- Carolyn L. Baker
What Does it Mean to Be White in America?
Updated: Jun 25, 2020
For a while now I’ve been recommending white people to read books written by black authors. As a companion to this, I highly recommend WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA? This first of its kind anthology, published by black and brown female led 2Leaf Press, is a collection of 82 deeply personal narratives from white American's speaking frankly and openly about race.
The question WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA? is deceptively simple. And in answering the question, it is clear each contributor is committed to being as honest as possible. And as brave, in spite of the discomfort of talking about race. The various styles and topics, from white people at different points along the journey, creates an absorbing and haunting collection of narratives on whiteness. In the telling, contributors share the big and small moments in their lives that have shaped what it means to be white in America, and how it affects the way they see themselves and others.
The editors of WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA?, Gabrielle David and Sean Frederick Forbes, chose a very diverse group of white people who give a variety of perspectives, beliefs, and experiences. The stories cover a wide gamut of American history from contributors around the United States; from reminiscing about segregation and Jim Crow, to today's headlines of police brutality, politics, and #BlackLivesMatter. The last contributed story is written by a fair-skinned black man. This perspective is an interesting inclusion as he shares the deep structural benefits he receives when he is mistakenly taken for a white man.
This thought-provoking anthology takes its place in my library as a important companion to writings by people of color concerning race. The book includes "Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Race", a glossary of definitions, and a bibliography of suggested readings. With an Introduction by racial justice educator Debby Irving, and Afterword by the esteemed Tara Betts, the dedication reads, “This book is dedicated to all those who fight for social justice, civil rights, and humanity, and who dare to engage in honest conversation. And to James Baldwin who envisioned it.”
I highly recommend WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA? for anyone interested in seeking a deeper and richer understanding of race in America. This is not a quick read. It is not an easy read. But it is an important read, and one I find myself revisiting time and time again. It can be found here: https://bit.ly/381u0nJ
NOTE: On July 12, 2016, Editor Gabrielle David appeared via video from New York to present at RACE TALKS by Donna Maxey at McMenamins/Kennedy School in Portland, Oregon. Many of the contributing writers to WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA? living in the Northwest region were also present. David's interesting commentary on the book can be viewed here: https://bit.ly/2NssQs4