The Books section of the September 2018 Friends Journal includes reviews of three exemplary works to help “white” readers go deeper into self-awareness about the hidden dynamics of racism. This post offers an excerpt from each review. We strongly encourage you to read the linked reviews and to seek out the books themselves.
I grew up in a liberal Lutheran preacher’s family in Ohio in the 1950s, and my parents taught me and my siblings to embrace people of all so-called “races.” Ironically, in our little college town the only “black” person we knew was the Nigerian grad student who lived with us for a year. However, visiting our maternal grandparents in an older Pittsburgh neighborhood, we played with the “black” neighbor children without thought that they were anything but “other kids.”
We spent 1960-65 in Boston, where the schools were already integrated, so began I live out my naïve non-discrimination on a larger scale. In 1965, we moved to Columbia, SC. This was the year the schools there were integrated. I made “white” friends and “black” friends, and my naivete came into play again.
On the plus side, when my “white” friends said I couldn’t bring my “black” best friend to their lunch table, I shrugged and sat with him at a “black” table. On the minus side, when someone in the school parking lot shouted nigger lover, and my friend wanted to fight, I just told him I didn’t mind the insult.
That was probably my first seriously hurtful act of “white color-blindness.” It took me decades to realize, to my shame, that it was he who was being insulted, not me.
The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys
Edited by Eddie Moore Jr., Ali Michael, and Marguerite W. Penick‐Parks (Corwin, 2018)
Reviewed by Patience A. Schenck
Black boys get the message early that they are not intelligent, that they are scary, that they will likely go to prison, that they may not live to be 20. I once overheard an 11‐year‐old boy ask his friend if he was going to get married when he grew up. The boy said, “No, not me. When I grow up, here I go, off to jail!” Teachers must actively counter this narrative and offer them a counternarrative. Preserving the dignity of black boys is of the utmost importance.
A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History
By Jeanne Theoharis (Beacon Press, 2018)
Reviewed by Lauren Brownlee.
Theoharis shines a light on the gaps between the real history and the popularized version of the history and explains, “As a nation, we need fuller histories—uncomfortable, sobering histories—that hold a mirror to the nation’s past and offer far‐reaching lessons for seeing the injustices of our current moment and the task of justice today….”
Regarding California’s voting patterns in the 1960s, [for example,] Theoharis notes, “The message from the majority of white voters was stark: civil rights were good, as long as they didn’t come home….”
The book illustrates how ‘by making racism only about bombing, blocking, and spitting, the nation gets off easy,’ and notes the role the media played in developing too narrow a view of the Civil Rights Movement and the oppression the movement attempted to dismantle. The book makes it clear that people were either part of the problem or part of the solution—there is no neutrality in the face of injustice.
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
By Robin DiAngelo (Beacon Press, 2018)
Reviewed by David Etheridge.
[DiAngelo] observes that white people have opinions about race and racism they think are objective even though they are heavily influenced by how they have been socialized as white people. She explores that socialization—noting, for example, that race has historically been presented as a biological reality, but is really a social construct….
That system of oppression has adapted to changed conditions such as the outlawing of racial discrimination and the shaming of people who overtly assert the inferiority of people of color. One of those adaptations is what she calls “color‐blind ideology,” which disguises discrimination that occurs because of conscious, unconscious, and institutional biases…
Another adaptation is racial segregation, which permits white people to benefit from discrimination without being aware of it or feeling responsible for it. Law enforcement practices and level of government service can vary by neighborhood without those differences being attributed to race.