By Jimin Kang ’21
Four days after George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis, Lauren Johnson ’21, an African American Studies (AAS) major from Maplewood, New Jersey, asked friend and fellow concentrator Ashley Hodges ’21 if she wanted to collaborate on a book list as a resource for their friends and families.
The result, compiled over one weekend, was a Google sheet entitled the “Anti-Racist Reading List,” outlining 73 books, articles, and essays spanning genres and topics from critical race studies to prison abolition.
“It went way bigger than we expected,” said Hodges, who is from Fredericksburg, Virginia. Days after its first appearance on Instagram May 31, the list began spreading rapidly through the University community, becoming a staple resource in solidarity messages distributed by student groups, campus organizations, and Princeton deans in response to the protests across the nation. The list, which also spread on Facebook and Twitter, reached unexpected audiences; high schoolers from as far away as London contacted Johnson and Hodges, asking to share the list with their peers.
The book list also was one inspiration for the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Senate’s “Anti-Racism Book Initiative,” said Kavya Chaturvedi ’21, who is the treasurer of her class. Through the initiative, USG and the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students will purchase digital copies of Professor Imani Perry’s Breathe and Professor Eddie Glaude Jr.’s Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own to distribute among interested students, in the hope that important discussions based on Black scholarship will be a process “that extends beyond the summer, and can continue on into the school year,” Chaturvedi said.
The list idea was not unique — anti-racist book and movie lists have gained popularity in recent weeks, as people seek to understand the longstanding social, political, historical, and economic foundations upon which Black lives have been targeted by violence in the United States.
“The events that have been happening over the past couple of weeks have been extremely draining and traumatic in a lot of ways,” Hodges said. The list stemmed partly from a sense of “collective grief,” she continued, that motivated both her and Johnson to take action as the COVID-19 pandemic rendered protesting a possible health risk.
After browsing through several lists available online, Johnson believed it was “integral to add more voices” to the roster of popular titles that were already circulating the web. For their own compilation, the two relied heavily on books they had encountered through their time at Princeton; works by Glaude *97, Perry, Naomi Murakawa, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, all professors in the AAS department, feature on the list.
While creating the resource, the two often asked themselves whom the list was benefitting, recognizing that some individuals — such as essential workers — might not have the time or resources to “sit back and enjoy the reading list,” said Hodges. Yet from her experiences with community organizing, she also recognized that “the act of reading is probably the beginning step for a lot of people.”
Creating a reading list “is an aspect of activism, but it certainly isn’t the last step,” added Johnson. She advocates for requiring AAS courses for all Princeton students as a way for the University to continue a much-needed dialogue on race. “It’s important to push people now,” she said.