Being White Today - A Tremendous Book!
Shelly Tochluk and Christine Saxman in BEING WHITE TODAY: A Roadmap for a Positive Antiracist Life have written an excellent “basics” book for a wide variety of white people who care about racism, as well as for others who aren’t “there” yet! (As the author’s explain at the beginning of the book, the book may be useful for People of Color primarily where they work with white people on racism related issues.) The book personalizes our (their) personal journeys (as white people), as well as providing pointed examples of what we, as white people, go through becoming deeply Anti-Racist, or finding the far simpler path of accepting racism.
“I’m so sick of this school making me feel guilty for being White. I’m ready to join the alt-right and I’m Jewish” … I take a deep breath prompted by the gasp. I move closer. “Tell me more about the school making you feel guilty” (p.1)
“We have successfully frozen their brand - ‘critical race theory’ - into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions,” wrote Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan institute… (p.8)
Saxman and Tochluk provide excellent to-the-point examples of how racism has strong support among plenty of white people. There are most visibly those on the right appealing to our doubts, and those of us who take in their messages easily.
Professor Janet Helms’ 1990 model of white racial identity development is much of the authors’ path for us as white people. Shelly Tochluk and Christine Saxman delve deeply into the practical sides of it through “Ryan”, a young white man, and others, they’ve “created”, to illustrate what we go through, related to racism in our lives.
Much of the antiracist messaging on social media highlighting systemic racism makes little sense to White people in “Contact”because of their belief that bigotry is an individual’s problem. (p.39)
To help Tyler consider why people suggest that White people as a group are racist (without him becoming defensive), Alex can offer personal stories. (p.42)
This book emphasizes our need to really seriously listen to others we hope to help grow, and help them develop curiosity that goes well beyond the pointed messaging of the radical-right’s appeals to their fears. In each chapter the authors ask us to reflect on both ourselves, and those we may be trying to reach.
“Do you ever notice that when you talk about your students of color, you sound like you believe you’re the only White person who can teach them?”
My pulse quickens as my Black mentor asks me to self-reflect. I Christine (note: one of the book’s authors), am in the false confidence of Pseudo-Independence. (p.142)
In “Pseudo-Independence” while we now have a solid understanding of systemic racism and recognize that we are part of the White group we still resist perceiving racism within ourselves. (p.143)
Being White Today strongly opposes the simplistic notion that we can become strongly Anti-Racist, through simply reading a few excellent books. Being solely reflective, helps keep our racist country continue on as it has for over 400 years. Doing our personal work usually necessitates working with white allies, recognizing the lifelong process of the work, and accepting and perhaps even embracing the discomfort we will be in at times.
There is no simple linear - path of gaining knowledge in our journey. We must recognize the complexities we face, learning and appreciating “Both /And Thinking”, rather than “either/or”. Our own doubts, and the doubts of those we engage with, can be confusing.
Through this book we learn that listening to Black People, and other People of Color is often challenging. Also challenging is our important work of deeply hearing other white people. While we may develop the capacity to hear the words: “white people are racist”, without getting defensive, it can still be challenging to hear misplaced generalities, and nuanced perspectives that may conflict with our life experiences.
As people in “Autonomy” work to dismantle whiteness many speak as though systemic whiteness and White identity are the same. The problem is that most White people do not understand the nuance. Most who hear “be less White” or “abolish whiteness” interpret it as meaning that it is not okay to be a person born with light skin …” (p.210)
This book provides numerous references to the writings of others, giving opportunities for the reader to deepen their knowledge in many ways. The book is “crisper” than Shelly Tochluk’s earlier Witnessing Whiteness…, most likely helping some readers stay at the heart of the issues. The quotes of life experiences of both authors helps personalize them and helps me feel a deeper connection to their life experiences.
The “weaknesses”, if any, of the book relate to what isn’t said/covered in the writing. Such additions probably would have made the book much longer and not as clearly focused.
While I would not expect a “Marxist Analysis” - there is relatively little focus on how class is manipulated by wealthy interests, intersecting with right-wing ideology and practice.
There is no discussion, whatsoever, of the complexities of engaging with cis-men, in contrast to engaging women. We, the privileged white men, are much more challenging to engage with, and much more present as the “seeming enemy”.
Obviously, focusing upon white men might be best done with at least one male author!
The book can’t and doesn’t cover “everything”. Resmaa Menakem, addressing somatic abolitionism, can readily complement, and supplement the messages in this book. Other areas such as the carceral state, policing and similar are best left to other books.
I believe that this is an excellent book for a wide variety of people. It is excellent for personal growth work for white people at varying levels of connection to anti-racism work and practice. It also should become a great resource in parts, or whole in training and growth for groups of white people. Both authors show: deep knowledge, a breadth of experiences, significant personal growth, much compassion and a deep love and caring for us all!