Culture & Literature

Resources for Fostering Racial Literacy in Young Adults

Jun 09, 2020



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Anderson Smith

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This semi-autobiographical novel is a tale of identity and belonging. Junior Spirit, a 9th grade boy growing up on an Indian Reservation has aspiration of being more than just a kid on a Reservation and attends a school “white school.” Without the support of those on his Reservation and his non-acceptance by the “white” kids, Junior struggles to find his place in the world.


Book Club Discussion Question:

How much control do we have in shaping our own identities?


Book Club Response Activity:

Put students / participants into groups and ask them to share information about their identity. The aim of this activity is to find out what they have in common with their group and form a shared identity.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

This is a story of how to fight against the demands of society while embarking on the path to self-discovery. Religion plays a central thread throughout the entire plot which suggest that one’s belief can dictate how one chooses to live and respond to others. Arguably one of the most important lessons that this text provides is: Always take action.


Book Club Discussion Question:

In what ways do religious beliefs dictate how the characters interact with each other?


Book Club Response Activity:

"When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it" (p.42). Ask students/participants in writing to either disagree or agree with this statement, using examples from their own life or literature to prove their points.

Sula by Toni Morrison

This story takes place during the early 1900s and takes a fictitious look at the ways that black people struggle to live in America, a country with a notorious history of persecuting and oppressing black people. The role of race and racism play a central theme. The characters in the novel have been trained to think of themselves as second-class citizens.


Book Club Discussion Question:

Is racism ultimately what leads to the death of so many of the townspeople at the end of the novel?


Book Club Response Activity:

Come up with the contract that the farmer initially gave to the slaves who were promised freedom after completing a certain amount of work. What did the slaves have to do? What were they promised?

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

This book attempts to take a holistic look at black Southern culture. The novel highlights positive aspects of the culture...but it doesn't hold back from examining the trauma of the history of black persecution and the effect that has on black communities at the turn of the 20th century.


Book Club Discussion Question:

What is the importance of racial identity in this text?


Book Club Response Activity:

Open Discussion: How does Janie’s identity fluctuate between white and black factions? Consider her appearance, her bloodline, and her behavior (or others’ perception of her behavior).

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Race and racism are complicated issues in The Bluest Eye. Unlike typical portrayals of racism, involving white hatred against blacks, The Bluest Eye primarily explores the issue of racism occurring between people of color. ace is not only defined by the color of one's skin, the shape of one's features, or the texture of one's hair, but also by one's place of origin, socioeconomic class, and educational background.


Book Club Discussion Question

What role does social class play in the novel?


Book Club Response Activity

Choose a character or relationship you find most fascinating in the novel and analyze his/her/their significance to the novel as a whole.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The novel takes place in two distinct settings— rural Georgia and a remote African village— both suffused with problems of race and racism. The text provides a disturbing and realistic account into the life of Celie, a poor southern black woman with a sad and abusive past and Sophia, another poor southern black woman with a sad and abusive past.


Book Club Discussion Question:

How do the characters grow in their understanding of race and ethnicity? Which ones come to new understandings? Is that important to the novel?


Book Club Response Activity:

Read Robert Frost’s poem, “Design." How Frost’s poem relates to Celie’s plight, themes within the novel, and the title of the novel.

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

The Book of Night Women tells about African slavery in Jamaica during the 18th century. James presents the life at Montpelier, a sugar plantation in Jamaica. In that plantation, slaves were often treated brutally by their white overseers, who whipped, raped, and even murdered them. Many female slaves, often barely beyond childhood themselves, bore children as a result of the sexual abuses of white overseers.


Book Club Discussion Question:

The author writes "Every negro walk in a circle. Take that and make of it what you will." What do you think the statements means?

The Girl with the Brown Crayon by Vivian Gussin Paley

The Girl with the Brown Crayon tells a personal story of a teacher and a child, interweaving the themes of race, identity, gender, and the essential human needs to create and to belong.


Book Club Discussion Question:

What is the significance of the “brown” crayon?


Book Club Response Activity:

Students assess examples of media (catalogs, magazines, books, etc.) to consider who is (and isn’t represented) and to explore the impact of lack of diversity in media and their own rich experiences with diversity.

The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson

Excellent book and very relevant to times we live in today although Dr. Woodson spoke about these issues in the 1920's and his book was published in 1933. Clearly presents the intent of white supremacy and it's negative affects on the black race. Also identifies the factors which show why the black race has made zero progress from the time the book was published going into 2018. Until all blacks in mass unite to open our own businesses in the areas we live in and eliminate the present system in which outsiders provide our services, and all our necessities and we completely buy into buying from black owned businesses only we never have any chance of having any black communities like other races. Our money should change hands at least seven times before it leaves our communities instead of once from our hand into our oppressors.


Book Club Discussion Question:

Can victims of white supremacy (educated Negroes with college degrees), educate other Negroes properly? Why or why not?


Book Club Response Activity:

Explain this quote: “To handicap a student by teaching him that his black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is the worst sort of lynching. It kills one’s aspirations and dooms him to vagabondage and crime.”

The Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Friere

Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a hand book for people who are interested in linking education with social change. According to Freire, in order for the oppressed to receive absolute freedom, they must design their own pedagogy whereby they present their social experiences as themes for critical analysis. Freire asserts that the current banking concept of education wherein information is deposited into students does nothing to help them think for themselves; instead, the banking concept forces oppressed students to adopt the oppressors’ ideals, and therefore, the problem-posing concept of education should be incorporated into the classroom as an instrument for liberation.

Book Club Discussion Question:

Why does the word “dialogue” hinge with humility?


Book Club Response Activity:

Open discussion:How does Friere's problemsolving education promote equality?

Dr. Anderson Smith is a writer, educator, and social justice activist. He teaches creative writing in both a medium and maximum security prison in New York. He is currently researching the effects of literature when used in service to the mentally incarcerated. Follow him here: @bleedinginkandy and