Review of Me and White Supremacy, by Layla F. Saad

Me and White Supremacy

Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor

by Layla F. Saad

Sourcebooks, 2020. 242 pages.
Review written March 29, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 General Nonfiction

Wow. Me and White Supremacy is a book full of gut punches. This isn’t a book to read; it’s a book to work through, along with a journal. And I’m afraid that when you’ve finished the book, your work isn’t done.

There are twenty-eight days of work here, so you’re going to have to renew it if you use a library book. Might as well purchase your own copy, since you’ll want to go back and think about these things again. My first time through brought me new awareness and new understanding of issues I’d never grappled with before. And it also made me aware that is only the beginning. I haven’t graduated; I’ve only begun.

Here are some paragraphs from the note to the reader at the beginning of the book, to help you understand what this book is trying to accomplish.

Dear Reader,

How did you feel the first time you saw the title of this book? Were you surprised? Confused? Intrigued? Uncomfortable? Maybe all of the above? I want to begin by reassuring you that all those feelings and more are completely normal. This is a simple and straightforward book, but it is not an easy one. Welcome to the work.

I’m Layla, and for (at least!) the next twenty-eight days, I’m going to be guiding you on a journey to help you explore and unpack your relationship with white supremacy. This book is a one-of-a-kind personal antiracism tool structured to help people with white privilege understand and take ownership of their participation in the oppressive system of white supremacy. It is designed to help them take responsibility for dismantling the way that this system manifests, both within themselves and within their communities.

The primary force that drives my work is a passionate desire to become a good ancestor. My purpose is to help create change, facilitate healing, and seed new possibilities for those who will come after I am gone. This book is a contribution to that purpose. It is a resource that I hope will help you do the internal and external work needed to become a good ancestor too. To leave this world in a better place than you found it. The system of white supremacy was not created by anyone who is alive today. But it is maintained and upheld by everyone who holds white privilege – whether or not you want it or agree with it. It is my desire that this book will help you to question, challenge, and dismantle this system that has hurt and killed so many Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).

I’ll be honest – I was somewhat skeptical even after reading the introduction. I still didn’t realize all I didn’t realize.

Here are more of the author’s words. (This isn’t everything – please read the book for yourself, but this gives you an idea of what you’ll find here.)

Many white people hear the words white supremacy and think That doesn’t apply to me, that they don’t hold that belief but rather that they believe that all of us are equal and that they don’t modify their treatment of people based on the color of their skin. What this book, which is a deep-diving self-reflection tool, will help you to realize, however, is that that isn’t true. White supremacy is an ideology, a paradigm, an institutional system, and a worldview that you have been born into by virtue of your white privilege. I am not talking about the physical color of your skin being inherently bad or something to feel shame about. I am talking about the historic and modern legislating, societal conditioning, and systemic institutionalizing of the construction of whiteness as inherently superior to people of other races. Yes, outwardly racist systems of oppression like chattel slavery, apartheid, and racial discrimination in employment have been made illegal. But the subtle and overt discrimination, marginalization, abuse, and killing of BIPOC in white-dominated communities continues even today because white supremacy continues to be the dominant paradigm under which white societies operate.

So we must call a thing a thing.

We must look directly at the ways in which this racist ideology of white supremacy, this idea that white equals better, superior, more worthy, more credible, more deserving, and more valuable actively harms anyone who does not own white privilege.

If you are willing to dare to look white supremacy right in the eye and see yourself reflected back, you are going to become better equipped to dismantle it within yourself and within your communities.

This book explains concepts such white privilege, white fragility, tone policing, white silence, white superiority, white exceptionalism, color blindness, anti-Blackness, racist stereotypes, cultural appropriation, white apathy, white centering, tokenism, white saviorism, optical allyship, and many more ideas. You’re asked to look at your own life and heart to see when these things have shown up. And you’re asked about your values and commitment to make changes.

The author approaches all this with compassion. I love this paragraph at the end of the first week’s work, and I think it shows the consistent attitude she takes toward this work:

On this reflection day, I want to remind you that we are not looking for the happy ending, the teachable moment, or the pretty bow at the end of all learning. We are also not looking for dramatic admissions of guilt or becoming so frozen with shame that you cannot move forward. The aim of this work is not self-loathing. The aim of this work is truth – seeing it, owning it, and figuring out what to do with it. This is lifelong work. Avoid the shortcuts, and be wary of the easy answers. Avoid the breaking down into white fragility. Question yourself when you think you have finally figured it out – there are always deeper layers, and you will continue to reflect even more as you continue on with this work.

This book is a challenge – and it’s a challenge I didn’t conquer. But it did begin to open my eyes.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with light skin.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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