The new book, White Out, by Christopher S. Collins and Alexander Jun will likely find itself on the shelves of those who are passionate or curious about learning more about white privilege.
In this short book, Collins and Jun (both college professors at Azusa Pacific University) attempt to make the subject matter, which has been a focus on many college campuses, digestible for those who desire to study the subject on their own.
The title itself is a metaphor for how Whites frequently “defend white dominance in a multicultural age.” Just as actual white out can cover up an error or typo on a piece of paper, it cannot cover the full indentation or impact that the pen has produced on the paper. Collins and Jun seek to reveal the undeniable indentations and impacts that have been created and sustained by white culture, despite much of white culture’s attempts to “cover them up” or deny them altogether.
The book is multifaceted and the authors labor to address and undress the subject of white privilege from a myriad of angles. Even the staunchest defender (or denier) of white privilege will be hard pressed to escape what the authors expose both academically and anecdotally.
The book is comprised of nine chapters. The first eight address a specific aspect and critique of white privilege. Chapter nine offers the reader a way forward. Each of the first eight chapters provides a rich and unique exploration of white privilege that will benefit the reader depending on his or her understanding or interest in the subject matter. The chapter titles are listed at the end.
In this review, I will highlight a few sections that I found especially helpful. I believe readers will find each chapter offers wisdom, insight, and useful material for discussion and debate. But for the sake of a concise review, I will only focus on some specifics.
White Architecture of the Mind
The first chapter effectively explores and defines the pervasive “white architecture of the mind.” This an important starting point because very few individuals will consider the merit of the ensuing chapters in the book if they are unable to admit and understand that as the authors contend – “Whiteness is a system.” The authors explain that just like physical architecture, the architecture of the mind both “restricts and guides actions, choices, reactions, and responses” of the individuals within that system.
Because the white system has been the dominant system for so long, other systems of thinking are compelled to assimilate to the white system if they want to partake and benefit from the system. This architecture of the mind is actually a social construct that also grants “privileges and accessibilities to core members of a dominant group.”
As an example, the author Collins, a white man, shares how he initially approached some of the shootings by police of unarmed black men through the architecture of his mind. The architecture of the white mind afforded him, as it does for most Whites, the luxury of wrestling with and coming to a conclusion based on the “facts” of a situation like Trayvon Martin’s as opposed to seeking to understand the actual “experience” of what it is like to be Black in a predominantly White American culture.
His pervasive worldview solely saw police as those who “serve and protect.” He initially did not entertain the possibility that some police “might” abuse their power to execute people as well. Studying the Black architecture of the mind helped restore a balance to his outlook.
Chapter 2, “White Pain: I Hurt Too,” discusses how many Whites stunt advancements in reconciliation or dismantling White privilege. Too often Whites seek to correlate their own personal pain or experiences with the racialized pain of their minority brothers and sisters. But the authors make it clear – “not all pain is the same.”
For instance, they cite examples of minority students sharing in their classes about specific experiences of racism from their past or their present. The professors note how many of their White students, rather than just listening or empathizing, will offer up their own story of pain that may involve a loved one battling cancer, sexual abuse, or some other traumatic experience they have endured.
The authors do not seek to make light of these painful events, but they correct Whites that do this of “stealing down the pain” of their minority brothers and sisters. The pain of cancer and the pain that comes from racism are not the same. This is incredibly important.
Too often, Whites in a partial attempt at solidarity, can selfishly shift the spotlight to themselves and their own pain. When discussing the pain of racism, very few Whites can cite specific examples where they have been oppressed by minorities.
If the conversation is on the “pain of racism”, then Whites should seek to listen, to lament, and perhaps to be introspective in how they may have even been complicit in producing some of the pain. Part of White privilege is assuming you can insert yourself into any conversation. Part of dismantling it is to listen more.
The authors suggest that Whites learn to “hold on to the pain” of others rather than “stealing it down.” This means that when dealing with the systemic pain of racialized others, Whites should seek to put that pain at the forefront rather than trying to share their own (although unrelated) painful story.
Chapter 3: “Whitefluenza” notes how White privilege is more of a virus than it is a bacterial infection. In other words, there is no known cure. Antibiotics can eradicate bacterial infections. Viruses have to be attacked and suppressed over time by our immune systems. But they can also lie dormant and then re-emerge with new symptoms and new vitality. I found this to be a helpful metaphor.
This chapter effectively reveals the challenge it will be to completely dismantle White privilege. It is slippery and often times hard to detect. The reality of this struggle is beneficial to check the naïve triumphalist who believes the system can completely be dismantled. But it is hopeful for the disgruntled pessimist who believes it would be better to just give up.
This chapter provides several different symptoms of the “virus” of White privilege. One worth noting is the “Black pat”, which is essentially the pat of affirmation that many White allies seek from their Black counterparts. The authors mention the Black pat can festoon the White ego, but it can also falsely give White allies hope that they have made it into an official inner circle of credibility, and no longer need to interrogate their Whiteness.
In chapter 7, “White Pilgrims” at Thanksgiving, the authors provide the readers (particularly White readers) with some actual tactics for addressing some common arguments that are raised to defend or deny White privilege. They provide several stories that serve as good examples for ways that Whites make light of racism, critique affirmative action, hone in on Black-on-Black crime, or even state that Black people are intimidating.
I found this chapter to be helpful for effectively addressing many of the countermeasures and distractions that can occur at the dinner table or around the office when trying to discuss White privilege.
This chapter really challenges Whites to stand up against privilege in their “White spaces” and not merely to engage in conversation about the topic (or display agreement) solely with their Black friends. This is a good exhortation.
Overall, this book is a fantastic primer for those wishing to learn more about the subject of White privilege. For those already studied or steeped in the topic, it is still a very useful book to broaden your learning, or to bolster your effectiveness in discussing White privilege with those who may be in denial about its reality.
There is little to offer by way of critique. The book succeeds in it what it sets out to do. In chapter 8 and chapter 9, the authors set out to provide the readers with a way forward. For Whites, they encourage us to better understand our White identity to seek to develop a non-racist White identity. This occurs through introspection of our own privilege, developing diverse relationships, and moving in a continuum of awareness of the issues to building alliances and pursuing advocacy.
In other words, growth in the area of addressing White privilege occurs when we move from beyond the cerebral to the actual action of addressing systemic racism and White privilege for what it is. One of their concluding statements succinctly states, “We hope that more readers would ultimately find themselves as both part of the problem, but also an integral part of the solution.”
In my opinion, many Whites gravitate toward the latter without really embracing or acknowledging the former. I agree effective breakthrough can occur when more Whites learn to embrace them both simultaneously.
If there is one critique for me, it centers on the fact that there was very little transcendent reasoning on why this topic is even important in the first place. Both authors indicate that they are men of Christian faith, but very little of their Christian reasoning emerges in the book. Most of the evidence that is provided (and it is solid) is sociological, historical, and empirical. For that, they should be affirmed and applauded.
However, if I am a jaded cynic (or even someone who is neutral about the topic), I am wondering, “So what?” Why is this even important?”
For a book like this I do not think the Gospel or even biblical reasoning needs to be overt, however, I think that the Genesis 1:26 premise that affirms the Imago Dei and Christ’s strong exhortation to “love our neighbor as ourselves” provides us with transcendent reasoning for why this topic is relevant.
I believe Christians can provide a deeper reasoning for the significance of this topic that science and the social sciences cannot. I realize the authors are submitting a book that they desire to be embraced by all of academia and an overt Christian message may have prevented that from occurring.
They have indicated they are going to write a follow-up book, which will discuss how the church and religion have played a role in establishing and effecting White privilege. Perhaps this book will plumb the depths of why this subject matter should matter to everyone.
Chapter 1: Introduction: The White Architecture of the Mind
Chapter 2: White Pain: I Hurt Too
Chapter 3: Whitefluenza: How Privilege is an Epidemic with No Known Cure
Chapter 4: White 22: White if You Do, White if You Don’t
Chapter 5: Whitrogressions
Chapter 6: Angry White Men: Making America White Again
Chapter 7: White Pilgrims at Thanksgiving
Chapter 8: Good White Friends
Chapter 9: A Way Forward