Me and White Supremacy: “Welcome to the Work”

We’re reading Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy. Today, we’re covering Part I: Welcome to the Work and A Little about Me.

You’ve decided to make a difference, to not just be “not racist” but actively anti-racist. You’ve got this book. The introduction didn’t scare you off. It’s a good start!

So now we’re getting to the gritty stuff. Fighting racism means recognizing the fact that we ourselves perpetuate racist systems, that we benefit from a social structure built by white supremacists, and it’s up to us to dismantle it. Thankfully, Layla Saad is going to give us some much needed guidance.

She gives us a good, concise introduction to the social conditions we face, and reminds us that the issues with racist people and institutions that we white folk are only now waking up to have been there all along for Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC). And then she says something about the work that bears repeating here:

This work is not about those white people ”out there.”

It is about you. Just you.

I’m putting that in bold, because so many of us resist it. “I’m not part of the problem! I’m part of the solution!” We believe that so strongly that we refuse to see where we’re complicit. We let our hurt feels take over when BIPOC folks try to gently call us out on problem behaviors. We get angry, we deny, we disregard, and we hurt the people we thought we were going to help. Sometimes, we even get so upset we stop doing the work.

We need to do better. We need to own the fact that we, by virtue of being white people born and raised in a civilization designed and built by white supremacists, are part of the problem. We have to work on fixing ourselves right here, not “those white people ‘out there.'”

Still with me? Good. Let’s continue.

This is where those of us who thrive on recognition and like to think the best of ourselves get some really bad news:

This work sounds overwhelming, intimidating, and unrewarding. I won’t lie to you: it is. You will become overwhelmed when you begin to discover the depths of your internalized white supremacy. You will become intimidated when you begin to realize how this work will necessitate seismic change in your life. You will feel unrewarded because there will be nobody rushing to thank you for doing this work. But if you are a person who believes in love, justice, integrity, and equity for all people, then you know that this work is nonnegotiable. If you are a person who wants to become a good ancestor, then you know that this work is some of the most important work that you will be called to do in your lifetime.

Yeah, it really is.

Layla takes a moment to introduce herself. She’s a Black British Muslim woman who has only experienced overt racism a handful of times, but has been subjected to daily microaggressions throughout her life:

And those indirect messages—from being treated slightly differently by schoolteachers, to hardly ever seeing fictional characters or media representations that looked like me, to understanding that I would have to work a lot harder than my white peers to be treated the same, to understanding that my needs were always an afterthought (why could I never find a foundation shade that matched me exactly while my white friends always could?)—painted an indelible picture in my mind. A picture that taught me this: Black girls like me did not matter in a white world. I will spend the rest of my life tearing down this picture and painting a new one that reflects the truth: Black girls matter. Everywhere.

This is the kind of stuff we white folks just don’t notice, because we don’t have to. We aren’t treated as “other” because of our skin. We see people who look like usin media, in STEM, in the halls of power. Makeup, skin and hair products that match our traits are everywhere. Heck, even adhesive bandages are made with us in mind!

Those are things we must train ourselves to notice. They are things we can and must help change.

Layla now lives in the Middle East, and she has a paragraph’s worth of privileges she can claim. But white supremacy still impacts her life. That’s why she does the work to help dismantle those systems, and why she’s showing us how to do our part. She’s our inside guide.

And now, we have a lot of work to do.

Me and White Supremacy: “Welcome to the Work”
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Quackery: A Book That Will Leave You Writhing

Quackery book cover
Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen

I bought Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything on a whim. It was on sale, and I loves me some sneering at snake oil. I figured it would be enjoyable.

Friends. It far surpassed expectations. Lydia and Nate’s style is easy, breezy, and delightfully snarky. They give a wonderful amount of detail: not enough to get bogged down, plenty to really relish the quackery. They do their best to explain why rational people fall for irrational nonsense, and while the medical shysters preying on vulnerable people get no quarter from them, the victims get empathy. It’s so great!

Continue reading “Quackery: A Book That Will Leave You Writhing”

Quackery: A Book That Will Leave You Writhing

Me and White Supremacy: “How Have You Managed Not to Know?”

We’re beginning Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor. If you’re a white person watching news of protests, seeing that yes, there’s a serious problem with racism, and wondering what you can do to help, this is a place to begin. This is a book you should read before charging off to change the world.

cover of Me and White Supremacy

It’s also a book you might want to share with well-meaning white people in your life who want things to improve for people of color, but don’t yet understand that they need to remove the white supremacist plank from their own eye first.

White supremacy is a problem white people caused, perpetuate, and now need to fix. But most of us aren’t sure where to begin. Even if we have some idea of what to do, we risk going about it in a counterproductive way if we rush forward without listening to the POC who are telling us what they need from us. And if we haven’t done the work in ourselves first, we might storm off in an angry huff the moment we realize this work is difficult, dangerous, and humbling, and that we’re not going to be hailed as heroes for doing the shit white people should have been doing all along.

The Foreward is written by Robin DiAngelo, one white person talking to her fellow white people. She sugarcoats nothing. She’s seen a lot of shit from well-meaning white folks who would just love to help end racism – as long as it’s easy, people of color tell them exactly what to do, and their feelings aren’t hurt. She tells us exactly where we need to start if we want to avoid flaming out at the first small hurdle:

[quote Building racial….]

That discomfort was a definite stumbling block to me in the past. One of the hardest things to learn has been how to sit with the discomfort instead of runaway from it. It’s massively not fun. But retreating back into a comfy white shell is unconscienable.

Robin talks about how we get when “our self-image as open-minded progressive individuals, free of all racial conditioning” gets challenged. This is something we need to learn to watch for in ourselves: the urge to deny, dismiss, and retreat.

She says that she’s begun asking a counter question when white folks ask her what to do: “How have you managed not to know?” She points out that the information is out there and easy to find, and people of color “have been telling us what they need for a very long time.” So why haven’t we Googled, researched, made the effort to find out? Why haven’t we listened when we’ve been told?

In my case, it was because I was raised to believe most problems with racism had already been solved. We did that Civil Rights thing in the 60’s and then it was all pretty much good. Any problems left was mostly due to old racists who would eventually die off. I was raised to be “color blind.” I couldn’t be racist, because I didn’t like racism and called my grandparents out for saying blatantly racist stuff. My, wasn’t I shocked when I finally unclogged my ears, took off my color blinders, and realized that yeah, my POC friends were highly upset with white folks- including me – for a damned good reason.

But it was desperately uncomfortable getting to that point. Often, it still is. And I’m reading this book now because I know I still have a long way to go before I can be an effective anti-racist. I’m often dispirited by the scale of social change needed, and unsure how to play an effective part in helping to bring about that change.

[quote about book]

I’m so grateful Layla has done this work. I’m looking forward to listening to her and following her recommendations. At the end, I’m hoping it will make me a better listener, and allow me to find an effective role in the fight to end White Supremacy.

This Foreward is something of a litmus test. It should, along with King’s musings on the White Moderate, be required reading for every white person who tuts about how awful things are and says they wish they could do more. If they aren’t willing to at least read Robin’s Foreward without getting offended and defensive and stomping off in a huff, they probably aren’t ready to do anything useful. That’s fine as long as they stay out of the way.

For the rest of us, it’s time to press on and do the work this woman of color is advising us to do.

What did you get out of this section? Was it hard to stomach? If so, were you able to accept your discomfort and push on? What were your answers to the title question?

Me and White Supremacy: “How Have You Managed Not to Know?”

Rosetta Stones Has a New Home!

For those who have been missing Rosetta Stones since the sad demise of the Scientific American Blogs network, I have fantastic news! We’ve moved into a sweet summer cottage while our custom forever home is being built. Bookmark this site, and come join us for a summer full of fun, phenomenal, and sometimes fearsome geology!

Image shows Rosetta Stones title superimposed over a photo of the sea and serpentinite rocks. Below is the headline

It’s got comments!

I’ll notify you here when new posts are available. You can also check in on our official Facebook page for regular updates and extras. And you can get early access to blog posts, exclusive content, and all sorts of extras on Patreon, so please do consider becoming a Patron. There are many levels to choose from, starting at just $1 per month.

To see what’s in store for this new Rosetta Stones epoch, check out this post. Raise your geologic hammers, and let’s get rocking!

Rosetta Stones Has a New Home!

Ready to Do Something About White Supremacy?

It’s long past time we stomped white supremacy out. And when I say “we,” I mean me and my fellow white folks.

White supremacy is our societal ill to fix. It’s not up to people of color to do this work. We’re the ones who benefit from the assumption that pale skin is best. We’re the ones whose subconscious racism, whose insistence on being “colorblind,” whose apathy and inaction allow systems set up by unapologetic racists to continue on virtually unchanged. We’re the ones who too often can ignore what’s wrong because it doesn’t affect us, or even benefits us.

What can we do? March in protests. Donate to causes. Listen to non-white voices and amplify them. All of these things are important. But there’s more to it than that, and many of us haven’t done the work we need to do within ourselves.

So for a start, I’m going to ask you to buy or borrow this book.

Image shows book cover
Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F Saad

It’s on sale for Kindle today for $2.99. you can read it on any device with the Kindle app.

We’re going to be working through this book together over the next several weeks. I think it’s going to be deeply uncomfortable, even painful at times – growth often is. I doubt it will be easy or fun. But it’s necessary.

I know you’re not a white supremacist yourself. You’re probably not overtly racist, either, or you wouldn’t be here. But most of us were raised in societies that were created by white people, for white people, on the backs of brown people. We had, and still have, racist family members, coworkers, and friends. We’re not able to see a lot of the ways our societies are built to benefit white people, because it’s not something that adversely impacts us. We may even think white privilege isn’t a thing, because we personally may not think we’re particularly privileged. But just as society is still mostly set up to benefit men at the expense of women, straight people at the expense of LGBTQ people, and religious people at the expense of the non-religious, it still benefits white people at the expense of non-white people. And it will keep harming them until we dismantle those structures and rebuild them fairly.

We can’t confront what we can’t see. We can’t change things we don’t even realize exist. That’s why books like this are important, and why we’re going to spend quite a bit of time working through this one.

I’m hoping that by the time we’re done, we’ll be better equipped to confront our own biases, stand against racism in our social circles, and create a far more equitable society.

There is no better time than now. Let’s do this.

Ready to Do Something About White Supremacy?

A Wonderful Book for Mary Anning’s Birthday: The Fossil Hunter

The Fossil Hunter by Shelley Emling

Mary Anning deserves far more recognition than she gets. So, on the occasion of her 221st birthday, let me share with you a book that does her justice.

Shelley Emling traces the story of Mary’s life from before her birth to after her death. We are shown just how unlikely it was that a girl born in poverty, who was literally struck by lightning as a toddler(!!), should grow up to become one of the most renowned fossil hunters of her age.

Her story is absolutely amazing, and at several points heartbreaking. She lost her dad when she was a little girl. Only one of her siblings lived to adulthood. Her family was desperately poor. She never got the education she deserved. Because she was female, and science very much a male clubhouse, she often saw others taking credit for her discoveries and insights. She lost her dog to a landslide, and her life at a relatively young age to breast cancer. Shelley shies away from none of the bad stuff.

But the book can be summed up by a joyous “Nevertheless, she persisted.” Continue reading “A Wonderful Book for Mary Anning’s Birthday: The Fossil Hunter”

A Wonderful Book for Mary Anning’s Birthday: The Fossil Hunter

Four Must-Read Mount St. Helens Books

It seems like entire libraries have been written about the Mount St. Helens eruption. Here are four books well worth reading.

Let me just start by stating the obvious: this is far from a definitive list. It’s just a microcosm of must-reads. These are four books that provided particular insight. Some are out of print, but used copies are fairly easy to find. This is the stack I would personally hand to anyone wanting to learn all they can about that fateful day, who want accuracy, but who don’t want anything too technical or difficult.

You should purchase a box of your preferred tissues to go along with these books. You’ll get to know some of the people we lost up there. And it’s hard. But I feel we owe it to the dead to remember them, how they died, and to try to prevent the same thing from happening to others.

There are incredible stories of survival here. At times, there are frank discussions of terrible injuries. What a volcanic eruption does to a human body is truly grim. So be mindful of that. Take breaks when you need to.

The best part of all of these stories is that science prevented catastrophic loss of life and human suffering. And we learned so many lessons that helped save lives when other volcanoes erupted.

Mount St. Helens is one of the most fascinating volcanoes in existence. These books do her justice.

Continue reading “Four Must-Read Mount St. Helens Books”

Four Must-Read Mount St. Helens Books

Forty Years Ago Today: The Cataclysm

“Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!”

– Last words of USGS volcanologist David Alexander Johnston, 8:32 am, May 18th, 1980

Dave Johnston would be 70 today, if he hadn’t been up at Coldwater II, watching the volcano. He should have been safe: before they’d chosen the site, they’d investigated the ridge and determined Mount St. Helens hadn’t done anything particularly terrible to it for thousands of years.

Dave had thought there was a chance she’d blow laterally, like Bezimiany volcano on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. But volcanoes rarely erupt sideways, and when they do, it’s seldom with such force. Miles away, high on a ridge where lahars couldn’t reach, they thought it would be okay. It’s never safe in the Red Zone. But for science, for public safety, you take the calculated risk.

You can never know for sure. And sometimes, like Dave, you end upon the fatal side of the calculation.

Today, take a moment to honor all of the volcanologists who have sacrificed their lives in the quest to further our understanding of these beautiful, dangerous mountains.

Dave Johnston collecting samples from the crater of Mount St. Helens, April 30th, 1980. Credit: Rick Hoblitt/USGS

* * *

Continue reading “Forty Years Ago Today: The Cataclysm”

Forty Years Ago Today: The Cataclysm

Scotland’s Explosive History: Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland

Book cover shows a knob of volcanic rock looming over the Scottish countryside.
Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland

Let me admit from the start: I have a complicated relationship with Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland.

Continue reading “Scotland’s Explosive History: Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland”

Scotland’s Explosive History: Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland

Digital Book Bargains for Surviving Social Distancing

Heyo. I hope things are well for you, or at least as well as can be expected in pandemic times. Who would have guessed we’d be living 1918 2.0 when we rang in this new year?

It’s been quiet round the blogs, I know. I’m lucky enough to be an essential worker – my day job is doing tech support for a company that has contracts with several hospitals. Yep, hospitals at the center of the first COVID-19 outbreak in the US. And my partner works in a grocery store. Nerves definitely wracked. It’s been hard to brain over the last six weeks. But Washington State has a sensible Democratic governor who listened to experts and took sensible steps early on, so on the whole we’re faring pretty well. We might even get to spend some time in the parks come summer.

Once my brain was able to switch from survival mode, we’d laid in adequate supplies for surviving quarantine if we got sick, and new routines had been established, I got to reading. And I’m even getting round to book reviews! You can expect some good stuff forthcoming.

Since most of us are still social distancing until May, I wanted to let you know about a few (okay, many) books on sale in the Kindle Store this month that might help you while away the time. I’ll be reviewing them in depth later, but get them now while they’re on sale if they strike your fancy.

Continue reading “Digital Book Bargains for Surviving Social Distancing”

Digital Book Bargains for Surviving Social Distancing