In the wake of nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice, PEOPLE staffers share their picks for music, podcasts, audiobooks and more resources that deconstruct systemic racism and paint a vivid portrait of what it's like to be unheard and unseen as a black American

By Morgan Smith
June 10, 2020 04:40 PM
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"There is no noise as powerful as the sound of the marching feet of a determined people," Martin Luther King Jr. said at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. No words better capture the moment we're in right now, as millions take to the streets to protest against police brutality and racial injustice.

Protests have erupted in cities throughout the United States following the May 25 killing of George Floyd, 46-year-old black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes after a deli employee accused Floyd of using a counterfeit $20 bill. The officer, Derek Chauvin, is facing murder and manslaughter charges, while the three other officers who were on the scene are under investigation. All have been fired.

In the midst of this painful — and necessary — reckoning with racism in the United States, many have sought resources to learn more about the issues at hand. We march, but we must also listen — and music helps us learn, reflect and heal when conversation fails.

Keep reading for music, podcasts, audiobooks and more resources that deconstruct systemic racism and paint a vivid portrait of what it’s like to be unheard, and unseen as a black American.

Music Recommendations

Janelle Monáe ft. Wondaland Records – “Hell You Talmbout” (YouTube)

Janelle Monáe's bombastic 2015 protest anthem forgoes traditional lyrics in favor of a chant, repeating the names of black Americans who have been killed by police and other authorities. "Hell You Talmbout"'s steady bass and gospel overtone powerfully captures the anguish many experience as they fight for racial justice. Monáe challenges listeners to never forget victims of police brutality — to say their name.

Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 4 album (Spotify, Apple Music)

“The world is infested with bulls– so here’s something raw to listen to while you deal with it all,” Killer Mike and El-P said after releasing their album on June 3. The hip-hop duo’s fourth album is fiery and unapologetic, tackling a myriad of issues ranging from police brutality to religion. “And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me/ Until my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, ‘I can’t breathe’,” raps Killer Mike on the track "walking in the snow."

Leon Bridges ft. Terrace Martin – “Sweeter” (YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music

“Leon Bridges just released a new song with Terrace Martin called ‘Sweeter.’ He wrote on Instagram that he was inspired to share it following the death of George Floyd: ‘It was the first time I wept for a man I never met. I am George Floyd, my brothers are George Floyd, and my sisters are George Floyd.’ I would encourage anyone who enjoys the Texas native soul singer’s music — non-fans might remember 'River' from Big Little Lies — to read his post. It’s a beautiful song that is soothing in its sound and heartbreaking in its message.” — Mackenzie Schmidt, Home + Travel Editor

Mickey Guyton – “Black Like Me” (YouTube, Amazon Music)

“A quietly powerful anthem from one of the very, very few black women in country music. With lyrics like, ‘If you think we live in the land of the free / You should try to be black like me,’ it’s an emotional reminder that the American dream can be easier for some than others.” — Cynthia Sanz, Editorial Director

Podcast Recommendations

NPR’s Code Switch (NPR, Apple Podcasts)

In this fresh, punchy podcast, journalists Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji discuss how race permeates everything in the United States including pop culture, sports and politics. “Code Switch” offers a necessary perspective on how current events may exacerbate racial disparities and highlights the lesser talked, yet equally fascinating history lessons on race everyone should know.

The African American Policy Forum's Intersectionality Matters! (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, etc.) 

Kimberlé Crenshaw, a lawyer, civil rights advocate and the leading scholar on intersectionality, breaks down exactly how the overlap of race, gender, class and other facets of identity impact everyday life and play a major role in Pride month, the#MeToo movement, ongoing coronavirus pandemic and more.

The New York Times’s 1619 (Spotify, Apple Podcasts)

Nikole Hannah-Jones’s groundbreaking initiative, The 1619 Project, challenges the dominant narrative of American history by starting with the first slave ship arriving to Jamestown, Virginia in August 1619. The six-episode series sheds light on the ideas and critical contributions slaves made to the early United States, including music, economics and the nation’s first federal healthcare programs.

Ismael Quintanilla/Getty

Audiobook Recommendations

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates (Audible)

What is it like to be black in America? How can we reckon with America’s painful, racist history and move forward, together? Ta-Nehisi Coates combines incisive reporting with personal anecdotes to answer these questions in Between the World and Me. The book is written as a letter to Coates’s son — hearing him read it out loud is cathartic, "hearing his voice in your ears is like listening to a wise friend,” as PEOPLE’s Deputy Editor Wendy Naugle notes.

Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times, Carolina de Robertis (Audible)

Radical Hope is an excellent source of inspiration, offering a collection of letters written by some of the world’s brightest minds: Junot Díaz, Celeste Ng, Faith Adiele, among others, shortly after the 2016 presidential election. The letters, written to ancestors, to strangers in grocery lines, to anyone needing a bit of courage, are powerful and full of hope — especially read by actors Adenrele Ojo and Kaleo Griffith.

Other Recommendations

Lectures by Angela Davis (YouTube)

"In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist." Angela Davis’s famous quote has become a rallying cry for many in the wake of George Floyd’s death. The political activist, scholar and writer has been at the frontlines of the fight for civil rights and other social issues in America for decades. Her lectures are passionate, honest and insightful, providing a blueprint for how to confront injustice and the desire to take action. Two lectures to check out: “Freedom Is a Constant Struggle” and “How Does Change Happen?”

TED Talks, "The Path to Ending Systemic Racism" (TED)

Dr. Bernice King, the youngest child of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. recently joined a group of civil rights leaders and other experts to discuss the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, break down systems of oppression and racism in the United States and how to create meaningful change. As King notes: “There is a lot of heart work to do, in the midst of all the hard work to do, because heart work is hard work.”

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

  • Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
  • ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.

•National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.