4 Books to Help You Understand How the System Was Literally Built to Oppress, Instill Fear, Strike Down, and Kill Black People

McKeever "Mac" Conwell
5 min readJun 12, 2020

“All of us — who might have probed space, or cured cancer, or built industries — were, instead, black victims of the white man’s American social system” — Malcolm X

With all, that’s been going on in the world with the killing of Black men and women by the police and now protests happening all over the globe, I’ve had many friends, colleagues, and associates check in on me to see how I’m doing as a Black man with all that’s happening.

The conversation then makes a shift. It’s like that last turn you make on your way to work after a vacation. You know that feeling when you realize that all the fun is over and it’s back to the 9 to 5.

Yup, it’s at this point they want to hear about my personal experiences at the hands of the police. How I’ve been harassed, physically assaulted, and had my jaw broken by persons who have taken an oath to protect and serve.

Well, protect and serve You

Him, Her, Them

But not Us

Not Me

Not those in our society deems lesser because of the hue of their skin

Next comes the conversations around better understanding racism in America today and how it is systematic.

At this point, I’m EXHAUSTED.

Reliving past traumas, having to prove that racism in America is truly systematic and not just a few “ bad apples ”. Having to know that as I go out into the world I’m still just a Black man who could still end up a hashtag, a Facebook post, the subject of an obituary because of the hue of my skin.

Now, I’ve seen a lot of people posting that it’s not black people’s job to explain systematic racism to people who are allies or claim to be allies. I disagree.

I want all my allies to truly understand how we got to where we are today. In order for me to do that I would like to recommend 4 books that they should read. These 4 books will serve in helping to enlighten them and give a better understanding as to how racism is systematic. This racism that is core to the fabric of our nation because racism is as American as apple pie. These books are very informative and give the reader great insight to help them understand chronologically how it has progressed and shifted over time. They span from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration to how money flows in and out of black communities and banks.

These 4 books should be read In this order:

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.

Book by Edward E. Baptist.

The Strange Career of Jim Crow.

Book by C. Vann Woodward.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Book by Michelle Alexander.

The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap.

Book by Mehrsa Baradaran.

The ‘ Half Has Never Been Told ‘ is an eye-opening view of slavery in a very quantifiable way. It explains the production of slaves and just how much profiting was had by those owners of Black property using statistics and numbers. I promise you have never heard this before. For that black property to be called “lazy” yet would go from picking 10lbs of cotton a day to 40+lbs a day with just their own ingenuity to avoid being beaten.

Next comes ‘ The Strange Career of Jim Crow ‘. This is an in-depth view of how the Jim Crow era came to be and how truly oppressed Black bodies were under Jim Crow. How laws were created to keep Black bodies oppressed now that they were no longer Black property

The last two books could be read in any order as they both lead up to the present day, but to me, because you just finished reading about the Jim Crow era it makes sense to follow it up with ‘ The New Jim Crow ’.

‘ The New Jim Crow ’ goes into great detail of how after the Jim Crow era America rolls right into the era of mass incarceration. In it, you will read about how so many Black men end up convicted for non-violent felonies. They are then once again turned into Black property followed by being stripped of the rights in ways that feel eerily similar to Jim Crow. You’ll all learn how the judicial system systematically puts laws in place, including the Supreme Court, that literally has taken away Black people’s ability to attempt to show racist bais and fight back legally. It is heartbreaking to read about a system of justice that has taken away the ability to get justice or make an argument against the system itself.

This brings us to the last book, ‘ The Color of Money ’. As a look into how black-owned banks were not allowed to thrive and how even when black people put money into their communities it was still taken out. If you pay attention it will also help you understand how the ‘ New Deal ‘ under President Franklin D. Roosevelt is one of the largest contributing factors to the wealth gap that exists in America.

With these 4 books, you can start to get a sense of just how serious and deeply ingrained racism is in the system that runs America, something meant to help and protect its citizenry. You’ll get a chronological snapshot of the continuous oppression of Black bodies in America. You get a better understanding of why Black people are always talking about fighting the man or the system. It was literally built to oppress, instill fear, strike down, and kill Black bodies. Now there are plenty of other books that allies can read and learn on these topics but for me, if they start with these 4 books it will greatly help move our conversations forward.



McKeever "Mac" Conwell

Managing Partner of RareBreed Ventures and supporter of underrepresented founders | Hacker turned Hustler | Recovering Entrepreneur - 2 startups with 1 exit