Book Recommendations for My Alma Mater: Just Mercy and Between the World and Me

As you all know, my less than beloved alma mater is Duke. One program Duke has that I do love is its freshman Summer Reading program. A mentor e-mailed me about it, and I ended up writing a version of what is below. I have rhapsodized about Just Mercy before, but I just finished Between the World and Me with my book club. The conversation that book sparked amongst my colleagues of Indian, Indonesian and Filipino, White American, and Black American (yours truly) strengthened and excited me.

Here’s what I wrote:

As a current secondary teacher, I highly recommend Just Mercy and Between the World and Me for the Class of 2020 summer reading. In light of national conversations surrounding police brutality, the prison industrial complex and the Black Lives Matter movement, Just Mercy provides a searing history about our nation’s warped judicial system. Stevenson elegantly develops an argument that showcases how what is supposed to be an objective court system unduly punishes people of color and the indigent. Stevenson also has a famous TED talk linked to Just Mercy that can be shared with incoming students.

Since the Duke administration recently decided that the noose hung on campus was an act of ignorance not racism, I find it important to highlight that Stevenson and his organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, hope to erect memorials across the United States that mark where lynchings occurred. The funds raised from Duke’s large purchase of Just Mercy could potentially help to fund this project and spark needed conversations about what a noose represents for many people.  His text may even inspire Duke students to intern at his organization during the summer as a way to learn more about civil rights litigation and impact law. Bluntly speaking, Duke as a university in the South clearly has a long way to go concerning campus conversations about race and (un)intentionally racist acts. Reading Stevenson’s text will be a step in the right direction.

While Just Mercy presents a controversial argument in a calm, clear manner, Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn’t even attempt to hide his anger at a system that seems intent on destroying the Black Body. Without a doubt, Coates’ book would make a lot of people uncomfortable if only for the righteous rage. His writing is unsparing and absolutely beautiful; quite frankly, as tired as I am of trying to explain micro and macro aggressions to people who hear but don’t want to listen, I’m all for a book that makes people uncomfortable and isn’t always “polite.” I truly believe Duke needs more uncomfortable conversations too. I am excited about these final options, and I look forward to seeing what Duke selects.


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