It begins with listening. Among the most heartfelt entreaties voiced by people of color right now, as our nation and our world struggle with racial inequities and police brutality, is the plea to simply listen. One of the best opportunities for this is through audiobooks, where complex thoughts, feelings and experiences can be shared with immediacy and intimacy. Readers in Seattle and elsewhere have been seeking out anti-racist texts, and many helpful lists of these can be found across the media. Here are some excellent audiobooks for those intent on hearkening to Black voices and experiences centering on the realities, sources and potential cures of systemic racism in America.
“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” This quote from Angela Davis makes a fitting epigraph to “Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People,” by civil rights attorney Ben Crump. The author extends the term “colored people” to those discriminated against on the basis of race, sexual preference, religious beliefs and gender, and ably supports his contention that our justice system has been relentlessly engineered to efficiently destroy such people. Crump’s methodical evidence, persuasively conveyed by narrator Korey Jackson, ranges from up-close-and-personal observations (Crump represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown), to far-reaching ones on the evolution of institutional and environmental racism, culminating in 12 actionable steps each listener can take to help bring us closer to the ideals upon which our nation was founded.
It is hard to imagine a better complement to Crump’s book than “The Black and the Blue,” in which co-author and narrator Matthew Horace lifts the veil on the racism endemic in law enforcement today from his vantage point as a veteran police officer, and as a Black man who has narrowly escaped police brutality himself, both while working undercover and simply going about his life. Calling on his own hard-won life experience as well as a wealth of interviews, Horace offers a considered, heartfelt and at times impassioned account of the best and worst of his profession. While their account is balanced, Horace and co-author Ron Harris, a former Los Angeles Times reporter and editor, now a Howard University professor, are unequivocal in their call for reform, presenting an unsparing exposé that may open the ears and minds of those prone to binary, law-and-order thinking.
James Forman Jr. offers a similarly nuanced and convincing exploration of the insidious nature of institutional racism in his Pulitzer Prize-winning “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America,” narrated with sensitivity and compassion by Kevin R. Free. Recounting the history of how communities of color have been tragically caught between competing needs for equal protection and justice under the law, he shows how the politics of respectability and narratives of assimilation have helped fuel a war on crime that has militarized America’s police against its own citizens. This incisive and eye-opening examination of the often unconscious mechanisms of oppression is grounded in Forman’s own experiences as a public defender, conveyed with moving emotion by Free.
As crucial as these and many other powerful and illuminating treatises by such authors as Ibram X. Kendi, Ijeoma Olua, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michael Eric Dyson are, sometimes we are also called upon to merely witness. In “I Can’t Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street,” journalist Matt Taibbi reveals in detail the life and death of Eric Garner, killed by Staten Island police on July 17, 2014, and the infamously futile quest for justice that followed in the wake of his murder. Expertly varying his own appealing rasp, narrator Dominic Hoffman brilliantly personates the wide range of individuals interviewed for the book, including many lesser-known victims of police brutality, and he admirably channels the outrage and cynicism inspired by a seemingly endless litany of injustice. It is a performance well calibrated to refuel and reignite necessary outrage.
For older teens and adults looking for fiction to help them process these realities, Kekla Magoon’s incendiary, thought-provoking novel “Light It Up” explores the police shooting of a young girl from diverse points of view, brilliantly brought to life by a full cast. The death of 13-year-old Shae Tatum sparks civil unrest in which protesters clash with white supremacists, as media and political figures jockey for position. Others ranging from a hapless witness to the disgraced cop’s family struggle with the impacts. This novel is a stand-alone sequel to Magoon’s previous novel “How It Went Down,” another masterful full-cast recording of a Rashomon-like tale of another racially tinged shooting in the same community. Both books are complex and stirring explorations of the causes and effects of violence that do much to heighten empathy and understanding, without dulling the impact of such tragedies, all too familiar in America.