Study Guide Project: Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad (Summary, Chapter Summaries, Themes, Analysis)
Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy is a series of short lectures and reflective prompts designed to last its reader 28 days. It centers on white supremacy and the many ways in which it manifests, including subtler, more passive-aggressive displays such as tone policing, tokenism, and white saviorism. The book also addresses how white supremacy damages and puts BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) at a disadvantage on both an individual and a structural level. Ultimately, the aim of Me and White Supremacy is to take its readers on a deeply reflective and transformative journey to battling racism and becoming a better ancestor to future generations.
The book itself is divided into two parts. Part I begins with an account of the author’s personal background and how she has engaged in community work in order to dismantle racism from within the system. As a Muslim and an East African and Middle Eastern Black woman, Saad lists how growing up in a white-dominated society has impacted her life and personal identity. She defines white supremacy as a racist ideology which holds that white people are intrinsically superior to other races, thus conferring to the white race privileges and advantages at the expense of BIPOC. She then states that Me and White Privilege is meant to be read by people who hold white privilege, including biracial, multiracial, and People of Color who benefit from a white-dominated system by “passing”. Saad also explains that, in order to properly utilize her book, readers must commit to telling the truth and proceeding with love even when presented with difficult facts and questions. Readers are also advised to keep a journal and go at their own specific personal pace, even if that means exceeding the 28-day mark. Finally, Part I ends with the caveat that the 28-day challenge Me and White Supremacy presents is only meant to spark and aid transformative change, as battling racism must be an active lifelong commitment.
Part II of the book is divided into four weeks. Each “day” of the Me and White Supremacy challenge ends with a series of journaling prompts and questions for the reader to more deeply reflect on the various issues Saad brings attention to. Week 1 centers on what Saad calls “the basics”: white privilege, white fragility, tone policing, white silence, white superiority, and white exceptionalism. She defines each of these terms and lists them as racist behaviors, mindsets, and phenomena which are at the root of the issues to be discussed in the forthcoming chapters.
Week 2 centers on anti-Blackness and its impact on culture, tackling issues such as color blindness, anti-Blackness against Black Women, anti-Blackness against Black Men, anti-Blackness against Black Children, racist stereotypes, and cultural appropriation. Saad defines color blindness as a privileged mindset which erases the struggles of BIPOC with racist discrimination. She then brings attention to how the sexuality of Black men are often either feared or fetishized in the media as a result of anti-Blackness. Meanwhile, Black women are often assigned the typical roles of Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire, and Strong Black Woman (as originally explained in Harris-Perry’s Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America). Saad also cites two U.S. studies which found that black children are more often seen as less innocent (and thus, less deserving of protection) than their white counterparts. Armed with such data, Saad points out how negative cultural representations and stereotypes of BIPOC contribute to the harm and discrimination they often receive.
Week 3 centers on allyship, tackling issues such as white apathy, white centering, tokenism, white saviorism, optical allyship, and being called out/in. Saad exposes how white apathy and the persistence of white-centered narratives, while seemingly harmless, actually propagate and contribute to a racist system. She also expounds on the ways in which white people get allyship with BIPOC wrong. She cites tokenism, white saviorism, and optical allyship as behaviors which concern themselves with simply appearing anti-racist, rather than actively combating racism themselves.
Week 4 centers on personal relationships and commitments, tackling issues such as white feminism, white leaders, losing privilege, and how racism manifests in one’s relationships with one’s friends, family, and personal values. Saad asserts that feminism which does not ally itself with BIPOC only serves to further marginalize and even actively harm them. She then cites historical instances in which white feminists have famously denounced or excluded BIPOC, which is why most Black women prefer to ally themselves with Black feminism or womanism instead. In this chapter, Saad also brings attention to how one can recognize and correct racism in one’s own personal relationships. She maintains that one must use one’s own personal influence to discuss and propagate anti-racism, even at the risk of friction or discomfort.
Finally, the book ends with how one can continue the work of battling racism in one’s personal and professional life. Saad lists a few anti-racist endeavors one can commit to, such as actively seeking out anti-racist educators, supporting the rallies, marches, and fund-raisers of BIPOC, and uplifting the BIPOC leaders, entrepreneurs, and teachers in one’s community. She asserts that, in order to become a good ancestor to future generations, one must recognize and commit to dismantling the racism in our society.
Foreword + Part One
The foreword, written by American author and educator Robin DiAngelo, begins with the question most white people ask when confronted about their privilege: “What do I do?” As a white anti-racist educator, DiAngelo delves into the mindset of a white person just beginning to commit to battling racism. She asserts that asking the question “What do I do?” is a problematic and defensive response, as it rushes towards a quick and easy solution without first reflecting or gaining critical knowledge of the situation. Moreover, asking BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) that question also unfairly shifts the weight of responsibility from the perpetrators to the victims. DiAngelo asserts that asking the counter question “How have you managed not to know?” is an effective way of getting white people to confront their initial apathy or indifference towards racism. As we live in an Age of Information, it takes minimal effort for someone to educate themselves about racism–should they take that initiative. DiAngelo lifts Saad’s Me and White Supremacy as an excellent resource white people can utilize to educate themselves about racism and white supremacy. According to DiAngelo, the book functions as a roadmap which guides one to personal liberation from racist beliefs, mindsets, and behaviors–conscious or unconscious.
Part I of Me and White Supremacy begins with a personal note from the author, Layla Saad. Saad welcomes the reader and outlines what he/she may expect from the book. She describes Me and White Supremacy as a personal anti-racism tool designed to facilitate an awareness of the ways in which one has become complicit to race-based oppression and white supremacy. It aims to hold the reader accountable for how racism has manifested both in his/her personal life and in his/her own community. She then explains that her primary motivation for writing Me and White Supremacy was her desire to become a “better ancestor” to future generations, helping to dismantle racism from within the system. Me and White Supremacy originally started out as a free 28-day Instagram challenge, which then evolved into a workbook now both published and freely available as a PDF. Saad admits that, while her book can be a difficult and emotionally challenging read, working through the pain and discomfort is imperative to building a better world.
In the next section, Saad introduces herself and provides some information regarding her upbringing. Growing up, her family originally resided in Cardiff, Wales before moving to Swindon, England and then, finally, to Doha, Qatar. Her parents, who immigrated to the United Kingdom from Zanzibar and Kenya, dedicated themselves to raising Saad and her two younger brothers in a loving and nurturing environment. Despite this, Saad still experienced racism (sometimes overt, most times subtle) whenever she interacted with the rest of the world. She recognizes, however, that she still holds certain privileges (such as socio-economic, cis-gender, heterosexual, able-bodied, neuro-typical, and educational privileges) despite being a Black Muslim woman. Finally, Saad reveals that it is her experiences as a Black Muslim woman and her deep sympathy for the pain of other BIPOC that pushed her into doing anti-racist work.
The next section, entitled “What is White Supremacy?”, addresses Saad’s choice to use the term white supremacy rather than less controversial terms such as white privilege or unconscious bias. She explains that the idea that white supremacy is an extreme ideology held only by a small group of people is incorrect and dangerous, as it erases the fact that white supremacy is the dominant paradigm under which our societies function. While extreme and overt white supremacist practices such as chattel slavery, apartheid, and racist discrimination in the workplace are now illegal, white supremacy still manifests in the judicial system, in our public and private institutions, and in social practices. In the fight against racism, it is important to recognize and confront white supremacy as the system which has inflicted much harm and pain on BIPOC throughout history.
In the following sections, Saad reveals what kind of readers Me and White Supremacy was written for and how to properly utilize her book. Me and White Supremacy is for those who hold white privilege, including biracial, multiracial, and People of Color who benefit from a white-dominated system through passing as white. She recognizes, however, that the latter groups of people may have a more complex and conflicting experience of working through the book. Because there are questions and journaling prompts towards the end of every “day” of the book, readers are encouraged to keep a journal. They are also encouraged to work at their own personal pace. Most importantly, however, readers are reminded that the book requires three things for it to work: one’s truth, love, and commitment.
Finally, the last section of Part I, entitled “Self-care, Support, and Sustainability”, addresses how it is important to practice self-care while confronting and rooting out the internalized white supremacy within one’s self. Saad clarifies, however, that self-care is not limited to taking the week off from work or going to the spa. It is, rather, making sure one’s emotional and spiritual well-being remain grounded and well. Seeking support from family, friends, or a support group is one way to do this. Part I then ends with the reminder that the battle against racism doesn’t end after 28 days–it is a lifelong commitment.
Part 2, Week 1
Week One, entitled “The Basics”, tackles the issues white privilege, white fragility, tone policing, white silence, white superiority, and white exceptionalism.
Day One focuses on white privilege, of which Saad uses women’s studies scholar Peggy McIntosh’s definition from her 1988 work White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account if Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies:
“I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks.”
Saad asserts that white privilege stems from white supremacy itself. She then cites the 2003 Human Genome Project, which found that physical appearance has actually little to do with genetic make-up. Therefore, something as drastic and inequitable as white privilege is based off of mere genotype and phenotype expressions. While it has been proven that race is purely a social construct, however, the fact does not erase that white supremacy has very real and damaging consequences for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). Saad connects this to how white people often claim that white privilege no longer exists, even though BIPOC constantly struggle with its effects.
In the questions section, readers are asked to recall instances in which they have benefitted from white privilege. These benefits include things often taken for granted, such as personal safety, cultural representation, and ease with legal or medical help. Readers are also asked to reflect on how BIPOC have lived their lives deprived of such privileges.
Day Two focuses on white fragility, of which Saad uses American author and educator Robin DiAngelo’s definition from White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism: “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.”
Saad then shares her experience with publishing the blog post “I Need to Talk to Spiritual White Women about White Supremacy” in 2017. The astonishing amount of backlash Saad received from the post opened her eyes to how most white people often overreact or lash out when confronted about white supremacy. Saad puts forward two factors which contribute to white fragility: 1) the lack of exposure to conversations about racism, and 2) the lack of understanding of what white supremacy actually is. She then gives common examples of white fragility, such as choosing to simply fall silent or “check out” when confronted about racism, calling the authorities for unwarranted reasons, and deleting or denying one’s discriminatory posts. For those holding white privilege, it is important to recognize and overcome white fragility so they do not–intentionally or unintentionally–harm or silence BIPOC.
In the questions section, readers are asked to reflect on how their white fragility manifests and the instances in which they have let it get the better of them. Readers are also asked to reflect on how their white fragility has held them back from doing meaningful anti-racism work.
Day Three focuses on tone policing, which Saad defines as a tactic wherein those with privilege silence or shut down BIPOC by overlooking the content of their message and instead attacking the tone in which it was delivered. Saad maintains that it is common for white people to police what they perceive as the aggression of BIPOC during conversations about race. Often, BIPOC are asked to cater to the white gaze by remaining calm, soothing, or eloquent when talking about their struggles with racism. Tone-policing, therefore, is merely an extension of racism and white supremacy.
In the questions section, readers are asked to reflect on whether they have ever used tone-policing to silence or shut down BIPOC. Readers are also asked if they have ever mentally discounted or dismissed BIPOC for not talking the “right” way.
Day Four focuses on white silence, which Saad sees as complicity in white supremacy through inaction and passivity. She then shares her past experience of feeling betrayed by a certain white woman she had been close friends with for years. During the backlash from the publication of Saad’s 2017 blog post “I Need to Talk to Spiritual White Women about White Supremacy”, this friend expressed no support or sympathy and simply fell silent. Saad maintains that white silence is violence, as it perpetuates a broken system. It is important, therefore, to always speak up and side with the victim(s) in matters of racial injustice.
In the questions section, readers are asked to reflect on whether they have failed to defend or support BIPOC by choosing to stay silent. Readers are also asked to reflect on the harm their silence has caused.
Day Five focuses on white superiority, which Saad defines as the belief that white people (or people with white-passing skin) are inherently superior to other races and therefore deserve to dominate over them. She cites extreme examples of white superiority, such as neo-Nazism, the KKK, and right-wing nationalism. White superiority, however, also manifests in subtler forms, such as the automatic association of intelligence, sophistication, and virtue with white skin. While thoughts and beliefs of white superiority are often unconscious, it is important to check one’s self and work towards correcting such a harmful ideology.
The questions section asks only one thing – for the reader to think back on his/her life and reflect on the instances in which they have believed they were better than or superior to BIPOC.
Day Six focuses on white exceptionalism, which Saad defines as white people’s belief that they are not racist and are therefore exempt from the obligation of doing anti-racism work. Saad observes that it is not right-wing nationalists or proud white supremacists who commonly hold this view but, rather, liberal or progressive individuals. She references Martin Luther King’s idea of the “white moderate”, who continues to cause harm (intentional or unintentional) because of his/her refusal to widen or deepen their shallow understanding of white supremacy and how it affects BIPOC.
In the questions section, readers are asked to reflect on whether they have ever believed or acted as if they are exempt or above the conditioning of white supremacy. Readers are also asked to reflect on where they picked up white exceptionalism and how it prevents them from doing meaningful anti-racism work.
Finally, Day Seven of Week One is a day of reflection and review of the issues tackled from Day One to Day Six. Readers are asked only one thing – that they take note of the realizations they have had regarding their complicity with white supremacy since they started to work on Me and White Supremacy.
Part 2, Week 2
Week Two tackles the issues color blindness, anti-Blackness against Black Women, anti-Blackness against Black Men, anti-Blackness against Black Children, racist stereotypes, and cultural appropriation.
Day Eight focuses on race-based color blindness, which Saad defines as the idea that one does not notice people’s race or color nor treat them differently because of it. However, the promise of equality that color blindness brings is dangerous and false, as simply refusing to acknowledge the social constructs of race does not erase the harsh realities of racial discrimination. One must not fall into the trap of color blindness, as the only way to dismantle racism is to awaken one’s consciousness to its many manifestations and fight it.
The questions section asks readers to reflect on how they have harmed BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) by insisting they do not see color. Readers are also asked to reflect on how they instinctively feel when they hear the terms white people or Black people.
Day Nine focuses on anti-Blackness against Black Women and begins with a quote from African-American actress Viola Davis’ Sherry Lansing Leadership Award acceptance speech: “…it’s always so romanticized. We have to be maternal. We have to be the savior. We have to make that white character feel better.”
Saad asserts that the lack of representation and stereotyping in mainstream media is a result of anti-Blackness. Black women, in particular, are either superhumanized (as strong, queenly, and independent) or dehumanized (as ugly or unworthy of love and attention). For Black women, the consequences of this stereotyping manifests in areas such as the legal and medical fields. For example, mental illnesses of Black women are often dismissed by therapists and mental health professionals as mere anger or anxiety. It is important to address anti-Blackness against Black women because they are one of the most vulnerable and disempowered groups of our society.
The questions section asks readers to reflect on both the historic and modern-day stereotypes associated with Black women. Readers are also asked to reflect on how they have typically engaged with, treated, and reacted to Black women.
Day Ten focuses on anti-Blackness against Black Men. Due to America’s brutal history with the African people, Black men have been (and still continue to be) ruthlessly stereotyped and stripped of their humanity. In order to justify violence against Black men, the idea that they are dangerous and belligerent is often perpetuated. This puts Black men in a vulnerable position in society. In 1989, for example, five Black men from New York (“the Central Park Five”) were falsely accused of sexual assault and subsequently sentenced six to thirteen years in prison. It is important to recognize that harmful stereotyping of Black men upholds the colonialist and white supremacist mindset that they are savages who need to be tamed or put down.
The questions section asks the readers to reflect on both the historic and modern-day stereotypes associated with Black men. Readers are also asked to reflect on how they have typically engaged with, treated, and reacted to Black men.
Day Eleven focuses on anti-Blackness against Black Children. Saad cites two recent U.S. studies which found that Black children are generally seen as less innocent and less childlike than their white counterparts. This often unconscious “adultification” results in the treatment of Black children with less care, affection, and understanding than the average child needs. So as not to deprive them of their childhood, it is important to recognize and root out anti-Blackness against Black children.
The questions section asks the reader to reflect on both the historic and modern-day stereotypes associated with Black children. Readers are also asked to reflect on how they have typically engaged with, treated, and reacted to Black children.
Day Twelve focuses on racist stereotypes. Saad asserts that racist stereotyping, both in the media and in our collective consciousness, serves to maintain the position of BIPOC as the “other”. In a white-dominated society, the ones who do not fall into the norm are often marginalized, dehumanized, and criminalized. Saad also distinguishes between racism and prejudice. She defines prejudice as prejudgment(s) based on negative racial stereotypes and other such factors. Racism, however, is the combination of prejudice and power, wherein the dominant racial group (white people) holds personal, systemic, and institutional power against other racial groups. Therefore, BIPOC can only be prejudiced – not racist – towards white people.
The questions section asks the reader to reflect on the historic and modern-day stereotypes associated with Indigenous people and non-Black POC. Readers are also asked to reflect on how they have typically engaged with, treated, and reacted to Indigenous people and non-Black POC.
Day Thirteen focuses on cultural appropriation, of which Saad uses Nigerian-American writer Ijeoma Oluo’s definition from her 2018 book So You Want to Talk about Race: “the adoption or exploitation of another culture by a more dominant culture.” Saad clarifies that what makes one cultural dominant over another involves both the historic and present-day relationship between them, and whether that relationship includes (or has ever included) colonization, forced assimilation, land theft, enslavement, and etc. The culture that is benefitting (or has benefitted) from such oppression is the dominant one. It is common, therefore, for a member of the dominant culture to steal, tokenize, or fetishize the culture of the oppressed under the guise of “appreciation”. The spheres in which cultural appropriation often takes place include fashion, beauty, food, spirituality, music, cultural holidays and events, and linguistic styles. Lastly, the danger with cultural appropriation is that it “rewrites history with whiteness at the center.”
The questions section asks the reader to reflect on whether they or someone they know have ever appropriated nonwhite cultures. Readers are also asked to reflect on whether they have previously dismissed cultural appropriation as nonexistent or “not that bad”.
Finally, Day Fourteen of Week Two is a day of reflection and review of the issues tackled from Day Seven to Day Thirteen. In the questions sections, readers are asked to reflect on the negative and dehumanizing ways they typically treat or think of BIPOC. Readers are also invited to look back on the issues tackled in Week One (white privilege, white fragility, tone policing, white silence, white superiority, and white exceptionalism) and connect them to how they feel about the issues tackled in Week Two.
Part 2, Week 3
Week Three, entitled “Allyship” tackles the issues white apathy, white centering, tokenism, white saviorism, optical allyship, and being called out/called in.
Day Fifteen focuses on white apathy, which Saad defines as white people’s way of protecting themselves from owning up to their complicity in white supremacy. Much like white silence, white apathy isn’t neutral, as it perpetuates oppression borne out of white supremacy through passivity and inaction. Intentional non-action such as white apathy and white silence can often be just as dangerous as intentional and pointed acts of racism. Examples of white apathy include not taking responsibility for one’s own antiracism education, using one’s own introversion or mental health issues as an excuse for not doing anti-racism work, and trivializing the effects of racism or what one can contribute in helping to dismantle it.
The questions section asks the reader to reflect on the ways he/she has been apathetic when it comes to racism. Readers are also asked to reflect on the ways their family, friends, and colleagues have been apathetic when it comes to racism.
Day Sixteen focuses on white centering and begins with a quotation from Charlie Rose’s interview with African-American and best-selling author Toni Morrison from the 1990s:
“I have had reviews in the past that have accused me of not writing about white people…as though our lives have no meaning and no depth without the white gaze. And I’ve spent my entire writing life trying to make sure that the white gaze was not the dominant one in any of my books.”
Like Morrison, Saad points out that white-centered narratives are often seen as universal, classic, or timeless. In contrast, narratives concerned with or revolving around BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) are criticized as dissenting or less relevant. Examples of white centering include the overrepresentation of people with white privilege in art, books, and films, responding to the #BlackLivesMatter movement with #AllLivesMatter or #BlueLivesMatter, and the whitewashing of historical events (as seen in the American holiday Thanksgiving, the Australian holiday Australia Day, and the Dutch holiday of St. Nicholas’ Eve). Recognizing and disrupting white centering is one of the ways in which one can challenge white supremacy and its bid for dominance.
The questions section asks the reader to reflect on how their worldview is white-centered. Readers are also asked to reflect on the ways in which they have become complicit to white centering and how this affects BIPOC.
Day Seventeen focuses on tokenism. Saad shares her experience with the school board of the British curriculum school her children attend. After raising the issue of the teaching staff’s lack of diversity, Saad was referred to the school’s “token” teachers of color. The problem with this is that the school only hired enough teachers of color to satisfy the “look” of diversity; they did not work towards real diversity and inclusivity. Tokenism, Saad maintains, is a tactic used by brands, organizations, and even individuals to perform or give the appearance of sexual or racial equality. It is the use of BIPOC as token props and objects to protect one’s self and further one’s agenda. Examples of tokenism include brand tokenism, storytelling tokenism, and relational tokenism.
The questions section asks the reader to reflect on how he/she has tokenized and weaponized BIPOC in the past. Readers are also asked to reflect on supposedly diverse organizations, institutions, and events and if this translates to their practices and policies.
Day Eighteen focuses on white saviorism. Saad references Nigerian-American writer and photographer Teju Cole’s 2012 article “The White-Savior Industrial Complex”. In the article, Cole brings attention to the rising phenomena of people with white privilege travelling to and “volunteering” in developing countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. The problem with volunteer missions and programs such as these is that they overlook or disregard the historical and cultural contexts of the spaces they enter. Worse, volunteers and missionaries often do not acknowledge how certain problems and issues of developing countries are borne out of white supremacist colonialism and imperialism. Examples of white saviorism can also be seen in films such as The Blind Side, The Last Samurai, and The Help.
The questions section asks the reader to reflect on the white savior narratives and beliefs he/she has bought into. Readers are also asked to reflect on whether they have ever spoken over BIPOC or offered BIPOC instruction and guidance out of a sense of superiority.
Day Nineteen focuses on optical allyship (otherwise known as performative allyship or ally theater). Saad shares her experience with being invited to speak at a spiritual women’s festival in the UK. She declined the invitation when she found out that the festival did not intend to hold meaningful and challenging conversations about race but wanted to use her voice to appear more “diverse”. This is an example of optical allyship: the use of tactics and behaviors such as tokenism, white centering, white saviorism, etc. to create the optical illusion of allyship. Examples of optical allyship include tokenizing BIPOC, prioritizing symbolic activism (such as the use of hashtags) over real activism, and co-opting activist terms simply to appear “woke”.
The questions section asks the reader to reflect on whether he/she has ever practiced, been called out on, or rewarded for optical allyship. Readers are also asked to reflect on how their allyship is dependent on the value they place on how they are thought of or perceived.
Day Twenty focuses on being called out/called in, which Saad defines as useful methods of calling attention to and correcting harmful or problematic behaviors. While calling out is a public indictment of individual(s) among members of often progressive, activist, or radical communities, calling in is done in private. In this chapter, Saad addresses how a person with white privilege commonly reacts to being called out/called in versus how they should react. Examples of wrong or inappropriate reactions to being called out/called in are denying one’s actions, tone policing BIPOC, and becoming overly defensive. As being called out/called in is a normal and inevitable part of doing anti-racism work, one should not perceive it as a personal attack but, rather, an opportunity to become a better ally.
The questions section asks the reader to reflect on whether they have ever been called in/called out for racist or harmful behavior and how they have responded. Readers are also asked to reflect on which of the issues previously tackled (e.g. white fragility, white exceptionalism, white apathy) are most likely to get in their way of reacting appropriately to being called out/called in.
Finally, Day Twenty-One of Week Three is a day of reflection and review of all the issues tackled from Day Fourteen to Day Twenty. The questions section asks the reader to reflect on what he/she has learned so far about his/her personal relationship with white supremacy. Readers are also asked to reflect on what they think their biggest challenge is in doing anti-racism work.
Part 2, Week 4
Week Four, entitled “Power, Relationships, and Commitments”, tackles the issues white feminism, white leaders, one’s relationship with family and friends, losing privilege, and one’s values and commitments.
Day Twenty-Two focuses on white feminism (or “mainstream” feminism), which Saad defines as a range of feminist theories which addresses only the struggles of white women, oftentimes at the expense of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). Saad then cites historical instances in which the Western white feminist movement has, since its very inception, marginalized or oppressed BIPOC. In 1913, for example, suffragist Alice Paul was vehemently opposed to including BIPOC women in the first suffragette parade. The appropriate ideological response to white feminism is intersectional feminism, as long as it is firmly committed to putting the struggles of BIPOC at its center.
The questions section asks the reader to reflect on how his/her idea of feminism has neglected, minimized, or overlooked BIPOC women. Readers who practice intersectional feminism are also asked to reflect on their efforts to center BIPOC women.
Day Twenty-Three focuses on white leaders. Saad defines “leaders” as people in positions of responsibility, power, or authority. Examples of leaders include our politicians, community leaders, worship leaders, teachers, mentors, and bosses, etc. Saad points out that, if one is in a position of leadership and power, one can do impactful and meaningful anti-racism work. If one isn’t, however, one can still contribute by challenging and holding one’s leaders to a higher standard.
The questions section asks the reader to reflect on how they respond when they see white leaders perpetuate white supremacy through actions such as tone policing BIPOC, drawing on anti-Black tropes and stereotypes, and practicing optical allyship and white saviorism. Readers are also asked to reflect on how they must practice confronting, challenging, and pushing white leaders to doing anti-racism work.
Day Twenty-Four is entitled “You and Your Friends”. In this chapter, Saad pushes the reader to look at his/her friends and personal connections and how he/she responds when they exhibit white supremacist behaviors. One’s friends and personal connections aren’t limited to one’s innermost circle. Close acquaintances such as one’s co-workers, colleagues, family friends, and the members of one’s spiritual community are included. Saad emphasizes the importance of using one’s personal influence and built-up rapport in doing anti-racism work. Because there is proximity involved, there is a greater likelihood of successfully instilling conscious anti-racism practices in one’s friends and personal connections.
The questions section asks the reader to reflect on how he/she has typically responded to racist words and actions from his/her friends and personal connections. Readers are also asked to reflect on whether they have enabled or made excuses for racist behaviors simply because they did not want to cause friction or discomfort. Finally, readers are asked to reflect on what efforts they have made (if there are any) to invite their friends and personal connections to practice anti-racism.
Day Twenty-Five is entitled “You and Your Family”. Saad prefaces this chapter by pointing out that each family has their own specific problems and issues. No matter how complex one’s family dynamics is, however, it does not exempt one from the responsibility of doing anti-racism work. As with one’s friends and personal connections, one wields a great deal of influence over one’s family members. The home is also the first place one learns – or doesn’t learn – white supremacist beliefs and behaviors. It is, therefore, important to use one’s own position in one’s family to widen and deepen the anti-racist knowledge and practices of one’s family members.
The questions section asks the reader to reflect on how he/she has typically overlooked or excused the racist behaviors of his/her family members. Readers who are parents are also asked to reflect on whether they have taught or held meaningful conversations about race, racism, and white privilege with their children. Finally, readers are asked to reflect on the ways in which they can organize or awaken the consciousness of their family members.
Day Twenty-Six is entitled “You and Your Values”. Saad defines one’s values as personal standards and principles which guide how one chooses to live one’s life. One’s values determine which things are personally significant and where one chooses to place one’s energy. These standards and principles derive from both one’s personally chosen beliefs and the beliefs instilled by one’s family, community, and immediate environment. If one is a person holding white privilege, however, it is likely that one’s values are, consciously or unconsciously, white supremacist in nature. It is, therefore, important to examine and correct one’s values alongside doing meaningful anti-racism work.
The questions section asks the reader to reflect on the values he/she holds which contradict with practicing anti-racism. Readers are also asked to reflect on what new core values they need to integrate in order to better practice anti-racism.
Day Twenty-Seven is entitled “Losing Privilege”. Saad puts forward that losing one’s white privilege is something one must be prepared to do, as it is integral to doing anti-racism work. White privilege must first be given up for there to be parity between white people and BIPOC. Examples of losing one’s privilege include taking responsibility for one’s own anti-racism education, amplifying and supporting BIPOC voices, and continuing to do anti-racism work even when one is not socially or financially rewarded for it.
The questions section asks the reader to reflect on the risks and sacrifices he/she has to be willing to make in order to do meaningful anti-racism work. Readers are also asked to reflect on the ways in which they have to take responsibility for perpetuating white supremacy. Finally, readers are asked if they are willing to lose their white privilege after everything they’ve learned from working through Me and White Supremacy.
Day Twenty-Eight, the final day, is entitled “You and Your Commitments”. As the book draws to a close, Saad reminds the reader that practicing anti-racism must extend beyond the 28th day–as it is a lifelong commitment. She encourages the reader to embrace the pain and struggle that comes with consciously and continuously doing anti-racism work. Finally, Saad stresses that practicing anti-racism is not about perfectionism–it is about commitment and the drive to push forward even when one gets tired, frustrated, or makes mistakes.
The questions section asks the reader to list three concrete actions he/she is willing to undertake over the next two weeks in order to combat racism. Readers are also asked to write a series of specific and elaborate commitment statements aimed towards practicing long-term and meaningful anti-racism work.
“Now What? Continuing the Work After Day 28” + Appendix
“Now What? Continuing the Work After Day 28”
In the section “Now What? Continuing the Work After Day 28”, Saad informs her readers that, after doing twenty-eight days of deep reflective work and expanding their knowledge of race, racism, and anti-racism, they now have a strong foundation for continuing to do anti-racism work. She advises them to keep the journal they used for Me and White Supremacy and go back to it from time to time. Saad also gives a number of beginner’s tips and steps for doing anti-racism work, including seeking out and learning from anti-racist educators and mentors, consuming books, podcasts, films, and other resources which expand one’s knowledge of both historic and modern-day racism and racial oppression, supporting rallies, marches, and fundraisers for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), and uplifting and centering BIPOC leaders.
Saad also points out that, while practicing anti-racism through self-examination, reflection, and internal and external change is important, one must eventually move from the personal to the systemic. In order to exact large-scale, long-term, and impactful change, one must commit to dismantling racism and white supremacy institutionally as well as personally. This implies challenging one’s communities, educational institutions, corporations, and government institutions to make structural changes and commit to practicing anti-racism.
Lastly, in Saad’s “A Final Note”, she reiterates her reasons for writing Me and White Supremacy–to become a good ancestor and leave the world a better place than she’d originally found it. She reminds her readers that, to be a good ancestor, one must choose to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. In the fight to dismantle racism and systemic oppression, everyone’s contribution matters. This is especially true for people holding white privilege, as their privilege stems from the oppression and marginalization of BIPOC. One must choose to disrupt and challenge white supremacy within one’s self and one’s communities in order to build a better, more equitable world.
The appendix is entitled “Working in Groups: Me and White Supremacy Book Circles”. Saad shares how she had initially designed Me and White Supremacy to be a personal self-reflection project. However, due to popular demand, she sought a way for it to be recalibrated for group settings.
Saad recommends using The Circle Way, a collaborative group structure originally designed by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea in 1992 and fully expounded in their 2010 book The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair. The Circle Way gathers all participants into a circular shape; the purpose of the circle must be at the very center, with the participants surrounding it. Saad emphasizes that using The Circle Way (or something similar) is important in working through Me and White Supremacy in groups. Without such a clear and open structure, problems such as unequal sharing times, lack of focus and intent, and turmoil due to white fragility, white centering, white exceptionalism, etc. may arise.
Saad then provides the basic guidelines of The Circle Way, as explained in The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair and Calling the Circle: The First and Future Culture. The Circle Way consists of nine components, the first of which is the “Intention”. The “Intention” establishes the specifics of the circle: who the participants will be, for how long the circle will congregate, the purpose of the circle, and the expected outcome(s). The second component is the “Start Point” or “Welcome”: a gesture, such as a moment of silence or the reading of a poem, which signals the shift from social space to council space. Next is “Setting the Center”, which involves placing certain objects, such as flowers, a bowl, or a candle, in the center of the circle to continually remind the participants of the purpose/intentions of the circle. The fourth component is the “Check-In” or “Greeting”, where everyone is invited to introduce or re-introduce themselves briefly one-by-one. The fifth component is the “Guardian”, wherein one of the participants either volunteers or is appointed to look over and safeguard the circle’s energy. The guardian usually uses a bell, a chime, or a rattle to signal for moments of rest. Next is “Setting Circle Agreements”, wherein all the participants agree on a series of rules and guidelines for the general well-being of everyone involved. The seventh component is the “Three Principles”, which Saad defines as follows:
- Leadership rotates among all circle members.
- Responsibility is shared for the quality of experience.
- Reliance is on wholeness, rather than on any personal agenda.
The eight component is the “Three Practices”, which Saad defines as follows:
- Speak with intention: noting what has relevance to the conversation in the moment.
- Listen with attention: respectful of the learning process for all members of the group.
- Tend to the well-being of the circle: remaining aware of the impact of our contributions.
Finally, the ninth component is the “Check-out and Farewell”, wherein participants are given time to comment on or share what they have learned. The guardian, or a volunteer participant, then offers a few words of farewell or a moment of silence before releasing the circle.
In the last section of the appendix, Saad enumerates a few important steps and considerations one must take before running a Me and White Supremacy circle. These include clarifying and emphasizing one’s purpose for the circle, making sure to only invite participants willing to do the work, carefully planning out the specifics of the circle (duration, date, place, etc.), and assigning essential roles such as the guardian, the host, and the scribe. Lastly, Saad wishes to emphasize that, while some participants may be assigned certain roles or responsibilities, the purpose of the circle is to make everyone a leader.
The very focus of Me and White Supremacy is white people, or people holding white privilege, and their relationship with white supremacy. White supremacy, as a theme, recurs all throughout the book. In Part I, Saad explains her choice to use “white supremacy” instead of less controversial terms such as “white privilege” or “unconscious bias”. She maintains that, in order to do meaningful anti-racism work, one must acknowledge the fact that white supremacy is still very present in modern-day systems, institutions, and ideologies. White supremacy is not just an extreme fringe ideology held only by small set of the population. It is practiced, consciously or unconsciously, by all people holding white privilege. Racism and racial oppression stem from white supremacy, as it is the belief that white people and people who pass as white are inherently superior to other races.
It is also important to note that white supremacy can also be learned and internalized by people of color themselves. In the section “Who is This Work For?”, Saad clarifies that Me and White Supremacy is also for the biracial, multiracial, and People of Color who hold white privilege through “passing” as white people.
In “Week 1: The Basics”, Saad lists the most common ways in which white supremacy manifests. The first of these is white privilege, which is defined as a series of unearned privileges and advantages conferred to white people at the expense of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). The next is white fragility, which is the harmful defensive state white people pass into when confronted about their white privilege. The third is tone policing, which is a tactic to silence BIPOC through attacking their tone and articulation instead of focusing on their message. The fourth is white silence, which is the perpetuation of white supremacy through complicit passivity and inaction. The fifth is white superiority, which is defined as the conscious or unconscious belief that white people are automatically more virtuous, intelligent, or skilled than their BIPOC counterparts. Finally, the last is white exceptionalism, which is the belief that one is so enlightened or progressive-thinking that one need not practice anti-racism.
White privilege, white fragility, tone policing, white silence, white superiority, and white exceptionalism are the common beliefs and behaviors borne out of white supremacy. In Weeks 2-4, Saad addresses the more specific and nuanced ways in which white supremacy manifests.
While Me and White Supremacy addresses the damaging and dehumanizing effects of white supremacy on all minorities (such as the Hispanics, Asians, and Muslims), it dedicates three whole sections to Anti-Blackness specifically. These sections are found in Week 2, entitled “Anti-Blackness against Black Women”, “Anti-Blackness against Black Men”, and “Anti-Blackness against Black Children”. Because of America’s brutal history with Africa, Saad found it important to address the ways in which Black people have been marginalized, oppressed, and dehumanized in both historic and modern-day America.
In “Anti-Blackness against Black Women”, Saad cites author and professor Melissa V. Harris-Perry’s Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. In her book, Harris-Perry lists and expounds on the different cultural stereotypes and media representations of Black women in America. These include the archetypes Jezebel, Mammy, Sapphire, and Strong Black Woman. These harmful representations cause Black women to be fetishized, dehumanized, or downright dismissed in public spaces such as the legal and medical fields. As an example, Saad cites the U.S. CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), which had found that Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than their white counterparts.
In “Anti-Blackness against Black Men”, Saad draws attention to how the media has demonized Black men in order to justify the violence done against them. Black men are often portrayed in the media as unintelligent, belligerent, and sexually aggressive. Their sexuality is either feared or fetishized. Such harmful media representations cause much damage to Black men in real life. As an example, Saad cites the case of the Central Park Five–five Black men who were falsely accused of sexual assault crimes and subsequently imprisoned.
In “Anti-Blackness against Black Children”, Saad cites the two U.S. studies which found that Black children are generally seen as less innocent than their white counterparts. This deprives Black children of the care, nurturing, and the childhood they deserve. Black children, therefore, are more vulnerable and forced to mature at a much earlier age than their white counterparts.
Saad maintains that, for the safety and well-being of Black people, it is important to recognize and correct these Anti-Black stereotypes and representations. It is also important to be more inclusive of healthier and more honest representations of Black people.
Allyship and Practicing Anti-Racism
Ultimately, the aim of Me and White Supremacy is to teach people with white privilege how to become a good ally to BIPOC. Even though Me and White Supremacy was designed to last its reader only 28 days, Saad repeatedly emphasizes that practicing anti-racism is a lifelong commitment.
In Week 3, Saad tackles the common white supremacist beliefs and behaviors false allies practice. This includes tokenism, white saviorism, optical allyship, and responding inappropriately to being called out/called in. All these behaviors stem from white privilege and white fragility. White saviorism, for example, dismisses the nuances of the plight of the victim(s) and positions the white “hero” at the center. It is an extension of white centering, as it operates under the assumption that BIPOC are lazy, helpless, and ignorant rather than structurally disadvantaged.
At various points throughout the book, Saad also enumerates specific ways in which one can become a good ally. This includes being responsible for one’s anti-racism education and seeking out anti-racist educators, mentors, and coaches, as well as consuming books, podcasts, films, and other resources on race, racism, and anti-racism. Saad also emphasizes the importance of showing up at marches, rallies, and fund-raisers for BIPOC and supporting anti-racist or BIPOC leaders and politicians. Lastly, one must eventually move towards correcting the personal to correcting the systemic in order to do truly meaningful and impactful anti-racism work.
Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy originally started out as a 28-day Instagram challenge which went viral in 2018. The challenge, done under the hashtag #MeAndWhiteSupremacy, encouraged people holding white privilege to reflect on their relationship with white supremacy for 28 days. Each “day” of the challenge tackled a different issue, such as white fragility, white superiority, white exceptionalism, etc. Shortly after, Saad wrote and released for free the digital Me and White Supremacy Workbook, which saw over 100,000 downloads in its first six months. Finally, Saad released the fully developed Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor on January 28, 2020.
On February 16, 2020, Me and White Supremacy climbed to number 10 on The New York Times Bestseller list, under the category Combined Print & E-Book Nonfiction. Following the killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests in May 2020, however, the book saw a surge in sales alongside other anti-racism books such as Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race, Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, and Ibram X Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist. On June 11, 2020, Me and White Supremacy ranked number six on the New York Times’ Hardcover Nonfiction list.
The central argument of Saad’s Me and White Supremacy is that racism and racial oppression stem from white supremacy. Saad disproves the common notion that white supremacy is merely an extreme fringe ideology held by a small set of the population (for example, groups such as the KKK, skinheads, and neo-Nazis). White supremacy, the belief that white people and people who “pass” as white are inherently superior to other races, is the root of all the pain, humiliation, and dehumanization race-based oppression causes BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). Saad also recognizes that most white people may be unaware of their own white supremacist beliefs and behaviors–however, that doesn’t make them less harmful. Me and White Supremacy, therefore, is designed to teach people holding white privilege to examine and correct their personal relationship with white supremacy.
Much like her original Instagram challenge, Saad divided Me and White Supremacy into 28 days. The days are divided into four weeks, each with their own overarching theme or issue – namely “The Basics” (Week 1), “Anti-Blackness, Racial Stereotypes, and Cultural Appropriation” (Week 2), “Allyship” (Week 3), and “Power, Relationships, and Commitments” (Week 4). This makes it easier for the reader to understand and trace the different manifestations and consequences of white supremacy.
Throughout the book, Saad often introduces to the reader terms and labels originating from activist or progressive circles. An example of this can be found in Day 20: You and Being Called Out/Called In. In this chapter, Saad explains that being called out/called in first originated from shared communities of social activists, radicals, and progressives. Being called out/called in is either a public or private tactic of addressing and correcting an individual, group of individuals, or institution. Saad also introduces to the reader terms and labels originating from progressive academic circles. An example of this can be found in Day 1: You and White Privilege, as Saad acknowledges that American scholar and activist Peggy McIntosh first coined the term “white privilege” in her 1998 White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies. Another example of this can be found in Day 8: You and Color Blindness. Saad cites how, in his 2003 Racism without Racists, Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in Contemporary America, Puerto-Rican author, professor, and political sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva had dubbed “color-blind racism” the “new racism”.
To prove and supplant the points she makes throughout the book, Saad often cites government studies and other such resources. Examples of this can be found in the chapters concerning Anti-Blackness. In Day 9: You and Anti-Blackness Against Black Women, Saad cites the findings of the U.S. CDC–that Black women die from pregnancy-related causes three to four times more than their white counterparts–in order to illustrate the damage negative cultural stereotypes and representations have on Black women. In the same chapter, Saad also cites the additional resource Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, written by American author, professor, and political commentator Melissa V. Harris-Perry, in order to give specific examples of the common historic and modern-day negative representations of Black women.
Saad also uses anecdotal evidence to prove her points. In Week 1 of the book, she shares two personal anecdotes relating to the publication and reception of one of her first works on white supremacy–her 2017 blog post “I Need to Talk to Spiritual White Women About White Supremacy”. The first anecdote, found in Day 2: You and White Fragility, concerns the severe backlash she received from countless readers all over the globe. Saad cites this as one instance of white fragility–white people’s defensive response to conversations about race and racism. The second anecdote, meanwhile, can be found in Day 4: You and White Silence. Saad shares how one of her long-time friends had failed to defend, support, or comfort her in any way during her time of need. She cites it as an instance of white silence–the perpetuation of racism and white supremacy through complicit inaction and passivity.
Finally, Saad emphasizes that, in order to do truly meaningful anti-racism work, one must eventually move from the personal to the systemic. Towards the end of the book, Saad enumerates the specific steps one can take to fight racism, such as taking the initiative to educate one’s self about racism, showing up at protests and rallies for BIPOC, and supporting BIPOC teachers, entrepreneurs, and leaders.
While Me and White Supremacy was designed by Saad to last the reader only 28 days, she emphasizes time and time again that dismantling racism and white supremacy is a lifelong commitment. She drills in the reader that one must continue to practice anti-racism–not for any sort of financial or social reward–but out of their sincere desire to become a good ancestor to future generations.