From the moment we conceived of this book, we understood there would be questions, concerns, and critiques related to Being White Today and our positions as authors writing about antiracism. Please click on the questions below to see how we address each one.
To whom are the authors accountable?
I, Shelly, feel a strong sense of accountability to a set of justice-focused Black, Latinx, and White people with whom I have experienced transformative relationship. Collectively, they have prompted me, pushed me, and supported me. Some have been in my life for 20+ years, while others I have met more recently while learning about white nationalists and their tactics.
In regards to Being White Today, I consulted with both long-time mentors as well as experts in the field of hate studies, racial identity, and institutional DEI work, to get their feedback and advice before embarking on the project. Each of these Black, Latinx, and White individuals encouraged me to move forward, even if some of the content challenges common patterns within antiracism circles. A handful of these individuals became early reviewers and endorsers of the work.
To the degree that Christine and I got anything wrong in the work, we will receive critical feedback with gratitude, appreciating those who wish to expand our awareness. We say this while acknowledging that those to whom we are most accountable are the people with whom we are in ongoing relationship and who continue to offer us guidance.
Another book by white authors? Isn’t that wrong and redundant?
There is an important call for White people to read books written by Black, Indigenous, and other Peoples of Color (BIPOC) to learn about race, racism and how to be antiracist. This call rests on the belief that Black, Indigenous, and other Peoples of Color understand racism better than White people because they are the targets of and most impacted by racism. Therefore, their voices should be prioritized.
There is important and valid critique of White people believing the best way to support racial justice is to write a book describing their “coming to awareness” experience. Indeed, many books are now widely available that share these stories.
Being White Today is not a book of White testimonial, nor does it attempt to explain racism. Instead, it is a guiding document for White people written by White people about White people. Its purpose is to 1) expand the number of White people who will commit to being antiracist and 2) help White people develop a more effective, healthy, and sustainable antiracist practice. We hope these individuals will go on to read many books written by Black, Indigenous, and other Peoples of Color in order to build their antiracist practice.
We agree that White people should read work written by BIPOC folks. We also recognize that books written by White people (who have deeply considered the White experience) also play an important role in the fight to end racism. We hold a both/and perspective on this issue.
How does a focus on White people support the movement for racial justice?
Since the early 2000’s, AWARE-LA’s foundational and orienting documents have guided me and inspired my focus on helping motivate and organize white people to work against racism. A key rationale comes from the following quote from Malcolm X:
Whites who are sincere should organize themselves and figure out some strategies to break down the prejudice that exists in white communities. This is where they can function more intelligently and more effectively, in the white community itself…. -Malcolm X, interview with Jack Barnes and Barry Sheppard, Young Socialist (March-April 1965)
More recently, I have heard people say that only a focus on systemic issues (like policies) serves racial justice and that consciousness-raising doesn’t lead to justice. My perspective has been influenced by Movement Labs’ Theory of Social Change, which highlights three essential and interdependent tasks: 1) personal transformation, 2) dismantling oppressive structures, and 3) building alternatives.
There is no doubt that Being White Today focuses on the first leg (personal transformation) of a three-legged stool. It is not disconnected from the other two legs, however. In fact, Being White Today supports the potential for dismantling oppressive structures and building alternatives, as it focuses on further developing a movement of white people invested in antiracism. It is but one part of a much larger, necessarily-complex web of actions.
As I previously argued in a Medium.com article, From Boots to Suits: Countering a New Wave of White Supremacist Organizing, expanding the movement for racial justice requires us to address white identity:
it’s white people’s work to articulate more strongly and publicly a narrative that offers a compelling, healthy, positive, anti-racist white identity that connects us to movements of collective liberation. We need to inspire hope and purpose within confused white people who are new to these ideas. We need to let them see how they can feel good about plugging in and becoming part of an anti-racist community that will appreciate their voice and unique gifts (because all of us, even white boys, have unique gifts). If we don’t do this, our messaging will continue to be effectively hijacked, and white kids will remain susceptible to white nationalists who are out there distributing flyers on college campuses that simply say, “it’s okay to be white.”
Being White Today is surely a small part of the larger effort to end racism and disrupt white supremacy, however it will hopefully play a useful role.
Isn’t it a problem that you are making money from racial justice?
This book was a labor of love, one prompted by deep concern for the future of antiracism in the US, concern regarding the success of the far-right, and a commitment to expanding the ranks of antiracist White people. It was never conceived of as a money-making venture. In truth, no clear-headed author of non-fiction believes they will come anywhere close to making a living wage from their writing, given the hours put into the effort. All considered, the money gained via royalties will be pennies per hour. That said, we will receive royalties. The publisher will pay each of us 4% of each book sold. Payment will arrive about six months following the end of each fiscal cycle, which means we won’t see a dime until July 2024.
Each of us has developed a personal approach to determining how much of the royalties to donate to organizations that support racial justice. For example, Shelly donates 50% of all royalties. In making these decisions, each of us considers the scale of our volunteer efforts, our different life circumstances, and the advice of the BIPOC people in our lives who are engaged in justice and antiracism efforts.
Why do you suggest it’s okay to be white? Shouldn’t we be trying not to be so white?
The meme “It’s Okay To Be White” was created by white nationalists as an intentional effort to rile people up and provoke a negative reaction from “social justice warriors.” The simplicity of the white nationalists’ campaign reveals a weakness in the antiracist community – a lack of messaging about positive White identity. Being White Today confronts this challenge by arguing that we should not cede the territory of white identity to white nationalists.
As suggested in Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, and building on the racial identity model developed by Dr. Janet Helms, Being White Today asserts that White people can and should develop a positive sense of our White antiracist selves. This positive view is generated as we gain the skills necessary to act in antiracist ways.
Our attempt to salvage the phrase “it’s okay to be white” hinges on the idea that White people and Whiteness are not the same thing. It is okay to be born a White person. No one has done anything wrong by being born into the category White. It is the socialization into structured racial superiority, Whiteness, that needs to be challenged. It is Whiteness that we want to confront and dismantle. When we conflate the two (White people and Whiteness), we make all things related to being a White person wrong and bad. This is neither accurate, nor useful. Please read Chapters 2, 11, and 12 for a full explanation of why it is essential that antiracists promote a positive way of being White as part of our fight against white nationalists.
Isn’t the tone and message of this book too soft, coddling White people and catering to their fragility?
White fragility is real. Too often, it plays out in multiracial spaces where White people react to challenges to our racial worldview with emotional distress, prompting us to seek validation from BIPOC folks to confirm that we are decent people. This pattern is destructive.
Being White Today recognizes, however, that while a key part of White people moving toward antiracism involves centering the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and other Peoples of Color, White people’s feelings still are important to consider. When White people help other White people understand what underlies our emotional reactions and experiences, it can help us make important strides forward in our antiracism practice. In this way, this book addresses white fragility with care, extending our hand in a supportive gesture to draw more White people further into antiracism.
For those who reject the idea of moving people into antiracism through slow, step-by-step efforts that take people’s emotional and psychological states into account, consider that white nationalists have no problem using systematic recruitment techniques to move White people in the opposite direction. They call their approach “red-pilling” and it involves dropping increasingly challenging aspects of their ideology into conversation in bits and pieces over time while building relationship with their recruit. White antiracists should be no less strategic. We should consider that declarations suggesting “you just need to accept the truth” and “get over yourself” have not proven useful in expanding the ranks of antiracists thus far.
We are clear throughout Being White Today that moving White people into antiracism is “White people’s work.” That is to say, it is White people’s responsibility to get our proverbial “house in order.” There may be some People of Color with the empathy and energy to support White people in this way, and we support that whenever viable. We do not expect it, however, unless it is that person’s professional role. For White people who still feel resistant to extending care to other White people, we invite you to pay close attention to Chapters 8 and 9 while reading Being White Today.
Does this book reinforce an individualistic approach to racism as it focuses on one-to-one conversations and relationship building among White people?
We agree that education and consciousness-raising alone will not end racism, as white supremacy is a systemic problem interwoven throughout US institutions and our country’s dominant culture as a whole. And yet, there are many White people who do not yet understand how this works. Those individuals need support to recognize the systemic nature of how race and racism affects people’s lives. This is precisely why the analysis and strategies offered in Being White Today are important. The shift from considering racism as an individual issue to recognizing it as an interlocking system of white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, capitalism, etc. is a huge leap for most White people, one that takes place around the mid-point on the racial identity journey while our emotional reactions are most intense. This book is designed to support White people to move through that middle zone of racial identity more readily.
Why are you capitalizing White? Isn’t that opposite of what you’ve always done?
Our decision to capitalize White comes from listening to a larger discussion among Black scholars like Nell Irvin Painter to challenge “the choice” of White Americans to be “something vague, something unraced and separate from race.” In Painter’s view, the capitalization helps to support the idea of a White racial identity—that, in fact White people are not separate from race. This aligns with our focus on moving White people to a positive racial identity. In addition, we push back against the Associated Press’ argument that “capitalizing the term white, as is done by white supremacists, risks subtly conveying legitimacy to such beliefs.” Our approach is to capitalize it when it refers to identity and not to capitalize it when it refers to nationalism and supremacy. For more, see: Painter, Nell Irvin. “Why White Should Be Capitalized Too.”