Express Yourself

A Guide for White Writers Who Want to Do Better

How to (begin to) unpack myriad layers of privilege in your work

John Gorman
Human Parts
Published in
16 min readJun 2, 2020
A photo of a typewriter against a red background.
Photo: photoman/Getty Images

Recently, a white Canadian woman writer texted me the following message (lightly edited for clarity):

I want to challenge myself to weave more resistance into my preferred [writing] topics of love and relationships and spiritual growth. Let’s say I’m writing about carving boundaries with partners and “following your truth.” This is enabled and/or hindered by privilege. Touching on how systems of oppressive and intergenerational trauma can (and do) reinforce circumstances we never chose. And breaking these cycles isn’t so simple… which sometimes I fear my message or takeaway may suggest. I want to consciously notice “how do I perpetuate privileges I have and call those out?” Keen on your hack. Reading your words helps.

Essentially, I think she was asking me: “How — as a white writer — do I write more inclusively, avoid whitewashing my own work, make my writing less racist, and acknowledge my own privilege in my writing?” It’s a good question that deserves a thoughtful answer.

We had a candid conversation about this. I talked about my own work — its flaws, missteps, occasional microaggressiveness, and implicit bias — and my attempts to both intentionally and organically evolve over time. I want to distill that conversation here because it’s important and I had never really thought to unpack it publicly before.

The recommendations that follow are by no means the “right” or “only” ways to do this. These are recommendations from a white writer for other white writers to insulate Black and Brown writers from doing the labor of guiding white writers toward being more cognizant of their privilege. They are ways I have attempted to address my own myriad layers of privilege in my own work and to dissolve and dismantle them.

Recommendation #1: Intentionally read nonwhite writers

If you’re white, you probably have no idea just how whitewashed the literary canon is. (It is also man-washed, which sounds dirtier than I’d like it to.) Most every book you read in school was written by a white person, which is a…



John Gorman
Human Parts

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