A Bridging-the-Divide Book on Racism?
March 7, 2017 3:26 PM   Subscribe

Middle class white girl leads political discussion group in Los Angeles -- race is (unsurprisingly) a push-button topic for us. We have liberals who think racism is everywhere and conservatives who are tired of being called racists. Is there a book for us?

As with many, many political topics, most books seem aimed at confirmation bias: "The left will never seeing you as a racist bigot!" OR "why the right will never stop being racist bigots".

I'm hoping there's a book that can address both sides seriously and respectfully. Has anyone written such a book? Even a small pamphlet? Should I find a sociology textbook somewhere?

Thank you!
posted by alice_curiouse to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
This doesn't quite fit your requirements but a frequent recommendation around here concerning how to talk about racism is Jay Smooth's Youtube post, "How to tell people they sound racist."
posted by XMLicious at 4:20 PM on March 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I really enjoyed (inasmuch as such things can be) The New Jim Crow, which looks specifically at patterns of policing and incarceration towards people of color and black individuals and communities in particular, but I found it really eye-opening - especially how it highlights popular and pernicious myths and policies (the "black superpredator", the "welfare queen", the perennial bipartisan obsession with "law and order") as pure political, social, and economic distractions. (That and just how terrible the 90s Supreme Court was for civil liberties. If your more conservative group-members would enjoy a good reason to look back on the Clinton era with disdain, they'll definitely find ample fodder here.)

It's very worthwhile, though it might be a more challenging read than you're looking to share.
posted by lumensimus at 4:32 PM on March 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

Best answer: The Racial Equity Institute has a pretty thorough bibliography. I've just completed their Phase I training and would recommend it as a good intro to institutional racism in the United States.
posted by Schielisque at 4:45 PM on March 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Losing the Race by John McWhorter (over 15 years old but still very relevant)

Winning the Race by John McWhorter (the longer, less engaging follow-up to Losing the Race)

Authentically Black by John McWhorter

Did I mention John McWhorter?
posted by John Cohen at 5:03 PM on March 7, 2017

I'd start with stories, learning about how others see the world, getting comfortable with trying on different lenses and accepting that people have different lenses and experiences in the first place. Talk about culture, the ways we express it, the "water we swim in." No one has the exact same culture so you'll have ground to cover just in your group.

Read books with first hand accounts of life for people of different backgrounds, especially people who are historically marginalized. Read the stories and discuss them. Accept that the story itself is valid and true. A story can be less threatening because it's "just" a point of view, but therein lies its power. Let the group wrestle with disagreements and questions about the things described in the stories, which might include racism and xenophobia and sexism. Build a safer space to have these conversations. Practice it. Be uncomfortable but supportive together. Look compassionately at reality from various perspectives and be curious about it.

Learn about all of your own cultural histories. Are you white? What does white mean to you?

Then go into something like a TED Talk or The New Jim Crow or The Color of Wealth.
posted by ramenopres at 5:05 PM on March 7, 2017

Response by poster: I'm certainly the worst person to lead a discussion on any topic.
posted by alice_curiouse at 5:07 PM on March 7, 2017

Best answer: It's going to be hard to find anything that is even-handed if it's also serious. but the other thing is, books that seriously engage with American racism in a social context -- that is, that look at the behavior of people other than lawmakers -- don't look so much at just conservatives as they do at white people. which includes a lot of liberals. which, if you can get it through their heads that there's a reason it's called white privilege instead of conservative privilege, that might bring some conservatives on board to entertain serious discussion. sweeten the bitter pill of social responsibility with the tempting promise of being able to call out white liberals from time to time.

I get the feeling from your question that the conservative faction of your group is majority white, if not all white (because the black conservatives I know or know of tend to complain about things other than simply being 'called racist.' also, being contrarians, they're usually willing to engage in arguments and not just say they're tired of thinking.) This might be hard to address delicately, if it is in fact the case, but it might also be necessary if progress is to be made.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:08 PM on March 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's an article (a long one; see the fpp as well), but perhaps also consider Ta-Nehisi Coates' The Case for Reparations: Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.
posted by rtha at 5:21 PM on March 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

As a counterpoint: while I think that The New Jim Crow is great, it’s very much about slavery as ingrained in a modern society - this may be difficult as a bridging book for people who believe that they are accused of racism despite doing nothing that they would consider deserving it.

As an alternative, Douglas Blackmon’s Slavery By Another Name looks at slaver as manifest in post-Civil War prison systems. It’s denser than The New Jim Crow, but also exists at a bit of a remove.

I haven’t read it, but this year’s winner of the National Book Award is Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped From The Beginning, which also takes a longer view of the origins of racism. And for a different perspective (though I, uh, also haven’t read it) you might want to present the group with Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People, which looks at the history of being white.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:05 PM on March 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Waking Up White is a gentle but persistent and respectful discussion of white privilege, with enough content to not be banal for people who are already familiar with the concept, and it contains a lot of writing prompts / discussion questions. It's aimed at a white audience, though, so possibly not the best choice if your group is racially mixed.

Whistling Vivaldi is a good introduction to unconscious bias, touching on a few kinds of stereotypes including racist ones, and is written in a mild, lightly academic tone.
posted by orangejenny at 6:16 PM on March 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I wonder if some of these 1946 radio broadcasts by Orson Welles, as Greatest Generation oratory on racism which is untainted by modern terminology or phrasing, might appeal to both of your groups of members. IIRC "Affidavit of Isaac Woodward", "To Be Born Free", and "The Place Was Batesburg" are the ones dealing primarily with race.
posted by XMLicious at 9:04 PM on March 7, 2017

You want this article and then this book. Looking at racism is good and fine but we need to build our stamina as white people to engage in conversations about racism, including the things we do to perpetuate it, and these can help.
posted by rocketing at 9:12 PM on March 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I have heard excellent things about Get Out, especially since you mentioned your group has white liberals who need a smack upside the head.
posted by Tamanna at 11:15 PM on March 7, 2017

The second chapter in Kwame Anthony Appiah's In My Father's House has a philosophical discussion of race. The chapter is Illusions of Race. Might be useful to you because of its philosophical, and therefore un-heated, tone.

Here's another essay by him on the topic: Race, Culture and Identity.

He's writing more about the concept of race -- about which he is skeptical -- than racism per se. But it's always to nice to have an evenhanded dispassionate philosopher as one reference point in such a discussion.
posted by bertran at 3:25 AM on March 8, 2017

I'm Canadian, so sometimes I have trouble understanding the specific context of the history of racist policies in the US, but I found that White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide did an excellent job of laying out the history as it pertains to the current American situation in an engaging way that really spoke to the systemic aspects of racism. I think the systemic aspect is what a lot of people struggle with the most because they don't understand how that is different than overt racism in one-on-one interactions.
posted by urbanlenny at 8:00 AM on March 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Johnathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind".

Haidt and Lee Jussim address race in more detail in a WSJ pay-walled essay, (Hard Truths about Race On Campus), but here's a good summary in Jussim's follow-up to a rebuttal (Half-Truths about Race on Campus): Hard Truths and Half-Truths About Race on Campus, Part I
posted by at at 9:39 AM on March 8, 2017

I have not read Time Wise's White Like Me, but I have seen the documentary, which is a pretty good primer on white privilege in America, intended for a white audience. The documentary references several of the books listed above and has interviews with their authors.

Of course, the intended recipients of this message almost always receive it with a siege mentality, and Wise's forward, sometimes aggressive, demeanour (not in the documentary) does nothing to mitigate that. But realistically, nothing would, and it's yet another illustration of white privilege that a white man can be exactly as hot-headed as he pleases and it won't detract from his message.
posted by klanawa at 12:22 PM on March 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

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