24 books for white people to read beyond Black History Month These great reads will help any reader discover the rich range of the African-American experience

For many years I was a clueless white guy. I suffered from one-ness. What I really needed was two-ness, and maybe three-ness and four-ness. I came to see my whiteness not as privilege but as insufficiency, thanks to W. E. B. Du Bois and his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk.

In a remarkable passage, the great scholar, author and activist described the Negro as “a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, — a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eye of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideas in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

Here is the good news. I am not there yet, but I am gaining on two-ness. My white skin is no longer a prison of cluelessness. With the help of African-American friends and colleagues, I am beginning to see America through the eyes of not the Other but others. Through their generosity, I have been invited to ask questions. I heard or saw things I didn’t understand. I did not yet know how to learn, nor did I have the courage to ask a question that might come off as racist. My fear was met by encouragement from the likes of Rev. Kenny Irby, DeWayne Wickham, Dr. Karen Dunlap, Keith Woods, Dr. Lillian Dunlap. “Don’t worry,” they indicated by one means or another. “Ask away. No one is going to leave the room or show you the door.”

Some of my clueless questions:

“When I see a police car, unless I am speeding, I think protection. Tell me why when you see a cop car you may think oppression?”

“I don’t get the absence of so many black fathers in the lives of their children. What is up with that?”

“I have learned to hate the N-word. When I hear it from black rappers, should I be offended?”

“I keep running into this idea of ‘good hair’ vs. ‘bad hair.’ As someone with very bad hair, I think that anyone with any kind of hair has good hair. What am I missing?”

There came a time during these interrogations when I felt a little fatigue setting in from my colleagues. And then Karen Dunlap, my boss and president of the Poynter Institute, made it explicit. It gets tiring, she explained, bearing the burden of white people’s ignorance about black people and African-American culture. “You know,” she gave me a Sunday school teacher look, “you could read something.”

Read something. Yes, read something!

And so I have. Over the past two decades I have developed quite a nice collection of what I might generally describe as African-American literature, some of it written by white journalists or scholars but most of it created by black poets, playwrights, scholars, novelists, essayists and critics. My collection is now large enough to be displayed, and I recently did just that in the library of the Poynter Institute.

I am not claiming this to be an expert collection of works, and certainly not a model one. But it is my collection, and I believe it has made me a better friend, colleague, parent, citizen and human being. I offer this list, with brief annotations, at the END of Black History Month to encourage readers not to limit their learning to the shortest month of the year.

So please learn, grow — and enjoy.

  • My Soul Is Rested: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement in the Deep South, by Howell Raines. A superb oral history of the key moments and key figures of the struggle.
  • The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, by James McBride. “What color is God?” a dark-skinned boy asks his light-skinned mother. “God is the color of water.”
  • Reporting Civil Rights (Parts One and Two) Library of America edition of great American journalism on race and social justice, 1941-1973.
  • The Authentic Voice: The Best Reporting on Race and Ethnicity, edited by Arlene Morgan, Alice Pifer and Keith Woods. Rich examples reveal the power of inclusiveness in all the stories we tell.
  • The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert That Awakened America, by Raymond Arsenault. A great biography of a great American artist by the historian who also gave us Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice.
  • Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, by Phillip Hoose. Before Rosa Parks became an American icon, a young teenage girl, Claudette Colvin, refused to give up her seat on a bus. Written for young readers, but important for all.
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. First came slavery, then came segregation, then came mass incarceration.
  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Framed as a letter to his adolescent son, the author digs down to consequences of the continuing exploitation of black people in America. By the author who has made the most eloquent case in favor of reparations for continuing effects of slavery.
  • Beloved, by Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. “Stares unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery.” Another must-read is The Bluest Eye, a terrifying novel about cultural definitions of beauty and the tragedy of self-hatred.
  • Fences, by August Wilson. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for drama, this play depicts what it means for a father to love his son — even at times when he doesn’t like him.
  • Woodholme: A Black Man’s Story of Growing Up Alone, by DeWayne Wickham. An orphan, black and poor, grows up to be one of America’s most prominent newspaper columnists.
  • Crossing the Danger Water: Three Hundred Years of African-American Writing, edited by Deirdre Mullane. If I had to recommend a single volume, this anthology would be it: more than 700 pages of history, literature and insight.
  • In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, by Alice Walker. Glowing essays expressed in what the author of The Color Purple calls “Womanist Prose.”
  • March (Books One, Two and Three), a trilogy, graphic-novel style, on the life and times of congressman John Lewis, with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. A work for adults and young readers.
  • Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family, by Condoleezza Rice. This family memoir by the former U.S. secretary of state carries us back to when she was 8 years old and her young friends were murdered in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
  • Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, by Taylor Branch. Widely hailed by critics of all races as “a vivid tapestry of America.”
  • Race Matters, by Cornel West. From W. E. B. Du Bois to Cornel West, African-American intellectuals have helped Americans of all colors understand the sources of racism and the need for change.
  • The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, James Weldon Johnson. The 1912 short novel narrates what it means for a person of mixed race to “pass for white” within the system of American apartheid.
  • The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation, by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff. Winner of a Pulitzer Prize. The stories behind the stories of civil rights, including the inspirational courage and leadership of African-American journalists and publishers.
  • On the Bus with Rosa Parks, by Rita Dove. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, her poetry captures a unique vision of the love and spirit of those who struggled against segregation.
  • Soul on Ice, by Eldridge Cleaver. Bought this as a college student in 1968 along with Look Out, Whitey! Black Power’s Gon’ Get Your Mama! by Julius Lester. Written from a California state prison by a key figure in the Black Panther movement.
  • Black and White Styles in Conflict, by Thomas Kochman. Are black people and white people the same — or different? Turns out, the answer is “both,” according to the white sociologist who drills down into American culture to reveal the sources of our misunderstanding.
  • The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin. Framed as a letter to his young nephew on the 100th anniversary of emancipation. A searing call for justice.
  • The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. The poet was black a black man in a white world, a gay man in a straight world. His experience of two-ness created, I would argue, one of the most impressive bodies of poetry in American history. Were there not an unofficial color line in the Pulitzer Prize judging, he would have won — and more than once.

In building this list, I emphasize again that it is only special in that it is mine, and in that it has led me to a place I wanted and needed to be. There are countless worthy works not on my list, and countless more that are soon to be written. If I may borrow a phrase from the late Julius Lester: Look out, Whitey! Read some of these books and, who knows, you may get a clue. May there be two-ness in your future — and more.

‘Being Mary Jane’ star Richard Brooks is taking on more and starring in new show ‘The Rich and the Ruthless’ The ‘Law & Order’ vet is going beyond acting to writing, producing and directing

Actor and singer Richard Brooks can read over a legal document and break it right on down. He’s not a lawyer, but he played one on television as Assistant District Attorney Paul Robinette in the first three seasons (1990-93) of NBC’s hit drama Law & Order. And the research that went into preparing for the part gives him some expertise on the matter.

“Sometimes, I think of myself as a jailhouse lawyer now because I help people with their legal issues,” Brooks said as he chuckled. “It makes no sense. I’d read the contract, and people are like, ‘You read my contract?’ ‘Yes, I read the full contract.’ ”

Now, Brooks is in the fourth season of the hit show Being Mary Jane on BET and is a co-star in Victoria Rowell’s new dramedy The Rich and the Ruthless, which premieres July 28 on the Urban Movie Channel.

Alongside Gabrielle Union, Richard Roundtree, Margaret Avery and now Michael Ealy, Brooks plays Patrick Patterson, the older brother of Mary Jane (Union). Patrick is a recovering addict trying to get his life back on the right track while raising a young daughter and advising his older children, who now have children of their own. He plays a grandfather on the show who faces adversity of his own, but he is still helping the Patterson family through their separate personal issues.

In the fictional show The Rich and the Ruthless, Brooks plays self-made businessman and showrunner Augustus Barringer. After finding out his show, the first black soap opera on a big Hollywood network, has been booted, he decides to fight for his rightful place in Hollywood. He does what he has to do to keep the show going and moves the company to Jamaica, but his unpredictable wife, Kitty Barringer (Rowell), is not too happy about these changes.

Brooks said he met Rowell on the set of Diagnosis: Murder in 1994.

“I came in for a special guest star on that, and in the show we were paired off together, we had to break the case together,” Brooks said of his character on the nighttime drama. “I was a former heavyweight boxer who, I believe, was being swindled or something by my promoter, and she’s helping me break the case. We really had a great time just being together. There’s a little romantic spark in the police character. We’ve just been friends ever since then, looking for an opportunity to work together again.”

Brooks founded his own production company, Flat Top Entertainment, through which he released his first solo rhythm and blues album, Smooth Love. In 2013, he appeared on the public TV series The Abolitionists as Frederick Douglass. He spoke to The Undefeated about The Rich and the Ruthless, Being Mary Jane and his journey.

How do you feel that you’re entertaining us on one of the hottest TV shows right now, Being Mary Jane?

I love it. I feel like we helped start the whole trend of there being a lot of black dramas and shows like this, like Empire and Power. It’s great to still be pumping out great episodes and great drama, bringing that to BET. The character I play I really love, because he’s a fully dimensional black man. I feel like I get to portray the struggles I think that a lot of black men are going through, and we’re trying to rebound and rebuild our lives, and have a second chance to be the kind of men that we want to be. It’s a great production, great quality writing and acting, so I just love it. It’s really a joy.

Is it weird playing a grandfather?

I guess not really. I feel like I’m a young grandfather. I guess it’s amazing. I think that throughout my career, I’ve managed to sometimes snag these roles, like it’s just laying there or whatever, where I have a full family dynamic. What’s really challenging and satisfying about the part especially is that I’m a grandfather, I’m a father, I’m a son, I’m a brother, you know? I have to play the dynamics of all of those relationships and those roles all at the same time. It’s just great to have a show where my parents are there, too, and I’m still dealing with my parents. My son also. And then try to be a good father, and I have grandkids who I’m trying to be a good grandfather to, and so it is kind of crazy. It’s crazy to get to that part of your life where that is your possibility because that’s who you are. Your kids can have kids, you know? I don’t think we get to see that that much in characters on television or on the movies who actually have that whole world, that whole experience, happening for them. It’s like I’m the emotional center of the show. I get so emotional, so fragile. It’s funny.

What inspires you to keep pouring into our lives through your craft?

It’s funny because I look back and then I realize I’ve been doing this since I was 10 or 11, when I first saw a school play, I think, in sixth grade, and I think they were doing Hansel and Gretel. I found myself going, ‘Why am I not Hansel?’ I was sitting in the audience, and then I started trying to plot my way into the drama department of my junior high school and found a way into a summer job program. They had a student program at the time. The kids were out there picking up garbage and helping do construction stuff and all that.

I was making money being paid actually to act, as a kid. It’s funny now to just look back and realize this was all I’ve done, all I’ve had to do pretty much my whole life, is to be an actor, and I’ve always wanted to be a great actor and really represent men, and black men. My mother always put it upon me to try to teach black men how to be men, or something like that. So that inspires me, and I am just so happy to have roles that may illuminate something about what we go through as men out here.

What’s been the most meaningful role you’ve ever played?

Well, I like to think of my current role, of course, as Patrick, and now Augustus Barringer on The Rich and the Ruthless, and all the roles that are to come. Of course, Law & Order in Paul Robinette had a more transformative role for me because I had to really grow as a man, as an intellect, as a scholar. I had to become more versed in current affairs, and law, and politics and things like that. Before then, I had been pretty much just an artist kind of mentality and just wanting to act, and that role forced me to learn contracts and laws, and my research for it actually influenced me as a person a lot, so that one was probably the biggest stretch at the time. To grow into that role, I think, has helped me with the rest of my career to take on more challenging parts and things like that.

But I have a theater background. I think that had a big effect on me, too, the work of August Wilson.

If you weren’t an actor and an artist, what do you think you’d be doing?

When I started going to a prep school I was acting, and I went right to another grad school, Circle in the Square. But my mom had wanted to get me a full scholarship to medical school actually in Cleveland. She spoke with someone, and he was like, ‘Wow, this is great. We really need black men as doctors. We could give him a full ride, eight years.’ He’d pay for it, you know? But I was committed to acting, and also, I never really liked dissecting. I didn’t like biology. I didn’t really like dissecting frogs and things like that.

I think that law would have probably been one that I were to find myself more practically thinking of. There’s a certain amount of performance to it, and there’s the intellect. I do like legalese and the complexities of law and stuff.

What’s been the hardest part of your journey?

Probably just surviving the process of the ups and downs of the industry, and dealing with the other people’s expectations, whether they are ahead of me or behind me. You start off and no one really believes you could do anything, they think it’s impossible, and so you have a lot of doubt. Then, as soon as you start to do something, then people are ahead of you, and then they might be like, ‘Well, how come you’re not a major superstar already? How come that movie didn’t … ‘ So it’s always good, just sort of gauging it and trying to keep a level head. You’ve got to keep a balance and continue to think positive.

What do you look forward to most in your future?

I’ve really been into directing a little bit. I was shadowing on Being Mary Jane this season. Right now I’m doing an intensive at New York Film Academy out here in L.A. for the summer. Trying to squeeze that in between acting parts and stuff, and so I really want to expand into writing, producing, directing and creating concepts. Sort of what Victoria [Rowell] is doing, which is why I really want to support her in anything she’s doing. Because I think it’s incredible, the way she’s managed to put this project together and carried it to this point where we’re premiering, and somebody thought of her. That’s what artists have to do sometimes. We can’t just sit around and wait for other people to create opportunities for us; we have to create the opportunities.

We’re the ones who have a lot of the experience. We know what works. We’ve read hundreds and hundreds of scripts, and been on hundreds and hundreds of sets, so it is our time to actually step up and create opportunities for the next generations. So, kind of where my mind is right now.

What would you tell an aspiring actor who came to you for advice?

I do believe in studying and emulating a trained actor. I believe in excellence, I believe in using the art form as a way for personal growth. So whether you succeed at it or not, I think it’s an opportunity to learn more about yourself while you’re exploring other characters. I would definitely tell them to persevere and also innovate, because everything is changing and there’s no right or wrong way to make it these days. Who knows what’s coming in the future? With social media and the new way that stars are coming up the internet now. But definitely, I would tell them to try to be the best, and study with the best, and supplement all their education with books and learning.

Are there any roles that you haven’t done that you’d like to do?

I’ve done so many roles. I definitely want to do some more movies. I wouldn’t mind getting into some new superhero comic book. I think that would be fun. And maybe something on the musical side, too, I wouldn’t mind. I haven’t really done a hit Broadway musical, or I haven’t gotten much singing out as much as I would like to. That would be fun. I think just to get my music out, or to be a part of something musical.

What are your hobbies?

My singing, music. Songwriting is one. Sports. I like basketball and swimming, reading, going out and partying. Still like to party.