Race (for White People): Week 4

So now that (I hope) you’re all hot and bothered about race, I’ll spend the last week of Black History Month on ways white people can continue to learn more. Because (and this is super important) it’s not your black friends’ and colleagues’ job to educate you. It’s exhausting and demeaning to have to tell white person after white person why it’s not okay to touch black women’s hair (traumatic history of not having control over their bodies), call someone ‘articulate’ (there’s a hanging “…for a black person” at the end of that sentence) or ask anyone ever what “the ___ perspective” is on a topic. Google is your friend, but when you don’t know what you don’t know, it’s hard to decide what to type in the search bar. So for the last week of the month, I’ll share my highly biased and incredibly random list of resources for learning more.

DAY 23: Switch up your media

If you want to keep exploring, build the topic of race into your daily social and regular media consumption. Subscribe to NYT’s Race/Related. My favorite is the section where they print obituaries of people who didn’t meet the NYT’s criteria at their time of death but deserved one. Also, follow people with interesting things to say; many of the folks whose work I’ve cited this month have active social media. 

DAY 24: Switch up your watchlist

One of the easiest ways to expose yourself to other cultures is by switching up your entertainment. There are so so SO many options to expose yourself to different narratives — here are some I’ve enjoyed over the last few years (and yes, some are problematic for various reasons but it’s a start).

If you want to binge-watch: Dear White People is set at a fictional Ivy League college and illustrates so many inter- and intra-group tensions.

If you like rom-coms: Nappily Ever After is sweet and goofy and unpacks so much about hair that I’ve been blind to as a white person.

If you like action: Black Panther (duh)

If you like documentaries: The 13th is about the criminal justice system.I’m not sure which category to put Just Mercy but it’s powerful too. 

If you like horror: I’ve heard Get Out by Jordan Peele is a powerful metaphor for what it’s like to move through a white world with black skin, but I’m too scared to watch it.

DAY 25: Switch up your reading list

Best novels I’ve read recently that entertained and showed me a world I knew little about: The Water Dancer by Ta-Nahesi Coates and The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (fantastical escape-from-slavery stories), On Beauty by Zadie Smith (navigating black identities in Boston college town), Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigerian immigrant/returnee), There There by Tommy Orange (Native Americans in modern Oakland), and A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza and The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (both Indian immigrant stories). I also loved autobiographical Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (how did I know so little about apartheid!?!) and Becoming by Michelle Obama.

DAY 26: Read the experts

In So You Want to Talk about Race? Ijeoma Oluo writes for white people, taking apart all the myths we’ve been taught over the years. It’s like these posts, but better researched and written. And I’ve fan-girled on Robin DiAngelo already, but her White Fragility is a game-changer. Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be Anti-Racist is up next for me.

DAY 27: Join a group

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is a parallel organization to Black Lives Matter. When BLM started, many well-intentional white folks asked to join and BLM organizers suggested they work on educating and activating white people instead. SURJ is one of the results. SURJ holds regular trainings and gatherings for white people to learn more about race; white privilege, supremacy and fragility; and tactics to influence systems of racial oppression. I’ve loved the sessions I’ve done with Blair Overstreet at SURJ San Diego – find your own SURJ chapter here.


DAY 28: Calling in 

One of the dangers of white people learning about race is they become insufferable. Suddenly, their persona is tied up in being the most woke person in the room, shaming everyone about how racist they are. Do not be that asshole. Shaming someone never changed their mind; instead, we humans get defensive and dig in deeper. The most powerful tool I know for these conversations is ‘calling in.’ Calling in has 3 steps.

  1. Assume positive intent. This is what you do in your head. Instead of assuming the person meant to say something racist, problematic or oppressive, assume they don’t know better.
  2. Honor that well-meaning, kind, compassionate people might think what they think. This often sounds like, “I’ve heard many people say that,” or “I used to think that too” (if that’s true).
  3. Invite them to see things differently. Key word: invite. Share your knowledge or experience: “One thing I learned was…” or “My experience has shown me that…”

You won’t change their mind every time or in one conversation, but this tactic helps pry open people’s thinking in a way that this face will never do.

DAY 29: Go forth and change the world!

After a month of posts, I’m hoping that some of you are ready to step into conversations about race. I’ll leave you with this Ijeoma Oluo article that is sort of an inspirational anti-pep-talk but will help you avoid some stupid mistakes. 


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