In my decades of engagement in anti-racist education, I have found that most white people cannot answer the question “What does it mean to be white?” This inability has serious consequences, for if I, as a white person, cannot tell you what it means to be white, I cannot imagine what it means not to be white. I will not have developed any critical thinking about race relations or built any cross-racial skills.
White people must understand how race shapes our own lives and how we are conditioned into the system of racism. Good intentions, so-called open-mindedness, belief in racial justice, and identifying as racially progressive are not sufficient to counter this socialization. Gaining anti-racist skills in a society that does not prepare white people to engage constructively across race requires that we listen and learn from those who have had to understand whiteness to survive and thrive: people of color; we simply cannot advance our learning without listening across race.
At the same time, white people also need an insider perspective, a kind of guide who has “been there” and had that thought, felt that emotion, enacted that behavior, struggled with that feedback, and had that insight—that we can relate to and who can serve as an example. It is also harder to deny a shared experience. Insiders can expose and uniquely challenge us in ways invaluable to our growth.
My work brings together years of study, struggle, trial and error, and is meant to be read in conjunction with that of writers of color. We have much of our own personal and collective work to do, and it should not and cannot be the sole responsibility of people of color to get us to do it.
Here are five books that I highly recommend members of the BAM! community read along with Nice Racism:
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
- Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall
- The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown