For author and editor Marc Favreau, the arc of history and injustice is not something to be hidden away. Rather, it needs to be studied and unpacked, particularly for young people.

His new book, Unequal, written with Vanderbilt professor and author Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, is a YA primer on racial injustice in America, from reconstruction to the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests.

“The goal was to create a continuous thread between history and the present and try to offer a road map to young people trying to make sense of the current moment,” Mr. Favreau told the Gazette.

It is also a personal book.

“My sons are African American,” Mr. Favreau said. “And I became attuned to how difficult it is to learn about racial inequality in school while also living it.”

Unequal, published by Little Brown and Company, is the first collaboration between Mr. Favreau, a Vineyard resident, author of two previous YA books and an editor at The New Press, and Mr Dyson. It was written with middle and high school history curricula in mind, and arrives on shelves during a time of intense censorship and scrutiny for public education.

Nikole Hannah-Jones and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, last summer on the Vineyard. — Jeanna Shepard

“We’re in a period where we’re banning books, attacking freedom of the press and freedom of assembly,” Mr. Dyson said. “It’s a time of totalitarian impulse and it’s our duty to combat it and bring back literary freedom. Banning books is banning Blackness, banning queerness, banning any opposition to the non-white patriarchal paradigm.”

Unequal grounds its historical analyses in visceral first-person accounts and modern-day parallels. Each chapter focuses on a key figure in history who resisted against a specific facet of American racism, from voter suppression to housing discrimination to the criminal justice system. For every historical figure in the book, Unequal also features a contemporary individual continuing the same work.

For example, the chapter on lynching and Ida B. Wells’ groundbreaking journalism on the issue ends with the work of Nikole Hannah-Jones, a New York Times journalist and creator of the 1619 Project, whose educational curriculum has been banned in Texas and Florida.

The authors said that the idea for Unequal came out of the 2020 racial reckoning in publishing, when anti-racist reading lists circulated widely. Mr. Dyson, Mr. Favreau and their literary agent Tanya McKinnon had noticed that none of the books commonly recommended appealed to young adults and a partnership was born.

“I talk to a lot of people who read my books and one of the most common things people ask me is, ‘Which of my books is best for my 13-year-old? Which is best for my 15-year-old?’” Mr. Dyson said. “And while I have a few answers for them, I didn’t have anything that had specifically been written with that age group in mind. I welcomed this opportunity to partner with Marc.”

“When you go into a partnership like this, you have to figure out who’s Lebron James and who’s Dwyane Wade,” Mr. Dyson continued. “If I can even make that comparison. He [Marc] laid out the vision, I filled in the blanks.”

Mr. Dyson and Mr. Favreau were careful not to limit the framing to familiar icons. Many chapters share the accounts of regular, everyday people who had faced and fought injustices. Forgotten wave-makers in history get their due, including Pauli Murray, one of the first Black women to attend law school at Howard University and the legal mind behind the arguments of Brown v. Board of Education. Historians have also speculated that Ms. Murray, by many primary accounts, would have been a trans man if the language had been accessible at the time, making Ms. Murray’s inclusion in history even more significant.

“From the beginning we wanted to include Pauli Murray,” Mr. Dyson said. “She was a foundational, visionary figure, a queer figure, who had advocated for radical equality before Thurgood Marshall, before John A. Houston. She wrote beautifully and really informed the arguments of Brown v. Board of Education. She was what we might say trans right now in this moment, always challenging and working in opposition to the narrow binaries that still shape us today.”

The result of the authors’ careful and comprehensive research is a portrait of American racism that highlights African American agency above everything else.

“It was important to us to not just include the way that Black people face oppression, but also the way they resisted at every step,” Mr. Favreau said.

On top of highlighting buried events in American history, Unequal is mindful to complicate well-trodden historical narratives, including that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Mr. Favreau, whose work is largely situated in the labor movement, is quick to point out that the myth of racial injustice in America often stops at civil rights for a reason, trying to present history as simply a story of success. The reality is much more complicated and apt to upset. For example, the chapter on Mr. King focuses on his final days launching the Poor People’s Campaign before his assassination.

“King decided that the Civil Rights Movement had to enter bolder, more dangerous territory,” one passage states. “‘It didn’t cost the nation one penny to integrate lunch counters,’ King declared. ‘It didn’t cost the nation one penny to guarantee the right to vote. The problems that we are facing today will cost the nation billions of dollars.’ Opinions like these attracted some powerful enemies.”

Mr. Favreau thinks of Unequal as a series of puzzle pieces with which the reader can draw the larger picture of racism in the United States. At the end of the book, there is also one explicit directive: “To study the past, and to marshal and carry forward the freedom dreams of those who have come before us.”

When asked how a 15-year-old can carry forward the weight of generations before them, Mr. Favreau and Mr. Dyson had more manageable ideas.

“The NAACP, the National Urban League, and the National Action Network are all doing important advancement work, as are more grassroots organizations,” Mr. Dyson shared. “Get connected with democracy.”

“Voting is a real lynchpin for social change,” Mr. Favreau said. “Even working or volunteering for electeds, especially progressives who are still connected with their activist base. Criminal justice reform groups are always looking for volunteers, as are environmental justice [organizations]. The challenge of racial injustice is that it’s everywhere, but that also means there’s a million ways to get involved.”