Me and White Supremacy (Book Review)

I’ve been doing art for the last two or three years, enrolling in classes on how to draw and paint faces. Let’s talk about white privilege in art classes. First of all, in 2020 there are still paint colors called things like “flesh.” Other names include nude or buff. They match my skin tone. If I want to paint darker people, the colors are things like butterscotch, cinnamon, chocolate, coffee.


Think about that for a minute. The color that matches my skin is labeled to show that it’s intended to depict skin, but the darker colors are labeled as food. Food. How often are you painting a cinnamon stick? Are you painting cinnamon sticks more often than you’re painting brown people?


Every class shows me how to paint a white woman. I finally enrolled in a class that showed how to paint various ethnicities and, while I did learn how to paint different skin tones, I can’t unequivocally recommend the class for BIPOC. The woman teaching the class was working from the premise that white was “normal” and that other ethnicities are defined by how they deviate from the norm. She even caught herself at one point and realized she’d said something “wrong” but instead of making a change, she laughed nervously and went on a ten minute rant about how all she meant by “normal” is that white people are the ones you see around you everyday.


So this is white privilege. I can enroll in an art class and know that the class is for me. I belong. If it’s a class on drawing or painting faces, I know that I’ll learn to draw and paint people of my ethnicity, who share my skin tone. I can take optional add-on modules for “variety.” I don’t need to take them to paint people who look like me. I can exist in an art class and never paint a single face that’s different from my own.

Me and White Supremacy is a book that challenges you to examine forces like this that shape your experience, whether you’ve been aware of them until now or not. The author calls it:

… a one-of-a-kind personal antiracism tool structured to help people with white privilege understand and take ownership of their participation in the oppressive system of white supremacy.

p.3

The book is set up to be used over a four-week period. Each day you’ll be introduced to a topic and then given journaling exercises about your relationship to that topic. Topics include:

  • white privilege
  • white fragility
  • tone policing
  • white silence
  • white superiority
  • white exceptionalism
  • color blindness
  • anti-blackness
  • racist stereotypes
  • cultural appropriation
  • white apathy
  • white centering
  • tokenism
  • white saviorism
  • optical allyship
  • being called out/called in
  • white feminism
  • white leaders
  • your friends
  • your family
  • your values
  • losing privilege
  • your commitments

The final chapter is called, “Now What? Continuing the Work After Day 28” and there is an appendix for using the book in a group, which borrows from books by Christina Baldwin like Calling the Circle and The Circle Way and the suggested structure will seem familiar to anyone who has read a Starhawk or Reclaiming book.

Why read this book and work through it? As the author explains:

If you are a person who wants to become a good ancestor, then you know that this work is some of the most important work that you will be called to do in your lifetime.

p.6

5 out of 5 stars

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor

Layla F. Saad

Sourcebooks, 2020

White Fragility (Book Review)

During the 2016 election, I was standing in a long line of voters waiting our turn, and a white woman in her late 50s took the opportunity to address the captive audience with her spiel that went something like this, “In my day, there was no such thing as racism. Obama invented racism. Nowadays everybody is oversensitive and suddenly they see racism where there was never any before.”

Delusional? Sure. But she was delusional in a specific way that’s not unique to her. It’s common among white people, and especially women of her generation. When she says there wasn’t any racism when she was young, she’s not lying. She’s saying that she lived in a bubble that allowed her not to see or address what was going on for black people in our country. She’s saying that bubble allowed her to ignore racism, pretend it was something from the long-forgotten past, and, most of all, think of herself as a good person. She’s saying that attitudes and opinions she’s held her entire life are now being called out for what they’ve always been: racist. And that makes her uncomfortable.

I can remember when I was growing up being told, especially of people’s grandparents, things like, “He might make some ‘off-color’ remarks, but we just ignore those. He’s old and doesn’t know any better, but our family isn’t racist.” What’s changed isn’t the amount of racism but the amount of patience for old people simply not knowing any better. Nowadays we expect people to learn and grow, and it’s perceived as an attack.

In White Fragility, Robin Diangelo says:

…pointing out white advantage will often trigger patterns of confusion, defensiveness, and righteous indignation. These responses enable defenders to protect their moral character against a perceived attack while rejecting any culpability. Focusing on restoring their moral standing through these tactics, whites are able to avoid the challenge.

p. 109

The author goes on to explain:

White equilibrium is a cocoon of racial comfort, centrality, superiority, entitlement, racial apathy, and obliviousness, all rooted in an identity of being good people free of racism.

p. 111

So when issues of race are addressed, white people immediately feel like they’re being told they aren’t good people and apparently being “nice” is more important in our culture than addressing issues and righting wrongs. As the author says:

White fragility functions as a form of bullying; I am going to make it so miserable for you to confront me — no matter how diplomatically you try to do so — that you will simply back off, give up, and never raise the issue again. White fragility keeps people of color in line and “in their place.” In this way, it is a powerful form of white racial control. Social power is not fixed; it is constantly challenged and needs to be maintained. We might think of the triggers to white fragility … as challenges to white power and control, and white fragility as the means to end the challenge and maintain that power and control.

p. 112

If you’re new to books on race in America, start with White Fragility. It will help answer how a woman can stand in line in a voting precinct gerrymandered to have fewer people of color than are actually in her town and confidently assert that Obama invented racism.

It also has a list of resources with books, articles, blogs, podcasts and films to help you figure out where to go next on your antiracist journey.

5 out of 5 stars

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism

Robin Diangelo

Beacon Press, 2018