I’ve had several conversations recently with well meaning white folks who want to engage and ask questions about black lives matter and other race discussions appearing in US news, but have also been told “it’s not my job to teach you,” by their black colleagues. This is true — it is not their job to teach you. But hear me out, before you get defensive: this request is an enormous emotional labor to add to a coworker’s plate. You can answer some of your questions through the rich materials out there on your own. This is an act of research and engaging responsibly: like many things, there is a long history here that one must engage with before truly understanding what is happening now.
I am making this short list of readings to help you get started learning on your own so that it is not on them to teach you the basics. I am not an expert, there are many others who will have better recommendations than I do. But I wanted to make this list for people who need a first step. I am making this list in hopes that from here you will be able to seek out all the authors and thinkers who have made important contributions to this discussion. (This is a perpetual work in progress)
The best way to engage with it is to take a step that many well meaning, pro-active people will be uncomfortable with: you need to sit with discomfort. Like engaging with a loved one who is giving you feedback on something you have done that hurt them, you must acknowledge the pain and suffering before you do anything else. Blocking out this discomfort and jumping immediately into, “how can I fix it? What can we do next?” is not the first step towards truly engaging. Read these things. Sit with and engage with your discomfort.
To frame your reading: Engage with an open mind. Try to listen and learn, without trying to critique and defend. Just listen.
Begin here (mandatory read): Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work on intersectionality.
Especially relevant right now, with the gun control debates in Florida:
Why it hurts when the world loves everyone but us by Janaya Khan
Another angle on why representation matters: Safwat Saleem asks what it means to be considered “normal.”
On DACA, being undocumented in the US in the Trump Era, and the many types of labor that comes with all of these themes: this blog is very thoughtful and honest.
Activist Deanna Zandt has answered many questions about race for other white folks here. Some of your own questions might appear in her thoughtful responses.
Good luck! (And I am open to adding more/doing more specific reading lists over time. This is not an exhaustive list of all the great work out there, just a short one to help people get started.)