Country, Encounters and The Stolen Generations) exploring the histories of Indigenous Australians.
  • Features on the reading list for 5AAH2013, 'The History of Australia'.

Max S. Hering Torres, María Elena Martínez and David Nirenberg, eds., Race and Blood in the Iberian World (2012)

  • A collection of essays charting the development of ideas of race in the Spanish Atlantic world between the 16th and 18th centuries.

Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972)

  • A classic anatomisation of the role of slavery and colonialism in the development of capitalism and the modern world.
  • Features on the reading list for 5AAH3010, 'Themes in Colonial and Postcolonial African History.'

Kim Wagner, Amritsar 1919: An Empire of Fear and the Making of a Massacre (2019)

  • A 'microhistory of a global event,' charting the path that led to a notorious imperial atrocity in British India.

Gerald Horne, Race War! White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire (2005)

  • Examines how Japan sought support in the territories it occupied during the Second World War by appealing to common Asian experiences of European colonialism and white supremacy.

Anandi Ramamurthy, Black Star: Britain's Asian Youth Movements (2013)

  • A study of the grassroots antiracist activism of Britain's Asian Youth Movements in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • Features on the reading list for 5AAH3019, 'The "Good" Migrant? Migration, Citizenship and the Nation in Twentieth-Century Britain'.

Kay Anderson, 'The Idea of Chinatown: The Power of Place and Institutional Practice in the Making of a Racial Category,' Annals of the Association of American Geographers 77 (January 1987)

  • Explores the role that the denigration of racialised places has played in underpinning racist ideas and practices.
  • Features on the reading list for 5AAH0002, 'History & Memory II.'

Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (1989)

  • A still-provocative book arguing that the Holocaust occurred not as a temporary regression from modernity but as one possible product of modernity's core characteristics.

Robert Gerwarth and Stephan Malinowski, 'Arendt's Ghosts: Reflections on the Disputable Path from Windhoek to Auschwitz,' Central European History 42 (June 2009)

  • An article analysing the relationship between violence in European and American colonies in the nineteenth century and the Holocaust.
  • Features on the reading list for 5AAH1016, 'Blood and Iron: The Forging of Modern Germany, 1806-1914.'


Related departments