The Longer History
To Own Whiteness by Musab Younis
London Review of Books, February 10, 2022
In this essay, Musab Younis, a scholar at Queen Mary University of London, brings a critical eye to a quartet of popular anti-racism books, including Robin DiAngelo's Nice Racism, Layla Saad's Me and White Supremacy, Rachel Ricketts' Do Better, and Emma Dabiri's What White People Can Do Next. Younis is skeptical of the shared project these books undertake, which he distills down to "commend[ing] White people willing to 'do the work’ on racism, but condemn[ing] them for the bad faith in which they approach anti-racist labour." He grounds his analysis in the longer history of the self-help genre and its overlap with anti-racism, which he dates back to the 1960s and 1970s, when both the Civil Rights movement and counter-cultural movements encouraged more open conversations about racism. This history is invaluable to those looking to understand the American traditions of racism and anti-racism. Younis also includes some helpful insights from critics of the contemporary iteration of anti-racism work, forcing us to broaden our thinking beyond the narrow categories we've been handed and to look to more radical traditions like the anti-colonialism of Franz Fanon, the linguistic philosophy of Paul Gilroy, or the critical tradition of James Baldwin. Younis also laments the "demise of an internationalist conception of race," noting the limited scope of contemporary anti-racist work and its disconnection from previous movements for social progress. Overall, this article is an urgent call to think more expansively and more critically about the work we are trying to do in spaces committed to anti-racist work.