Continual Education We (note that throughout this document, when I say “we” I am referring to my fellow white people) must never consider our learning finished. It is necessary for each of us to continually educate ourselves through books, films, discussions, conferences, community groups, workbooks and activism. In the era of social media and the internet, there are more excellent educational resources than ever before. There simply is no excuse not to break with the apathy of whiteness and seek out these resources!
White people are not outside of race and our voices and perspectives on racism and antiracism are critical. All too often, we have been a missing piece of the puzzle. Only engaging with Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Color’s perspectives reinforces the idea that white people are outside of race and that racism is not a white problem. But the foundation of our education must be rooted in the voices and perspectives of Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Color. We will never understand racism in isolation. See the Recommended Reading tab (coming soon) on this website for my and other’s recommendations.
Building Authentic Relationships One of the most important ways I have worked to challenge my socialization has been to build relationships across race. Nothing in the trajectory of my life would have ensured that I had these relationships. In fact, while I grew up in urban poverty, upward mobility took me further and further away from integrated spaces. Building relationships across race will require most white people to get out of their comfort zones and put themselves in new and unfamiliar environments. This is different from our usual approach in which we invite Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Color into committees, boards, and places of worship – groups white people already control. We often do this when we have done no work to expand our own consciousness and developed no skill or strategy in navigating race. In effect we are inviting Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Color into hostile water, then we are dismayed and confused when they choose to leave.
So, what are authentic relationships across race? They are not casual acquaintances we meet at work and use to claim “diversity cover.” They cannot be built with people we employ and whose livelihoods we control. We don’t get them by latching on to any Black, Indigenous or Person of Color in the vicinity, which is a form of objectification. Authentic relationships are those based on mutual interest and earned trust. They develop over time, and are not abandoned when conflict arises.
Circles of Support A circle of Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Color with whom we are in authentic relationships and can talk through issues and challenges is a basic requirement. This is also tricky, as we should not burden Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Color with our internal processes or put them on the spot to absolve us. If we are in authentic relationships, we should be able to talk through these struggles if we remain thoughtful about the pitfalls. There are also people who provide this service as personal coaches and are paid for their expertise. If we do not have professional coaches who are Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Color in our circle of support, we should offer to pay our friends and colleagues for their time and expertise.
As for white support, most of us could easily find 50 white people who would go into agreement with our uninformed opinions on race. These are not the white people we should seek out when we are processing new racial insights, struggling to understand or feeling defensive. We have heard these uninformed opinions throughout our segregated lives, and we do not need them reinforced. When we are newer to an antiracist framework these white people can undermine our confidence. Not having the skills to counter these narratives, we may give up, thinking that an ability to argue strongly is the same as having a strong argument. Instead, it is critical that we have a circle of supportive white people who have a strong antiracist analysis and experience doing their own internal work. Having quick access to fellow white people who are actively engaged in antiracism work is invaluable.
Affinity Groups In an affinity group, people who share the same racial identity meet on a regular basis to address the challenges specific to their group. White affinity groups are an important way for white people to keep racism on our radar and continue to challenge our racist socialization. It is crucial for white people to acknowledge and recognize our collective racial experience, which interrupts the tendency to see ourselves as unique individuals (or “just human”) and thus outside of the forces of race. Intentionally meeting specifically as white people to practice collectively interrupting our patterns of internalized white superiority is a powerful contradiction to the ideologies of individualism and white objectivity.
While racial affinity groups temporarily separate us, the ultimate goal is to build the skills and perspectives needed to bridge racial separation; to unify in antiracist purpose rather than be divided by racism. When white people who have no critical consciousness about racism and have not done any of their own personal work discuss race in mixed groups, they inevitably cause harm. To this end, many of us who lead antiracist education and organizing see affinity groups as an invaluable tool for consciousness-raising, healing from racialized socialization, and ongoing skill-building.
Accountability within antiracist work is the understanding that what I profess to value must be demonstrated in action, and the validity of that action is determined by Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Color. Accountability requires trust, transparency, and action. As a white person seeking to be accountable, I must continually ask myself, “How do I know how I am doing?” To answer this question, I need to check in and find out. I can do this in several ways, including: by directly asking Black, Indigenous, and Peoples of Color with whom I have trusting relationships and who have agreed to offer me this feedback; talking to other white people who have an antiracist framework; reading the work of Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Color who have told us what they want and need (this work is easy to find and many racial justice educators have good resource lists on their websites) and; engaging in the exercises Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Color provide in online classes and workbooks. Ultimately it is for Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Color to decide if I am actually behaving in antiracist ways. When I find that I am out of alignment, I need to do what is necessary and try to repair the situation. And yes, the more experience and practice I have in antiracist work the more thoughtfully I will be able to use the feedback I receive.
The following are the basics of how I seek to be accountable. I offer it here in what I hope is a concise and useful way. This is in no way an exhaustive list and there are many good resources on how to be accountable in a range of contexts, including schools, neighborhoods, raising children, talking with our families, working in government, corporations, nonprofits and communities (look it up!). Examples of my personal response to each of these will follow:
- Donate a percentage of your income to racial justice organizations led by BIPOC people. If you earn more than enough to meet your basic economic needs, strive to give until you can “feel it”. Your checkbook is a reflection of your antiracist commitment made tangible through directly addressing the unjust distribution of economic resources based on race.
- Get involved in and donate your time and services to BIPOC-led racial justice efforts. Consider yourself a guest in these organizations. Listen and follow their leadership. Do not take over or decide for yourself what is needed.
- When organizing events make sure they are accessible and scholarships are available for BIPOC people who may need them. Donate proceeds from events to racial justice organizations led by People of Color.
- Promote the work and services of BIPOC people. Channel work to BIPOC people. Seek out and choose BIPOC-owned businesses and service providers. Co-lead paid work with BIPOC people when possible.
- Always cite and give credit to the work of BIPOC people who have informed your thinking. When you use a phrase or idea you got from a BIPOC person, credit them.
- Have accountability partners who are BIPOC people. An accountability partner is someone you have built a trusting relationship with and who has agreed to coach you, talk through challenges with you, think with you, and challenge you on your inevitable racism. An accountability partner may also be a friend or colleague, but an accountability partner is a specific, defined, transparent role. BIPOC accountability partners should be paid for their time. If they are also personal friends, they may not accept payment but you should begin with the assumption that this will be paid labor. If payment for their services is declined, ask if there are racial justice organizations to which you can donate. If they do not have a suggestion, do some research and choose one (see #1).
- Build personal relationships with white people who have a strong antiracist analysis and who can serve as white accountability partners. These are people you can go to when you need to work through your defensiveness or confusion about racism. They will hold you accountable, help you work through your feelings, and prepare you to make racial repair when needed. You do not necessarily pay white friends for this, though there are white people with strong analysis and deep experience who do offer professional paid coaching.
- Attend white affinity groups.
- Never consider your learning finished. Continually participate in every racial justice education forum you can (conferences, workshops, talks). Continually read and learn from the work of BIPOC people. Take online classes taught by BIPOC people.
- Break silence on racism. Make sure that antiracism gets on the table and stays on the table in your workplaces, social circles, places of worship, and other organizations.
- Ibram X. Kendi defines a racist policy as any policy with a racially inequitable outcome. Look at your organization’s policies. If they are producing racially inequitable outcomes, get them back on the table and keep working.
- Subscribe to online sources that regularly publish lists, guides, and tools for racial justice work.
In particular, we need to start seeing the intellectual and emotional labor Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Color perform in order to navigate and survive in white supremacist societies as labor that must be compensated. When we ask Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Color to join our committees, boards, advisory councils, organizations, and other groups in order to have “diversity,” we should actually pay them for their time and labor. If these positions are already paid positions, we should pay Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Color more for them. If we are inviting them because they are offering a perspective that is missing, then they have expertise we don’t have. Further, given that sharing their expertise and perspectives is often fraught with danger, these are high-risk jobs that require a very specialized set of skills. Let’s show that we understand the value of what Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Color bring by paying for what they bring. Even then we will be up against the implicit bias and internalized superiority that causes us to devalue the perspectives we claim to want. We can never be complacent. The current political climate is testimony that progress does not happen in an upward arc but is continually fought for, and when victories are won, large or small, they will continually be challenged.
How do we live antiracist lives as white people within a racist society? As Ibram X. Kendi instructs us, “The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist.’ The opposite of racist is antiracist.” Antiracist is active, “not racist” is passive and passivity in a racist society is racist. For me, living an antiracist life means applying an antiracist lens to my view of the world and the actions I take. Antiracism is not something I can add on whenever I find it interesting and convenient to do so. Racism is not an aberration, it is the norm, operating continuously. An antiracist lens should also be operating continuously, transforming who is in my life, who I connect with, what I see, what I care about, what I talk about, what I read about, what I buy, how I work, what I am willing to feel, what I can bear witness to, what discomfort I can withstand and what risks I am willing to take. And given that I can easily avoid accountability, antiracism means I must challenge myself to not rely solely on external pressure. We work towards creating a culture in which not engaging in antiracist practices within a racist society is what is actually uncomfortable.
My Accountability: The Ethics of a White Person Being Paid to Do Antiracist Work
There have been accountability questions and critiques circulating around my work and writing that I want to address. As a white person involved in antiracist education, and in service of accountability, I am focusing specifically on the feedback from those committed to an antiracist agenda, and Black women in particular.
While some of these questions / critiques have been circulating since my book was published, they have been inflamed by a recent article in the Washington Free Beacon. Much in that article was based on conjecture and innuendo. They did not speak to me or anyone I work with or any of the organizations I donate to. It is important to know that the Washington Free Beacon is a far-right newspaper (see Wikipedia and https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/) and their goal is to discredit the antiracism movement. As a white antiracist author and educator who is very visible I am an easy target, but we must be clear that the far right seeks to discredit all antiracist work, by all activists, regardless of race (for example, the Washington Free Beacon also published a take-down piece on Ibram X. Kendi). When we circulate the right’s articles, proceed as if they write in good faith, and use language such as “antiracism industry” and “antiracism industrial complex” we are furthering their agenda and allowing them to dictate our talking points. It is imperative that we check our sources before posting.
“You are monetizing the Black experience and profiting from Black pain / death”
When my book went to the top of the NYT Bestseller list in the summer of George Floyd’s murder, some began to say that I “profit from Black death.” That is an extreme and devastating charge and may be fueled in part by some confusion about when and why my book was published. First, I have been studying and writing on whiteness for many years. My dissertation was titled, “Whiteness in Racial Dialogue: A Discourse Analysis” in which I tracked how white students deflected feedback on racism during a cross-racial dialogue. I wrote my dissertation in 2004 (and was not of course paid to write it). Following receipt of my PhD, I went into academic teaching. Academics are expected to continue writing and publishing academic articles, and we do not get paid for this writing beyond our basic salaries. In 2011- a decade ago – I wrote the article White Fragility. Again, I was not paid to write it and receive no royalties from it. Further, it was published in an open-source journal, which means that the article is free and accessible to anyone (non open-source journals charge high fees for people outside of academia to access their articles). A few years later, around 2014, someone quoted from the article on social media and it went viral. I began to receive messages of gratitude and feedback on the value of the article from people worldwide, both BIPOC people and white. The article was so helpful to so many that I decided to turn it into a fuller book and to go through a non-academic publisher so that it would be more accessible in language and cost (I have two prior books but since they are academic, they are technically textbooks and quite expensive. For example, my second book, What Does it Mean To Be White?: Developing White Racial Literacy costs around $40.00 and my percentage is 5%. I have asked the publisher to lower the price, but they have declined). For this book I went to a non-academic and non-profit social justice oriented publisher – Beacon Press. Due to the popularity of the article, the book debuted – in 2018 – on the NYT Bestseller list and was still on the list during the summer of 2020, although it moved up when white attention turned to racism. I did not publish White Fragility as an opportunity to capitalize on George Floyd’s death.
As a white person who writes about race specifically to my fellow white people, I am not seeking to teach white people about Black people. I am seeking to teach white people about ourselves in relation to Black and other people of color.
Ever since my eyes and heart were opened and I came to consciousness about the profound injustices of white supremacy and my role in them, I have been committed personally and collectively to antiracism. Drawing from years of experience in this work, much of it unpaid, I speak out and write books and articles on whiteness. I endeavor to speak and write clearly as a white person to white people, to help us get out of denial about our racism and be less harmful to Black people and other people of Color.
Let me be clear, I have been mentored by and learned greatly from the work of BIPOC people. I do not believe that white people will ever be able to think critically about racism, our role in it, and how we can challenge it if we are not in relationship with and willing to listen to Black and other peoples of Color. I simply could not understand – much less articulate – the dynamics of white fragility without years of reading the work of BIPOC writers who came before my time, as well as engaging with the work and feedback of BIPOC people in the present. Black women in particular have been powerful mentors to me, including Deborah Terry, Darlene Flynn, Anika Nailah, and Erin Trent Johnson. Black people know more about the concepts explained in White Fragility than I ever will, and they have been talking about them in various ways for centuries. The bulk of our anti-racist education must come from BIPOC people who choose to educate us.
At the same time, as an insider to these dynamics, I have a valuable perspective to offer that is different from and supports that of Black educators. I do not believe that white people can fully understand racism and our role in it if we only listen to BIPOC people. We have much of our own personal work to do. To that end, white people also need insider perspectives; people who have “been there” and made that mistake or struggled with that response that we can relate to and can serve as an example. Insiders with shared experience can expose and uniquely challenge us in ways invaluable to our growth. To that end I have also learned from white writers and mentors who have guided me in the on-going process of unpacking my whiteness. This wide body of scholarship and mentorship from multiple perspectives, together with years of my own personal self-reflection, study, research, struggle, mistake-making, relationship building, risk taking, feedback, synthesis, and challenging thousands of white people about racism has all led to my current understanding.
My desire is to contribute to a more racially-just society in which white people might cause less pain for Black people and other people of Color. I could not have dreamed that my third book, White Fragility, would be as successful as it is. The majority of the feedback I have received about the book tells me that my work has indeed opened hearts and minds and affirmed experiences in ways that contribute to a more racially-just society. Though I never expected the book to resonate so powerfully with so many people, I am heartened by its impact.
I make my living from my long-term work in antiracist education. I would offer that those who do not make their living from antiracist work are financially benefitting from systemic racism. It seems to me a positive goal to integrate an antiracist lens into all forms of employment and enable more people to make their living rooted in antiracism.
“Your book takes the mic away from Black people”
Currently, of the top 10 books on race, 9 have been written by Black people, and many of them have been on the bestseller list for years, long before my book was published. It is simply not true that white people are not reading books by Black people or that my book prevents them from doing so. This is not a zero-sum game, wherein we can only read one book and if that book is written by a white person, we have closed ourselves off to books by Black authors. My hope is that my work opens white readers to the wider world of BIPOC antiracist thought that so many have been closed to. If white people were already open to the perspectives of BIPOC peoples we would be in a different place. Most everyone has strong opinions on racism and how it should be challenged (even white people living segregated lives and newly introduced to the concepts). But if you have not tried to educate overwhelmingly white students, employees, and community members you cannot know what it takes to get them to open to the reality of systemic racism and their participation in it. Many Black and other educators have told me that my voice helps make other voices more accessible to white people.
My book is only one book on the topic, and white people can and should read many books on racism, especially those written by Black people and other people of Color. But for far too long, because white people tend to see race as “not our problem,” we have off-loaded the work of antiracism onto BIPOC people and exempted ourselves from the conversation. In this way we protect and uphold white supremacy while falsely maintaining racial innocence. I am offering one of many approaches to the issue, one I believe is important and has been too often missing from the conversation.
I often appear in dialogue with Black thought leaders, as co-leading interracially is the tradition I come from and that I continue to engage in whenever possible. When I am asked to present specifically on the concepts in my book, I am comfortable presenting on my own. When I am asked to present on antiracism more broadly and with more time, I co-lead with Black educators. In my writing and talks, I promote the work of BIPOC writers and speakers.
“What do you do with your income?”
I have been donating to racial justice organizations for several years, as well as doing fundraising events, but now that my work is more visible and my income has increased, I have increased the percentage and am donating more consistently. To this end, back to the beginning of 2020, I donate 15% of my income quarterly – in cash and in-kind donations – to racial justice organizations led by BIPOC people. I am currently directing cash donations to the following:
I also do pro bono and reduced rate engagements for many fundraising events whose proceeds go to racial justice orgs. For example, in 2019, $34,500 was raised for racial justice orgs led by BIPOC people from my work that was organized by Education for Racial Equity and as of August 2020, $190,984 has been raised.
“I read that you make $30,000 per speaking engagement”
The statement published in the Washington Free Beacon article that I make 30k per engagement is enormously misleading. Fees are rarely fixed; they rise and fall based on the type of organization and fluctuations in demand. My fee is on a sliding scale; I am paid more by corporate orgs, and much less by non-profits, particularly non-profits that are focused on anti-racist work and/or are BIPOC-led. I also do a lot of reduced-rate, pro bono, and fundraising work. My average fee for an event in 2018 was $6,200. In 2019, it was $9,200. In 2020 (as of August), it has been $14,000. My fees are now negotiated by the agency that books me, and they take a percentage of the fees they negotiate. And again, I am donating 15% of my income.
I am an independent contractor and not employed by any institution. I am taxed at a combined rate of 35% (Federal income tax, payroll taxes and State excise tax). This year thus far, with the popularity of my book and more work in the corporate sector, my fee has ranged from pro bono (zero) to upwards of $30,000, which is well within the standard range for a best-selling author who is in high demand. The higher fees allow me to donate more, do more pro bono work, and request that corporations who hire me donate to a racial justice organization led by people of Color. This is not to minimize my income but to provide some perspective.
Beacon Press, my publisher, is a non-profit press specializing in social justice books. My royalties on White Fragility are 7.5 percent (agents receive 15% of a book’s royalties).
These are, of course, uncomfortable questions to be asked. If I wrote about any other social phenomenon and did not include how racism shapes that phenomenon – which would be a serious omission reinforcing whiteness – I would likely not be asked what I do with my income. We might also ask the same questions of those who do not seek to challenge racism in their work.
“Why did you change the information that was on the Accountability page of your website?”
I had listed out all the organizations that benefited financially from my fundraising and donations during 2019 and 2020, but the Washington Free Beacon journalist began to contact these organizations and ask them to verify my donations. I am a private citizen and organizations are not obligated to release who their donors are or how much they donate, and they declined to do so. Further, many of the donations from fund-raising events came through the sponsoring org – Education for Racial Equity – so my name would not be listed as the donor. Declining to reveal my name and amount of donations was used by this journalist to suggest that I was lying about my donations because organizations “did not confirm.”
Further, this journalist was contacting these organizations at the same time that my daughter and I were being doxed by the far-right. Her name, address and relation to me was published on Twitter and members of my family were being emailed and harassed. Pictures and stories about me taken from my husband’s personal website were being circulated. In a panic we removed any information that was open to trolling and harassment. My husband took his website down and made his IG private, and we took the names of organizations benefitting from my fundraising off my website. This level of visibility and the daily hate mail and physical threats that go with it are new to me and I am doing my best to respond with transparency while also keeping myself, my family, and the organizations associated with me safe. Unfortunately, the journalist framed this as “scrubbing” my website.
We have now made the information regarding donations available in the following ways: The list of organizations benefiting from funds raised from my public workshops is available on ERE’s website. The list of organizations to which I donate directly are listed above, in the “What do you do with your income?” section. It is up to readers whether they believe I would lie about this.
“You are centering whiteness”
I am well aware that I am inside a system I am seeking to challenge and that my work both upholds and interrupts this system. Writer and activist Audre Lorde wrote that, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” She was critiquing feminists of the time who claimed to represent all women but who focused their concerns on white, middle-class women. Lorde’s quote speaks to the dilemma of challenging the system from within. For example, can one authentically critique academia while employed by it and thus invested in it? This is one of the major challenges I face as a white person writing about race. My goal is to use my platform to break with white solidarity, decenter whiteness by exposing its workings, interrupt white denial of racism, and contribute to a more racially-just society. At the same time, I am simultaneously reinforcing whiteness when my voice is centered as a white person focusing on white people. This “both/and” tension is one I have come to terms with, as currently none of us are or can be outside the system, for it is unacceptable for me not to use the credibility and access granted by whiteness to challenge racism. I consistently acknowledge this dilemma in my talks and writing.
Racism is arguably the most charged issue of the last several centuries. I have received and incorporated feedback from many colleagues, mentors, participants, and antiracist educators over the years. Now, as a very visible white public figure writing and speaking openly and directly about racism, I am overwhelmed with feedback from every side, and that feedback is often contradictory. I cannot and will not get it right by everyone, and I am necessarily limited in my understanding by my position as a white person. However, I do believe I am in my integrity and accountability with the Black and other peoples of Color and racially conscious white people who continue to mentor me over many years and with whom I am in close accountability relationships. I hope and recommend that all white people develop similar deep and broad cross-race networks of support and accountability for life-long learning so we show up as effective partners and engage constructively in antiracist efforts.