NOTE TO READER
Believe me, I know there is something more than a little pretentious about penning a letter to what amounts to roughly 200 million people.
To begin, I realize that only a tiny fraction of that number will ever read it or learn of its existence. Of those, a disproportionate percentage will be persons who likely hold views similar to my own. Such is the nature of ideological polemic. It tends to find readership amongst those already predisposed to agree with the bulk of its contents, thereby missing the vast throngs of others who could perhaps benefit from those contents but will studiously avoid them precisely because they can tellâperhaps from the title or the jacket blurbs, or because they are already familiar with the authorâthat they wonât likely agree with much of what lies inside.
I also recognize that by aiming said polemic at a group as vast and diverse as âwhite America,â I will likely be accused of overreach. After all, how can one speak at once to 200 million people called white in this nation, who lead lives that vary based on geography, class status, gender, sexuality, religious affiliation, political ideology, and any number of other identity categories? Doesnât such an effort overgeneralize about white people, suggesting that there are things they all need to think about, are not thinking about now, and on which I am qualified to lecture?
Perhaps. But despite these caveats, I believe this effort to be a valuable one. First, even if most who read this letter are already of a progressive, liberal or left orientation, the contents may still be of assistance in conversations with others of decidedly different persuasions. We all have people in our lives with whom it can be difficult to talk about political matters, and especially when those matters touch on the always explosive topic of race, as this volume does. If my words may in some way strengthen your own, and allow you to more confidently discuss racial subjects with those difficult co-workers, relatives, neighbors, or friends, all the better. Sometimes efforts such as this are aimed less at those one seeks to âconvertâ than at those with whom one already sojourns in general agreement, but who need reinforcement for the struggle. Not to mention, those who make up the so-called âchoirâ are often not singing on key, certainly not nearly so much as they believe themselves to be. As a lifelong Southerner who has been around my fair share of choirs, I can say without fear of contradiction that choirs need practice.
Likewise, although I know there is great diversity among those of us called white, I also know that to be white, regardless of the many additional identities we may possess, means something . It matters, and has always mattered, throughout our nationâs history. Despite our differences, there are certain aspects of the white American experience that are broadly similar. As I argued in my memoir, White Like Me , although we areâas with snowflakesâall different, we also must admit that (as with snowflakes) there are some general consistencies in our life trajectories that bind us together. We know snowflakes, after all, when we see them, and can make some statements about their experiences that are likely to be pretty close to the mark, regardless of whatever individual differences may exist between them: so too with persons defined as members of the same so-called race.
I also know that any time one takes aim at white folks over the subject of racism, as I do herein, one runs the risk of being accused of âhatingâ white people. Itâs a refrain that has been directed at me for years by those who find it difficult to differentiate between a critique of white racism and institutional white supremacy on the one hand, and of white people, as people , on the other. But there is a difference between these things. There have always been white people who have fought