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?”
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