Me and White Supremacy
I had very high hopes for this 28-day challenge, and it (mostly) delivered. After I read Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility I was left wishing she’d given me more concrete steps to work on. Around the same time, I saw an article about Layla F. Saad’s project, Me and White Supremacy, which started as an Instagram challenge and turned into a best-selling book. (It was validating to see DiAngelo herself had written the foreword. This 28-day challenge is DiAngelo’s new answer to white folks who respond to her teachings with “okay, I get it. Now what do I do?”)
I should start by saying explicitly, this book is for white folks. To get a sense of its purpose, I’ll quote the author: “The system of white supremacy was not created by anyone who is alive today. But it is maintained and upheld by everyone who holds white privilege--whether or not you want it or agree with it. It is my desire that this book will help you question, challenge, and dismantle this system that has hurt and killed so many Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).”
From the very beginning, Saad is not letting any of her readers off the hook:
This book “is here to wake you up by getting you to tell the truth. This work is not about those white people ‘out there.’
It is about you. Just you.”
The bulk of the book is 28 days of learning and reflection. Saad asks her readers to journal, every day of those 28, based on a brief reading followed by a series of writing prompts. Her focus on “you. Just you.” carries throughout the text, and the prompts do not allow you to consider whether you have participated in, benefited from, or been complicit with white supremacy. Rather, Saad ask you to dig deep to answer questions like “in what ways do you hold white privilege?” and “what negative experiences has your white privilege protected you from throughout your life?” It is never a question of if, always when.
I love the premise of this book. Ibram X. Kendi has convinced me the heartbeat of racism is denial and the heartbeat of antiracism is confession. (He’s also convinced me those are the only two options; there’s no such thing as “not racist.”) With that in mind, this structured, finite exercise in personal confession makes a lot of sense as an intentional antiracist move.
For me, personally, some of the early days of prompting left me wanting. From white privilege to white fragility, the first few days’ concepts and prompts may feel a bit redundant to white folks who have been doing the work of antiracist reflection. But that sense of “I’ve got this,” doesn’t last. On Day 5, Saad details the concept of white superiority. Her writing prompt on that day: “Think back across your life, from childhood to where you are in your life now. In what ways have you consciously or subconsciously believed you were better than BIPOC? Don’t hide from this. This is the crux of white supremacy. Own it.”
In my journal that day, I wrote about my prom date when I was a senior in high school. It wasn’t a long-term relationship, we were friendly, and decided to go to the dance together. I would never have consciously said I was better than this Black prom date of mine, but I remember being surprised that his mom had a problem with our being together. I’d internalized the idea of white superiority. He was dating “up” what was there to be unhappy about?
More recently, I recalled joking with some coworkers about a dozen years ago about the business we would start together. I was assigning everyone roles in the new fantasy enterprise. I suggested my one black colleague on the team would be the hairdresser. While it’s true she did do hair as a side-hustle, this person was a talented young professional with a degree in public health.
Each day on this journey uncovers uncomfortable truths in your past and present, helping you to recognize and name harmful patterns in thought or behavior. It is not easy. Indeed, Saad refers to the task simply as “the work.”
I am sharing these few specific memories of mine to help underscore what Saad laid bare in her first few pages, quoted above: this is not about white people “out there.” I don’t want you to think this uncomfortable truth is one that I--or you--do not need to face. For those who know me, you know my commitment to antiracism is as firm as any commitment I have ever made. That doesn’t mean I’m “one of the good ones.” It means I recognize we all are swimming in the same toxic culture and if I want to do better and be better, I have to do the work.
This 28-day challenge is well worth your time, and it is not easy. For my readers who are Jewish, I invite you to take on this work to kick off the coming new year with a kavanah, an intention, of making real change, inside and out.
What is missing
Saad does a nice job of breaking down the ways in which white supremacy shows up in our lives: white privilege, fragility, tone policing, silence, superiority, anti-blackness, racist stereotypes, cultural appropriation, centering, tokenism, saviorism, optical allyship, and others.
What is missing for me is breakdowns of some of the characteristics of white supremacy culture. In the week 2 review, Saad writes, “White supremacy … is not a simple litmus test of whom you vote for or what relationships you have with BIPOC, but rather, it is a set of subtle behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs, often unconscious, that when put together make up a really scary jigsaw puzzle.” In the margin of that page, I wrote “It is a culture.”
I have linked to this analysis of the characteristics of white supremacy culture before. One thing I was hoping for and didn't get from Me and White Supremacy is a deeper dive of these characteristics: how they are harmful, how we can recognize them, and suggestions for interrupting them--both in ourselves and others. I am beginning to think that deep dive should be done as a follow up challenge to Saad’s 28 days, but that challenge doesn’t seem to exist (yet). I think I may have to write it (stay tuned!). Until then, I’m grateful to be in the work with you. Keep going!