by Maria Thomas, News Editor
In the present fight to overcome white supremacy in America, Black activists across the nation have begged white individuals to educate themselves. Listening to, centering and uplifting Black voices at this time is crucial to challenging the systems which have silenced them for so long.
While there are countless resources and modes of education, I recently had the pleasure of reading How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy and the Racial Divide by sociologist Crystal Fleming.
It is crucial to mention that I read this book in a virtual book club setting with other individuals hoping to create change within themselves. Discussing this text chapter by chapter with peers was incredibly helpful for translating the text into our daily lives. It also provided a safe space to ask questions and reflect on the ways in which we had participated in systems of white supremacy.
Fleming brings to the forefront of this book the fact that white supremacy is not a scary monster, or a radical force driven by the KKK. It is both of those things, of course, but more importantly, white supremacy is ingrained within the fabric of our society. Practically every American (and global) system perpetuates and strengthens the forces of white supremacy, further contributing to the oppression of people of color.
These systems began with America’s creation, a country founded on slavery and colonialism, and have been ignored by white Americans for centuries.
More importantly, this notion eliminates the age-old portrayal of racism as an individual act, or an individual person being a racist. Fleming says, “Once you realize that a racist society inevitably socializes its citizens to absorb racist ideas and behave in a discriminatory way, then you’re less likely to be preoccupied with adjudicating whether an individual is or is not ‘a racist.’ We’re dealing with collective problems and institutionalized inequalities.”
This book is masterfully composed of research, critical race theory, personal anecdotes and humor, all with the intention of bringing systemic racism to the forefront of conversations regarding race, as well as challenging the ways we view race.
Racial stupidity, as Fleming calls it, is the misconceptions and misrepresentations white Americans have about Black and brown individuals. These misrepresentations can be seen in nearly every element of American society, from government to the media to the classroom. Racial stupidity usually leads to racist behavior, while simultaneously solidifying the power of white people.
Throughout the text, a recurring topic is how both the Republican and Democratic parties have contributed to and strengthened the institutionalized systems which oppress marginalized groups. With the election of Barack Obama, many Americans convinced themselves they were living in a post-racial America, where white supremacy did not exist.
“Depending on which racial idiot you ask, the United States hasn’t been racist since Obama’s election, the civil rights movement, the dawn of the twentieth century, or ever,” Fleming says.
Fleming asserts that White individuals must constantly combat systems of racial oppression to truly engage in anti-racist work and begin the journey of allyship.
In a section regarding affirmative action, Fleming maps out the evidence which suggests that those who had benefited most from affirmative action policies have actually been White individuals. Fleming says, “Other scholars who take a critical or “systemic” approach to the study of racism have shown that the nation’s first affirmative action programs and government handouts were conceived by white Americans for white Americans.” By providing these inarguable truths, Fleming exposes the overtly racist misconceptions White America has about racial minorities getting an unfair advantage with affirmative action programs.
Overall, Fleming herself notes that she is “passionate about empowering people with the tools to understand and remedy their own racial ignorance.”
For fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, so many white Americans refuse to participate in the Black Lives Matter movement in a meaningful or constructive way. With Fleming’s book, readers can educate themselves without having to put the weight of teaching oftentimes traumatic truths on their friends of color.