White Like Me: A Book Review

Reading White Like Me, a memoir and reflection on white privilege, by Tim Wise, an antiracist author and essayist, was the most eye opening experience on race I’ve had in a long time.

In White Like Me Tim Wise details his life’s history through the race lens, noting experiences from his life that led to his work as a white antiracist.

When I first began reading Tim Wise, I was all agape, like, “holy shit, I am so ignorant about race and racism.”

And I feel like I understand racism better than the average white American.

But we are. White people are unbelievably ignorant about race. It’s not our faults. Schools and history books whitewash (pun intended) our education to make Euro-Americans look like heroes and pioneers rather than than invaders and land thieves.

But if we ever want race relations to get better in this country, we have to tell the truth. And that’s what Tim Wise does.

His first book, White Like Me is a memoir of his life with examination of his own racist past, racism in his family, his own white privilege and how he understands that in order to fight racism, we must start with our own minds.

I highly recommend this book, White Like Me, as an introduction to examining your own racial bias and a good primer for your self education on racism.

If you don’t do it, nobody will.

One of the first thing you will learn from White Like Me is this:

Tim Wise teaches workshops on racism and when he begins, he asks people to tell about their first experience with race.

White people, he writes, usually look dumbfounded. Some will try to tell of their first experience with “racial others.”

But he says, the black people, always know the answer.

It began when you were born.

You have race. You have skin color. And it has colored your experience.
The fact that there are no people of color around is not an accident.

“Although white Americans often think we’ve had a few first-hand experiences with race– because most of us are so isolated from people of color in our day-to-day lives– the reality is that this isolation is our experience with race. We are all experiencing race, because from the beginning of our lives we have been living in a racialized society, where the color of our skin means something, even while it remains a matter of biological and genetic irrelevance. Race may be a scientific fiction, but it is a social fact: one that none of us can escape no matter how much or how little we talk about it.”


A Lesson In, Uh, Civil Rights?

The Story of Ruby Bridges

Last night I read a book to Annika on civil rights called, The Story of Ruby Bridges. It’s an elementary version of school integration about a 6-year-old girl, one of the first black children to go to school in white school.

The story details a mild version of the girl who was honored to be the first black child in her all-white school.

I had been given the book as a gift and wasn’t sure that Annika was ready for it, but when we moved, she found it sticking out of a box and insisted on reading it. We’ve been reading it for the past four nights, every night.

I have finally come to the conclusion that most books should not be edited much since she will mostly tell me when she doesn’t like something. Knowing my own curious nature, I understand the need to explore things that are uncomfortable.

So, I read the book about a 6-year-old, (in my head screaming, “Oh my god, she’s a baby! How could her parents make her go through this??!!”) walking through an angry mob of white people angry that this child is going to “their” neighborhood school, while being guarded by armed federal police.

Ruby spends the day all alone in her school room, with her teacher, Mrs. Henry, who wonders how this child is so calm in the face of such adversity.

She's been a reader from the beginning.

As I’ve read this book over the past few nights, tonight, I decided to ask Annika what she thought of the book. Before I did, however,  about halfway through, she stopped me and asked me, “Mama, what’s a mob?”

I explained in small detail that its a crowd of people who are usually angry about something.

Then at the end of the book, I finally say, after wondering what she’s thought of the book all week, “Do you have any questions about this story?”

And she says to me, “Why is the teacher’s name Henry?”