The Problem With Your Anti-Racist Book List
You've probably run into one, if not multiple anti-racist book lists recently. Or maybe you've seen a diversity and equity training come through your inbox. It seems like everyone is on board for the equity work that needs to be done. But I have to ask, who is deciding what this work looks like? In my opinion, none of the right people have been brought to the table.
In the piece Tools for White Guys Who are Working for Social Change and Other People Socialized in a Society Based on Domination Chris Crass lists some of the key ingredients for folx working in Ally-Ship. His 8th suggestion calls for this folx to “practice asking more people what they think about events, ideas, actions, strategy and vision. White guys tend to talk amongst themselves and develop strong bonds that manifest in organizing. These informal support structures often help reinforce informal leadership structures as well. Asking people what they think and really listening is a core ingredient to healthy group dynamics, think about who you ask and who you really listen to. Developing respect and solidarity across race, class, gender and sexuality is complex and difficult, but absolutely critical – and liberating. Those most negatively impacted by systems of oppression have and will play leading roles in the struggle for collective liberation.” So, is this happening? Which informal power structures are being re-created here? And, who are we listening to as a result? In the world of organizing and activism it is an old adage that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”, a term coined by the inspirational leader in liberation, Audre Lorde. We often forget that we have been indoctrinated in systems of white supremacy, down to our most basic ways of existing and knowing. Without acknowledging this, all we do is reiterate systems of oppression, because while we are well intended we are still deploying the master’s tools to try and dismantle the master’s house.
I have seen a multitude of opportunities to learn about anti-racism coming through my inbox in the form of talks, webinars and workshops; very few of these has been facilitated by people of color. I have seen too many booklists from organizations and non-profits that only have white women working in them. To this, I pose a question; if the organization has not previously committed to equity before, what makes them able to do it now? As a teacher I get many emails pertaining to education and training. I recently saw one from a textbook company claiming to lead the change and train educators in anti-racism. What makes this company able to do this? Did they hire someone new? From what I know of textbooks, the back covers rarely feature faces of color. If they didn’t value black voices before how can I trust them to lead me in an antiracist direction now? What is it about race and equity work that makes folx believe there is no expertise required? It took me years to learn the skills & knowledge and to get the experience & expertise that equips me to do equity work. It’s not easy and it’s not obvious. Living in a white supremacist country, and I would argue world, it is not easy to find the information on how to dismantle it. You must research, go to conferences, dig up books meant to be hidden away, talk to folx you don’t know, see different perspectives of oppression and most importantly, you need to have practiced the courageous act of standing for equity. You have to know what it looks like to go against the status quo, because the status quo is white supremacy. You cannot teach antiracism from just a book or a single experience, you must be a practitioner of antiracism. How can you lead me where you’ve never been?
For this reason not everyone’s journey is the same, so should they get the same anti-racist booklist? I don’t think so. How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi has been on many book lists as of late, and while I give props to the folx who are advocating for this book to be read I don't think it is everyone's next step in their anti-racist journey and I don’t think it is meant to be. I read it and enjoyed it, but I didn't have the realizations and learning experiences that many of my white peers did. A lot of what I read I had already discovered as someone with a degree in African-American studies and from my own lived experience as a black woman. So where do I find my anti-racist book list? Who is attending to the black women in this struggle? Where is my support? Where is the support for the people of color? Not anywhere that I’ve been able to find. Is it not anti-racist to heal and empower those who are meant to be hurt and powerless? I think we need more than one type of antiracist book list. This is everyone’s fight, but we shouldn’t all fight in the same way.
So why should you listen to me? Beyond having a degree in African-American studies, I have been an avid reader for as far back as my memory can reach. Even more so, I love to share books. On any given Friday or Saturday night you would likely find me hosting friends and my apartment and co-opting the social space handing out books. I would seek to find where someone is on their journey in understanding the world and making it a better place, and immediately go to the bookshelf. Instead of socializing and winding down from the week I was probably starting an impromptu book discussion and handing out books for the next one, trying to lead curious minds toward deeper understanding. Having worked as a teacher, tutor, trainer, therapist and activist I am no stranger to creating opportunities for others’ to learn. So, I’ve come up with multiple anti-racist book lists that will challenge their readers to grow and change from where they're at. We’ve all got journey to take, I dare you to find your lane and drive.
Check out these anti-racist book lists first:
- For People of Color in Healing and Reconciliation
- For White People Exploring Race
- For White People in Ally-ship and Antiracist work
- For People of Color in Anti-Racist Work
On the way…
Special Interest Books for Anti-Racism
- Justice System
- Health Care