Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Immigrant Requests Primer on Race Relations

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a Russian immigrant who came to the U.S. seven years ago as a refugee when I was 16. As I've entered my 20s, I have begun to become more politically engaged. However, I have always had trouble wrapping my head around American race relations, as they are so different from those of my home country. As the current escalations on the issue of police brutality around the country happen, I want to engage in activism and important conversations, but I have no idea where to start or what my opinions are. Especially as a white person who did not grow up in America, how do I inform myself and engage with a discourse that is not as personal to me? -- Educate Me

DEAR EDUCATE ME: Thank you for your letter and your sincere interest in expanding your understanding about a complicated and deeply rooted topic in American history. What's happening today is historic in the sense that everyone is affected, and many people of all backgrounds are leaning in to learn and address the challenges that face us. Thanks to the marches in the streets and the calls for change, the whole world is awakening in a more meaningful way to the impact of racial injustice, police brutality, unequal pay and lack of equity in our country. You are right that these issues are not the same in every country, which means that not everyone shares the same knowledge base or experience. Truth be told, even many Americans, particularly white Americans, do not have the historical knowledge of this country's relationship to racial injustice that might seem to be a given.

And so, it is time for all of us to get educated. One way to start is by reading. Many scholars, anthropologists, cultural critics and historians have written about the history of race relations in the United States. I recommend that you begin to read so that you can expand your knowledge. Here are a few books to consider:

-- "So You Want to Talk About Race" by Ijeoma Oluo

-- "Americanah" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (details a black person moving to America and dealing with race in America for the first time, a new perspective to add to your own)

-- "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in The Age of Colorblindness" by Michelle Alexander

-- "The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist

-- "The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley"

-- "The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America" by Richard Rothstein

-- "How to be an Antiracist" by Ibram X. Kendi

-- "Chokehold: Policing Black Men" by Paul Butler

-- "They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South" by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers

You may also want to look at some films that shed light on race relations in America. Consider these:

-- "Imitation of Life" by Douglas Sirk

-- "In the Heat of the Night" by Norman Jewison

-- "Let the Fire Burn" by Jason Osder

-- "Selma" by Ava Duvernay

-- "13th" by Ava Duvernay

-- "Just Mercy" by Destin Daniel Cretton

-- "The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution" by Stanley Nelson

-- "12 Years a Slave" by Steve McQueen

-- "A Raisin in the Sun" by Daniel Petrie

-- "Boyz in the Hood" by John Singleton

-- "The Butler" by Lee Daniels

-- "Fruitvale Station" by Ryan Coogler

-- "Dear White People" by Justin Simien

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should give you some perspective on what's happening in this country and why people are feeling the way that they are. Welcome to the conversation.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to askharriette@harriettecole.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)