Last year, I abruptly de-friended a woman on Facebook. We’d known each other for over a decade, and attended the same church. Whenever I’d post an article, meme, or video about racism—which was quite often–she’d relentlessly message me. She wanted me to further explain—over and over.
She’s white, and I’m white. Her two sons are also white, while my four kids are black. She worked in a local school district that had a significant population of black students. She usually started by telling me she was interested in learning and being better for some of the kids she served, but every single time she ended up insisting that she was right. Her messages came across as entitled and whiny. Every time I’d coddle her with an explanation, she’d clap back with her whiteness.
Conversing with her was exhausting—and I finally just gave up. She wasn’t interested in listening and learning. Instead, she was greedily trying to worm her way into being right, while chronically falling back on her white fragility. If I, as a white woman, was tired of her nonsense, I can only imagine how tired a person of color would be with her. Of course, she wasn’t asking them, because for her it felt safer to ask a white person.
Some of my black friends have told me how utterly relentless and ridiculous white people are—and I can see why they feel that way. Whenever a curious white woman, once again, tries to stroke my daughters’ cornrows or another white person fumbles over my kids’ names or asks me if they like basketball and hip hop, I don’t think it’s possible to roll my eyes any harder.
When I call them on their racism, they practically come unglued. They swear they “didn’t mean anything by it” and “don’t have a racist bone” in their bodies. They might pipe up some ridiculous white shit about black-on-black crime, the fact that they once dated a black person, the race card, colorblindness, All Lives Matter, or reverse racism. I can predict in almost every situation what the person is going to say before they say it.
If I feel that these clapbacks get old, I can only imagine how sick and tired black and brown people are of hearing them. The responses are so terrible they appear rehearsed. Every time, I want to scream, Just get educated and quit burdening people of color with the task of making you less ignorant. These individuals who are burdened include my four children–who should just be allowed to be, you know, kids.
There are some incredible books available to teach us about race, race relations, history, and progress. For those who actually want to learn, to get woke, and to stay educated, these books are downright essential and helpful. Many of us are parents, and if we’re going to change the tide for future generations, we have to tackle race head-on instead of evading it or pretending we are, as many white people have told me, all-one-race-the-human-race.
Austin Channing Brown starts her book by sharing that her first name was given to her to lead future employers to give her a callback. She covers compelling racial topics including white privilege, black leadership, and learning to love her blackness in a world made for whiteness.
Author Robyn Diangelo, a white woman, breaks down what it means to be white and the discomfort that comes with discussing race. She discusses current trends to fall back on white fragility rather than engage in meaningful conversations about race—and what white people can do instead.
Rozanne Dunbar-Ortiz explores 400 years of American history, from the point of view of Indigenous people, like nothing we’ve read before. She explains the genocide—or as quoted, the “exterminating”– that was initiated and maintained by the government.
Ibram X. Kendi explains the concept of being anti-racist—which is distinctly different than claiming to be non-racist. His conversation isn’t limited to race. Kendi also explores discrimination and mistreatment of people based on gender and body type. As the title suggests, he gives readers the “how” that they crave.
Author Erika Lee shares the important roles Asian-Americans have played in making the United States what it is today. She explores history–including World War II and Asian immigration–and the problematic stereotype that Asians are the “model minority.”
Ijeoma Oluo lays out how racism infiltrates and impacts almost every space—and what we can do to combat it. She delves into topics such as affirmative action, mass incarceration, “casual” racist jokes, and police brutality, among many others. Her new book, Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America, comes out in May 2020.
Paul Ortiz explores two hundred years worth of African American and Latinx history—demonstrating its influence on history and telling stories that many textbooks fail to teach. This cultural anthropology book is a dense read, delving into narratives and documents that have often been overlooked by other scholars.
Andrés Reséndez delves into the “other slavery” shame of the United States—when Native Americans were kidnapped by whites and forced to work in mines and as household servants. He argues that this important piece of American history has long been ignored or unheard of.
If you are opting to pick up one of these books (or even better, several of them) I applaud you. Also, consider requesting them (or donating a copy, if you’re able) at your local library. Change doesn’t happen without historical knowledge, acknowledgement of the problem, and — most importantly — subsequent action. As Maya Angelou famously shared, when we know better, we can do better.
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