As a way to start thinking about racial privilege and what author Brandon Kiely self-consciously terms "white racial identity," this book is a useful primer. The Other Talk: Reckoning With Our White Privilege is illuminating both for kids and teens who are just beginning to learn about racial injustice and for those already engaged in activism. One of its greatest strengths are the sections dedicated to thinking about how White allies can learn when to "step up" and when to "step back" and listen to the voices and concerns of what he terms "the Global Majority"-- following Tiffany Jewell (This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do The Work). Assuming that his readers are well-intentioned and want to help, he reminds them to also be self-conscious about the way they take up space and how they use the privilege they may or may not already know they have as White Americans. He forcefully describes about how inaction makes White people complicit in racism, writing that "if we don't help to eradicate racial injustice, we're actually helping maintain it -- in fact, we could even be helping it get worse..."
The concept of comes from the idea of "The Talk" that parents of non-White children have with their kids about how to act around police and authority figures in order to ensure their safety in a society that views them as a threat. Kiely wants White parents and kids to have a different talk -- one about the problem of racism and the responsibilities of privilege. But the history lessons it provides are shallow and seemingly selected at random, making every piece of the racial injustice puzzle blur together. For example, in one "Then and "Now" table documenting the history of racist policies, a racist law from the 1850s that allowed the California government to target anyone who looked to have "Spanish and Indian blood" is directly compared to the racial bias of Abercrombie & Fitch in selecting its models. While acknowledging the history and present reality of "systemic racism," the book is still mostly focused on personal interactions and hidden biases. There's almost zero engagement with what scholars call "intersectionality" -- a crucial concept that argues race, class, and gender must be understood as all simultaneously working together to influence society. While Kiely does a good job of using examples and anecdotes from people of many different ethnic backgrounds, there's a certain flattening to race and privilege in his writing. When he definitively states that "All white people share the same privileges, the same advantages, of white living," he's trying to make a crucial point about the power of whiteness, but it also completely erases the issues of class and gender from the conversation. These kind of blanket statements become easy targets for skeptics of the concept of White privilege and can lead to fair criticism. Similarly, Kiely's use of analogies and anecdotes are sometimes helpful and sometimes miss the mark. By trying to write with humor and informality, he hopes to connect more with young readers, but the tone is jarring at times considering the seriousness of the subject matter. Nevertheless, if the book can resonate with young readers and encourage them to seek more information, listen more intently to people from different backgrounds, and try to be more sensitive and aware of the way race operates in their lives and the world around them, then the book will be a fine contribution to an ongoing conversation that still has a long way to go. Parents and teens can also take Kiely's advice and read powerful reflections by authors like Maya Angelou, Ta-Nahesi Coates, Amy Tan, and other members of the Global Majority. Although Kiely's effort is admirable, a case could be made that their perspectives may be more effective teaching tools for understanding race and privilege in the United States.