Not all racism takes the form of Confederate flag-waving angry Trump voters. Often, it’s a more subtle ignorance. Even the most well-meaning person can have blind spots and unconscious assumptions that reveal themselves in awkward interactions.
It’s that bumbling racism that authors Amanda Meadows and Robin Higgins target in their new book We Don’t Think You’re Racist! Soothing Affirmations from People of Color.
The book juxtaposes messages like “You can touch my hair! You can touch my hair all day” beside the photo of a smiling black woman. Daily Show correspondent Roy Wood Jr. blurbs on the back cover: “A hilarious yet informative read for anyone who’s unknowingly said something stupid to someone of another race. It should be listed under Self-Help!”
The authors describe the clueless racist person like so: “It’s someone who speaks without thinking,” Robin Higgins told Paste. “Like, oh I’m so glad you informed me Mulan is your favorite Disney princess. Why would you say that? You would not say that to a white person. That person did not think hard enough.”
“I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, because you can get so exhausted with that stuff,” Amanda Meadows agreed. “If I care about them enough, I’ll say something, but if not, it’s just ‘alright.’”
“The people who would say the dumb stuff in this book are trying their best. Maybe in, like, 5 years they might be doing a better job,” said Higgins.
The book is the latest release from The Devastator, a small humor label of which Meadows is the co-publisher alongside her husband, Geoffrey Golden (they wrote a guide for aspiring DIY publishers here on Paste). For this project, Meadows had Higgins in mind as co-author from the beginning. “I always intended to work with another person and Robin was who I had in mind,” she said.
“I pitched a bunch of books and one was about being bi-racial, kind of similar to this,” Higgins said.
The pair met through the Los Angeles comedy community and realized they shared a passion for indie publishing. Robin has her own humor publishing platform, The Higgs-Weldon, which is also a live show.
“Amanda and Geoffrey started coming to our show and they were the only people that looked at our zines,” Higgins said. “But they were the two perfect people to see it.”
“It worked out,” Meadows agreed.
Both raised in California, Meadows and Higgins have each experienced a lifetime’s share of the awkward racism their book mocks. “I’m from Oakland, the most diverse city in the US, and everyone there has met a bunch of people who are different from themselves, just by living there. It was when I went to school that was mostly white people when I started running into these things,” Higgins said.
“We both grew up in diverse areas. She’s from Oakland, I’m SoCal. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people trying to bond with Hispanic people over soccer,” Meadows laughed. “They’re just going with the first thing they think of, something they think ‘oh we might have this in common.’ It’s usually white people trying to be polite but obviously getting it wrong.”
Both authors went out of their way to stress that they aren’t implying that every white person without a widely diverse cast of friends is automatically racist, clueless or otherwise. “Tone and intent are huge,” Higgins said. “You could say any of [the things in the book] and be fine if it’s coming from the right place. But what I’ve experienced, most of the time, this is people treating you like a novelty. It’s condescending, like when someone says ‘oh, you’re bi-racial, so you could say the ’N word’ if you wanted to.’ I’m not a wind-up toy. I don’t look like I’m enjoying this, so why are you enjoying this so much, you know?”
“At the heart of it, they’re uncomfortable,” Meadows said. “If you point it out to them directly, people get very defensive. ‘What, racist? I’m not racist.’ So [our book] is more indirect. You need to do that.”
“It’s why therapists only use the Socratic method,” Higgins laughed.
Beyond being funny and relatable, Meadows and Higgins hope the book leads to maybe a little self-reflection from readers, too. Meadows said she’s already seen it happen at book and comic conventions. “Once at WonderCon and once at Emerald City, different times I’ve had ladies tell me ‘Oh, I think I said something like this’” Meadows laughed. “It’s great to recognize these epiphanies! I was thinking it was going to suck taking this book to conventions and having ignorant people telling me ’This isn’t funny. This doesn’t exist anymore.’ People have flipped through the book and said ‘Oh you have got some terrible minds.’ But people have said this! People say this to our faces! People you know have said this to people I know.”
We Don’t Think You’re Racist! Soothing Affirmations from People of Color
is available in bookstores nationwide now.