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GRANTED: Why White People Stay Silent on Racism, and What to Read and Watch
It shouldn’t take multiple acts of police brutality to make people painfully aware of the racism that still pervades America.
The events of the past two weeks have left many of us reflecting on what we can do to confront the cultural, economic, and political forces that fuel racism. One of the most complex and important debates has centered around whether white people should speak out or mute ourselves and listen.
For my first few years of teaching, I didn’t bring up questions of race in the classroom because I felt it wasn’t my place to talk about them. I lacked what’s called psychological standing—the sense that it’s legitimate for us to act.
Eventually, I learned that just as sexism is not only a "women's issue," racism is not only a "black issue." In social movements, research has shown that when majority groups stay quiet, they inadvertently license the oppression of marginalized groups. In the workplace, evidence reveals that women and minorities are often penalized for promoting diversity and equality, whereas white men are more likely to be applauded for it. I was wrong about psychological standing: those of us with power and privilege actually have an easier time getting heard.
I believe we all have a responsibility to raise our voices against injustice. As Martin Luther King, Jr. put it: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
One of the most powerful ways to speak is to amplify the voices of those with deeper understanding and broader data. In that spirit, here are the books that have taught me the most about what we can all do to combat racism:
1. How to Be an Anti-Racist by historian Ibram Kendi
“The opposite of racist isn't 'not racist.' It is 'anti-racist.' What's the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist.”
2. Biased by social psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt
“Try not to notice color.... If you don’t allow yourself to think about race, you can never be biased. That may sound like a fine ideal, but it’s difficult to accomplish, and unsupported by science.... Despite good intentions, encouraging children to remain blind to race actually dampened their detection of discrimination, which had ripple effects. Color blindness promoted exactly the opposite of what was intended: racial inequality. It left minority children to fend for themselves in an environment where the harm they endured could not be seen.”
3. White Fragility by multicultural education scholar Robin DiAngelo
“It is white people’s responsibility to be less fragile; people of color don’t need to twist themselves into knots trying to navigate us as painlessly as possible.”
4. The Person You Mean to Be by organizational behavior professor Dolly Chugh
“We redefine what it means to be a good person as someone who is trying to be better, as opposed to someone who is allowing themselves to believe in the illusion that they are always a good person.”
Comedy with a Message
If you’re exhausted by the news and looking for something lighthearted that’s still meaningful and relevant to the moment, I highly recommend two Netflix specials:
5. Hannah Gadbsy, Douglas
I’ve already watched it twice—she made me laugh hard and think hard too.
6. Chris Rock, Tamborine
Among the many highlights, he decimates the “bad apples” excuse for racism on police forces.
Black lives matter.