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A Reading List for Cultural Understanding

Composed of member contributions, this list highlights an important moment for our global society as well as the powerful role business schools play in shaping understanding.

We recently reached out to AACSB members, social media followers, and leadership to solicit recommendations for a “reading” list on cultural understanding. We asked what book, or other media, had enhanced their understanding of cultural experiences other than their own.

Many submissions we received reflect the current state of unrest around systemic racism that has been amplified by unjustified acts of police violence in the U.S., which has also resonated globally. Consequently, the need to understand the history of institutionalized discrimination and the communities most harmed by it is also amplified in this moment.

In addition to titles on racial inequity, we also received recommendations of timeless texts and brand-new ones that address a variety of cultural lenses, including global business practices, stereotypes and identity, income inequality, corporate diversity and inclusion, and what it means to be human. The list offers several different engagement experiences, including reading, listening, watching, and participating. Ultimately, the list is a reflection of AACSB’s diverse membership as well as our current moment as a society. We hope you are inspired by the list, presented below alphabetically, and find a couple new items to add to your media library.

1. Between the World and Me, book by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This book was nominated by Lawrence Rose, dean at the college of business at California State University, San Bernardino, and a co-leader of AACSB’s Diversity and Inclusion Affinity Group, and seconded by Deborah Merrill-Sands (see no. 5 below). Written in the form of a letter to his young son, Coates details how one of the most powerful nations was built on the myth of racial superiority, creating long-lasting damage in the lives and perceptions of black women, men, and children in America. Told through personal narrative, Coates’ story is one of firsthand experience, retold history, and hope for a better future. He attempts to answer the question, “how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?”
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2. Code Switch, podcast by NPR
This podcast hosts “fearless conversations about race,” investigating the historical, global, social, and economic impacts of this culturally created idea, and how it is a deeply ingrained part of all our lives. Sylvia Maxfield, dean of Providence College School of Business, specifically recommended the recent episode, “A Decade of Watching Black People Die,” which examines how echoes of “I can’t breathe,” spoken by Eric Garner in 2015 and George Floyd just last month before their deaths at the hands of police officers, have become tragically familiar. The hosts point to some of the mundane activities prior victims were partaking in just before their lives ended—things like sleeping in their bed, going to the grocery store, playing in a park, walking in the neighborhood. The episode reveals a remarkably troubled reality in America, but one that is sparking new and much-needed conversations about race that reverberate globally.
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3. The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Boundaries (also as 8 clés pour travailler à l’international), book by Erin Meyer
The international bestseller written by INSEAD professor of organizational behavior Erin Meyer was recommended by two of our social media followers: assurance of learning professional Jesus Denegri and the Marmara Üniversitesi ─░┼čletme Fakültesi (Istanbul University Faculty of Management). Currently available in 10 languages, Meyer's book is grounded in today’s global business world and looks at real-life cases of international collaborations to draw out lessons for deeper understanding. The Culture Map offers strategies for “[e]ven those who are culturally informed, travel extensively, and have lived abroad” to deal “with the cross-cultural complexity that affects their team’s day-to-day effectiveness.”
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4. A Framework for Understanding Poverty, book by Ruby Payne
Submitted by AACSB’s chief accreditation officer, Stephanie Bryant, this influential book originally published in 1996 and updated over the years “crystalized a deep understanding that so much of our cultural divisions today stem from income inequality,” says Bryant. For her, the book resonated with early personal experiences that became the motivation for pursuing a path of education that would then contribute to the learning of others. Used often by educators and professionals as a resource to provide more nuanced insights into the communities they serve, Payne's book combines facts, anecdotal accounts, and strategies that allow for a more compassionate response to one of society’s oldest, most misunderstood maladies.
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5. Homegoing, book by Yaa Gyasi
Deborah Merrill-Sands, dean of the University of New Hampshire’s Paul College of Business and Economics, offered this novel, a story that begins in 18th-century Ghana and spans generations and continents. Homegoing traces the paths of sisters born to the same mother who, after being separated in their childhood, experience very different sides of the transatlantic slave trade. Through stories of each sister’s descendants, readers see the shaping of modern America from the perspective of those who were taken from their homeland to build it. The novel explores how heredity, white supremacy, social and economic politics, and Africa’s often unexamined complicity in the slave trade contributed to the wicked legacy of human bondage to create a new nation. As Merrill-Sands says, Homegoing “gives a rich and powerful historical perspective” of America's contemporary origins.
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6. How to Be an Anti-Racist, book by Ibram X. Kendi
Selected by Victoria Parker, associate dean for graduate education and faculty administration, also at the Paul College of Business, as well as Roger Barascout (see no. 12 below) and Merrill-Sands, this 2019 book discusses the notion that “The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist,’” as stated on the author’s website. Through his memoir, Kendi recounts his own journey to realizing how systems of oppression in the U.S. are upheld through social and economic structures, and how undoing that support requires a new way of approaching racism—not just by condemning it but by actively recognizing our own contributions to the system and working to rebuild a more justice-based society. Parker says of the book, “it is making me think, hard, about many of my own previous efforts in the area of racial justice.”
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7. “How to Get Serious About Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace,” TED Talk by Janet Stovall
This inspirational talk illustrates how the “power of single-mindedness” can help take down a system like racism, and challenges business to take on that single-minded approach. Stovall says of business’s imperative to act that “the only way business is going to get single-minded about racial diversity is if it has a problem that is urgent and relative to somebody other than people of color.” While racial discrimination is the focus of this talk, as it is the most prominent form of workplace discrimination in America, recommender Claire Collins, a professor of leadership and director of diversity and inclusion at the University of Reading’s Henley Business School, explains that Stovall’s “words are about race equality, but can apply to many other areas too.”
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8. On Being, podcast by Krista Tippet
Submitted by AACSB’s chief knowledge officer and diversity and inclusion advocate, Juliane Iannarelli, this podcast explores “big questions of meaning.” Through interviews with thought leaders, musicians, writers, actors, athletes, and social commentators, the sprawling podcast examines topics including language, grief, morality, solitude, spirituality, scientific discovery, social courage—and how people in different contexts approach these humanity-binding elements of life. On Being serves not so much to answer big questions but to help guide listeners to a greater understanding of their significance. In Iannarelli’s words, “Krista Tippet brings together such diverse voices in her probing and meandering interviews. I leave each one with a new perspective and, often, lingering questions about our world and the people in it.”
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9. “Talking About Race,” web portal by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Released just last month, this web portal created by the National Museum of African American History and Culture seeks to provide educators, caregivers, and interested community members with resources to better understand the influence of race on American life. The portal offers a virtual experience through informational text and graphics, videos, learning exercises, discussion guides, toolkits, and additional resources. The web experience is interdisciplinary, covering eight different topics of Being Antiracist, Bias, Community Building, Historical Foundations of Race, Race and Racial Identity, Self-Care, Social Identities and Systems of Oppression, and Whiteness. This resource is another suggested by Lawrence Rose.
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10. Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do, book by Claude Steele
Social psychologist and Columbia University provost Claude Steele discusses how stereotypes can have an enduring negative effect on the identity of those targeted, as well as threaten opportunities that shape the direction of their lives. Looking largely at race, and drawing on the author’s research on group identity and academic performance, Whistling Vivaldi examines how, as members of society, we are all subjected to others’ perceptions of us, but often—too often—for minority groups, those perceptions are disproportionately negative and cause damaging self-identities that can ultimately fulfill the stereotype originally set against them. Submitted by Tomas Gomez-Arias, dean at California State University, Stanislaus College of Business Administration, this book that was “especially influential” for him also offers a plan for reducing the impact of stereotypes and reframing identity.
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11. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” article by Peggy McIntosh
This timeless article, recommended by Maureen Hutchison, senior manager for course development and production at Athabasca University’s Faculty of Business, offers a personal narrative of coming to awareness about normative white culture, accompanied by a list of 26 statements that indicate a privileged position in society. However, the list is more than just a litmus test for white privilege; the items that are metaphorically “unpacked” encourage deeper thinking about the everyday social realities supported by a system of racism, and how the color of our skin is a significant factor in determining the comfort of our lives. As Hutchison remarks, “Although over 30 years old, the short article provides foundational insights on the importance of critical self-reflection and acknowledgement of privilege, and how personal and systemic advantages serve to oppress and exclude others."  
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12. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, book by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge's book was built on a paradox. It started as blog post of the same title outlining her mounted frustrations from attempting to hold conversations with white people about race, but realizing those discussions never really began on equal ground. That post went viral, receiving an outpouring of support, and soon became the basis for an expanded critique of racism in Britain. Selected by Roger Barascout, assistant dean of strategic initiatives at the University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business, this book aims to encourage (despite its title) conversations about race, but to do so with the appropriate historical and social backdrop. The author admits in the book’s preface that, since making her declaration of silence, she has since spent most of her time talking to white people about race. She asserts, “Every voice raised against racism chips away at its power. We can’t afford to stay silent. This book is an attempt to speak.”
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The ongoing pursuit of education and understanding among our network of educators and leaders is evident in this collection, and is encouraging, especially given their influence over future business leaders. But this work should also be seen as necessary for continued societal impact. As diversity, equity, and inclusion become more and more embedded where accountability matters for institutions and organizations—in values, standards, and missions—we can all feel optimistic about a brighter, more connected tomorrow.


Lee DavidsonLee Davidson is the managing editor for digital content at AACSB and is located in the Tampa, Florida, office.