This eye-opening book challenges you to do the essential work of unpacking your biases, and helps white people take action and dismantle the privilege within themselves so that you can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too.---from the publisher
My book club, which has been in existence for nearly twenty-five years and made up exclusively of old white ladies, decided to read this book for no other altruistic reason than its e-version was available for unlimited checkouts from our library. Everyone could check-out a copy of the book from the comforts of their own home for free. We typically use the library book kits but those weren't available due to the coronavirus pandemic. With the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations it was a timely selection.
As I delved into the book and its daily topics myself, I knew the book discussion was going to be tough and possibly a little perplexing. We are nice white ladies, but we also live in a bubble of our whiteness. I knew it was going to be tough for us to get it but we were all willing to make a start.
As the day for the book club (socially distanced, wearing masks) approached I searched around for discussion questions. I didn't find any. The book was stuffed with questions itself but we didn't have enough time to discuss each of them. I had to narrow it down, so I generated a list of questions myself as conversation starters and hoped I was up for the task of guiding the discussion in a meaningful way.
Right off the bat things got off the rails. One gal said she had trouble with the book because she felt accused of racism and she "is not a racist." I couldn't remember if I read the definition of racism in this book or one of the other books I've recently read on the topic. Eventually I pulled up Merriam Webster which is in the process of changing the definition. “Racism is not only prejudice against a certain race due to the color of a persons skin, as it states in your dictionary. It is both prejudice combined with social and institutional power. It is a system of advantage based on skin color” (NYT) Having this new definition in mind was critical for our discussion. We are all racists in a way because we are part of the 'social and institutional power' structure which has held blacks down for 400 years in our country. And as our discussion proved a lot of that is unconscious but definitely in play.
As we more or less bumbled along trying to tackle each question, I became more and more convinced that having one club discussion over the book was a terrible idea. There were too many new ideas and so much new terminology for us to digest in one setting together. At the end of the book Layla F. Saad suggested that people who want to do more work toward becoming 'good ancestors' join a group (Circle groups) and meet regularly to discuss the variety of topics introduced in Me and White Supremacy. That seems like a much more likely opportunity for making real change than meeting once for two hours at my house in a book club setting. We tried and did our best. We want to do more, but I fear our book club meeting was not enough.
Here are the questions I used:
- What is the difference between being racist and being prejudiced?
- What is white supremacy? White privilege? White fragility? White superiority? White exceptionalism?
- Do you agree that we tone police black people? Examples
- Is what ways have we been participating in ‘white silence’?
- When people say they are color blind is that a good thing?
- Examples of anti-blackness against men, women, children.
- Examples of racist stereotypes
- What is cultural appropriation?
- ‘A white person does not get to proclaim themselves an ally of BIPOC but rather seeks to practice allyship consistently.’ Why not?
- In what ways are we displaying white apathy?
- How do you feel about taking responsibility for your own anti-racism education?
- ‘If you unconsciously believe you are superior, then you will unconsciously believe that your worldview is the one that is superior or normal, right, and deserves to be in the center.”Do you do this white centering? In what ways?
- How can we live in a more inclusive way?
- What are some examples you can think of that show us black tokenism? Do people and companies use this to prove they aren’t racist?
- Give ‘White savior’ examples starting with slavery. “We have to stop perpetuating the myth that only white men can save the world. It is not based on facts. Our heroes don’t look like Matt Damon.”
- How does optical allyship deflect being called racist? How can we avoid this? What are some examples of this?
- What's the difference of being called out/called in? Should we? Do we?
- What does the Feminism movement get wrong when it comes to BIPOC?
- Why is this quote from Nelson Mandela important: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of their skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than the opposite.”
- Anti-racism is a lifelong commitment. Let’s all take a pledge to continue to work and grow, becoming more and more anti-racist along the way. See page 201 in the last chapter for ideas how to proceed.)
- What did we do wrong in holding ONE book club session on this book, this topic?