Anti-Racist Reading: Me & White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad

Me and White Supremacy teaches readers how to dismantle the privilege within themselves so that they can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on people of colour, and in turn, help other white people do better, too.

When Layla Saad began an Instagram challenge called #MeAndWhiteSupremacy, she never predicted it would spread as widely as it did. She encouraged people to own up and share their racist behaviors, big and small. She was looking for truth, and she got it. Thousands of people participated in the challenge, and over 90,000 people downloaded the Me and White Supremacy Workbook.

The updated and expanded Me and White Supremacy takes the work deeper by adding more historical and cultural contexts, sharing moving stories and anecdotes, and including expanded definitions, examples, and further resources.

Awareness leads to action, and action leads to change. The numbers show that readers are ready to do this work – let’s give it to them.

Like many white folks, I started following a lot of Black anti-racist educators after George Floyd was murdered. Layla Saad was one of those people. I was familiar with her name and the Me and White Supremacy (MAWS) workbook, because I actually downloaded it when it was a free PDF back in 2018. I remember downloading the PDF, which at the time went along with some follow-up emails to check in on you, and completely abandoning it. In 2018, I wasn’t ready to face all of my own white privilege and internal racism. The questions were too deep and too difficult, so the PDF has been languishing in my email ever since.

Now though, in the godforsaken year of our lord 2020, I was ready. I found out there was an updated version and downloaded it to my Kindle. I started reading. I started doing the journaling that goes along with it. Then, Saad made a post on her Instagram acknowledging how many people were interested in going through her book right now. She invited her followers to comment on her post to find or start a group to go through the book together. I commented, mentioning I was hoping to find white women in the South who were around my age. I got almost 20 responses, started a Facebook group, and 4 of us have made it all the way through.

Going through this book has been a whole experience. If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s not really a book you just read. Each chapter covers a unique facet of white supremacy, what it is, and how it shows up in day to day life. The chapters themselves are typically very short. Then each chapter has a few journaling questions at the end. I’ll go ahead and say right now, if you pick this up but don’t plan on actually doing the questions – like, physically writing or typing or discussing them – you might as well not pick up the book at all. The questions and the self-examination is the substance of the book here.

This book is meant primarily for white people, and I’ll go further and say it’s geared toward those who already have at least a little bit of knowledge about race in America. If you’re going in as a complete beginner, having never thought about race or whiteness ever, this might not be where you want to begin. I was already familiar with the concepts of white privilege, white fragility, color blindness and its criticisms, and others, and having that foundation really helped me. That lack of knowledge may be part of the reason I wasn’t ready to do this book in 2018.

I went into this book knowing I have internal biases, but I did not realize the extent to which white supremacy pervades literally everything in American culture and institutions – and by extension, me and my own personal beliefs. That was really what I got out of this book on the whole: that America is a white supremacist society, and it poisons us all, which is part of why it has been so difficult for us as a country to eradicate racism. That sounds really extreme written out, but it’s true.

Previously, I understood white supremacy as something extreme. When I heard white supremacist, I pictured a KKK hood or a white man with a swastika tattoo brandishing an AR-15. After having gone through this book, I understand it more as the racist and often subconscious belief that all things white are better, and those beliefs having been immortalized in our societal systems by individuals who believed those things and passed them on through generations. When you start to think about white supremacy that way, it’s much easier to recognize it in your own thoughts and beliefs.

Going through this book was really hard. It took me and my group much, much longer than 28 days. Saad advises not taking breaks with this book, because Black people never get a break from racism. But if it’s between taking a break and feeling like you have to quit because you cannot make yourself muster up the mental capacity for one more day of deep soul-searching – take a break. There is a lot going on this year, and this kind of introspection is difficult.

I learned a lot about myself that I didn’t really like. I have always known I have biases, but I had never thought about them closely enough to say, for example, “I do quite a bit of tone policing.” Now I can name my specific biases, and I don’t like that I can do that, but I can’t dismantle what I can’t name. That’s the whole point of this book.

Throughout the book, it becomes clear that because white supremacy is so pervasive in American society (and the world, really), it’s easy to think that individual attitudes aren’t going to change anything, because it’s the systems that need overhauling. This kind of attitude is prevalent among white liberals, I have learned. And it’s not completely wrong, but it makes it really easy to discount what we can do on our own. In going through this book, I found it helpful to remember that systems are made up of individuals, and individuals are the ones that push for change within systems. So really – it starts with us.

If you can, I HIGHLY recommend going through this book with a group. If I had not found a group of women to discuss this with, I don’t think I would have finished it this year. Everyone in the group had had different experiences and perspectives on white supremacy, and it was so helpful to hear their thoughts on each topic. I feel like I gained a much better understanding of how white supremacy pervades lives, and got better ideas on how to combat it. It was also just amazing to know I wasn’t the only one who found this book really difficult to get through, and we all encouraged each other to continue.

I’m glad I actually purchased this, because this is a book I may try to revisit each year. I have added to some of my answers already before having even finished it. There are so many layers to white supremacy, and even if I don’t find new layers and things to explore each year, it’s still a great reminder to watch my thoughts and make sure my actions are lining up with what I really believe.

Finally, this is not just a book for liberal-leaning people. All of the women starting off in my group leaned at least somewhat liberal, and a lot of our conversations have bled over into politics because they’re so strongly intertwined with racial justice. But internalized white supremacy is something that everyone should look at, regardless of your political leaning. Many of our Republican lawmakers, at least on the federal level, make it seem like racial justice isn’t something that conservatives should want to pursue. A lot of them seem to understand white supremacy as a man in a white hood rather than a gross but pervasive part of our culture. (To be frank, some of them seem to be okay with the extreme view of white supremacy, but that’s a whole other post.) But you can hold conservative values and still believe we all need to dismantle our biases. You can hold conservative values and support Black Lives Matter. You can hold conservative values and acknowledge that a lot of our American institutions don’t work for Black folks the same way they do for white ones. Don’t let our extremely divided political culture stop you from doing this book.

I can’t say I enjoyed reading this book and doing the journaling, but I did get a lot out of it. I feel much better prepared now to make practicing antiracism a sustainable part of my daily lifestyle. If you’ve been looking at doing this book and hesitating, consider this your sign to start now.

Cover and description from Goodreads.

9 comments

  1. I guess I’m OK with saying I’m not ready yet. I catch my white-biases several times a week and I think this program would be good for me, but I don’t think I’d be able to focus appropriately. I agree that there’s no reason conservatives can’t advocate for racial justice. I’m not sure how Black Live Matter became so offensive to conservatives in the first place (much like wearing masks). I just learned that my sister in law is boycotting the NFL season because of Black Lives Matter. It makes my head spin.

    • I really don’t think I would have finished it without a group for sure. But there’s definitely lots of ways of practicing antiracist I think. Y’all seem like the type of people that have had that as a lifestyle since before the rest of us had it on our radars. As for your SIL, her loss of guess! 🙄🙄🙄

    • You probably give us more credit than we deserve. Overt racism has always pissed me off, but really over the past few months have I come to understand how racism is ingrained in EVERYTHING. It seems like a basic truth. I don’t understand why some people (conservatives) deny it. What do they gain?

  2. Excellent post! I found your post to have a down-to-earth candid tone. More people need to be as open-minded, willing to do the work, and willing to do better as are, as you have, and as you will. I’m reading Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, a book that may be on your radar.

    • I heard about Caste only recently but am def putting it on my list! There’s another one on class in America called White Trash that I’ve been meaning to get around to. I feel like we all grow up with the American dream narrative thinking class doesn’t exist here but it totally does and once you see it you can’t unsee it.

    • I agree that class exists. I think people shaping American culture and those in power choose to ignore it to maintain the status quo. Laws and enforcement of those laws is critical, in addition to the enforcement on the individual matters, too.

  3. “…you can hold conservative values and still believe we all need to dismantle our biases.” So well said and quotable! Thanks for the hard work you are doing and for sharing your review.

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