White ally background material for anti-racism in the US.
January 18, 2016 11:03 AM   Subscribe

Here's a primer for white Americans to learn about race and racism without making their friends/colleagues/acquaintances of color have to keep explaining it.
posted by Stewriffic (14 comments total) 139 users marked this as a favorite
This is fantastic! Thanks!
posted by Kitteh at 11:06 AM on January 18, 2016

Holy cow. So much to read here (and I mean that in a good way). Can we get exactly this for feminism?
posted by Ryvar at 12:08 PM on January 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm also a fan of Jay Smooth's brilliant "How to tell someone they sound racist."
posted by taff at 12:39 PM on January 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

Mod note: A few comments removed; as always, be sure to refresh to make sure you're not responding to something that's already been deleted.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:13 PM on January 18, 2016

I'm having trouble writing a reaction to this. "From Ferguson to Charleston" just seems so shallow. There's a lot of important context that white people should be familiarizing themselves with. The whole of Black history needs to be studied and re-studied, especially as new evidence and ideas keep coming out.

I mean, I don't see anything in those books that tells you to start by reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X. As a white anti-racist, I can't imagine how a white anti-racist can not read it, though. Or Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, which puts the mass incarceration state into sharp relief. And you can't talk about what is going on now without talking about that. Or Clayborne Carson's In Struggle where people can learn about what SNCC was and how it went through so many of these issues. (And also how the line between "good Civil Rights" and "bad Black Power" is thinner and wavier than some people think.)

You can keep going back. WEB Du Bois wrote a masterpiece on Black Reconstruction that is the story of what actually happened after the Civil War and why Jim Crow developed. There's a recent important study by Douglas Blackmon called Slavery By Another Name that talks about how the prison system was used to re-enslave many Black men. Or reading about someone like Ida B. Wells, who was an anti-lynching crusader; think about the very fact that there had to be an anti-lynching crusader, for fuck's sake. Or read about redlining and sundown towns.

The thing is, so much of this "allyship" stuff looks myopically at the present situation. But there is a rich literature out there about the myriad injustices that have been visited on Black people over the centuries in the United States. We have to learn Black history and understand that it is a history that confronts and haunts the living Black people in the US today. It's not like enraged white cops just started killing Black people for fun in 2014. A bit of context and history go a long way.

And a last thing, because it's MLK Day. So many people talk about Martin Luther King. Read the man's writings, and not just "I have a dream" and "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." He was a complex and contradictory figure in the middle of a very turbulent time, who started off on the leading edge and wound up getting left behind. There's a whole series of nice paperback books of King's writings. Read them and understand a bit about the man. You could really do a lot worse.
posted by graymouser at 1:32 PM on January 18, 2016 [14 favorites]

As today MLK Jr. day, I think this is as good a place as any to also post this excellent book excerpt on how his legacy has been misappropriated and whitewashed within an inch of its life. Because the fact that white people hold him up as an example for why black people should [do whatever it is they think black people should do] is a huge part of the problem that the article in the FPP is trying to address. Anyone who thinks that POC should patiently explain things to white people in the interest of "conversation", ignores the fact that they have been trying to do this exact thing for a very long time. Even Martin Luther King Jr. tried - and the only thing that really survives of him in the popular imagination is the idea of a color-blind, post-racial society taken from a thirty-four word snippet from the "I Have a Dream" speech, out of context of both that entire speech and all his other speeches and writings.

POC have been trying to have this "conversation" forever. White people just haven't listened. That's what this FPP is saying - it's on white people to make a real effort to understand, not on POC to try to talk them into understanding.

Excerpts from the above link:

If we are to combat the conservative misappropriation of King's words, we must first understand just how important — and problematic — King's speech has been to American understandings of race for the past thirty years.
In ways that King could never have imagined — indeed, in a fashion that might make him spin in his grave — "I Have a Dream" has been used to chip away at King's enduring social legacy. One phrase has been pinched from King's speech to justify assaults on civil rights in the name of color-blind policies. Moreover, we have frozen King in a timeless mood of optimism that later that very year he grew to question. That's because we have selectively listened to what King had to say to us that muggy afternoon. It is easier for us to embrace the day's warm memories than to confront the cold realities that led to the March on Washington in the first place. August 28, 1963, was a single moment in time that captured the suffering of centuries. It was an afternoon shaped as much by white brutality and black oppression as by uplifting rhetoric. We have chosen to forget how our nation achieved the racial progress we now enjoy.
The sad truth is, however, that our political climate has eroded the real point of King's beautiful words. We have been ambushed by bizarre and sophisticated distortions of King's true meaning. If we are to recover the authentic purposes of King's address, we must dig beneath his words into our own social and moral habits. Only then can the animating spirit behind his words be truly restored. If we have been as deeply marked by his words as we claim, we need not fear that by putting away his speech we are putting away his ideals.
The problem with many of King's...interpreters is not simply that they have not been honest about how they have consciously or unintentionally hindered the realization of King's dream, but more brutally, that in the face of such hindrances, they have demanded that we act as if the dream has become real and has altered the racial landscape. As an ideal, the color-blind motif spurs us to develop a nation where race will make no difference. As a presumed achievement, color-blindness reinforces the very racial misery it is meant to replace.

posted by triggerfinger at 1:46 PM on January 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

White Debt, Eula Biss - "Reckoning with what is owed — and what can never be repaid — for racial privilege."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:55 PM on January 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is great, thanks.

Also: read Paul Beatty
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:13 PM on January 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Newly Discovered 1964 MLK Speech
posted by homunculus at 5:37 PM on January 18, 2016

“Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream Still Unmet,” Goldie Taylor, The Daily Beast, 18 January 2016
posted by ob1quixote at 6:00 PM on January 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

But there is a rich literature out there about the myriad injustices that have been visited on Black people over the centuries in the United States. We have to learn Black history and understand that it is a history that confronts and haunts the living Black people in the US today.

It is tremendously depressing to read basically anything by Du Bois and realize it is all as applicable today as it was a century ago.
posted by Anonymous at 11:34 PM on January 18, 2016

So very powerful and useful. Thanks to Stewriffic for the FPP, for the FPP, and to everyone else for the supplemental material.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:29 AM on January 19, 2016

Some friends and I just put together a reader that includes the writings of some of the authors mentioned in this thread (Du Bois, MLK, Malcolm X, etc.). Granted, it takes a particular slant on things, but if one is interested in reading up on the history of revolutionary attempts to address racism in the US, one might find it useful.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 10:54 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

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