Durham Book Festival 2020: Layla Saad: ‘Me and White Supremacy’

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What started as an Instagram challenge soon erupted into a guided journaling transformation, as Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy forces readers to combat their inner privilege and dismantle their unconscious racism.

As I listened to the author, speaker, podcast host and activist unravel her own personal journey that has allowed her to help others, it seems (as a person of colour) I could relate to her intolerance for those with white privilege around her that expected spoon-feeding when it came to matters of race and ethnicity.

A concise yet confrontational guide to recognising and dismantling the privilege in the world around us

Her book is a concise yet confrontational guide to recognising and dismantling the privilege in the world around us, which is something particularly poignant following the tragic deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and so many others throughout history, at the hands of police brutality, white privilege, and not enough.

The 28 prompts, which were originally daily challenges shared across social media, began as an “experiment”, according to Saad – a method of “being open and transparent about how white supremacy shows up”. Those 28 prompts, ranging from white fragility to cultural appropriation, with everything in between and surrounding, catalysed a global social media movement where people were confronted with engaging in deep, self-reflective work.

And in her own words, combatting racism is exactly that: work. It’s a journey. Something that won’t quite be easy – in her words, “you will become intimidated when you begin to realise how this work will necessitate seismic change in your life.” And the self-reflective aspect of the guided journaling allows readers (or rather, users) to engage with their own thoughts more than they would through a social media challenge.

Saad wanted to give people a practice that could be taken beyond a challenge, or beyond waiting to be spoon-fed resources. Sharing the resources across Instagram felt too one-sided, as she recognised that what she really wanted essentially involved asking people with white privilege to take responsibility for themselves.

What she really wanted essentially involved asking people with white privilege to take responsibility for themselves.

The unique structure of journaling each day for 28 days was a big shift for her personally. But it was necessary that personal self-reflection was involved in the process of dismantling racism. Understanding yourself and the privileges you may have is more effective than being told what to do or how to act. White supremacy is more than just a challenge. It’s ingrained in society, something we’re all conditioned to. 

Yet, once you open your eyes (internally albeit), you can’t unsee it. It’s not just about how it’s out there, but how it’s within ourselves. And it’s about questioning whether those unconscious thoughts are causing more harm to our society in ways that may not be realised, especially by people with white privilege.

Something that stood out to me during this talk in particular, which Saad does address at the beginning of her book, is who the readers of this book are. It’s for people who have white privilege, not just for white people. There is a distinction between how you’re perceived in the world versus how you perceive yourself. Which entails the first question of ‘where do I belong?’ Saad offers questions like these for us to pose to ourselves, in often challenging and difficult ways. Race isn’t a fixed thing, or a biological thing, or a definitive thing. You can’t be boxed or categorised, but, you need to understand the importance of acknowledging any privilege you may have.

The book offers an incredibly vulnerable process, one that will require more commitment than performatively sharing a black box on social media on a Tuesday, or following the trend of the protests. The movement may be dwindling off towards the end of this year, but Saad’s book is definitely not lost within the passing moment.

There is a distinction between how you’re perceived in the world versus how you perceive yourself

“If it was that easy to solve racism, if it was that easy to have an anti-racist world, we would have it already,” Saad reflects. But we have all the resources, and still have the world we have. We still haven’t reached the vital point of enough people committing to and engaging with the process of dismantling racism and changing the world. It may take time, but (although it may be for unfortunate circumstances) all we have right now is time.

2020 has been a s**t-show. It’s been uncomfortable to say the least, and for Saad, it’s felt like “five years in one year”. But it’s given us time. Time to reflect on our actions, our choices, our experiences. Time to understand our privilege, as any privilege we may have. With that in mind, Me and White Supremacy offers hope for something better to come.

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