Blog, Book Reviews, Social Justice

Do the Work: Reading Antiracist Books While Black

Do the Work! and antiracist books

I recently did a tandem read-along on Instagram for the activity book Do the Work! An Antiracist Activity Book by Kate Schatz and W. Kamau Bell. I was so excited when the group presented the opportunity to me because the book had been on my radar for a minute.

I have an intense curiosity for antiracist books. The first explicitly antiracist book I read was, of course, How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. It was formative to my journey going from “I have never personally been a victim of racism” to racism as a power/institutional structure to discovering how my privilege in other areas of my life may hinder me from being truly Antiracist. I wanted to know how I could better be an Antiracist, so I wanted to read more.

Who are Antiracist books for?

Aside from White Fragility (spoiler: Many BIPOC, especially Black people, don’t like DiAngelo because she is taking up space and profiting from being seen as an antiracist expert as a white person, although there’s nothing wrong with white people getting their people together against racism), all the antiracist books I have read have been written by people of color, mostly Black people. Do the Work! was the first co-authored by a Black person and a white person, and it was the first activity book.

With the antiracist books written by Black people, the focus was on the experience of white supremacy causing harm to them personally. Meanwhile, while this activity book felt like it was very much a means for white people to see the harm of white supremacy, I also felt seen by these authors telling their own stories.

The fact that this is an activity book should have been my first clue that I was not the target audience. When I joined the group chat associated with the read-along, I noticed that almost everyone there was white. That is when it clicked: I was DEFINITELY not the target audience.

It’s the delivery for me.

The structure of this book is so cool. It’s jam-packed with knowledge and interactive ways to make connections to the material. This would be great to do with both young people and adults. There were crossword puzzles, quizzes, coloring, and more. So many ways to engage different parts of the brain. This would be a teacher’s dream.

Something that was also cool about the read-along was that it came with prompts for even deeper learning. Some of them felt good to me, like figuring out whose unceded land I reside upon. With others, I felt like I didn’t know how to participate. Same with the workbook activities.

The disconnect for me was that this book is very rooted in talking about anti-Black racism and how to navigate white privilege. I don’t need to learn what it’s like to experience anti-Black racism because I live it; I don’t need to learn how to work through feelings of guilt, shame, anger, etc. from white privilege because I don’t have it.

I’m also working through conflicted feelings. On the one hand, I understand that feelings of guilt and shame can be intense in general, and that those come up a lot for white people reckoning with their privilege and role in benefiting from white supremacy. On the other hand, all the cutesy coloring breaks and humor to make the content more palatable felt very coddling, and I started to get a little impatient with the tone policing of Black people. But! There is definitely room and a need for both delivery methods. 

At the end of the day, I will continue to read antiracist books. They make me feel connected to other people of color, but also give me new ways to talk about antiracism work with white people. I wouldn’t tell Black people not to read Do the Work!, but I will warn them that it’s not really for us. I will definitely recommend it to white folks, especially those at the beginning of their antiracism journeys!

Tayler Simon is a nerdy black woman in search of liberation for all. When she's not reading/listening to audiobooks and writing, you can find her laughing at memes and chatting incessantly about astrology (Cancer/Sagittarius/Cancer). Favorite genres: African American fiction and memoir.

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