Still zipping through the Novellas in November, with “White Fragility” the oldest on my TBR (so part of that challenge, too). I’ve spent more than 28 days getting through “Me and White Supremacy” but have finally finished that, too, so it seemed apt for it to share this review. I had saved both to read after I’d read up on some direct experiences of Global Majority People in the UK, but actually should probably have read them earlier in the process, however I did of course learn something new from each of them.

Robin DiAngelo – “White Fragility”

(18 June 2020)

There’s been quite a lot of negative commentary on this one as being one of the big Black Lives Matter Booklists titles but having been written by a White woman. I do understand that this means BLM-related monies have gone away from Black folk, however I would hope that people didn’t only buy this book, but bought others by a range of people (as I did and continue to do). And as regards DiAngelo’s validity in writing this book, she makes the point that White people will take some of the hard talking she does from a White person whereas they might not from someone of a different colour (that’s obviously not a good thing, but she does have a point). She can also use “we” and share the issues she’s had and mistakes she’s made (which she does), therefore setting an example for good practice and allyship. She does share that she’s centring White people while doing this and agrees it’s a dilemma: she is obviously showing up, doing the work and thinking hard.

After introductory chapters explaining how White people are socialised to think in certain ways, to not see their own race (and to claim not to see others) and within an environment of White privilege, she takes on the issue of White fragility, the fact that White people feel it’s worse to be accused of racism than to be racist, the fact that White people think of “Being a racist” as being a bad person who does overt racist acts, rather than being someone who is part of the status quo and works to maintain it, and pushes away criticism, acknowledgement of Black pain and racism etc. with tactics including defeat, aggression and tears.

She then looks at how we can work against this, patterning concrete ways we can acknowledge and accept being called out and ways we can make amends for errors and poor behaviour. All through the book she uses real examples from her teaching work on race issues and from her own life, and this makes things very understandable and clear. She shares how people can reframe things, for example changing “I’m Italian American and Italians were disctriminated against previously” to thinking about how Italian Americans have since become considered as “White” (on this, I did not know that people of different ethnicities, including Japanese and Armenian people, had to petition the American courts to be considered as “White” and thus able to vote, before universal sufferage in the 1960s. There’s always something to learn, even when you’ve read widely), or changing “there’s no racism now” narratives about Black people breaking into White spaces, e.g. in baseball, to “X was the first Black person to be allowed to compete in the league”.

She is pretty hard-hitting: this is not an easy read and does not let people off the hook. Especially important was the effect that White tears, especially White women’s tears, can have on Black people around them who are used to these tears giving rise to extremely serious and horrific consequences for Black people (this is quite US-based but I’m sure it’s not a non-issue in other countries). Strategies for reframing narratives and reactions and working together were useful. There’s a list for further reading at the back and I was pleased to see I have or have read the UK-centric ones. I think this book still has strong value.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Book 18/85 – 67 to go! I read it for Nonfiction November and it was also Book 13 in my Novellas in November reads.

Layla F. Saad – “Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World”

(15 June 2020)

This was another one that I’d waited to read until I’d caught up on some memoir and analysis around the UK in particular. And again, that was a mistake, as quite a bit of what I read here, when I got started in late September, was stuff I’d read up on already. However, it’s always good to triangulate information and there was a lot of very good information, presented well, in this book.

It’s a bit hard to review this without looking resistant to my own complicity in institutionalised racism, however I think there were some facets which just didn’t fit with my nationality in general and personality in particular. Basically, it works through facets of racism exhibited and inherent in White people, starting with (very useful) definitions of White supremacy, White privilege, etc., and moving on to anti-Blackness, stereotyping and cultural appropriation, allyship, and power, relationships and commitments. Each week has a theme, each day has questions, and you work through day by day, on your own or in a group (there are set guidelines for how groups operate; I did this on my own, but chatting through it with some very useful friends (esp Linda: thank you!)) and note down your answers in a notebook. I did this carefully but didn’t do it every day once a day for a month, as you’re supposed to.

The issue I had was that I really just do not do some of the things in the questions, ever, to anyone. I don’t think I’ve ever shouted anyone down, and I really don’t believe I’ve ever tone policed someone apart from asking another White person not to shout at me during an argument, certainly not if they are just expressing themselves or their feelings. So those sections were hard to fill in, especially when it went on to say that if you’d said no to those questions you were deceiving yourself. I do think this might be a cultural issue, the UK is enmired in racism but we practise it more subtly than in other places, more insidiously. And of course I accept that I’ve benefitted from White privilege and indulged in apathy and silence, which are more matched to my more reticent personality, if that makes sense. As in the first book, the real-life examples of how these aspects play out are very useful indeed, and there’s a full reading list at the end after a good list of tips for how to do the work and continue to do it. I have made my commitments to myself and will continue to review those.

I’d recommend this book to people who want to think about how racism works in themselves and in society, but if you’re in the UK, I’d also recommend reading other books that are more UK-centric to understand how things play out here.

This one isn’t from the TBR project as it was off the shelf and being read when I set that up, but it does fall under Nonfiction November!