By Larry E. Davis
This is a short book of autobiographical essays on race by a colleague of my mother’s. I picked up her copy while visiting over Christmas, so I have no idea how widely available it is, but I highly recommend it. Davis has a fascinating way of breaking down extremely complex and emotionally-charged issues of race into underlying theories of causes that can be more directly addressed. He calmly and clearly lays out factual counter-arguments to many of the arguments that, per the title of this book, attempt to blame black people for their own social inequality.
The title comes from a question that struck the author as a young boy: if we (himself and other black people) were the slaves, then why are they (white people) angry with us? This led him through decades of studies in psychology and sociology. His central hypothesis in this book is that it mostly comes down to cognitive dissonance. Basically, people want their way of thinking and their behavior to align with each other, so much so that they will force one or the other to change in order to align, if necessary. So, if your way of life depends on exploiting others, but you still very much want to consider yourself a decent person, then you begin to think that the exploited person somehow deserves it, which then leads to all sorts of racist stereotypes.
The encouraging aspect of this is that it seems to work both ways: if you can successfully change either the behavior or the thinking, the other will eventually change, too, in order to stay aligned. His example of that is when the Civil Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate based on race, behavior (slowly) changed to follow the law, and then thinking changed afterwards (even more slowly). It reminded me of something that the host from one of my favorite podcasts, Yo, Is This Racist?, said (paraphrasing): “I don’t think I can stop people from having racist thoughts; I just want to make it unacceptable to ever verbalize these thoughts.” According to Davis’ theory, making racist talk culturally unacceptable could go a long way toward making racist thought disappear as well.
This really was an excellent book that made me think about a lot of things that normally just don’t occur to me.