16 Perspective-Shifting Books a Diversity and Inclusion Strategist Wants You to Read in 2021

February 19, 2021
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I’ve always loved to read and live for a good reading list from someone who likes the type of titles I’m drawn to. As we make our way through Black History Month in 2021, the year following a racial reckoning that much of the globe is still reeling from, I felt compelled to put together a collection of books that I’ve read or want to read using some thoughtful criteria.   

First, I wanted to honor Black History Month by uplifting Black authors from all walks of life. While everyone on this list is a Black person, they are vastly different humans and have rich differences that come to life in each of their works, uniquely. Second, I wanted to choose books that haven’t necessarily had the visibility they deserve. Sometimes when searching for books, I see the same recommendations in several places; similarly to how many people celebrate Black History Month by reviewing the same handful of Black History figures year after year. I wanted to diversify my list of Black authors to maybe introduce you to someone you didn’t know.  

Lastly, as an inclusion strategist, I work daily with organizations that are working to create more inclusive workplace cultures. So, I like books that give me stories to reference when I am teaching. Each of these books has a few threads that connect to inclusion and how it comes to life in real life. Some inclusion throughlines are easy to identify just in the titles, others are brought to life as you read.

This collection of books will shift your perspective, enhance your knowledge, make you laugh and cry, as well as shock you. This Black History Month, and perhaps even in the months following, pick one of these titles to dig into to support your journey to being more inclusive in your own life.

I love this book because it offers a window into education policy, which is often informed by race, through the author’s personal story. Part memoir, part nudge for policy reform, my friend José shows, through a collection of essays, how classrooms are informed by the communities from which their kids and their teachers come. José, a Black-Latino educator who taught middle school in Washington Heights, Manhattan brings the reader to contemplation about class, both from a learning perspective and as it relates to economic status.

As an inclusion strategist, I’m fascinated by how other professionals in my industry are tackling the work. This book gives a behind-the-scenes look into how tech Giant Google creates award-winning and inclusive products.

One of the most powerful periods in any person’s life is their high school years which, for many, serve as a season of awakening to new ideas and perspectives. With conversations on race becoming normalized in America, this book gives a framework for how to make difficult classroom conversations productive. The title is a nod to one of my favorite quotes by Frederick Douglas as he called abolitionists to action, “it is not light that is needed, but fire.” An educator’s must-have.

Isabel Wilkerson peels back the layers of the power systems that silently define how we organize ourselves to move about the world. If you have ever struggled with understanding the idea of systemic oppression or wanted some historical context for how injustice not just happens but is engineered, take a dive into this text.

The corporate journey is more difficult for women than it is for men, but add in being a woman of color and the challenges multiply. Infused with her engaging personal story, Minda breaks down how women of color can advocate for themselves in the workplace and how white allies can support. 

For anyone who still doesn’t understand the inherent advantages of white privilege, this book details the relentless nature of racism in this country.

I live for an intimate memoir, and this book is rare in that the author is still fairly young yet has achieved more professionally than most people twice her age. That level of achievement didn’t come without cost, though, and in the book, the author shares vulnerably about her career journey and what was going on behind the scenes of her many headline-making career moves.

In his second collection of essays, the author captures the Xennial experience, especially how being saddled with student loan debt impacts that experience, masterfully. Witty and honest, he shares his perspective with a vulnerability we don’t often see.

Stacey Abrams captured so many of our hearts and minds in the last few years as we’ve watched her bid for the Georgia governor’s seat and witnessed her galvanize Georgians during the 2020 presidential election. What we get from her book is more on her personal background along with her strategic long-term thinking mindset. For people who feel disempowered, this book will show you how to win with what you have.

If you fancy yourself a James Baldwin fan (and even if you don’t, you should familiarize yourself with his work), this book gives the Civil Rights era writer’s work new life. Sadly, many of the same political themes Baldwin covered in books like The Fire Next Time are just as timely today as they were fifty years ago. This book connects the two eras and offers some learnings on how not to repeat history.

Despite the title, this isn’t a book just about banking. Instead, it gives a detailed background on racialized economic policies in this country, much of which you won’t believe until you read it. Chock full of historical context as support, the author offers insight into Black folks’ relationship with money and challenges the idea that Black people could build wealth in a segregated economy. If you have ever contemplated the wealth disparity in the U.S., this book explains it and offers ideas about how to solve for it without segregation.

There’s something special about the city of Detroit, and I’m not just saying that because it’s my hometown. But I found this a fitting read for the month because it’s a history of one of our country’s great cities. Detroit has many tales to share about being Black and helping to shape America. If you think you already know Detroit, or even if you love the place as much as I do, this is the history of Detroit you may have missed but must revisit.

While many are familiar with the men who defined The Black Panthers in the sixties, Elaine Brown is not a household name. Yet she took the helm of the organization at a time when it was well-known for its misogynoir. A fascinating memoir and perspective you’re not likely to come across often.

This is my one coffee table book recommendation because it is truly a work of art. It’s by a photography team who photographed Black children highlighting their natural beauty, natural hair, and personal stories. It’s both a book of photos and a collection of essays that reimagine young people.

This book isn’t out yet, but I’m excited about its release. In this book, my friend Sevetri shares candidly how she bootstrapped a multimillion-dollar company and went on to raise millions in venture capital. For anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit, big ambitions, and who wants to make their start-up dream a reality, I am betting this is the book for you. I’ve already pre-ordered this book and can’t wait to read it.

Last but not least, my book, Allies and Advocates, was released in November. I share a framework for creating more inclusive work and home environments for those who are ready and willing to do the work. I cover making space for allyship, share a historical overview of “how we got here” from a race relations perspective, and offer concrete ways to use one’s privilege (we all have it) to be more inclusive of others. If you’re looking for a place to start or want to know what you can actively do to be an ally or an advocate, this is a great place to start.

About the Author: Amber Cabral is the author of Allies and Advocates: Creating an Inclusive and Equitable Culture. She works as a diversity, equity, and inclusion strategist for major retailers and the Fortune 500 through her company CabralCo.

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