An Anti-racist Reading List

The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’

The heartbeat of racism is denial.

— Ibram X. Kendi

It’s been said that racism is so American that when we protest racism, some assume we’re protesting America.

— Beyoncé Knowles

Now is a good time to read these books, follow these authors, confront our history, and unpack what we need to unpack.

Systemic racism is a machine that runs whether we pull the levers or not, and by just letting it be, we are responsible for what it produces. We have to actually dismantle the machine if we want to make change.

Source: Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race (pp. 29-30).

When social scientists describe racism as “systemic,” we’re referring to collective practices and representations that disadvantage categories of human beings on the basis of their perceived “race.” The key word here is “collective.” Much of the racial stupidity we encounter in everyday life derives from the fact that people think of racism as individual prejudice rather than a broader system and structure of power.

The thing about white supremacy is that it socializes all of us to minimize its terror, to systematically deny or underestimate the harm. “We’ve come so far,” “Things are getting better,” “It could be worse”—all of these tropes minimize racial terror. Americans have been socialized to look on the bright side despite centuries of colonial and racial violence, torture, and the oppression of minorities. Our problem is not and has never been overreacting to racial terror. Our problem is the hegemony of under-reaction, denial, minimization. Ours is a society that has always socialized white folks to live in the midst of racial oppression but go on with their lives like normal. At every turn, those who oppose white supremacy have been met with denial, violence, “race card” accusations, or magnificent claims about progress. It seems that in the minds of many white liberals, we should all be celebrating the fact that most of us are not physically in chains. White supremacy wants you to look at four hundred years of uninterrupted racial terror and conclude “Things aren’t so bad.”

Source: Fleming, Crystal Marie. How to Be Less Stupid About Race (p. 12, pp. 128-129).

Being seen racially is a common trigger of white fragility, and thus, to build our stamina, white people must face the first challenge: naming our race.

White people in North America live in a society that is deeply separate and unequal by race, and white people are the beneficiaries of that separation and inequality. As a result, we are insulated from racial stress, at the same time that we come to feel entitled to and deserving of our advantage. Given how seldom we experience racial discomfort in a society we dominate, we haven’t had to build our racial stamina.

Source: DiAngelo, Robin J.. White Fragility (pp. 1-2, p. 7).

White rage is not about visible violence, but rather it works its way through the courts, the legislatures, and a range of government bureaucracies. It wreaks havoc subtly, almost imperceptibly. Too imperceptibly, certainly, for a nation consistently drawn to the spectacular—to what it can see. It’s not the Klan. White rage doesn’t have to wear sheets, burn crosses, or take to the streets. Working the halls of power, it can achieve its ends far more effectively, far more destructively.

The trigger for white rage, inevitably, is black advancement. It is not the mere presence of black people that is the problem; rather, it is blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, with aspirations, and with demands for full and equal citizenship.

The truth is, white rage has undermined democracy, warped the Constitution, weakened the nation’s ability to compete economically, squandered billions of dollars on baseless incarceration, rendered an entire region sick, poor, and woefully undereducated, and left cities nothing less than decimated. All this havoc has been wreaked simply because African Americans wanted to work, get an education, live in decent communities, raise their families, and vote. Because they were unwilling to take no for an answer.

Source: Anderson Ph.D., Carol. White Rage (p. 3, p. 6).

History duels: the undeniable history of antiracist progress, the undeniable history of racist progress. Before and after the Civil War, before and after civil rights, before and after the first Black presidency, the White consciousness duels. The White body defines the American body. The White body segregates the Black body from the American body. The White body instructs the Black body to assimilate into the American body. The White body rejects the Black body assimilating into the American body—and history and consciousness duel anew.

The Black body in turn experiences the same duel. The Black body is instructed to become an American body. The American body is the White body. The Black body strives to assimilate into the American body. The American body rejects the Black body. The Black body separates from the American body. The Black body is instructed to assimilate into the American body—and history and consciousness duel anew.

But there is a way to get free. To be antiracist is to emancipate oneself from the dueling consciousness. To be antiracist is to conquer the assimilationist consciousness and the segregationist consciousness. The White body no longer presents itself as the American body; the Black body no longer strives to be the American body, knowing there is no such thing as the American body, only American bodies, racialized by power.

Source: Kendi, Ibram X.. How to Be an Antiracist (p. 33).

On Toxic Positivity

“Saying ‘be positive’ marginalizes and isolates people,” she said. “I’m autistic, I have depression and anxiety and I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD. It’s not realistic to ask me to conform to these very specific, socially valued emotions.”

“If it works for you, it’s not toxic,” she said. “If it makes someone else feel invalidated, it is.”

Source: ‘It’s OK not to be OK’: Minnesota psychologists push back on ‘toxic positivity’ – StarTribune.com

If positive attitude changed everything, we wouldn’t need Universal Design. Precarity, systemic racism, ableism, and heteropatriarchy are built through policy and require changes in policies – not merely mindsets – to topple them. Sometimes we should be outraged and angry.

Judith Halberstam writes about the “toxic positivity of contemporary life”:

“As Barbara Ehrenreich reminds us in Brightsided, positive thinking is a North American affliction, “a mass delusion” that emerges out of a combination of American exceptionalism and a desire to believe that success happens to good people and failure is just a consequence of a bad attitude rather than structural conditions….. As Enrenreich puts it, ‘If optimism is the key to material success, and if you can achieve an optimistic outlook through the discipline of positive thinking, then there is no excuse for failure.’ But, she continues, ‘the flip side of positivity is thus a harsh insistence on personal responsibility,’ meaning that while capitalism produces some people’s success through other people’s failures, the ideology of positive thinking insists that success depends only upon working hard and failures is always of your own doing.”

Source: Making Room for Asset Pedagogies – Long View on Education

The more I loved myself, the less I was willing to accept toxic positivity that promised to heal me rather than help me exist in this body. The more I loved myself, the less I accepted momentary help at the expense of systemic change. The more I loved myself, the less I wanted acceptance from people who never bothered to know me outside of their own emotional need.

Source: Disabled And In Love With Me: The Ableds’ Worst Nightmare

My point, of course, is not that we should be relentlessly negative but that we should stop being relentlessly positive — and tiresomely stoic.

Source: The Overselling of Gratitude – Alfie Kohn

Positivity is often toxic, ableist, and steeped in deficit ideology. “Positive attitude!” is a fixture on ableism bingo cards.

See also,

Normal Sucks: Author Jonathan Mooney on How Schools Fail Kids with Learning Differences

I’m a big fan of Jonathan Mooney’s neurodiversity advocacy. So much of the work of neurodiversity and disability advocacy is getting folks to reframe from the medical and deficit models to the social model. Mooney is good at this reframing.

Here are some selected quotes from a recent interview with Mooney at Longreads where he shares his journey through school and reframes deficiency as difference.

Reframe these states of being that have been labelled deficiencies or pathologies as human differences.

The ultimate thing we should be fighting for is to not have to pathologize yourself to get your individual needs met. Something’s wrong with a system that requires parents and children to say, “I am sick or defective.”

We need to have universally designed systems designed around the reality of human variance opposed to the myth of human sameness.

We privilege some brains over other brains. We privilege some bodies over other bodies. And that gets embedded in our institutions.

There is conscious and unconscious bias about people with a whole continuum of atypical brains and bodies. And when we judge someone’s intelligence based on their spelling and we rule out their capacities as a human being because of their bad handwriting…,we are participating in a subtle and yet very powerful form of institutionalized ableism.

Accommodation is fundamentally about not changing the person but changing the environment around the person.

It’s going to be not fixing what’s wrong with them that changes their life, it’s gonna be building on, celebrating, and scaling what’s right with them.

When we say that somebody “overcame” dyslexia, cerebral palsy, whatever it is, we imply that that state of being is inherently deficient and it’s a problem inside of them.

I didn’t overcome dyslexia; I overcame dysteachia.

It’s not a problem in the person; it’s not a problem with the difference; it’s a problem in the interaction between a difference and a context built for the myth that we should all be the same.

Elevate ableism as one of the injustices of our world.

I’m tremendously optimistic about the broad cultural movement around equity, diversity, and inclusion. And I think we need to hold on to that as a culture. And we need to demand that that core philosophical and ethical commitment to having a world that doesn’t just work for some, but works for all, starts to come into our systems and we to some real difference in our systems. I think we have to fight for that. It ain’t going to happen on its own.

Source: Normal Sucks: Author Jonathan Mooney on How Schools Fail Kids with Learning Differences

Mooney is an engaging and inspiring talker. Give the entire episode a listen.

More from Jonathan Mooney: