the everyday language of white racism

FWIW: Books I have found helpful in educating myself about my white privilege

With apologies for the highly likely omission of other important books that I have failed to mention, here is a list of books that I would recommend to those who are interested:

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Explains, with great clarity and precision, how the decline of the Jim Crow regime gave rise to a new method of control over America’s black population: mass incarceration. 

Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire by Robert Perkinson. Prison sentencing as retribution rather than rehabilitation: Discusses the plantation origins of the Texas penal system and the profit motive driving it, resulting in horrifying conditions that persist to this day, along with its influence on the U.S. prison system in general. 

The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America by Robert N. Entman and Andrew Rojecki. Discussion of how the media’s coverage of poverty and crime, starting in the 1960s and continuing today, has been overwhelmingly and unfairly focused on the black community, thereby both producing and perpetuating racial bias among whites. 

Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy by Martin Gilens. The author attributes Americans’ well-known antipathy to welfare to the widely held (by white Americans, as documented by polling data) stereotype of blacks being “lazy,” and traces the roots of this back to slavery: “Where the master perceived laziness, the slave saw refusal to be exploited. Thus the same action held different meanings, depending on whether one was master or slave. The social conditions of slavery, then, created an incentive structure that discouraged hard work and initiative and led whites to perceive slaves as lazy.” For me, this book underlined the persistent deep scars left by slavery, acting as a counterpoint to the view held by many that slavery is so long in the past as to be no longer relevant. 

The Everyday Language of White Racism by Jane H. Hill. In addition to its helpful (albeit a bit dry) discussion of white privilege, this book provides an enlightening explanation of language appropriation; i.e., using someone else’s linguistic cultural heritage for entertainment while prohibiting its legitimate use by native speakers. Example: The phrase “No problemo” being accepted as a casual, joking pleasantry, while a high school student who says “No problema” can be written up for speaking Spanish in school. 

The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit by Thomas J. Sugrue. Focused on Detroit, but applicable to other Northern industrial cities as well, this book shows how the city reacted to the Great Migration, segregating its suburbs (legally), enforcing discriminatory employment practices, and decentralizing industry, thereby effectively trapping blacks in the inner city, with efforts at so-called “urban renewal” generally only making things worse. To add insult to injury, the black community was then blamed (by the white population) for the city’s decline. 

Colored Property: State Policy and White Racial Politics in Suburban America by David M.P. Freund. While the concept of zoning originated in well-meant (and understandable) efforts to, for example, keep a slaughterhouse from setting up shop next door, it evolved into a tool that was used to enforce racial segregation in housing. The book also discusses the government-backed home mortgage market: while appearing to be race-neutral, it was, in fact, anything but, resulting in the effective exclusion of black Americans from several generations of wealth-building through home ownership. Super-important, I think, to understanding today’s racial wealth gap.