Fire in the Heart: How White Activists Embrace Racial Justice

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Fire in the Heart uncovers the dynamic processes through which some white Americans become activists for racial justice. The book reports powerful accounts of the development of racial awareness drawn from in-depth interviews with fifty white activists in the fields of community organizing, education, and criminal justice reform.

Drawing extensively on the rich interview material, Mark Warren shows how white Americans can develop a commitment to racial justice, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because they embrace the cause as their own. Contrary to much contemporary thinking on racial issues focused on altruism or interests, Warren finds that cognitive and rational processes alone do little to move whites to action. Rather, the motivation to take and sustain action for racial justice is profoundly moral and relational. Warren shows how white activists come to find common cause with people of color when their core values are engaged, as they build relationships with people of color that lead to caring, and when they develop a vision of a racially just future that they understand to benefit everyone—themselves, other whites, and people of color. Warren also considers the complex dynamics and dilemmas white people face in working in multiracial organizations committed to systemic change in America's racial order, and provides a deeper understanding and appreciation of the role that white people can play in efforts to promote racial justice.

The first study of its kind, Fire in the Heart brings to light the perspectives of white people who are working day-to-day to build not a post-racial America but the foundations for a truly multiracial America rooted in a caring, human community with equity and justice at its core.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Fire in the Heart is a one-of-a-kind look at the motivations, tribulations, and contributions of white allies in the racial justice struggle. It brings to life the human dimension of social activism, and the voices of the activists included herein by Mark Warren are a true inspiration!"—Tim Wise, author of White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son

"In his timely, well-researched, and profoundly creative book, Mark Warren enables us to appreciate the power of moral understanding as a major source of the motivation to act, especially in ways that challenge the status quo. By focusing on racial 'border crossers,' people engaged in what seems to be inherently paradoxical action, he takes us well beyond the arid models of human motivation all too common in social science. By reconnecting 'head, hands, and heart' he helps us understand the courage to make change. And by combining the richness of narrative with systematic analysis, he makes a genuinely unique contribution to our understanding of why we do what we do. Warren's book, like his first one, is of unusual value to scholars, practitioners, and the interested public."—Marshall Ganz, author of Why David Sometimes Wins

"Based on rich and detailed data from interviews with 50 progressive white activists across the country, Mark Warren paints a vivid portrait of how some whites develop an awareness of racial injustice and a commitment to combat it. In the process, he persuasively demonstrates what is necessary for whites to find common ground with people of color. Anyone who cares about the future of race relations in America should read this book."—William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, Harvard University

"We need all Americans working together to ensure all people—regardless of race—have access to economic and social opportunity. Mark Warren's insightful book reminds us that a deep and lasting national commitment to justice is hard, necessary work. The color line must stop serving as a barrier to national progress."—Angela Glover Blackwell, co-author of Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America's Future

"In a society where racial inequality and injustice have been passively accepted as part of the American social fabric, it is critical to understand what it will take for a greater number of individuals to become committed to its eradication. This book provides that insight and it does so with clarity and passion. Advancing the cause of racial justice in education and beyond requires just this kind of activist scholarship."—Pedro Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education, New York University

"Maybe the truth should hurt, but it's difficult to find one's bearings after getting slammed with the overwhelming reality of white racism-which makes Mark R. Warren's new book Fire in the Heart: How White Activists Embrace Racial Justice (Oxford University, September) a heartening read." —Micah Uetricht, In These Times

"Fire in the Heart: How White Activists Embrace Racial Justice by Mark R. Warren is an academic, thoughtful study of fifty white activists...while some called the time after President Obama's election post-racial, Fire in the Heart is realistic in understanding that racial injustice continues, but Warren's book searches for a way to combat it." —San Francisco Book Review

"The author challenges all of us to be intentional about making friends with people of different colors. This is a key to understanding one another, and knowledge makes even subtle prejudice harder to justify." — Doc Kirby, WTBF-AM/FM

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Mark R. Warren is Associate Professor of Education at Harvard University. He is a sociologist and has published widely on community organizing and on efforts to build alliances across race and class to revitalize urban communities, reform public education and expand democracy.

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Table of Contents

Preface: "Embracing What is Right"
1. Introduction: From White Passivity to Racial Justice Activism
2. Starting Down the Road: Seminal Experiences and the Moral Impulse to Act
3. From Do-gooder to Deeper Commitment: Relationships with People of Color
4. Getting to the "Want to": Moral Visions and the Purposeful Life
5. Working with White People: Challenging Racism in the Context of Inclusion
6. Multiracial Collaboration: Creating "Right Relationships" under the "Weight of History"
7. "Where Do I Fit?": Building New Identities in Multiracial Communities
8. Conclusion: Head, Heart and Hand
Appendix: The Telling and the Told: Notes on Research Methods and Data
List of Activists and Their Organizational Affiliations

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