I’m regularly in meetings where white people ask how to begin or where they should start to learn more about racism. Oftentimes this is in the context of “what should I do first?” Or, “what should I as a leader in my company do first?”

This can be confounding, and frankly, there are many good book options to start with – and all of them have value.

A lot of people recommend jumping right into Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” or Ibram X Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist.” I disagree. Those are both great resources with a lot to offer. I do recommend reading them, but not as the first step.

The message in White Fragility is deliberately direct regarding the personal journey white people need to go through to understand racism. However, I don’t think most white people are ready to start there.

The message of How to Be an Antiracist is both prescriptive and nuanced, helping people understand several detailed concepts of racism and understand what to do about it.

The issue I see with most white people isn’t that they don’t understand racism, its that they don’t see racism. And, you can’t understand something you don’t see.

Here’s the thing, sometimes being white, is like being a fish in water, and then being asked about the water. Fish don’t know they are in water, the water is…just…there. It’s the norm. The status quo.

So the first step most white people need to undertake to tackle racism is to develop an awareness of racism. And even before they can see racism, they need to have some awareness of the day-to-day experiences many Black people encounter.

In my opinion, the best book to do that is “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness” by Austin Channing Brown.

Ms. Brown is an African American female (you might not guess that by her name), and this book is about her experiences in life and at work.

Using examples as banal as standing in line at a coffee shop, Ms. Brown provides insight into life as a Black person including what it’s like being mistaken for someone else, having to watch your comments when someone insists you are wrong, having to weigh your words when talking with their boss, just to name a few.

These experiences become relatable because the situations are so common. Who hasn’t stood in line at a coffee shop? However, our relationship to those experiences is as a white person and the world often treats white and Black people differently.

Not every story will apply to every person, but for people wondering where to start, the insights provided in this book are meaningful, and help make the water more noticeable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *