“Uprooting Racism” Helps White People Get Real about Racial Justice

White people are trained to be ignorant of and complicit in white supremacy. Much like characters in The Matrix, we’re so often unaware of the structural and cultural racism, racial violence, and microaggressions constantly surrounding us. There are opportunities when our consciousness may be sparked — where we notice a wrinkle in the Matrix code — and then there is a critical question of what pill we choose to take.

Do we use that spark to build greater understanding and move into action with accountability for racial justice? Do we stuff it back down into unawareness with defenses, blaming, and projection in exchange for the rewards of white pleasure and comfort?

One of these uber-white existential crises occurred in my life some years ago and I am forever grateful that the 1st addition of Uprooting Racism landed in my lap at that critical moment. Initially a go-to guide in my early journey toward racial justice, I have used it time and again in educational groups and organizations, to lend to others in their own ‘spark’ moment, or to reground myself in the basics as the work gets complex.

Uprooting Racism, recently released in its 4th edition, gives white people the concrete tools we need to deepen our understanding of white supremacy and racism — so that we can move into action from a more informed place. The strength of Kivel’s approach is that he takes concepts that get thrown around without much explanation like whiteness, mutual interest, allyship, and institutional racism and makes them very concrete and accessible for most readers. This book balances intellectual frameworks for understanding how land and housing, policing, and employment structure racism with introspective journaling using the questions Kivel provides, such as the “Costs of Racism to White People” checklist.

In this newly released edition, Kivel reflects the evolutions in movement-building work that have occurred over the last six years as police brutality, Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock movements, social media organizing, and the surge of overt white supremacist organizing have changed the consciousness of mass numbers of white people. Reflecting some shifts from a traditional ally framework to one of accomplice-ship with accountability, new sections in this edition focus on cultural appropriation, white fragility and white power, white savior dynamics, mutual interest, and reparations. Kivel isn’t an academic, so don’t come looking for a traditional Ethnic studies analytic. Come because you are looking for a concrete guide to introspection, action, and accountability.

Whether your consciousness of racism has just been sparked or you are a long time racial justice activist, this book will root you in the work for the long haul. Those particularly hard moments when I feel my own white fragility take hold — where I want to deny that something I did was racist or hesitate to take action out of fear — I pull out this book and flip to the chart “What People of Color Want from White Allies” and ground myself in the simple directive: “Your body on the line”.