book review, Opinion

Review of How To Be Less Stupid About Race by Crystal Marie Fleming

This is one of those books, that will fully suck you in from the start. Even if you’ve done some research on racism, history and how it effects society, there’s new things to pick up from here. And – Fleming delivers them with her expertise in a colourful and everything but dry way.

Using herself as an example Fleming dismantles the ignorance we like to maintain about the structural racism in our society. She says about herself, “When you’ve been told all of your life that you’re special – and implicitly superior – it can be hard to give that up.” And this is, what makes the book so accessible. As she is confronting her own racial ignorance by telling her story, it’s easy to relate. Her understanding of privilege and how it can blind us to the structural racism, that is all around us, makes it easy to open up and observe yourself and your own behaviour. “Living in a racist society exposes us all to absurd and harmful ideas that, in turn, help maintain the racial status quo”, Fleming claims.

But what is systemic or structural racism? We need to get a grasp of white supremacy to understand the racial order we live in. “White supremacy is a system of power designed to channel material resources to people socially defined as white,” Fleming explains, “it’s also the way our society has come to be structured.” Let’s look around. Whether it’s political, economical or other forms of capital, they are mainly maintained by white elites. It’s also linked to other systems of domination completely, and it stretches into the present day. Racism is not only about individual attitudes or a few extremists, it’s about racial inequality that runs throughout our whole society. A combination of racist and liberal, even anti-racist ideas is being utilised methodically to mask white dominance.

Becoming antiracist means then to recognise and oppose this system. The only way to be less stupid about race, is to learn more about how white supremacy is woven into society, and not just kept alive by a few extremists on the fringes. “White supremacy continues to persist, in part, due to the widespread temptation to only see and condemn other people’s racism– racism is always someone else’s crime.” We need to accept the idea, that as part of a society, that is entrenched in structural racism, we’re part of the problem and have to do work on ourselves as well to understand how we contribute to the racial status quo.

Also – we need to focus awareness on intersections of oppressions. White supremacy, patriarchy and class oppression are all intertwined. It’s not possible to fight structural racism by focussing on “single issues.” In our efforts, we have to fight multiple forms of oppression. This is why, it’s important to listen to black women. For centuries, they’ve been silenced and oppressed from different groups. Fleming explains further, that this means black men have to face their sexism and white feminists have to face their racism. “Black feminism teaches us that we all need to cultivate reflexivity to examine our own complicity with systems of oppression and compassion for forms of oppression we will never experience.” Fleming writes brilliantly.

And in politics? There as well, we need to keep our eyes open and apply critical thinking. Fleming looks at Obama and Trump specifically. While it’s almost common sense to criticise Trump and point out how dangerous he is, people like to ignore how Obama did nothing to fight white supremacy. Fleming even claims, he supported it for “naked self-interest.” She also shows, how Trump’s racism is not unprecedented in American history. This leads up to the conclusion, that certainly helped me to sort my thoughts on this topic, namely that racism is rampant in the Republican and the Democratic Party. Both parties have an interest in maintaining systemic racism to mask that they represent the rich or the world’s richest 1%.

Fleming also shows how the media is complicit with systemic racism. A lot of examples she lists, disclose how media gives a voice to white supremacists, while it tries to hide and delete marginalized people. But how could we change our society? Could interracial love be the solution to all of this? Not if it is the racially ignorant kind. In fact, we need to stop pretending racism isn’t happening and start telling the hard truths.

But what can we do to build a less racist society? Fleming has 10 ideas there, where all of us can make changes in their lives, thinking and behaviours to contribute to a society that is less stupid about race. We need to realise that there are no quick fixes, and we also have to assess our own racial socialisation. Another thing should be to join an anti-racist study group and share your knowledge about systemic racism. We also need to empower young people to understand structural racism. Too many people get away with thinking racism was only about “skin colour.” We also need to get comfortable with calling racism out, support anti-racist organisations and amplify the voices of minorities like black women. To undercut white supremacy, we also need to shift resources to marginalized people. And last but not least, all of us can choose one area, that is important to us and aligns with our unique talents to try to make a bigger impact there.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It challenged me to challenge my own views and my own socialisation. It’s the kind of book, that makes you see things that are right there on the plate but somehow blurry. Sometimes we know things, but can’t express them, because we lack the tools, the words to cut them in clear shape. Fleming gave me the words to speak out about my own experience and thoughts. She also enabled me to look at my own reflection, and to point at what feels wrong there. Thank you so much, Professor!

5 thoughts on “Review of How To Be Less Stupid About Race by Crystal Marie Fleming”

  1. Comparisons however odious they are, are inevitable in our lives. I think we humans are wired to compare unconsciously or otherwise. We love to define, identify, classify things, people, places and it is only natural that we also distinguish human beings on the basis of race. There is no denying this fact however much we may try to reduce the impact of race politics….

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  2. Hi and thank you for reading my blog 🙂

    If you like, please have a look at this https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/without-prejudice/201612/race-social-construction. This makes clear, how weird race as a social construct is. I agree, people tend to classify and compare. Have you heard of the gossip theory? Some scientists believe that gossip is what spurred the development of our societies. It’s being discussed in the current book I’m reading “Sapiens”. I will obviously provide a review, once I’m done. But to imagine that gossip is the reason we’re so advanced and well-connected, wow!

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