I don’t think you’re a racist, I think we live in a racist system that’s set up for white people.
I recently wrote that to an old friend who had been called out as a racist on social media. I wanted to find some middle ground somehow so that he and the accuser could repair their friendship, but I think that may be done entirely. So before you read further: remember that every white person you know is in a different place in this journey and your epiphany is not shared by everyone you know. And also, consider the following quote from Robin Diangelo’s White Fragilty – Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism:
In my workshops, I often ask people of color, “How often have you given white poeple feedback on our unaware yet inevitable racism? How often has it gone well for you?” Eye-rolling, head-shaking, and outright laughter follow, along with the consensus of rarely, if ever. I then ask “What would it be like if you could simply give us feedback, have us graciously receive it, reflect, and work to change the behavior?” Recently a man of color sighed and said “It would be revolutionary.” I ask my fellow whites to consider the profundity of that response. It would be revolutionary to receive, reflect, and work to change the behavior.
Please, be a revolutionary. Read the books – at least some of them. Do the work.
Last January, the Instagram knitting community erupted: a prominent knit-fluencer wrote about a trip to India in a racist way (that she has since been educated about and has apologized for). That wasn’t my first inkling of racisism in the fiber arts community; MIRLA Fiber Arts posted a plea a month or two earlier lamenting how difficult it was as a POC to launch a fiber arts business, and Sukrita posted about discrimination and representation in the fiber arts.
It’s not just the fiber arts/knittting/crochet/spinning communities.
If the election of our current US president has shown anything, it’s how deeply racist the foundation of our country is and how many people support openly racist ideas and public figures.
For over a year, I’ve been gleaning recommendations from social media (mainly Instagram and Twitter) of books to read to educate myself as a white woman about the things we were not taught in school and our position (including our responsibilities to wider society to be better than the norm) in the wider settler-colonialist, white supremacist system of Western Society, namely the United States.
That’s a lot of buzzwords and trendy phrases for one paragraph! If you begin reading some of the books that have been recommended to me, they will make more sense. And you will actually help POC, including indigenous peoples, by spreading seeds of awareness around with your family and friends. For example, did you know that scalping originated with the English in Ireland, not with Native Americans? I didn’t know that until I read An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. They don’t teach that in history classes or in popular culture (i.e., movies); the colonists used scalping as a tactic to terrorize the indigenous New England tribes and in turn taught it to the tribes to use against each other and, eventually, the white colonizers. Read the book for the full story.
So here is a reading list. A friend who is a history professor at a historically black college in the south recommended some of these and some were gleaned from discussions on Instagram, in RISE District, and in Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) both the national and Northern Virginia Chapters. The reading list is basically a graduate level course on racism and white supremacism. I’ve read only a handful of them; the rest I either have or have on a wishlist.
In the order I read them, with to-read at the end (clearly marked). Note that some are works of fiction.
- An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
- Kindred, Octavia E. Butler
- The Complete Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
- The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1), N.K. Jemisin
- The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2), N.K. Jemisin
- The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth, #3), N.K. Jemisin
- The Design of Dissent, Expanded Edition: Greed, Nationalism, Alternative Facts, and the Resistance, Milton Glaser
- Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, Ibram X, Kendi
- Why We March: Signs of Protest and Hope
- Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism, Nadya Tolokonnikova
- How Long ’til Black Future Month?, N.K. Jemison
- Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Reni Eddo-Lodge
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
by Robin DiAngelo
To-read that I have:
- Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor, Layla F. Saad
- Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland, Jonathan M. Metzl
- How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide, Crystal Marie Fleming
- I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown
- Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White, Frank H. Wu
- As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance, Leanne Simpson
- Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South, Talitha L. Leflouria
- Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War, Tony Horwitz
- Slave Religion: The “invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South, Albert J. Raboteau
- Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom, Keisha N. Blain
- In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community and Protest Among Northern Free Blacks, 1700-1860, James Oliver Horton
- So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo
- Diversify, June Sarpong
To-read that I need to buy or borrow:
- Ar’n’t I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation SouthWhite, Gray, Deborah
- The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation, Berry, Daina Ramey
- Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century, Roberts, Dorothy
- Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, Roberts, Dorothy
- Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance, Estes, Nick
- Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America, Harvey, Jennifer
- How the Irish Became White, Ignatiev, Noel
- The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, Rothstein, Richard
- Birth of a White Nation: The Invention of White People and Its Relevance Today, Battalora, Jacqueline
- Thick: And Other Essays, Cottom, Tressie McMillan