Unlearning Racism Newsletter – Week 30: Best content we read/watched/listened to in 2020


Before we forget, here’s our website of past newsletters, here’s a link to subscribe to our Patreon, here’s an anonymous question bank for anyone who wants to keep their questions private, here’s a fund tracker that breaks down how we spend our money, and here’s the link to sign up to receive these newsletters if someone forwarded them to you. 

Hi friends,

Happy holidays, everyone! To be perfectly honest, we are up to our necks planning for 2021 newsletters, so this seemed more doable this week than what we had planned. We are also acutely aware that this might be the first holiday season some of us are spending by ourselves and might need distractions. So this week, in lieu of a newsletter, we’re highlighting our favorite things we read or watched in 2020, explicitly about antiracism or just *good stuff* that may not have been in your purview yet. 


  • Unorthodox (Netflix) – Esty, a girl who grew up in the Satmar community, a sect of Hasidic Judaism, flees her small, insular community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY (Ellie’s old teaching neighborhood! ) and has to forge her own way forward. Four episodes of actual brilliance. 
  • Ramy (Hulu) – This is Emily’s favorite show maybe ever? Ramy Youssef basically just wrote a TV show based loosely about his life growing up as a Muslim kid in New Jersey. It’s funny and emotional and the acting is brilliant and please just watch it (there’s cursing and sex and definitely earned its M rating but I *promise* it is worth it if you can make it past that)
  • When They See Us (Netflix) – Ava Duvernay absolutely knocks it out of the park with this miniseries about the Central Park Five. It’s hard to watch but in a powerful, challenging, growth-inducing way. This should be recommended viewing for anyone even marginally interested in criminal justice, etc. 
  • Atlanta (Hulu) – Donald Glover made this show unapologetically Black and it is so jaw-on-floor artful and funny and brilliant. It tells the story of Earn as he manages his cousin’s rap career and his relationship with his child and her mother. So many laugh-out-loud funny scenes on a backdrop of absolutely rich storytelling about being a young person, specifically a young Black person, in Atlanta in this moment.
  • Pose (Netflix) – Basically a really, really beautiful (emotionally and aesthetically) depiction of the places that Black and Latino LGBTQIA+ folks were safest and most treasured in the late 80s/early 90s – the drag ballroom scene. 
  • Sex Education (Netflix) – Developed as a means of supplementing sex ed classes in British schools, this is the story of Otis, his best friend Eric (who is gay), his mother (who is a sex therapist), the school bully, an outsider named Maeve, and a cast of high school characters rife with confusions about relationships, love, and how to be a good friend. Emily’s mom (if you’ve come to dialogue, you know Pam) watched the first 15 minutes of the pilot and HATED IT (unsurprisingly – she’s very prudent) but she’s entitled to her wrong opinion. It is so sweet and good so long as you can get past the awkward sex scenes, of which there are admittedly many. 


  • Just Mercy – this is a given this year. It will go on any list we make, ever. The book is also phenomenal but we feel like most of you already know that.
  • Parasite – we know this is old news (the Academy Awards were like 83 years ago at this point), but if you haven’t watched Parasite yet, go watch it. 
  • Harriet – the story of Harriet Tubman’s self-liberation from slavery, her fight for freedom for her family, and how she transformed into one of our country’s most important historical figures.
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – admittedly, we haven’t watched this yet because it just came out but it stars Viola Davis as legendary blues musician, Ma Rainey, and Chadwick Boseman as her ambitious horn player, as they battle white management trying to control the “Mother of the Blues.”

And as a bonus Christmas movie recommendation? We present you with Jingle Jangle. Musical numbers? A sweet family vibe? Costumes + set design from heaven? So sweet, so cute, so spirited. And John Legend is on the soundtrack so you know it’s good.


  • Nonfiction + Serious
    • Danielle Sered – Until We Reckon (about restorative justice, victims of crimes, and real, tangible alternatives to the criminal punishment system as we know it)
    • Merhsa Baradaran – The Color of Money  (about Black banks, concentrations of wealth in white communities, and challenging myths about accumulating wealth in a segregated economy)
    • Dr. Ibram X. Kendi – Stamped from the Beginning (a definitive history of anti-Black racist ideas and the way they have mobilized. Spoiler alert: we use a lot that we learned reading this book in constructing newsletter topics).
    • Zora Neale Hurston – Barracoon (ZNH writes based on her interviews with Cudjoe Lewis in 1927, the last remaining survivor of the Middle Passage. So powerful.)
  • Nonfiction (but a little more fun?)
    • Samantha Irby – Wow, No Thank You! OR We Are Never Meeting In Real Life OR Meaty (sorry, we just could not choose, Sam Irby is the funniest writer of our generation)
    • Aminatou Sow + Ann Friedman – Big Friendship (coauthored by best friends, about friendships so deep and so wide, particularly noting nuances in interracial friendships and recounting their own Big Friendship story)
    • Jia Tolentino – Trick Mirror (essays as reflections on modern culture, including everything from how Fyre Fest is related to the market crash of 2008 to the internet to being raised in a religious upbringing)
  • Fiction
    • Akwaeke Emezi – The Death of Vivek Oji (about a family as they learn to love their gender nonconforming child and sibling. Critics describe it as a story of loss and transcendence)
    • Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half (“Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing.”)

Want more recommendations? Emily’s friend Natalie makes this list of her favorite media of the year and she has the best taste of nearly anyone Emily knows. She’s even sorted it by streaming service. Too generous. The best. 


Inspired by Natalie’s list, Emily made a list of her own. The theme? Her favorite podcasts (she considers herself an OG podcast listener so she’s been compiling this in her notes app for years now. Thanks to her friend Carson for so many great recs over the years)! Please note, this list is a real work-in-progress to be completed over the next few days but she tried to plug in as much info as she could before sending this.


We’re skipping headlines today because frankly, this week is weird and hard and emotional enough without us popping in your inbox to remind you that even $2000 is insufficient for so many families to keep their homes this year or that COVID cases are at their absolute worst or that hundreds of thousands of people are on the streets this week because of the US government’s absolute callousness toward poor people. We’ll be skipping Friday’s roundup (all three of us celebrate Christmas so we’ll be spending the day with family in person or virtually) and we’ll be back in your inbox next week to talk about Kwanzaa briefly before we jump back into a routine the following week. 

If you’re spending this holiday alone or without your big family gathering of yesteryear, know that we see you. If you’re grieving or struggling with loneliness this year, we see you. It’s a weird, hard, holiday season against the backdrop of a weird, hard year.

To those who celebrate, Merry Christmas! To you and everyone else, get some rest this week! Eat some cookies! Go for a walk around your neighborhood! Binge watch one of the aforementioned shows! However you care for yourself and others this season, we salute you.

In solidarity,
Ellie, Emily, and Hayden

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