“Me and White Supremacy”, by Layla F. Saad (Saad, 2020) is a 28 day exercise in educating yourself on white supremacy and the role it plays in your life. Through 28 chapters of theory, examples, and writing prompts, it creates a framework for self reflection; helping a reader come to terms with white privilege and their continuing role in maintaining and benefiting from white supremacy. It is a book explicitly intended for a white, or white-passing, audience and it promises that audience that through reflective journaling they will grow into an ability to make positive change in the world and “be better ancestors”. Saad keeps chapters short and snappy, with many examples as aids for the journaling portion. However, her focus on her audience’s internal state causes her to ignore white supremacy as a structural and political system.
Saad kicks off her book by signaling to the reader over and over again that they are neither alone nor under attack. The endorsement from Robin DiAngelo, a white antiracist educator, is followed by a comforting and inspiring introduction to the author and a user guide to the book which drives home the importance of “the work” and signals to the reader that they are ready to do it and that it is for them. It promises that “white supremacy is a racist ideology” and that you can overthrow that ideology by recognizing it in yourself. Additionally, the “three things you will need to do this work” are undoubtedly written to be comforting and familiar to the “spiritual white women” who were this projects original target audience.
Saad does a spectacular job throughout the book of choosing topics and prompts that push a reader towards practices of good allyship. To be an ally, one must understand the damage racism does to people of color (week 2), as well as all the different ways that one can be racist (week 1), get in the way (week 3), or fail to help (week 4). She also illustrates each week and chapter with extensive and incredibly useful examples of what each concept covered looks like in real life. These examples are especially powerful when they are taken from her life.
All that being said, Saad’s focus on the reader’s personal growth and self-awareness leaves neither time, nor philosophical space, for the greater issue of white supremacy as a political and economic system of oppression. This failure means that she leaves the reader without many of the tools to deconstruct it. In particular, she does not craft any argument for the exis- tence of white supremacy, which may leave readers unable to convince others of its continuing existence.
This book is written for those who hope to be on the path of allyship. As a person who is trying to be an ally I have often been asked why I care, more often than not in a very roundabout way. “Me and White Supremacy” suggests that the reason is to be “a good ancestor”, an answer many of the unconvinced will find unconvincing. A linked, but more fulfilling answer is that white supremacy is a global evil that must not be allowed to continue. To give that answer, however, one must be able to show, as Mills does very effectively, that global white supremacy exists (Mills, 1997). In day 1 of Saad’s book she does ask the related question “How do we know White Privilege is real?” The answer she gives is that her mother told her. It is certainly not necessary to devote hundreds of pages to proving the existence of the Racial Contract, Mills already did that, but the book would have been greatly strengthened by having day 1, and maybe even week 1, actually cover the existence and effects of global white supremacy.
An alternative to a new day 1 prompt would be references to further resources to help the reader fill in gaps. This is a more general problem through the book. Over 28, quite short, chapters the book contains 58 references, nowhere near enough to help a reader answer questions left at the end of a day’s reading and while each chapter’s brevity is in most ways a benefit to the book’s goals it does make it likely that the reader will have questions.
That being said, even with further resources, a reader is likely to be left with questions because the dismantling of White Supremacy is neither simple nor straightforward work. It is filled with tension between competing aims and priorities. The book in no way addresses these tensions. A particular example is this pair of facts: White saviorism is a form of white supremacy and it is the job of white people to dismantle white supremacy. While this tension is handily resolved through the concept of allyship many other problems of praxis are not so easily resolved, and to leave them unaddressed in such an action oriented work is an oversight. Continuing on the theme of praxis, the book contains almost nothing about how to combat racism outside of your own mind. It advises us not to be silent (day 4), to call out (or in) racism in our friends, family, and leaders (day 23-25) on their racist behaviors, and many times how not to be bad allies, but it completely ignores politics and policy. White supremacy will not end when people stop behaving in racist ways. It will end when the political, power system is brought down. Although battling racist thought and behavior is one step towards that goal, it is only one step, and it is also a move to innocence(Tuck & Yang, 2012). I don’t know if to make the book longer or replace some suggested chapter titles to fix the issue might be “Me and the Police State”, “Me and Colonial Capitalism”, or “Me and Schooling”. Possibly equally effective would have been to simply include a disclaimer from time to time reminding the reader that internal work is only the first step.
All in all, “Me and White Supremacy” is a powerful tool for self-education and reflection.
Its modular design of short, relatively stand-alone chapters also make it a great teaching tool allowing it to be easily mixed and remixed into curriculum and other readings. Especially as a book that started out as a series of posts it is a shame that it does not provide more citations, links, and other external resources. Additionally, Saad’s assertion that white supremacy is primarily personal and secondarily global and systemic sends a hopeful, but incorrect, message that education and self-reflection are all we need to fix it.
Mills, C. W. (1997). The racial contract. Cornell University Press.
Saad, L. F. (2020). Me and white supremacy: Combat racism, change the world, and become a good ancestor. Sourcebooks, Inc.
Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigene- ity, education & society, 1(1).