Okay, for my fellow white folks out there, let’s just get this out of the way at the top: we’re racist.
That’s not a maybe, or even a probably, just a simple statement of fact. Understand, racism isn’t binary. There isn’t a racism switch that’s flipped either on or off. It’s a huge, ugly spectrum, and every white person in America – including you and me – is on it.
Anyone still reading?
Oh, hey, you’re still here! Then let’s get started.
In this moment, it appears that more and more of us are finally waking up to just how fucked this country is, and has always been, in terms of race. That it isn’t a sad aberration that needs to be rooted out of our society, but is instead woven into the fabric of society itself – our history, identity, and culture. It’s an inseparable defect intentionally grafted into the nation’s DNA from the start.
Hopefully this new outrage, and the resultant protests, don’t represent a mere flash in the pan. This needs to be the start of a revolution. Historically speaking, it’s probably better not to hold our collective breath. Yet, there is no historical precedent for this sort of reaction – from such a large portion of white America – to systemic racism, so maybe we’re finally onto something. It’s on us to make all of this mean something this time around. Let’s not fuck it up.
That’s why, even though there are a lot of antiracist reading lists out there right now, I’ve decided to share my own.
I want to start conversations with the other white people I know about the work we need to be doing to dismantle our own personal privilege and racism, and to dismantle racism and white supremacy in society. And, as will surprise absolutely none of you, one of the best ways I know to start a conversation is to begin with a book. Thus, a list of some books that have been a part of my own early steps toward antiracism feels like a good way to welcome people into talking about this stuff – and hopefully doing the work alongside me.
In an attempt to avoid a tl;dr situation, I’ll break the post into three parts. Tomorrow, I’ll be sharing a few nonfiction books, and in two days, I’ll share some fiction.
Before all of that, a bit about my own racism.
Remember that spectrum I mentioned. Well, like I said, we’re all on it, and almost all of us – myself included – are at the wrong end.
For a number of years, I’ve been trying to do the work. Trying to read and learn, to turn the lights on in my own mind, stop squeezing my eyes closed, and look at the places within myself that I avoid because of discomfort, shame, and fear. And – once again, surprising absolutely none of you – one of the first places I’ve tried to do that was on my bookshelf.
Please don’t read that as self-congratulatory. At first glance, I understand why that paragraph reads as a humble brag, praising myself for my progress in a personal struggle toward antiracism. Let me make three things clear.
One, the work I’ve done has been the bare minimum. I still consistently avoid the ideas, thoughts, and challenges that make me uncomfortable. That doesn’t help. Toeing the water at my leisure, then dissociating when it serves me, is useless.
Two, the thing with learning about race is that the more you start to learn and change, the more internal ignorance and ugliness you begin to uncover. Everything I learn reveals that I’ve been far more blind and ignorant, and more overtly racist, than I thought. It reveals how much work is left to do in my own heart and mind.
It’s a crude, inaccurate metaphor, but if the racism spectrum is numbered from 1 to 1000, I think the work I’ve done has gotten me up to a solid 2, maybe even a 3 on my best days.
Three, I’ve genuinely learned things that have changed how I see the world. I’m more aware of social injustice and systemic racism than those just now beginning the work. What that means is that I am even more complicit in my failure to respond in any meaningful way to murder after murder, and as Black lives and bodies continue to be commodified, vilified, erased, and stolen in practically infinite ways. I really have worked to learn and unlearn, and I’ve made legitimate progress strengthening my grasp of the nightmare. That means I’ve got more blood on my hands, because in light having a better understanding of reality, I’ve done nothing substantial to combat white supremacy.
I need to do better. You need to do better. I share these books as an invitation to join me in the the difficult, painful, uncomfortable conversations we need to be having about the pervasive, systemic racism and inequality at the foundation, and in every facet, of our society. We need to start doing the work, because the world has waited far too long.
Also, I’ll mention this in each post, but if you want to buy any of the books I list and support a Black owned bookstore, may I recommend buying from The Lit. Bar.