Book review: Me and White Supremacy

Anvil journal of theology and mission

Layla F. Saad, Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World (Quercus, 2020)

by Rachel Smith, CMS

Criticism can be hard to hear. It can hurt, it might feel unfair or even unfounded. But the true purpose of good criticism is to engage and challenge us, pushing us to improve ourselves and the world around us. Me and White Supremacy began as a 28- day Instagram challenge, which then became a free online PDF resource before ultimately being turned into a published book by its creator, Layla F. Saad. Over the course of the “challenge” Saad asks us, the white readers, to engage in a process of self-reflection and criticism that works to break down our internalised prejudices by first exposing then dismantling them.

The process is by no means an easy one. So often when white people start to engage with racial justice and particularly at the moment when we try to understand movements like Black Lives Matter, we find ourselves becoming defensive. I think I’m a good person. I try hard to treat everyone I meet with respect and dignity, and to afford them with the same opportunities regardless of the colour of their skin. So, it’s hard to hear that despite my good intentions I can still be racist, or that I still play a role in perpetuating white supremacy. But just because I don’t want to believe it, doesn’t mean that it’s not true, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I can exempt myself from trying to do better.

Me and White Supremacy offers the tools and structure needed to work through that discomfort. When I found it I’d already begun the process of trying to read more and engage with people who were challenging my comfortable status quo. But reading about something is not the same as putting it into practice. The challenge that this book lays out gave me the push I needed into actively working on changing my own thinking, as well as trying to help to change the thinking of the people around me.

Saad offers a mixture of information and journalling prompts, laid out in an easy to follow course. You can take these as quickly or as slowly as you like, you can try tackling the exercise as an individual or in groups and even get creative with it. As I have worked through each step there have been times when I have found the process painful and I’ve had to take a moment to work past my initial feelings of hurt and shame. There are even times when I know that I’ve only touched a topic on the surface level but digging any further would have been too raw and overwhelming. But despite the emotional pitfalls of undertaking such an exercise, I find myself emerging from the other side with optimism. Yes, change is hard, yes, it is demanding, but despite that we can change, we can make a real difference.

In the opening pages of the book, Saad says the following;

But if you are a person who believes in love, justice, integrity, and equity for all people, then you know that this work is non-negotiable. If you are a person who wants to become a good ancestor, then you know that this work is some of the most important work that you will be called to do in your lifetime.

To me that is everything. It is what we should all be striving for. As an individual I may not be able to change the world but I may be able to make a difference to one small part of it. If I can help lay the building blocks for a more equitable and unprejudiced future then I am willing to try doing the right thing rather than the easy one.

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