What If I Say The Wrong Thing? Book Review

By: Lisa Solomon

After the death of George Floyd, I, like many others in the country realized I needed to better educate myself on my own views about race, white privilege, and systemic racism. I wanted to do the work to learn more and take a long, hard look at my own personal prejudices and assumptions. I also wanted to talk to other people, both black and white, about my thoughts. I admit I was really afraid I would say the wrong thing, but I decided I would risk saying the wrong thing versus staying silent.  There are so many tools and resources out there to help me become a better ally to people of color, someone who can help educate others on how to be a more culturally effective person.

We started the Atheneum Book Club to help facilitate these conversations with others and the first book we read was What If I Say The Wrong Thing? by Vernā A. Myers. This small but mighty book shares 25 habits for culturally effective people. I highly recommend it for everyone looking to take that first step into being actively antiracist. I am working on breaking all of the habits, however, the following are the ones that really resonated with me. 

Habit #1 –  But I Am Not A Racist!: Understand the Isms

Even if we don’t think we are personally perpetuating any of the “isms” (racism, sexism, ageism, elitism, classism, ableism, etc) they still exist. They are embedded in our society and until you can truly understand and recognize them, we will continue to perpetuate them. For every “ism” there is a group that is “one-up” and another that is “one-down”, meaning there is a group that is going to have an advantage and the other will be at a disadvantage. It is not enough to say I am not a racist; we have to do the work to really understand our biases. I found this framework helpful to construct my own privilege and ask myself to look at the bigger picture and connect the dots on systemic one down isms.

Habit #12 –  She Was So Articulate: Avoid Micro-Inequities

This is one that I have caught both myself and my friends saying when we make assumptions about people based on their appearances. I have said with surprise, “that person was so articulate!”  Every time I hear that or say it, it is the exact moment to check in on my own biases. This is not a compliment; this portrays a negative perception we have about a person based on a person’s group identity versus the actual individual.  

Habit #16 – Aren’t You Scared to Live There?: If you See Something, Say Something. 

I have heard this so many times living in Los Angeles when people talk about certain neighborhoods, in particular neighborhoods that tend to be majority black or hispanic. This is such an obvious bias and a good opportunity to stand up and be an active bystander to challenge that stereotype and bias.  It is a good time to ask “Why do you say that?” or “What do you mean by that?” Beyond the neighborhood bias, in everyday conversations we hear jokes, slang, and other behavior that is offensive and we have the opportunity to stand up to it and point it out for what it is.   

I highly recommend this book to help facilitate conversations and to help practice habits to become a more culturally effective person. Join our book club to be part of the conversation!



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