The Other Talk: Reckoning With Our White Privilege

Book review by
Kyle Jackson, Common Sense Media
The Other Talk: Reckoning With Our White Privilege Book Poster Image
Heartfelt, scattershot reflection on privilege and bias.

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Stands out for positive messages.

Educational Value

Offers brief introductions to many key concepts of social justice activism and anti-bias scholarship, with scattered facts and figures sprinkled throughout. Helpful reading list in the appendix can guide readers to more expansive materials.

Positive Messages

Urges readers to "stand up and speak up about racism and white privilege," even and especially when it's uncomfortable to do so.

Positive Role Models

Briefly highlights the accomplishments and contributions of unheralded activists for racial justice, as well as as students and colleagues the author has been inspired by.

Diverse Representations

Aims to talk frankly about white privilege and racial inequality while empathizing with what author Brendan Kiely -- following author Tiffany Jewell (This Book Is Anti-Racist) -- terms the "Global Majority." Kiely repeatedly acknowledges the need to "listen" and engage with thinkers and writers from that Global Majority, as well as people in readers' personal lives, but the book is mostly made up of self-reflection and storytelling anecdotes. Briefly highlights the accomplishments and contributions of unheralded activists for racial justice.

Violence

There are a few semi-graphic paragraphs about the murder of Emmett Till

Language

There are self-censored swear words used throughout for dramatic effect, from "sh-t" to "f----d" to "$%&!." Also uncensored curses "damn" and "hell." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Other Talk: Reckoning with Our White Privilege, by Brendan Kiely (co-author, with Jason Reynolds, of the best-selling YA novel All American Boys), is a teen-friendly guide to kickstarting conversation and self-reflection about racial inequality. Introducing young readers to key concepts like systemic racism, discrimination, racial profiling, and the potential impact of microaggressions, the book is more of a jumping-off point than a comprehensive overview. Some of the author's attempts at relatability and humor may strike readers as flippant or inappropriate. However, the book makes a sincere effort to use inclusive language, be honest and self-critical about the author's own limitations, and encourage readers to commit to learning more and taking on the responsibility of making change. Jason Reynolds writes the introduction. Stong language includes "hell, "damn," and some self-censored swear words written as "sh-t," "f----d," and "$%&!." Violence includes a few semi-graphic paragraphs about the murder of Emmett Till

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What's the story?

THE OTHER TALK: RECKONING WITH OUR WHITE PRIVILEGE is firmly targeted at young White readers. While acknowledging that it can be uncomfortable for White people (or anyone) to talk about race, author Brendan Kiely argues that the time has come to start "talking about racism honestly, which in turn means talking about white privilege honestly," and with other White people. The book urges its intended audience to "speak up" and talk about difficult issues in their own families, communities, schools, and spaces they inhabit. By doing so, Kiely hopes that "maybe, just maybe, we can at least minimize some of the impact of racism and white privilege in our own community... one conversation at a time. "In addition to numerous analogies and anecdotes about awkward encounters and unintentional racism and bias the author has experienced or witnessed, Kiely includes a number of real-world examples that point out different aspects of systemic racism at big and small scales. Everything from discrimination in housing and employment to racial bias in policing to food and housing insecurity to the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow are touched on, though none in great detail. Some of these are highlighted by bullet-point infographics filled with names, dates, and facts, though not always in ways that are clear or do justice to the complicated information conveyed. In this way, the book tries to provide an overview to some of the history underlying racial inequality in the United States, while also referring back to the present-day examples of how privilege and disadvantage appear in daily life. While these goals can sometimes get in the way of each other, the book does cover a lot of ground, or at least gives the reader places to continue their education and seek out more information. The reading list in the back also includes a good amount of further reading for those who want to dig deeper into issues Kiely references.

Is it any good?

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about White privilege means in The Other Talk: Reckoning with Our White Privilege. Why do you think there's such heated public debate over the concept in media and politics? 

  • How can you open up dialogue in your own family or community about racial bias and inequality? What are some good starting points for education and conversation?

  • How important is being an ally? Do you agree with the author that "if we don't help to eradicate racial injustice, we're actually helping maintain it"?

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