Although systemic racism has existed throughout our history, the COVID pandemic has unveiled a razor-sharp light on its ugly face for all to see. The pandemic has unleashed an enormously disproportionate toll on black and brown communities, in terms of illness and of deaths, because of the underlying vulnerabilities in housing, healthcare, education, criminal justice, and economic resources — present because of decades of institutionally sanctioned denial of resources to these communities. The good news is that it has thrust these issues to the forefront of our national conversation, and has inspired uprising and protest against the institutions that support and perpetuate the injustices, particularly within the criminal justice system, which is the most urgent. In support of this effort to undo racism, it is urgent for us to educate ourselves on this topic of racism, because especially we white folks really are particularly stupid when it comes to race.
Dr. Fleming, a professor of sociology and Africana studies at Stonybrook University, is probably one of the best authorities on race and racism. She has studied this topic at Harvard and then additionally in France as she researched their history of colonialism and oppression. More importantly, after returning to the US and exploring broader theories on racism, beyond the more patriarchal and, really, white perspective she’d received in the ivory tower, she learned how deeply rooted racism was in this country. She learned how white supremacist ideas underlie every aspect of our nation, from the laws to the economy, and from education to the health care and housing systems. And she has, so fortunately for us, translated her learning into this extremely accessible, heart-warmingly honest book.
If you’ve been following this blog, you may have noticed that I’ve been trying to do this work. I’ve been trying to read as much as I can about racism and antiracism to try to open my brain to all that I’ve been oblivious to over most of my life. It is hard and uncomfortable, but it is urgent and necessary and, in fact, vital if we even hope to move on and build an antiracist society. And those with the power, those of us who are seen as white, are the ones who need to do this work.
Why do I like this book so much? I love Fleming’s voice. She deftly combines a deeply personal account of her own journey to becoming an active antiracist with frequent injections of scholarly notations and historical perspective. She is unique in that she adds an entire chapter on black women’s and women of color’s issues, which differ further from those of just general people of color. In addition, hearing her views on Barack Obama was quite interesting to me as well – but I will not give up any spoilers, by telling you what those views were. Finally, I love that Fleming gives constructive suggestions on what to do, steps forward, on working on becoming more antiracist. This work is ever-continuing and ever-evolving and not formulaic – it may be very different and very personal to each of us. But her suggestions are topical and relevant and are informed by her research and experience.
I am on a mission to listen, to learn and hopefully to change.
I will continue to read other books on this topic, of course, but so far, this is “the” book. If you’re going to read only one – it might be this one.