Book Review: What White People Can Do Next – From Allyship to Coalition by Emma Dabiri

by @edent | # # # # | 1 comment

Book cover with pretty flowers on it.

When it comes to racial justice, how do we transform demonstrations of support into real and meaningful change? With intellectual rigour and razor-sharp wit, Emma Dabiri cuts through the haze of online discourse to offer clear advice.

This was a refreshing and necessary book to read. Refreshing because so much of the discourse on race is driven by the USA’s cultural hegemony – whereas this book is rooted firmly in Ireland and the UK. While it does cover some of the US experience, it isn’t exclusively focussed there.

And necessary because *gestures widely*

The book is written in an intriguing style. It effortlessly blends casual and formal language. It isn’t as dense as some scholarly works of race that I’ve read recently, and that’s a good thing. It is a good mix of history, background, and practical discussion. It also contains some – rightful – rages against the current state of “activism”:

The nature of social media is such that the performance of saying something often trumps doing anything, the tendency to police language, to shame and to say the right thing, often outweighs more substantive efforts.

Yes! While it may feel great to rant and rave on Twitter – it has almost zero impact. You need to actually go out and do something. Whether that’s lobbying a company, speaking to your elected representatives, or giving to charity. What we can’t do is weaponise class differences – telling people that they have white privilege isn’t sufficient to cause change:

We might abhor it, but if a tenuous and fragile feeling of superiority over black people or other minoritized people is all Donny has, why is he going to give that up? What is being offered in return?

I wrote something similar a while ago. As the book makes clear, we have to realise that racism hurts all of us. It isn’t just about those who it targets – it is a poison which corrupts everything.

One of the most startling revelations, for me was the notion of how “European style ‘formal’ education, have all imposed the ‘white gaze’.” It’s quite a concept that our society doesn’t exist in a philosophical “neutral zone”. Just like how the male gaze defines how movies are made and laws are passed, it is fascinating to understand that we have created systems which don’t reflect reality, only a subset of it. I recommend reading “Philosophy of Race: An Introduction” by Naomi Zack for more.

I think the only real flaw is that it doesn’t quite contain enough practical steps. In order to build a treehouse, it isn’t enough to say “buy some wood and assemble”. As the author acknowledges:

Frankly, there’s a huge gap in terms of what comes next. While we need to identify what to do, it’s important not to fixate on an endpoint or a final destination; such thinking is part of the problem. Rather we have to understand our lives as a dynamic flowing of positions.

The chapter headings are a great précis of the internal steps white people need to take – what do you need to realise about your behaviour? – but stops a little short of concrete actions.

It’s a short, but thoroughly interesting book.

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy. The book is out now and you can buy it via the below links.

One thought on “Book Review: What White People Can Do Next – From Allyship to Coalition by Emma Dabiri

  1. Thank you Terence. I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙏🏽

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