This piece is inspired by Lauren Michele Jackson’s September 4, 2019, article on Slate, What’s Missing From “White Fragility”, specifically this quotation:
Writing on “whiteness qua whiteness,” to borrow from Richard Dyer’s influential 1997 book White, can so often veer toward whiteness pro whiteness—whiteness in the interest of whiteness, whiteness for whiteness’ sake, whiteness to hear itself talk.
It’s not necessary to have read Dr Jackson’s article in order to understand this one, but I highly recommend that folks read it either before or after reading my work here.
For white people, there is safety and comfort in whiteness. There is safety in shared expectations and experiences, comfort in not being challenged about our whiteness. This is one of the reasons why many of us live largely racially-segregated lives without questioning that segregation. This feeling of safety and comfort, however, can also creep into the ways we do anti-racist work and the ways we educate ourselves about how racism works.
It is easy to look to other white people who have gone before us, taking their advice, their stories, their experiences, and making them the content of our own analysis. The work of white people like Peggy McIntosh, Anne Braden, Tim Wise, Robin DiAngelo, Chris Crass, Shelly Tochluk, Debby Irving, Jim Grimsley, and others, has been influential in how many people view systemic racism in the United States, and there is room for all of it. This article is not a condemnation of work written by white people.
We need to be careful, however, that as white people we aren’t limiting our consumption and synthesis of anti-racist work to that of other white folks. A focus on white authors can lend itself to navel-gazing: an examination of the white experience by and for white people that does not ask white people to do actual anti-racist work. It can lull us into a sense that we are acting in anti-racist ways merely by reading books about other people’s efforts. In her piece, Dr Jackson calls us to action, not performance.
What is the appropriate action? Anti-racism work is relational, so think about your relationships and put them first. Anti-racism work is about power, so examine the power you hold. Anti-racism work is humane, so work on recognizing the humanity of those around you and yourself. Anti-racism work is integrated into everything, so consider how it shows up (or doesn’t) in all aspects of your life.
If you’re wanting to read some books in addition to those written by white folks, following is a very short list of places to venture:
- Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Dr Joy DeGruy
- I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
- Diversity Beyond Lip Service: A Coaching Guide for Challenging Bias by La’Wana Harris
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi
- Racism Without Racists by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
© 2019 Judy Blair LLC