I still can’t get over seeing a black man on the news every night as President of the United States of America – wow. (It’s also a shock – another pleasant one – to have an intelligent and articulate man up there, though it hasn’t been that long since that was true, and also a fit, good-looking man.) As I’ve said before, I don’t think Obama’s election spells the end of racism in America – probably pretty much no one thinks that – and I am not even sure just how big a step forward in race relations it represents. It certainly is a step, of course, but the flip side of this step – of bringing down the color bar, increasing African American representation, etc. – another thing that is necessary for America to really address its legacy of slavery and endemic and institutional racism is for white Americans to deal directly and personally with their racial attitudes and to consider, alongside the history of racism, the origin and legacy of whiteness.

There’s a lot of great reading out there on the subject – here are some good places to start reading on the subject of race, racism, whiteness and white privilege:

Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama (Open Media)

This book, by Tim Wise, didn’t take long to appear, but is also long overdue.

Race is, and always has been, an explosive issue in the United States. In this timely new book, Tim Wise explores how Barack Obama’s emergence as a political force is taking the race debate to new levels. According to Wise, for many white people, Obama’s rise signifies the end of racism as a pervasive social force; they point to Obama not only as a validation of the American ideology that anyone can make it if they work hard, but also as an example of how institutional barriers against people of color have all but vanished. But is this true? And does a reinforced white belief in color-blind meritocracy potentially make it harder to address ongoing institutional racism? After all, in housing, employment, the justice system, and education, the evidence is clear: white privilege and discrimination against people of color are still operative and actively thwarting opportunities, despite the success of individuals like Obama.

Is black success making it harder for whites to see the problem of racism, thereby further straining race relations, or will it challenge anti-black stereotypes to such an extent that racism will diminish and race relations improve? Will blacks in power continue to be seen as an “exception” in white eyes? Is Obama “acceptable” because he seems “different from most blacks,” who are still viewed too often as the dangerous and inferior “other”?

Tim Wiseis among the most prominent antiracist writers and activists in the US and has appeared on ABC’s 20/20and MSNBC Live. His previous books include Speaking Treason Fluently and White Like Me.

White Privilege: Essential Readings on the Other Side of Racism

A collection of readings on the issue of white privilege, from a wide range of authors and perspectives.

Studies of racism often focus on its devastating effects on the victims of prejudice. But no discussion of race is complete without exploring the other side—the ways in which some people or groups actually benefit, deliberately or inadvertently, from racial bias.

The contents include:

  • “The Matter of Whiteness,” by the film critic and historian Richard Dyer
  • “Representations of Whiteness in the Black Imagination,” by bell hooks
  • “The Possessive Investment in Whiteness,” by the cultural historian George Lipsitz

The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class

David Roediger’s widely acclaimed book provides an original study of the formative years of working-class racism in the United States. In a lengthy new introduction, Roediger surveys recent scholarship on whiteness, and discusses the changing face of labor in the twenty-first century.


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