A Guide for White Writers Who Want to Do Better
How to (begin to) unpack myriad layers of privilege in your work
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…