Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence - Derald Wing Sue

This book was featured in my workplace's bias-busting book group, and deals with talking about race. It (unsurprisingly) is American-centric, but interesting nonetheless in how to talk about a difficult subject.

The main idea is that race is the elephant in the room that many white Americans fear to discuss. The primary approach is "color-blindness" - by trying hard to ignore race, the problem goes away. Unfortunately, the problem hasn't gone away, and claims that you can't see race make those problems impossible to discuss.

Part of this is that being white is a race, is a culture. If you're white, it doesn't mean you have no race, it means you are in the socially-dominanting race, and are seeing the world through a lens that is sufficiently predominant you don't know it's there. Acknowledging that you are white is fine as long as you can build up a racial identity that contains understanding of history and privelege, is not ignorant of other races, and actively helps people in disadvantaged minorities - as there are so many structural disasdvantages (let alone overt racists!), doing nothing (or being neutral/"color blind") is insufficient.

Unsurprisingly for a book on "race talk", it also discusses how to talk about race. The key point I'm taking away is that experience of race is subjective - as you can't live in someone else's skin, you should believe their experiences and acknowledge their emotions, and by approaching it that way you can learn to understand the world through others' eyes.

This is all, of course, a dramatic over-simplification of a whole book. There's plenty of subtlety and detail.

Indeed, the book's got a fairly academic tone, and is hard work, consisting of pretty dry, slow material. And the human interest examples are generally of people having a bad time due to their race, or having bad and dispiriting discussions about race. Furthermore, the title of the book makes it sound like it's either neo-fascism or incredibly right-on, which means I didn't dare to read it in public for fear of worrying people and/or drawing out the loonies. All of which meant I read this book incredibly slowly, and I think this has really slowed down my overall reading rate, with a big queue of books building up after it.

I learnt less from the book than I had hoped (especially considering the material's US-centricism), but it was interesting nonetheless. Would I recommend it? Not really, unless you're a masochist, or have particularly strong needs or interests in the area.

Posted 2017-12-23.