White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How to Do Better

White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How to Do Better

by Regina Jackson, Saira Rao
White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How to Do Better

White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How to Do Better

by Regina Jackson, Saira Rao


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An instant New York Times Bestseller!

A no-holds-barred guidebook aimed at white women who want to stop being nice and start dismantling white supremacy from the team behind Race2Dinner and the documentary film, Deconstructing Karen

It's no secret that white women are conditioned to be "nice," but did you know that the desire to be perfect and to avoid conflict at all costs are characteristics of white supremacy culture? 

As the founders of Race2Dinner, an organization which facilitates conversations between white women about racism and white supremacy, Regina Jackson and Saira Rao have noticed white women's tendency to maintain a veneer of niceness, and strive for perfection, even at the expense of anti-racism work.

In this book, Jackson and Rao pose these urgent questions: how has being "nice" helped Black women, Indigenous women and other women of color? How has being "nice" helped you in your quest to end sexism? Has being "nice" earned you economic parity with white men? Beginning with freeing white women from this oppressive need to be nice, they deconstruct and analyze nine aspects of traditional white woman behavior—from tone-policing to weaponizing tears—that uphold white supremacy society, and hurt all of us who are trying to live a freer, more equitable life.

White Women is a call to action to those of you who are looking to take the next steps in dismantling white supremacy. Your white supremacy. If you are in fact doing real anti-racism work, you will find few reasons to be nice, as other white people want to limit your membership in the club. If you are not ticking white people off on a regular basis, you are not doing it right.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143136439
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/01/2022
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 82,574
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Saira (NOT Sara) Rao grew up in Richmond, Virginia, the daughter of Indian immigrants. For forty years, she wasted her precious time aspiring to be white and accepted by dominant white society, a futile task for anyone not born with white skin. Several years ago, Saira began the painful process of dismantling her own internalized oppression. Saira is a lawyer-by-training, a former congressional candidate, a published novelist and an entrepreneur.

Born in Chicago in 1950 Regina remembers an America where everything was in Black and white. Burned into her memory are; the beatings and horrific treatment of civil rights workers throughout the south, the Goodman, Chaney & Schwerner murders, the murder of Viola Liuzzo, the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the murders of President John Kennedy and his brother Robert. The violence perpetrated on innocent people going about their lives, by white people. It is these memories that drive Regina to push for real change in America. Which is why she co-founded Race 2 Dinner.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Your Quest for Perfection Is Killing Us.
And You.

If white womanhood is a house, your need to be perfect is the foundation.

Being perfect is the key to your happiness, to your success, to your very existence.

Perfect hair. Perfect clothes. Perfect grades. Perfect nails. Perfect weddings. Perfect bodies. Perfect adoring and supportive wife and mother. Perfect employee and colleague.

White skin.

The foundational principle of perfection in a white supremacist society like ours is rooted in whiteness. Without it, your As will never be straight enough, your MVP trophies not shiny enough, your flowery dresses a bit wilted. Of course, white skin alone doesn't render you perfect, but without it, you have no chance. White skin is a necessary but insufficient ingredient of perfection. The con, of course, is there is no actual recipe for perfection. Every ingredient is ultimately insufficient, as there is no such thing as perfection.

Your endless quest for perfection is a trap. You will never be pretty enough. You will never be thin enough. You will never be smart enough or successful enough or rich enough.

Yet white women will die trying.

Saira should know. She used to be one of you.

Saira's Story

As the daughter of Indian immigrants, I was conditioned from birth to be the white woman ideal. Sometimes the language was overt: "No, you can't go to the pool. You'll get dark." Or "Priti is pretty, so fair." But more often than not, it was coded.


"Be more American."

Of course, we knew assimilation and American meant white, not Black. Even before my parents arrived in the US, they knew the drill: white people at the top, Black people at the bottom, and they'd fall somewhere in the middle. How did they know? American television, films, and books are exported around the world. Our white supremacy is broadcast to London, Dubai, Delhi, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, and everywhere in between. In the case of India, my parents were born into British colonialism. Even before they consumed American media, they knew firsthand that whiteness was king and queen.

Thanks to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, my parents were able to leave their homeland, ravaged by the British, and seek out the "American dream." The immigration act was made possible by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was passed thanks to the tireless work of Black people. While they were able to come to America on the backs of Black folks, once my parents got here, they worked hard to stay as far away from those same Black folks as they possibly could. Because they knew.

The American dream requires assimilation.

Assimilation to whiteness.

We, of course, can never be white. But we do the next best thing: we work our butts off to be as close to white as possible. This requires us to be as close to perfect as one can get, better than those around us, even better than our white peers. Better at school. Better at work. Better at sports. Better at charm. Better at cooking, cleaning, baking, breathing.

It should be noted that our actions, as South Asian immigrants, embody anti-Black racism. Our assimilation requires us to be as anti-Black as we are pro-white. It requires not only a rejection of Black people but also a rejection of ourselves, our own brown skin, our culture. All in a desperate, impossible quest to cozy up to whiteness. This is called self-loathing, or internalized oppression. Internalized oppression is required to assimilate, to become American, to become white. The con, of course, is we are never white, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we believe otherwise.

And boy did I try, and even believe.

It was with this deeply held belief that I wrapped myself into my prettiest Laura Ashley dress, the one with white lilies on it, and shoved pearl earrings through my earlobes, a particularly painful act of self-loathing, as I knew my ears would be infected within the hour. It was a cool Charlottesville night, second semester of my freshman year at the University of Virginia. My hall mates (all white) and I set out together for the most time-honored of UVA traditions: sorority rush.

Even now, decades later, I can remember praying that I'd make it, that one of the prestige houses-Tri Delt or Theta or Kappa Kappa Gamma-would accept me, warts and all.

The proverbial warts being my brown skin.

It was with a profound sense of purpose and hope that I set out with legion other young women down Rugby Road, the central nervous system of UVA's Greek system.

What a sight to behold. Young white woman upon young white woman, with the errant Latina, Asian, or Black woman. Every hair was in place. Every dress on point. Same with our jewelry and makeup. Perfect.

It never occurred to me to even consider rushing the Black sororities. They were so foreign, so other, so lesser, they may as well have been nonexistent. There were no Asian sororities, and even if there had been, I wouldn't have rushed those either. Being Asian was lesser than white. I was going for the gold. I was going for the white.

We arrived in groups, giggling to assuage our nerves. A few women bragged about being legacies, how their mothers, grandmothers, and aunts were Kappas or Thetas here or Pi Phis or Tri Delts there. There was no such thing in India, so I did what I always did in such situations: I smiled and nodded, happy to celebrate the advantages of my white peers. House after house after house was the same. A sea of white faces, singing, dancing, welcoming us with donuts, cookies, and hot chocolate, while whispering to a select few blondes and brunettes about joining them at fraternity parties later on for real drinks. I cracked my best jokes, laughed heartily at theirs. I hugged hard and often. I sang along loudly. It was like I was auditioning for a Broadway chorus line.

Despite my best efforts, I got cut from Kappa in the first round. I was stunned. After all, I had just graduated from a private school in Richmond, like many of the Kappas. I had been perfect in high school. I was captain of the field hockey, basketball, and lacrosse teams. I was student body president. I was popular. I had played drinking games in suburban Virginia basements and jammed out with some of these women at Dave Matthews Band concerts. Not only had we played each other in sports, it was I who was the star of those games. If not best friends, we were certainly friendly.

And there I was, cut from their special club. Right out of the gate. Not worthy of even a second round of consideration.

A few months later, after I'd pledged a sorority that accepted more Black and brown women than the rest (three of us my year), I ran into one of those Kappas, a brunette who was a year older than me, a former field hockey rival.

"Can you chat?" Anne asked tipsily in a dank frat house.

"Sure," I responded.

We went around back, where a handful of white guys were smoking cigarettes. They paid us no attention.

"Listen, I'm sorry about Kappa," Anne said, tears already welling in her eyes.

"No problem," I responded, "I'm happy at Phi Mu. But I was confused about the first round. I thought I'd make it at least a little further."

"God, Saira," she said, the tears flowing. "We all voted you through, and then a few stood up and said, 'She's not Kappa material,' and Jenny said, 'What are you talking about. A bunch of us have known Saira for years. She's great.'"

Anne was now weeping.

"It's okay," I said, placing my hand on her back.

"But it's not," Anne said.

I knew what she was about to say. I felt sick, like I was about to vomit up crappy keg beer.

"They, they"-she trembled-"said, 'Saira is not Kappa material.'" She rubbed the skin on her forearm.

Anne said this as though I were unaware that my skin color had made me not Kappa material my entire life. I spent the next hour comforting Anne.

"You know I'm not racist, Saira," she said. "You know that, right?"

"Of course you're not," I assured her.

She looked up and down and lowered her voice. "It was Maggie, Ellen, and Suzanne. They were the ones."

And there it was: the white woman throwing her own kind under the bus to absolve herself.

It was them. Not me.

You always tell on each other. By design, you must. In order to maintain your perfection, others must be rendered imperfect; perfection can exist only in relief to imperfection. This system of white woman perfection creates intense competition. You're intimately familiar with this, how you stab each other in the back, rip each other apart, all in an attempt to make yourselves whole.

I didn't point out the obvious, that Anne hadn't stood up for me. Nor did she leave the room in protest. Nor did she leave the sorority altogether. Anne's silence was every bit as violent as Maggie, Ellen, and Suzanne's overt racism. But there was no time to point out these facts to Anne. I was too busy making her feel better.

I didn't realize it then, but I do now. Anne performed every act in the white woman variety show. Her friends say something racist. She remains silent. She feels guilty. She confides in a woman of color. She cries, thereby centering her feelings over the racial harm. She throws her fellow white women under the bus in order to distance herself from their violence. She now feels absolved while simultaneously remaining a part of the racist institution.

As for me, the brown woman? I play my role dutifully. I experience the racism. The harm is exacerbated by my having to deal with the white woman's tears. It has become my job to make her feel better about her silence, her complicity in the racism.

By the time we returned to the party, Anne felt better. I felt lousy. Anne rejoined her fellow Kappas on the dance floor. I walked back to my dorm and collapsed onto my floral comforter.

Fall gave way to winter. Laura Ashley became flannel shirts, jeans, and braided belts. The seasons changed but, still, I dressed like them. I listened to their music. I hung out at their bars, their frat houses. I took classes with them. They mocked me for studying all the time. I didn't have backup plans. They did.

Like a Coach saddle purse, my self-loathing was something I carried everywhere during my time at UVA. A night out in late spring of junior year was no exception. A group of us, a smattering of white ladies from different sororities, were hanging out. One was Linda, a dear and treasured friend, a woman whom I considered to be a true sister; a woman who would break my heart decades later, but looking back on it now, I realize she started to break it that night. I just chose to ignore it.

This particular evening, we were sitting at an outdoor table at the Corner, UVA's local hangout spot. The Beastie Boys' Ill Communication was pumping through the speakers, and strings of white lights were wrapped around the trees, supplying a hint of magic. We ordered thin-crust pizza with sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts and sipped beer from cans.

I sat next to Linda and across from Kate and Amber. We chatted about summer plans. Linda and I planned to stay in Charlottesville and get jobs. Kate told us about how her mother really wanted her to spend one last summer with the family at their Martha's Vineyard home. There was a young East Asian couple seated a few tables over. Their accented English caught Kate's attention.

Kate fixed her eyes on the woman, took a swig of beer, leaned in, and giggled. "Oh my God," she said. "Amber, do you remember . . ."

Amber snorted before Kate could finish her sentence.

"Y'all," Amber whispered. "Kate and I were paired as roommates first year."

At that time, UVA randomly selected roommates for first-years. We received our assignments in the mail the summer before fall semester.

"And I about died." Amber eyed the East Asian woman. "Kate Lee. Lee."

They burst into laughter.

"Yeah?" Linda asked.

"Dude," Kate said, leaning in. "Amber thought I was Asian. Lee."

Linda started laughing, happy to be in on the joke.

"I seriously died," Amber said. "Like, what the fuck would I do with an Asian roommate."

The three of them burst into laughter. I prayed for the ground to open up and swallow me whole. I hoped they would stop, move on, but they didn't. They kept looking at the East Asian couple and laughing.

"Guys." I finally managed to open my mouth. "Um. I'm Asian."

They paused and stared at me, surprised, as if I'd materialized out of nowhere.


"Yeah, but you're not Asian Asian," Amber said, having scoured her mind for the right words.

But I am.

"Yeah, Saira," Kate said, "you're one of us."

But I'm clearly not.

Linda looked at me adoringly. "We love you."

Love me, but what? Hate them?

The most pathetic part of this story is that their grotesque words were accepted by me as compliments. In my mind, Amber, Kate, and Linda saw me so much as one of them that they forgot about my existence during this racist, xenophobic exchange. An invisible fly on a white wall.

I was able to stay, a welcome guest at that dinner, because I internalized their words. Unlike that East Asian couple, my English is spoken with a mid-Atlantic accent. I was with a group of white sorority girls, not one half of an all-Asian couple.

What does this story have to do with perfection?

For starters, there is nothing, literally nothing, that Black, Indigenous, and brown women can do to achieve the perfection of you. We can be more successful at school and at work. We can have more expensive clothes, bigger houses, take fancier vacations. Yet we will always lack the foundational qualification: being white.

What do you think would have happened had I pointed out how racist Linda, Kate, and Amber were acting that night? How do you think they would have reacted? Do you think I would have remained in their friend circle? Or do you think they would have cried? Insisted that they weren't racist? That I had to know that they weren't racist! I had to know that they were only joking. If I wanted to keep my social standing, could I have been radically honest about their racism, or would I have to make them feel better? Would I have to let it go?

Table of Contents

What Is Race2Dinner? xiii

Preface xv

Chapter 1 Your Quest for Perfection Is Killing Us. And You. 1

Chapter 2 Your Nice Is Actually Evil. 19

Chapter 3 Your White Silence Is Violence. 29

Chapter 4 You See Oppression through a Gender Lens. You Erase Your White Power. You Are Colorblind. You Are White Feminists. 43

Chapter 5 Your White Entitlement. 63

Chapter 6 How Schools-and White Mothers-Uphold White Supremacy. 71

Chapter 7 "Microaggressions" and How You Kill Us at Work. 85

Chapter 8 Every Time You Say Love Trumps Hate, You Are Enabling Hate to Flourish. 113

Chapter 9 White Allies, White Saviors, White Violence. 133

Epilogue 143

Glossary 151

Acknowledgments 159

A Guide to Unlearning 161

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