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Reading Is Fundamental

by Black Issues

Reading Is Fundamental

The past 15 years have been marked by a burgeoning of non-fiction books by and about people of color, and on issues concerning their status in the nation’s complex system of education. Below is a sampling of those books that have had the broadest mainstream impact.

1) Blacks in College, Jacqueline Fleming, Jossey-Bass, 1984.
Challenging the prevailing wisdom, psychologist Jacqueline Fleming finds that historically and predominantly Black colleges are more supportive of Black students’ personal, social, and academic development than traditionally White colleges with the superior resources and facilities.

2) The Color Line and The Quality of Life in America, Reynolds Farley and Walter R. Allen, Oxford University Press, 1987.
The Journal of American History said of this book, “This study is one no scholar interested in racial or ethnic history can ignore.” University of Michigan Sociologists Farley and Allen penned a thorough study looking at statistics, history, economics, and social policy to explain the extent and causes of racial inequity in America.

3) And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice, Derrick A. Bell, Basic Books, 1989.
Harvard’s first Black tenured law professor combines fiction with fact to dramatize continuing racial injustices in the United States.

4) The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy, William Julius Wilson, Paperback Reprint edition, University of Chicago Press, 1990.
Powerful analysis of what has gone wrong in the inner city. Wilson spares no one — liberals, conservatives, or civil rights leaders for public- policy experiments.

5) Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby, Stephen L. Carter, Basic Books, 1991.
Carter, a professor of law at Yale University, produced one of the first books on racial reference written from personal experience. Using his own story of success and frustration as “an affirmative action baby” as a point of departure, the author provides an incisive analysis of one of the most incendiary topics of our day.


6) Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus, Dinesh D’Souza, Paperback, Free Press, 1991.
Bush White House policy analyst Dinesh D’Souza weighs in with his overview of what is troubling the nation’s campuses. He would have readers believe that political correctness is run amok on college campuses and that diversity-happy students and their faculty and administrators threaten the very tenets of academic freedom and speech.

7) The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America, Shelby Steele, Paperback Reprint edition, Harperperennial Library, 1991.
This book managed to win Steele a National Book Critic Award in 1990 and vault him from a career as an English professor at San Jose State University to that of a public intellectual. He posits a “new vision of race in America,” but critics see little but anecdotes masquerading as a basis of modifying social policy.

8) Race Matters, Cornel West, Hardcover, Beacon Press, 1993, Reprint edition, Vintage Books, 1994.
The first of West’s books that make him accessible to the public. In this book of essays, he takes on some of the highest-profile issues of the day — including the Los Angeles riots and the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings. He spares neither the liberals nor the conservatives in his indictments.

9) Afrocentricity, Molefi Kete Asante, Africa World Press, 1994.
Afrocentric principles 101 by Asante, who is widely considered to be the founder of the Afrocentric philosophical movement.

10) The Tyranny of the Majority: Fundamental Fairness in Representative Democracy, Lani Guinier and Stephen L. Carter, Reprint edition Free Press, 1995.
Guinier’s controversial academic writings get the public hearing they didn’t get when President Clinton ditched her nomination to the position of assistant attorney general for civil rights.

11) The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay, Hardcover, W.W. Norton & Company, 1996
Ten years in the making, this is one of the most comprehensive surveys of African American Literature yet to be compiled. Ranging from the poetry of Phillis Wheatly, to the fiery essays of Frederick Douglas, the science fiction of Octavia Butler, and rap of Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five, it is an invaluable contribution to the Norton collection.

12) Waiting for a Miracle: Why Schools Can’t Solve Our Problems-And How We Can, James Comer, Hardcover, E P Dutton, 1997.
Comer is not only a child psychiatrist who directs the Yale University Child Study Center School Development Program, but also a pioneer who remains a leading figure in modern school reform. In this book, he discusses the causes of several persistent problems in K-12 education and presents a viable approach to resolving them — an approach that focuses on the crucial roles of children, family, and community.

13) America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible, by Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom, Hardcover, Simon & Schuster, 1997; Paperback, Touchstone Books, 1999. 
Written by Harvard history professor Stephan Thernstrom and his wife, Abigail, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, this book concludes that race-conscious affirmative action policies are a failure.

14) Beating the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Males, Freeman A. Hrabowski, Kenneth I. Maton, Geoffrey L. Greif, and Maton Greif Hrabowski, Hardcover, Oxford Univ. Press, 1998.
Today’s young Black men are more likely to be killed or sent to prison than graduate from college. But Hrabowski leads a team of scholars who eloquently describe how many African American families are raising academically successful sons.

15) The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions, William G. Bowen and Derek Curtis Bok, 1998 Princeton University Press.
This latest salvo in the debate over affirmative action, written by two former Ivy League presidents, documents how race-sensitive admissions policies at selective colleges helped African Americans get ahead and benefited society as a whole.                                                                        
—Compiled by Michele N-K Collison



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