Longform You Have to Read: Race in America


In a world where you have more options for satisfying longform reading than ever, your friends here at Flavorwire are taking the time once a week to highlight some of the best that journalism and longform has to offer. Whether they’re unified by topic, publication, writer, being classic pieces of work, or just by a general feeling, these articles all have one thing in common: they’re essential reading. This week, we’re looking at writers wrestling with the topic of race in America.

There’s been essential, important writing coming out of Ferguson, Missouri, which is part of a long continuum of challenging, soul-shaking writing concerning America’s tortured and shameful history with race. Here are some essays and articles that are crucial parts of the conversation.

Stranger in the Village,” by James Baldwin, from Notes of a Native Son

A trip to a remote Swiss village inspired Baldwin to reflect on “the history of the Negro in America,” and the disconnect between the ideal of “morality,” and what that means in action with “life,” which isn’t moral. Baldwin is one of the most crucial thinkers on race — please read everything he wrote. In the wake of Ferguson, writer Teju Cole revisited this essay and wrote a wonderful piece about it for The New Yorker.

Letter From Selma,” by Renata Adler, The New Yorker, April 1965

A report from writer’s writer Adler, who was on the ground floor when Martin Luther King Jr. led the march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery, Alabama, bravely making a stand for the civil rights movement in America.

You Are the Second Person,” by Kiese Laymon, Guernia, June 2013

Laymon, a professor and the author of Long Division (fiction) and How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America (essays), became a name that you must know once he started publishing raw, startling essays about his experience with race in America on websites like Gawker. In “You Are the Second Person,” he’s brutally honest about how to be writing while black in a world that only sees his work as strictly coming from a “black writer,” and the darkly comic truths that come out of that tension.

What Black Parents Tell Their Sons About the Police,” by Jazmine Hughes, Gawker, August 21, 2014

A moving, deeply sad account of the way that black parents prepare their sons for the racism and prejudice of America. By talking to a wide range of parents and future parents, Hughes illustrates the inequalities that exist in our world.

The Front Lines of Ferguson,” by Rembert Browne, Grantland, August 15

When Ferguson was becoming an issue, Browne traveled to Missouri to see what was happening firsthand. He paints a startling picture of the police’s reaction to the protests and how this town became “a war zone.”