Recently, the question was posed to myself and other activists, “A lot of (white) people I know are asking about resources where they can educate themselves about antiracism and collective liberation. Got any website/book/podcast suggestions for beginners?”
Here is a slightly expanded version of my response:
As books go…
J. Sakai’s ‘The Mythology of the White Proletariat‘ is probably the quintessential historical narrative of US history from a non-white perspective. It attempts to find the origin of ‘racism’ in privilege and oppression vis a vis Capital (including land). It’s written from an unorthodox Marxist perspective as well, so it helps to have some background knowledge of Marxist terminology as well as US history.
‘False Nationalism, False Internationalism‘ (by E. Tani and Kaé Sera,) is considered the sequel to ‘Settlers’ and critically discusses the interplay between white allies and non-white communities during the struggles of the 60’s and 70’s.
‘Nightvision: Illuminating War and Class on the Neo-Colonial Terrain‘ (by Butch Lee and Red Rover) is considered the third book in the series, updates the ideas to the 90’s to include globalization, adds feminist ideas to the general gist of the series and discusses culture more. It should be noted that all three of these books challenge the idea that ‘races’ exist at all, instead using the term ‘nation,’ with the implication that shared history, common culture and definable relations with other nations is the essence of their constitution (and not something innate like genetics or biological features or even phenotype). I generally operate under this assumption and think it should be noted that the whole concept of ‘race’ was literally something created by Europeans to rationalize colonization.
Benjamin Quarles ‘The Negro in the Making of America’ is a more academic account of Black history in the US. My own background is stronger in Black history than that of Mexicanos and Native Americans, but it is important to understand how the historic oppression of each helped contribute to the social and material foundation for which the rest of Amerikan society was built. I mention this book because it is well-written, accessible and detailed and often goes into the social condition of Blacks as a people. Other good books on Black history include ‘Ain’t I a Woman, Female Slaves in the Plantation South,’ by Deborah Gray White, and ‘The Political Economy of Slavery,’ by Eugene Genovese (who strangely became a conservative later in life).
H. Rap Brown’s ‘Die Nigger Die‘ is a political autobiography that I would recommend over Jackson’s ‘Soledad Brother‘ or Cleaver’s ‘Soul on Ice.’ Brown was also a militant Black liberation activist, and this book has a lot of anecdotes and jokes regarding what he encountered from the state, racists and nominal allies.
Robert F. Williams‘ ‘Negroes with Guns‘ is another really good autobiography by a civil rights organizer. In his case, he was an early supporter of armed self-defense, and fled the US to Cuba then China between 1962-69. This book provides some interesting accounts of the necessities of being able to physically defend oneself and self-reliance in struggles. Williams was actually a hugely influential figure during the 60’s (he was a public critic of Dr. King before anyone knew who Malcolm X was) but has been erased from history since. There is also a documentary of the same name that is worth checking out. For those that want to delve deeper into the (counter) history of Black liberation struggles, I would also suggest ‘We Will Return in the Whirlwind: Black Radical Organizations,’ by Muhammad Ahmad (Max Stanford, founder of the Revolutionary Action Movement, another person and chapter disappeared from discourse on Black Liberation struggles).
‘No Surrender‘ is a collection of newer articles written by a former (white) Weather Underground and Revolutionary Armed Task Force member, David Gilbert, who is currently serving a 75 year prison term. This is especially relevant because he discusses social justice organizing in prison, where conditions often include heightened ‘racial’ division.
‘Culture and Imperialism,’ by Edward Said, discusses the cultural phenomenon of “Orientalism:” the dialogue between Europeans regarding colonial nations and people. This work is a bit more difficult to get through and isn’t something for beginners, but will be really enjoyable for anyone who is a fan of classical literature (which Said dissects heavily). I find it especially relevant for two reasons. First, the book is specifically about how oppressors discuss amongst themselves others. IMO, a lot of ‘racism’ occurs in spaces where it isn’t readily challenged, in rooms with just White people, at dining room tables, etc, and this specific topic hasn’t been dealt with at any great depth that I’m aware of. Second, this deals more with imperialism and international divisions, i.e. how whites view Third World people not merely non-whites on the other side of town.
In the same regard that racism is often something expressed both amongst and between ‘races,’ I’ve also found some radical feminist theory useful in an analogous way, particularly how dominant ideas and norms are promoted and accepted by different groups.
As far as websites go, I typically read People of Color Organize!, which features a wide array of articles often on social movements. As well, I like Racialicious, which deals mostly with ‘race’ in pop culture. The Incite: Women of Color Against Violence website has a lot of interesting ideas and resources around community organizing. And of course, Anti-Imperialism.com
Sorry this may seem pedantic and bookish, but I think much ‘racism,’ especially on the part of otherwise well-meaning people, is due to the ignorant acceptance of dominant narratives. Probably the most prolific form a racism is denying its existence or impact, so I feel its important to educate oneself on this issue.
Outside of books and websites (which is fairly uninvolved), its worth noting that most white people fairly rarely find themselves in situations in which they are a vast minority relative to another national group and where they have no additional advantages (i.e., being a manager or ‘leader’ at a site filled with subordinate nationally-oppressed people doesn’t count), and even then they often interject themselves too much. People who are genuinely interested in addressing such issues would be wise to put themselves in situations, often outside their own comfort zones, where they can really hear what oppressed communities think. There has to be a right frame of mind to do this correctly, to be able to understand why [non-white] people might [mis]direct some amount of personal hostility towards yourself, but to also come to understand where that hostility comes from, and to ultimately feel the root causes’ impact in your own psyche. I might wager the least naturally’ racist’ white people are the ones who were acculturated early-on in situations where they were an accepted minority amongst non-whites (incidentally, these people are often called ‘wiggers’ by more mainstream whites).
Oppressed nations and whites each generally have two ways of talking about ‘racism’ and intersecting issues: the way they talk about it amongst themselves and the way they talk about it to each other. Being a white person, you don’t often get to hear half of what non-white people are saying because of this. If you do get that chance (such that you are in a situation with a vastly predominant number of non-whites), don’t get defensive. Instead, consider supporting what is being said (that’s a lot of ‘giving up whiteness’ right there). If, as I’ve witnessed, not every non-white person is comfortable talking so directly about certain issues around white people. (Even if it may involve a genuine disagreement of views within the non-white community) Don’t take the side of the person(s) trying to make things more comfortable for you (and thereby acting as the divisive force you’re trying not to be).
I don’t have a lot of experience of tackling issues of national oppression within institutions of power (e.g. how to get your boss to quit promoting whites over non-whites for silly reasons [“the language barrier” comes to mind]), but I generally think that (reformism) is at best a tactic and not a liberation strategy anyways. (Even in the case of reform struggles, having a radical element carrying out a parallel struggles usually gives the issue a sense of urgency to power which it would otherwise not garner. E.g., to rhetorically ask, would gays be allowed to serve openly in the military were it not for the actions of Bradley Manning? [just an example…not that I think US militarism’s policy on homosexuality in its ranks is a fundamental issue]).
As far as what to do actively, here are a few pointers.
First, I really don’t think you can change the mind of every racist, sexist, militarist, “capitalist” college student, etc. But to what degree you can use rapport and the social value of your skin to diffuse such trends, great. You probably aren’t going to get someone who hates or has negative views of non-white people to become their friends through something like reason or logic, but you can probably numb reaction to some regard using reason and some other wedge issue (“You say you don’t like the US Federal government, its taxes, bureaucracy, and are yourself just a hardworking family man, then why would you ask a Mexican to have to deal with increased burden from the same federal government just to reasonably provide for his family as you wish to.” “The border-wall hurts the fragile desert eco-system… poor desert foxes.”) Insofar as someone, as a white person, can disrupt something that can harm non-white and Third World people, great.
Also in terms of personal contact, I think it is important to confront real, apparent, direct racism when its encountered. For example, if you hear a white person directly disparaging “A-rabs” at a train station (an example, from my own experience) or otherwise acting in an intimidating manner towards disempowered people, its worth considering how one should act. I would assume that the primary goal is to immediately stop the racist action from occurring. To this end, I’m pretty good at humiliating people, starting fights or otherwise acting like an asshole myself. It does work [the person disengages their racism and engages in confrontation with me], but I’m really good at gauging situational context (i.e., how is everyone else in proximity going to respond to the conflict even if they were silent during the racist act that preceded it), so other ways might be useful for other people.
Thanks for the wonderful question. Hope that helps.
-Nick Brown is a (white) writer and social justice organizer from Denver, Colorado and co-editor of Anti-Imperialism.com.