Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice - Revised and Expanded 3rd Edition Now Available

by: EJ on 09/16/2011
Posted in: Activism

Paul Kivel, author of Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Social Justice,  has been a social justice activist, a nationally and internationally recognized anti-racism educator and an innovative leader in violence prevention for over 40 years. He is an award-winning author and an accomplished trainer and speaker, and has conducted thousands of talks, trainings, and workshops on diversity, men’s issues, the challenges of youth, and the impact of class and power on daily life.

The following excerpt is from the "Preface to the Third Edition" of the best selling Uprooting Racism.

When I wrote Uprooting Racism, I wanted to address the strongly entrenched institutional and organizational structures in our society that maintain and perpetuate racism. My hope was that if we, as white people, could better understand the injustice on which our lives and our society are based and could see the collaborative role that we play in maintaining racism, we would be more motivated to combat it and more effective at doing so. I also wanted my book to address the daily indignities and attacks that people of color experience.

When the first edition was published in the early nineties, there were books about racism, but few that documented how white people benefited from and participated in  perpetuating it. Even fewer examined the way that racism influenced the workings of our institutions. But, perhaps as a legacy of the civil rights movement, there was still a vigorous discussion of racism in US society and a widespread acceptance of the fact that we had work to do to make racial justice a reality.

Fifteen years later there are a massive number of studies and other forms of documentation demonstrating the workings of racism in everything from its devastating impact on the lives and opportunities of people of color to how white people think, act and talk about racism, what benefits we gain from it and how it is perpetuated in the everyday practices and policies of our organizations and institutions.

At the same time within the white community there is a culture of denial and minimization about the existence of racism. Despite pervasive segregation and discrimination in education, housing, healthcare and the job market; despite widespread surveillance, control and punishment of people of color through the welfare, child welfare, foster care, education, police, immigration and criminal/legal systems; despite hate crimes, police brutality, racial profiling and everyday forms of what has been called micro-aggression against people of color, a January 2009 poll showed that while most white people believe that acts of racism still occur, only 22% believe that racism is a major societal problem.

In fact, I often hear references to a “post-racial” society, a belief that the civil rights movement and subsequent legislation “took care of all that,” and a feeling that having a black man as president proves that we have moved beyond race in the United States. Any continuing racism must be residual from the past or the result of racist individuals who are the exception.

Every day I hear a new story, read a new report, witness the devastating impact of racism on our community. I don’t ask for these stories, but I listen carefully when I hear them. I don’t take them personally or try to defend white people. I know that these stories are not about me and that sometimes the white people involved have no conscious intention of hurting a person of color. These stories are about the everyday discrimination and disrespect towards people of color that racism produces and that people of color have to live with.

A few years ago I was hopeful that we were making some inroads in recognizing and addressing racism. However, watching the response to the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings, the response to the disasters of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina and the collapse of the stock and housing bubbles, I fear we have suffered major setbacks. There has been an alarming increase in hate crimes against Arab Americans, against Muslims and even against those who are mistaken for members of these two groups, such as Sikhs, whose men traditionally wear turbans. African Americans, Latino/as, Native Americans and Asian Americans are threatened by racial profiling on our streets and at our borders. Mosques are being attacked across the US.

The housing and financial meltdowns have disproportionately affected communities of color — transferring even more wealth to white communities. And all of us face attacks on our civil liberties, increased police and military surveillance and the further shifting of resources from education, health and other social programs to war, surveillance and prisons. On the other hand, in this time of increased insecurity and fear, I have been heartened by the number of white people (as well as many people of color) who have stood in solidarity with Arab Americans, Muslims, recent immigrants, African Americans, Native Americans and others under attack. They have challenged stereotypes and misinformation and confronted scapegoating and harassment. They have acted as allies in the best tradition of white people. I hope that this new edition of Uprooting Racism will continue to support that tradition of caring and social responsibility.

I know that many white people find it hard to read about racism. I have been told stories of how students, required to read this book, would read a chapter and then throw the book across the room because they were so upset at what I was saying and what it meant for their lives. But then they would go across the room, pick up the book and read another chapter. That is what it takes to confront racism. We need to keep going back and picking up the task no matter how uncomfortable, angry or frustrated we become in the process.

Being an ally is like that. We keep learning, doing our best, leaving something out, making mistakes, doing it better next time. Now, more than ever, we as white people need to put our shoulders to the task of working with people of color to uproot racism and build healthy, inclusive and sustainable communities. As I discuss in more detail in the book, it is inadequate to say “I am not prejudiced,” and morally evasive to say “I treat everyone the same.” In a world in which racism continues to be one of the bedrocks of our organizations and institutions, in which most people of color, every single day, are confronted with the repercussions of racial discrimination, harassment and exploitation, we must ask ourselves:

What do I stand for? Who do I stand with?

Do I stand for racial justice, the end of discrimination and racial violence and a society truly based on equal opportunity?

Do I stand with people of color and white allies in the struggle to uproot racism?

These are the challenging questions I offer to you as you begin to read this book. I hope Uprooting Racism helps you to be clearer and more effective in answering them.

Paul Kivel, June, 2011



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