Deconstructing my White Ladyness

Last night, I hosted a White Lady happy hour, in which 20 of us explored the relationship between our whiteness and being socialized as women.  We came together to learn more about characteristics of whiteness and those of white women specifically, so that we can more readily resist and disrupt these characteristics and the systemic oppression that flows from them.  I had a stack of books on my table that have been important to me in my journey to disrupt white supremacy as a white woman.  This is certainly not an all-inclusive list and the books are not listed in any particular order.  This is simply a list of books that have been helpful to me.  Enjoy!

Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty, Dororthy Roberts.

This one is not in the picture because I can’t seem to keep a copy around.  It is one of those books that rarely gets returned.  Which is ok with me because this is one of the most impactful books I have read in the past 10 years.  While I knew bits and pieces of this history, I truly had no idea how much lack of consent and coercion women of color have faced in the US.  And not during ancient history, during my lifetime.  In my opinion, this book should be required reading for all white birthworkers in this country.  I think it is essential that those of us who are white understand the privilege that whiteness has afforded us in all sorts of reproductive issues. 

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

This letter from the author to his 15 year old son is a tremendous read.  It truly gave me a glimpse into a culture far from my own.  I came away understanding just a little bit more about what it is like to experience life in America as a black person.

This Bridge Called my Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, eds. Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa.

An amazing collection of essays by women with a variety of stories and backgrounds, highlighting the importance of the intersecting identities in all of our lives.  The book “intends to reflect an uncompromised definition of feminism by women of color in the United States.”  It does just that and, for me, challenged notions of my own feminism.  This helped me see more clearly what parts of my own personal feminism are specifically white feminism and should only be viewed in that specific context.

Birthing Justice: Black women, Pregnancy, and Childbirth eds. Julia Chinyere Oparah and Alicia D Bonaparte.

A collection of writings on birth by black women.  Authors include trailblazer who have shaped black women’s birth justice in the US such as an introduction by Shafia Monroe, an amazing chapter by Loretta Ross and an enlightening discussion with Jennie Joseph on her successful model of care in Florida.

Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice, Jael Silliman, Marlene Gerber Fried, Loretta Ross, and Elena R. Gutiérrez.

This book opened my eyes to a wide history of reproductive justice that I had only known snippets of before reading.  It is dense, but absolutely filled with critical information on reproductive justice from a non-white perspective.  I particularly enjoyed reading about COLOR, the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, the org that has been Elephant Circle’s fiscal sponsor since 2009. 

Trauma Stewardship, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky. 

Anyone who encounters trauma in life or work – their own or others – should read this book.  It is a practical guide to recognizing trauma responses in ourselves and others with ideas for appropriate responses.  I have found Trauma Stewardship to be essential to the resilience and sustainability of my work in the past years.  It is a particularly good tool for those of us exposed to secondary trauma regularly.

Mastering Respectful Confrontation, Joe Weston.

The name says it all.  I can’t recommend this book enough - particularly to those of us socialized as white women.  We have learned to avoid and assuage discomfort and to have fear of open conflict.  That can lead us to be passive aggressive to gain power.  The tools in this book more much more effective and empowering!

Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism, eds. Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman.

I first read this book a number of years ago and it blew my mind.  I had never (!) really considered the role of colonialism on white culture in the US and this book changed all that.  Once I started to make connections between settler colonialization and the way that white supremacy functions today, I was more effective in recognizing and disrupting systemic oppressions. 

Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis and Movement Building Strategy, Chris Crass.

This book promises to speak to “activists engaging with dynamic questions of how to create and support effective movements for visionary systemic change.”  It doesn’t disappoint!  Chris Crass is a longtime white organizer who has spent his lifetime considering movement building with white folks.  His words are inspiring, concrete and practical.

Racing to Justice: Transforming our Conceptions of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society, john a. powell.

john a. powell is a professor at Berkeley and holds the Robert D. Haas Chancellors’ Chair in Equity and Inclusion.  He is a tremendous thinker, speaker and writer and this series of essays is brilliant and eye-opening.  It has been called “Essential reading for everyone implicated by race in America – and that means everyone.”  I agree!  My personal copy is dogeared and well-loved from the many times I refer to Dr. powell’s words.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander.

If you don’t know much about mass incarceration in this country and the role racism plays in its development and persistence, this book is a must read.  It lays out, in startlingly straightforward fashion, how incarceration was designed to function as legal slavery in this country.  It also addresses the idea of colorblindness and the harms it propagates and amplifies.  Very hard read and unbelievably dense, but the information is extremely important and worth the time and energy.

Towards the “Other America:” Anti-racist Resources for white People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter, Chris Crass.

By the same author as the book above, this book explicitly deals with how white folks can seek genuine solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.  It is a series of essays about real people who are engaged in real action, including information about participating in anti-racist organizing for families with kids.  It is inspiring and left me feeling like my voice is important and all I need to do to lean into action is to (simply) lean into action.

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, James W. Loewen.

This book is one of those WOW books.  Nearly every page is filled with the sense that history, as we were and are taught in school, was misrepresented.  I was looking to re-learn the whitewashed history I know I learned, but was unprepared for such a critical examination of the making of history textbooks and the resulting implications on what students learn.  It was eye-opening and a great read for parents with kids learning history in school.  It has helped me help my kids as questions about what they are learning – to question the roles of hero and victim in all the stories they read in their history books. 

What books have inspired you lately?