Regina Jackson & Saira Rao
White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How to Do Better
London: Penguin Books, 2022
Regina Jackson and Saira Rao are the founders of Race2Dinner, an organization that holds dinners during which they brutally admonish masochistic white women for being racist and “upholding white supremacy.” White Women, their first book, was inspired by their interactions with the “nice” white women who have attended their dinner parties. Its thesis is that liberal white women are actually “evil” perpetrators of “white violence” and are no different from Trump supporters or members of the KKK. This book is a gift to White Nationalists. It encourages white liberals to think of themselves as white and inadvertently makes the case for racial separatism and homogeneity. It is also highly entertaining. I read it at a public library and had to stifle my laughter.
In the Preface, the authors give a blow-by-blow account of one of their dinners. The hostess is a wealthy white woman who tries to impress her guests with both her inheritance (Victorian-era silverware, antique furniture) and her cosmopolitan culinary tastes (the meal is comprised of Iraqi and Syrian food). As the other white women compliment her, Rao butts in: “‘Raise your hand if you’re racist,’ Saira asks before anyone’s had a chance to lift their first forkful” (xxxix). When only one guest responds in the affirmative, Rao reminds them that they are all racists.
One woman protests that she can’t be racist because she and her husband donate a lot of money to social justice charities. After a few tense exchanges, an awkward silence falls over the table — and as we all know, silence is violence. The hostess sheepishly retreats to the kitchen to prepare dessert, and Rao harangues her for failing to confront the guests, whereupon she apologizes profusely. Back at the table, the youngest guest has begun to accuse the other women of exhibiting “white fragility.” The dinner concludes after one of the women declares that she can’t be racist because she knows a black man who is in jail. The next morning, Rao complains about her high blood pressure, which she blames on “white woman nonsense.”
The main pillar of “white woman nonsense” is white women’s discomfort and evasiveness when the topic of race arises and their eagerness to prove their anti-racist bona fides. White women are uncomfortable discussing race because they are worried about offending people and do not want to create social disharmony. This impulses manifests as both the fear of saying something racist or provocative as well as the fear of challenging friends and family members who make casually racist remarks. A “nice” white woman would be likely to nervously clear her throat or change the subject instead.
When forced to confront their own racism, most white women vehemently deny the possibility that they could unconsciously harbor racist impulses. Being accused of racism causes them great emotional distress and can cause them to start crying. This is a great sin because it spotlights their own emotions and diverts attention away from the victims of racism, who must be the center of attention at all times.
White women’s silence in the face of micro-aggressions is, of course, a form of violence. However, it appears that being too vocal about anti-racism can be problematic as well. The authors point out that public displays of self-flagellation and excessive criticism of other white people are both usually motivated by holier-than-thou posturing and concerns over one’s image. Positioning oneself as an expert on racial issues is also very problematic. The authors advise white women to get off social media and interact with non-whites in real life. I can get behind that.
White women’s pernicious behavior also includes demanding certain standards of politeness, which the authors term “white nice.” (One chapter is entitled “Your Nice Is Actually Evil.”) For example, asking a black woman to be less noisy or rude is racist. The authors also find white women’s politeness problematic because it is often accompanied by passive-aggressiveness and backstabbing. They argue that white women’s catty behavior among each other is an impediment to anti-racist action and that in order to extend solidarity to non-white women, white women must first develop a sense of sisterhood among each other. I’m not holding my breath.
Another component of “white woman nonsense” is white women’s penchant for being galvanized into action by social media trends, only for their interest to wane once the trend has blown over. After George Floyd’s death, white women posted black squares on Instagram, professed their commitment to anti-racism, and donated Black Lives Matter — but they soon moved on and ceased engaging in activism on a daily basis. (The authors are rather bitter about the fact that of the hundreds of women who expressed interest in Race2Dinner in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, only a handful actually followed through.)
Much of “white woman nonsense” simply boils down to typical female behavior: excessive agreeableness, emotionality, sanctimony, passive-aggressiveness, and susceptibility to fads. It is amusing that framing less-than-flattering female tendencies as manifestations of white supremacy gives the authors permission to be unusually frank about women.
Other behaviors listed by the authors are less gender-specific. These include what the authors term “toxic positivity” (telling non-whites to “look on the bright side” and appreciate the freedoms they have in the West), cultural appropriation, colorblindness, stereotyping non-whites as incompetent and lazy, and so on.
The authors’ overarching message for white women is that they must begin to see themselves as white: “[u]ntil and unless you start to see yourselves as racialized beings like everyone else, you cannot even begin the process of dismantling the white supremacy that is baked into your bones” (xxi). I heartily endorse this. The authors do not take into account the possibility that white liberals who embrace being white might come to adopt pro-white views, but this outcome cannot be ruled out.
Much of white liberal insanity stems from their identification with the “Other.” Pathological altruism is not solely to blame for white liberals’ indifference to white interests, because most of them do not see themselves as fully white in the first place. They identify as female, “LGBTQ,” college graduates, etc. — anything but white. In their minds, their political views are congruent with their tribal identities. Jackson and Rao are asking white liberals to identify as white first and foremost but continue to support anti-white policies. This is not sustainable. Some white people will be pathologically altruistic and masochistic enough to comply with this demand, but I predict that many will naturally drift toward a pro-white stance once they align themselves with whiteness.
As many people have noted, white liberals’ political activism can be interpreted as a deliberate attempt to differentiate themselves from the white masses. They envision themselves as a separate racial group. If they came to realize that they are irrevocably bound to other white people by ties of blood, perhaps their attitudes towards them would change.
Similarly, calling all white people “bigots” will slowly erode their aversion to “bigotry” and cause them to develop feelings of solidarity toward others who have been the targets of such accusations, a category that obviously includes White Nationalists.
In an open letter to white women, the authors remind them that they are all united by their racial identity:
You live all over the country. Big cities, small towns. You are Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Socialists, Green Party, Antifa, or Apolitical with a capital A. You are doctors, lawyers, baristas, janitors, teachers, elected officials, rich, poor, gay, straight. The one thing you have in common is the most powerful characteristic of all: whiteness. (109)
Thank you, Saira and Regina, for promoting white unity.
I can also heartily endorse the authors’ demand that white people overcome their squeamishness about race, confront their latent racism, and learn how to discuss racial issues with honesty and frankness. That would be a great step in the right direction for us.
What makes this book so hilarious is that the authors are deadly serious and seemingly unaware of how they come across to normal people. For instance, at one of their dinners the hostess remarks that her seven-year-old daughter wants to dress up as Pocahontas. She knows the costume is not politically correct but doesn’t want to be too harsh on her daughter. Jackson and Rao sternly remind her that cultural appropriation is “extremely harmful” (121). At another dinner, a woman with a black adopted son confesses that she has brushed aside incidents in which her parents touched and commented on her son’s hair (you can’t make this up). Jackson rebukes her: “You don’t see how your silence here is a problem?” (32).
My favorite anecdote: At a dinner that took place shortly after the 2020 election, a white woman gushes that Biden will end COVID and she and her friends will be able to go on vacation and go out for brunch again. This sentiment is an expression of toxic positivity and white privilege. Regina informs her that “even before Trump, Black [sic] people couldn’t enjoy brunch in peace. You’ll remember that white people kill us for sitting, standing, sleeping, breathing” (126).
The authors are extremely neurotic. They claim that they have received death threats and live in fear of white people hiding in bushes who want to kill them and their families. They needn’t worry about being killed by White Nationalists, though, because they are useful to us and are a great source of entertainment.
Rao is a huckster par excellence, but her angst over being non-white seems genuine. Born in Virginia to Indian immigrants, she spent her youth trying to assimilate to mainstream American culture. Her friends were mostly white women. As a student at the University of Virginia, she tried to join a predominantly white sorority and was rejected. Rao’s struggle to fit in led her to conclude that true assimilation was impossible, and that in order to be truly American, one must be white.
There are five ways in which racial minorities can approach their status as outsiders. The first is to accept the cards they have been dealt and simply do nothing. The four remaining options are to assimilate to the majority, breed with it, separate from it, or usurp it in an act of revenge. Having soured on assimilation, Rao has chosen the final option. Clinging to the massive chip on her shoulder, she seems determined to torment every white woman she meets as payback for her childhood alienation.
These options could be divided into two categories: approaches that seek to modify human nature (assimilating to the majority or, conversely, demanding that the majority assimilate to you), and approaches that acknowledge the insurmountable differences between genetically distant populations (inaction, miscegenation, and separation). The former options are futile. Of the latter, inaction and miscegenation cannot be coordinated on a large scale. Additionally, miscegenation would dissolve the identities of both parties involved, and it would take centuries for it to have the desired effect. Separation thus emerges as the only viable option.
Interestingly, the authors acknowledge that white people are not inherently “evil” and only possess white privilege by virtue of inhabiting normatively white societies. It follows that blacks have “black privilege” in African countries and Indians have “Indian privilege” in India. Rao could have the equivalent of “white privilege” if she simply moved back to her ancestral homeland. Wouldn’t racial separatism be an easier solution in the long run than waging war on white women and dealing with their “nonsense”? It might even cure Rao’s high blood pressure. Spiteful people are driven to destroy their enemies at all costs, even if they destroy themselves in the process, and Jackson and Rao are no different.
The authors’ bitterness has further harmed them by alienating would-be supporters. The authors recount an incident in which one white liberal woman turned on them and began to engage with white male “hatemongers” who referred to the duo as “grifters.” If they were more level-headed, they would modify their delivery in response to incidents like this.
White people no longer have the luxury of downplaying or ignoring their racial identity. They are faced with the choice of either taking their own side and standing up for themselves and their heritage or kowtowing to scolds like Jackson and Rao. White Women makes the urgency of this choice all the more apparent — and any healthy white person, upon reading this book, will find the latter option distinctly unappealing.
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