CRREWview | A book review
Everyday White People Confront Racial & Social Injustice: 15 Stories Edited by Eddie Moore, Jr., Marguerite W. Penick-Parks, and Ali Michael
Reviewed by Suzie Hodges, PhD
This volume of 15 stories by white antiracist social justice activists shares with the reader their experiences of understanding white supremacy and how they use their privilege in an attempt to dismantle the oppressive system. Authors include Peggy McIntosh, author of the seminal white privilege article, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack and founder of The National SEED Project; Gary Howard, founder of the REACH Center and author of We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know; James Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me and Teaching What Really Happened; and Heather Hackman, a social justice educator since the early 1990s and founder of Hackman Consulting Group. The many many great stories in this book are written with passion for justice, understanding and humility, and a drive to create a just society. All the stories should be read, but three impacted me the most.
Looking Back Moving Forward
“I know that for those of us alive today, the historical creation of white supremacy is not our fault. We didn’t create it. We do, however, reap the benefits of those systems. And each of us regularly colludes, through internalized supremacy, with keeping it in place.” ~ Frances E. Kendall
Kendall’s writing makes you feel like you are having coffee with her and swapping stories about life’s journeys. In her chapter, she tells us stories from her life that were pivotal moments for her in understanding what it means to be white in the United States. She grew up a rich Southern girl raised by a Black maid and whose ancestors owned a profitable cotton plantation. One of the stories she shares is how she tried to get as far away from her family and life as she could when she began to understand the contradictions and racism to which her family adhered. However, she realized that knowing who you are and where you come from makes you who you are in the present. Therefore, she had to come to terms with her family’s racist past and mend relationships with those she had chosen to forget.
This chapter also spends time distinguishing between the guilt and shame that white people tend to hold on to when they realize their role in white supremacy. Kendall explains that guilt is feeling bad about something you have done and shame is feeling bad about who you are. She then lists lessons she has learned in her 45 years of social justice work, many of which center around guilt and shame in being white.
Frances E. Kendall specializes in organizational change centering on issues of diversity and white privilege. She is the author of Understanding White Privilege: Creating Pathways to Authentic Relationships Across Race.
The Nice White Girl
“Good intentions only go so far. My ability to be an effective educator, role model, activist, or leader is tied to the degree of consciousness and competence I myself have developed. Gaining the needed awareness, knowledge, and skills is not only an intellectual process but also one that involves deep personal and emotional work as well…” ~ Diane J. Goodman
This chapter resonated with me because I have chosen a career in education for similar reasons as Goodman and share similar growth experiences - except the pants and eating snacks in the grocery store. Many of her points clarified that I am on a similar social justice educator path. For example, I have always believed that the relationships a teacher builds with their students can make or break a student’s year, their growth, and their attitude toward school - a white supremacist institution. Relationships with colleagues, friends, and family also impact how one sees the world. By learning about people’s experiences you not only understand others better, but you also develop multiple perspectives about the world, think more critically, and make situational decisions rather than no tolerance policies. Goodman also spends some time really explaining intersectionality and how it impacts her justice work. Overall, this chapter incorporates that justice work comes from a place of love and that the work is to liberate all from the oppressive nature of white supremacy.
Diane J. Goodman has been addressing issues of diversity and social justice for over 25 years as a trainer, consultant, facilitator, professor, speaker, author, and activist. She wrote Promoting Diversity and Social Justice: Educating People from Privileged Groups and co-authored Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice.
The Antiracist Racist
“I cannot recount how I learned not to be racist, because I continue to benefit from racism. I can, however, share my learning to struggle against White complicity with racism - to become an antiracist racist.” ~ Christine Sleeter
The chapter that I have shared and talked about the most is Christine Sleeter’s Learning to Become an Antiracist Racist. This chapter solidified, for me, the idea that no matter how hard we white people try to not be racist, we always will be. It takes the idea of racism as an individual action committed against others to an institutionalized system that no one can escape. White people were born into a system whose driving force is to maintain white supremacy. To think you can go through life as a white person and not be racist is like a fish thinking it can go for a stroll on the beach. The consequences of this system mean that there are, and always have been, white people who try to push against and change the system because it is inherently immoral, inequitable, and unjust. But these white people still benefit from the white supremacist system even while acting against the system. This means that white people need to see that just being white and living in a white supremacist system is being complicit with it. Moving to a more vocal and active antiracist stance means to actively work against the system and to get other white people to see that too. This chapter helped me in my journey by showing that being a white person who benefits from a white supremacist system is racism and that white people are racist because of a system - not because of overt individual racist acts. For me, this was a liberating idea and brought a level of understanding about what it means not to be antiracist, but to be an antiracist racist.
Eddie Moore, Jr. is the founder/program director of the White Privilege Conference (I highly recommend attending this conference) as well as the executive director of The Privilege Institute. He also trainings and workshops focusing on diversity, privilege, and leadership in many contexts.
Marguerite W. Penick-Parks is chair of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Her work centers on issues of power, privilege, and oppression in relationship to issues of curriculum. She appeared in the movie Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible produced by the World Trust Organization.
Ali Michael is the director of K-12 Consulting and Professional Development at the Center for the Study of Race and Equity Education at the University of Pennsylvania, and the director and co-founder of the Race Institute for K-12 Educators. She is the author of Raising Race Questions: Whiteness and Inquiry in Education.