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Book Review: Witnessing Whiteness: First Steps Toward an Antiracist Practice and Culture by Shelly Tochluk

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The subject of race and race relations has always been an issue in American society. Recently there has been a movement to raise the understanding of what it means to be white. Shelly Tochluk uses her book Witnessing Whiteness: First Steps Toward an Antiracist Practice and Culture as a tool to bring more volume to the necessary dialogue about what it means to be white, which still only takes place in the forms of whispers. I took an interest in this book both as someone who identifies as white, but also as someone who has read several pieces on this very subject.

The book begins by assessing ways in which white people avoid issues of race. These methods of avoidance can take the form of an unrelenting faith in the so-called equal protection provided by our laws, a dismissal of race, or a claim of colorblindness, to name a few. Tochluk takes each tactic she presents, explains what it means, how it appears in society, and how it is detrimental to race relations. Even though some people claim that the age of racism is long gone, Tochluk presents examples of its predominance in areas such as the media coverage of Hurricane Katrina. A white couple wading through water with food is described as finding it in a local grocery store, while a young black child is labeled as looting stores for his meal. Many of us would simply read over these different descriptions for the same act and never notice the differences.

The middle section of Witnessing Whiteness  has by far the most impact, because of the personal connections the reader can form. Tochluk uses personal stories to help connect the reader to the revelations different people have had on the issue of race. The personal stories are parts of interviews with eight white people and eight people of color. These moments help readers strengthen their grasp on the concept of witnessing as it is not just the author explaining race and what it means to have unearned privileges or entitlements.

Tochluk concludes by having the readers take a look at their own lives. She provides questions to help readers discover the segregation that exists in their routines and personal relationships. After looking deep within themselves, the reader can continue on to discover Tochluk’s suggestions for how white people can grow as allies and foster supportive communities.

Tochluk’s work will have a tremendous effect on any reader who picks it up. If you identify as white, it will open your eyes to race issues in your everyday life that you unknowingly ignore. It will also make you stop and think about the way in which you view the subject of race all together. While reading you will find the personal stories Tochluk collected to bring out your own similar revelations and memories. Even though I have read other books and articles on the subject of whiteness, Witnessing Whiteness  still brought about new perspectives and personal understandings of what it means to be white and what I can do to serve as an ally to others around me.

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