Books, films and documentaries that will help you learn about anti-racism

Culture that will get you clued up

Written by
Jasmine Price
Photograph: Time Out
Photograph: Time Out

So far, 2020 has showcased the unjust treatment and systemic racism that Black people have, for years, struggled to draw enough attention to. The past few weeks have seen the removal of statues of slave traders, regular protests, online discussions and petitions, calls to change school curriculums and increasing support for Black-owned businesses.

The overriding feeling? That the current generation of activists will keep pushing until real change is implemented.

One way to create that change is by educating ourselves on how to be anti-racist. That could mean learning about the history of racism in Britain, to allow ourselves to better understand how and why it is still embedded within our society today. It could mean looking into how Black people in Britain are criticised and stereotyped by the media, or why it is that they’re more likely to be imprisoned or die in police custody. It could be about how race impacts the way we’re treated by healthcare systems, and why being Black suddenly means being more likely to die from Covid-19. And – especially if you’re white – it means acknowledging that racism, both overt and institutionalised, is not just an American problem.

Don’t know where to start? Any of the films, shows and books below is a great place to begin.


1. ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race’, Reni Eddo-Lodge

This bestseller is an absolute must-read for anyone who wants to understand race relations in Britain today. The book sparked a national conversation about race when it came out in 2017. Eddo-Lodge digs into everything from eradicated black history to the links between class and race.

2. ‘Natives’, Akala

Another must-read, this one by Bafta and Mobo award-winning musician Akala. He is the brother of British MC Ms Dynamite, as well as being a journalist, author, rapper, guest lecturer and inspiring YouTuber. He takes his own experiences and expands upon them to look at the social, historical and political factors that have left us where we are today. Natives speaks directly to British awkwardness when it comes to confronting race, class and the legacy of Britain's racialised empire.

3. ‘BRIT(ish)’, Afua Hirsch

Picture this: you’re British, your parents are British, your partner, your children and most of your friends are British – so why do people keep asking where you’re from? This book, by mixed-race British author and journalist Hirsch, highlights the fact that we are a nation in denial about our imperial past and the racism in our present.

4. ‘White Fragility’, Robin DiAngelo

Anger. Fear. Guilt. Denial. Silence. These are the ways in which white people often react when it is pointed out to them that they have done or said something that has – unintentionally – caused racial offence or hurt. How can we start having more honest conversations, listen to each other better and react to feedback with grace and humility? That’s what this book asks.

5. ‘Black and British: a Forgotten History’, David Olusoga

Based on genealogical research and records, this book ranges from Roman Britain to the global slave-trading empire to more recent UK history. Throughout, Olusoga describes how the lives of Black and white Britons have been entwined for centuries due to the long relationship between the British Isles and the people of Africa and the Caribbean.

6. ‘So, You Want to Talk about Race’, Ijeoma Oluo

If you’re looking for sharp insight and answers to questions about race in America (and the world) now, this book is a good place to start. Each chapter tackles topics from intersectionality and microaggressions to white supremacy.

7. ‘Girl, Woman, Other’, Bernardine Evaristo

Booker Prize-winning ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ follows the lives of 12 very different characters. Mostly women, Black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years. The book’s a heartfelt depiction of Black women in Britain.

8. ‘The Fire Next Time’, James Baldwin

Novelist, playwright and activist James Baldwin is one of the 20th century’s greatest writers, known for tackling racial and social issues that previously hadn’t made it into the literary sphere. These two first-person essays, published together as a book in 1963, discuss Baldwin’s experience with inequality in Harlem and calls to ‘end the racial nightmare’. 

9. ‘I Will Not Be Erased’, gal-dem

Award-winning online and print magazine gal-dem tells stories by and for women and non-binary people of colour. This book is a collection of 14 essays from its writers, detailing experiences from their teenage years and dealing with race, gender, mental health and activism.

10. ‘The Good Immigrant’, Nikesh Shukla

Another bestseller, bringing together 21 exciting Black, Asian and minority ethnic voices, exploring why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay (especially considering the prejudice that exists) and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you – but still needs you for diversity-monitoring forms.

Films and TV shows

1. ‘13th’

Why are America’s prisons disproportionately filled with African-Americans? That’s the question this Ava DuVernay documentary sets out to answer using instances of historical and modern prejudice, and lots of data.

2. ‘Belle’

Have you ever seen the painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle from 1779? She was the mixed-race child of British naval officer Sir John Lindsay. This movie tells her story, focusing on her relationships with her family and wider society, amidst the reactions to the Zong massacre, a mass killing of more than 130 enslaved Africans by the crew of the British slave ship Zong.

3. ‘When They See Us’

Directed by Ava DuVernay, this Netflix mini-drama tells the tragic story of the Central Park Five over four episodes. The case involved five young Black men who were wrongly imprisoned for a violent rape in 1989. It’s brutal, vital viewing.

4. ‘Hello Privilege, It’s Me Chelsea’

This Netflix documentary follows white US TV presenter Chelsea Handler as she examines the concept of white privilege and how this impacts her and the US.

5. ‘The Hate U Give’

A Black boy is shot dead by police after reaching for his hairbrush – what happens next? That’s the story this teen movie, which explores white privilege, tells. While people are protesting, a Black girl’s white private-school friends and boyfriend struggle to understand the significance of the incident. It’s a heart-warming portrayal of events that lead to a supportive collaboration.

6. ‘Hidden Figures’

An extremely powerful true story about three African-American women working for Nasa as mathematicians, and fighting to rise their way up the ranks in a largely white, male space. Look out for Katherine Johnson especially. Her calculations were critical for Nasa’s first successful space flights, yet they were treated like they were inferior.

7. ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’

A beautiful love-and-loss story based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, this Oscar-winner (Regina King’s performance won Best Supporting Actress in 2019) follows a young Black man who falls in love and is then imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. It’s a tender but tough look at the prejudice and oppression Black people experienced in the ’70s, which makes you think about now too.

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