If there was any doubt as to where anti-Black racism originated, the 16 submissions to the notorious Bordeaux essay contest on the “cause of Black skin” make a strong case for themselves. (In 1739, Bordeaux’s Royal Academy of Sciences announced a contest for the best essay on the sources of “Blackness”; essays were ultimately dispatched from all over Europe, with authors ranging from naturalists to physicians to theologians.) And if there was any person who could not only uncover these never-before-published documents but also make their 18th-century-speak intelligible and relevant today, it is Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard professor who has written extensively on the history of race and anti-Black racism in the Enlightenment.

In his latest book, Who’s Black and Why?, Gates, with co-editor Andrew S. Curran, annotates “a hidden chapter from the eighteenth-century invention of race,” tracing the origins of intellectual racism back to this essay contest. Here, Gates inaugurates AIR MAIL’s Take Five column, sharing the movies he’s seeing, the books he’s reading, the series he’s watching, and the podcasts he’s listening to … plus, the gadget he can’t live without, and more. —Julia Vitale

Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s go-tos of the moment.


The Films He’s Seeing

  • Passing
  • The Power of the Dog
  • The Tragedy of Macbeth
  • Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America


The Books He’s Reading

  • Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality, by Tomiko Brown-Nagin
  • Cuba: An American History, by Ada Ferrer
  • South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation, by Imani Perry


The Series He’s Watching

  • Ted Lasso
  • Women of the Movement


The Podcasts He’s Listening To

  • Revisionist History, by Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Daily, by The New York Times
  • Your Hometown, by Kevin Burke


Plus …

  • The app he’s enjoying: SiriusXM, Soul Town.
  • The gadget he relies on: Alexa.
  • The next trip he’s taking: Sarasota.
  • The restaurant he’s loving: Gustazo Cuban Kitchen & Bar.
  • The thing he’s trying to kick: Three pounds.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the author of several books, including, most recently, Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow and The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song. Who’s Black and Why?: A Hidden Chapter from the Eighteenth-Century Invention of Race, edited by Gates and Andrew S. Curran, will be published on March 22 by Belknap Press, an imprint of Harvard University Press