Anti-Racist Reading

A year ago, a friend of mine organized an anti-racist book group. Those of us in the group are not Black, and that’s by design. We wanted a safe place to discuss our fears, root out our own biases, and educate ourselves without expecting a Black person to bear the burden of explaining to us. All of the books we’ve read are written by Black authors:

  • So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
  • How To Be An Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Eloquent Rage, by Brittney Cooper

The three books are very different, and often present opposing viewpoints. For instance, Oluo believes that Black people cannot be racist, that being in a position of power is integral to the definition of racist thought. Kendi, on the other hand, says just the opposite; he thinks Black people can be racist too. Personally, I found Kendi’s argument more convincing (though I liked Olua’s book very much). Cooper, so far, has not addressed that particular question, but we haven’t quite finished with that book. I can’t say for sure that it’s not in the final chapters, but I would guess not; it’s not the kind of exploration this book is getting at.

So You Want To Talk About Race was a great book to start with. It’s a clear, practical primer that gives an overview of issues of race in America today. How To Be An Antiracist is a more academic treatment of the issue, bringing in the works of various other authors but grounded in Kendi’s own experiences. Eloquent Rage is in large part, well, an expression of rage. Subtitled “A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower,” it seems aimed at other Black women, to validate their anger and help them find ways to use it.

On the whole (and so far), I much prefer the first two books to the third one. Some of Cooper’s ideas are fascinating, and I have learned a lot — from her and, of course, from the other authors — about the experiences of Black people in America. But her appeal is more of an emotional one, she doesn’t always back up her perceptions with facts, and I often find myself wishing she would choose her words more carefully. But as I said, this book does appear to be aimed at Black women, so it really wasn’t intended to speak to me.

We in the book group are still struggling with how to put this education into use. All of us are involved in politics and activism to some extent, but there always seems to be so much more to be done. And it can be hard, as a White person, to know how to be involved in working for change without seeming to be attempting to co-opt the struggle.

Next week we’ll finish discussing Eloquent Rage, and then it will be time to choose the next book. Any suggestions?

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