What does it mean to fight white supremacy today? After centuries of trying, those of us actively committed to doing so know that grand gestures are well outnumbered by daily acts expressed in myriad ways with varying levels of visibility. This is the message of How We Fight White Supremacy, a new African American anthology by writer-activists (and former contributors to The Root) Akiba Solomon and Kenrya Rankin, released today, March 25, by Bold Type Books.
If the title sounds lofty, the intent isn’t. Less a directive than a recognition of our collective power, the anthology includes the writing, perspectives and artistry of many familiar names alongside those perhaps lesser-known, but no less brilliant and insightful. Contributors include (in no particular order) Mumia Abu-Jamal, Harry Belafonte, Alicia Garza, Tarana Burke, Jay Smooth, Dr. Yaba Blay, Kiese Laymon, Michael Arceneaux, Haki Madhubuti, Amanda Seales, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, adrienne maree brown, VSB’s own Damon Young (author of What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker, also released today) and many, many more. Indeed, as Solomon and Rankin write in the book’s preface:
We’re fascinated by those who resist and create despite the obstacles produced by White supremacy and its lackeys: sexism, homophobia, disenfranchisement, transphobia, colorism, ableism, and more. We wrote this book to document the people, from the unsung to the famous, who are doing good work right where they stand, fighting causes both sexy and pedestrian. There’s the leader of a religious movement that holds up issues that impact queer people of color, the cartoonist who applies the Black punk aesthetic to the hard work of silencing White supremacists, the cofounders of a movement that made the world consider the worth of Black lives, and dozens of other freedom fighters who share their work and their dreams for a future that doesn’t thrive on anti-Blackness.
Here at The Root, we have that dream, too, so we grabbed a few moments with Rankin and Solomon to discuss the purpose of their brilliant new “for us, by us” anthology, and the impact they hope to make in the ongoing struggle.
The Root: As a title alone, How We Fight White Supremacy is ambitious, and obviously, a mission many have been engaged in for centuries. Why this book right now? What was the mission in writing and compiling it, and what do you want it to bring to current generations?
Kenrya Rankin: The title of the book, How We Fight White Supremacy, is a big one. But it was almost bigger! We toyed with How TO Fight White Supremacy, but that sounded prescriptive—and if we had the off switch, we wouldn’t have had to write this book. We think that one word, “we,” is really key. There is so much comfort and encouragement and support in knowing that we can each contribute in our own ways and have a collective impact. This book—which we started before the 45th president brought white supremacy out of the shadows—centers the people who are fighting in ways expected and perhaps unexpected. We want to make clear that just as there are millions of black people, there are millions of ways to resist anti-black systems. Let’s get it.
TR: For this anthology, you’ve assembled some of the leading black voices of our—or any—age, for what you call “a black-ass conversation.” How did that selection process take place?
Akiba Solomon: We definitely had certain people in mind, many of them friends or associates. Besides being talented, we knew that these folks would understand the purpose of the book and deliver. It’s no small notion to contribute to a curated collection like this. There are edits, release forms, requests, more edits, reminders and more requests to fulfill. We also searched for particular voices based on the chapters and cold-contacted folks. Most were responsive, even if it was to say that they didn’t have time, and we thanked them for it. We’re excited to share their brilliance with the world.
TR: Speaking of conversations, this isn’t an anthology in the conventional sense. You’ve organized by topic, but also include interviews, poetry, anecdotes and even comics, rather than relying exclusively on the typically expected series of essays. What prompted that choice?
KR: It was crucial for us to create something that recognizes the magnitude of Black brilliance as it relates to resistance, and essays weren’t big enough to contain us. Poetry and fine art and comics and satire and text threads are all essential parts of the conversation; we need all of our beauty to resist this potentially debilitating system.
TR: As we are well aware, women—and black women, in particular—have often been at the forefront of social justice movements. As two women who have spearheaded this project, how do you feel about where this places you in the current conversation around social justice?
AS: We are journalists and storytellers by trade and disposition. So our role is to provide a solid platform for all of these beautiful black voices and ideas. As black women, we are keenly aware of how our labor can be ignored, stolen or taken for granted. We took great care to honor people’s work and to make sure that we didn’t omit major areas of our struggle such as the work of our LGBTQIA+ family and that of children.
TG: Lastly, even just skimming the book, I’m compelled to consider this “emotional justice” work [a term Solomon rightly credits to writer Esther Armah], as much as social justice or consciousness-raising work. Would you agree with that? And what would you like readers to glean from it?
AS: We think of freedom as a holistic project—we can’t be liberated without healing from trauma, expressing anger, feeling joy or connecting with our spirits. We want readers to see themselves and their own forms of resistance as part of a whole. There is no one way to fight white supremacy and we wanted to honor that diversity of approach and perspective.
KR: We absolutely agree that emotional justice is a huge component of both this book and the fight against a system that says the less black you are, the closer you are to God. We hope that readers will finish How We Fight White Supremacy with a framework for freedom dreaming, that they will walk away with a personal strategy for winning liberation for us all.
Want to know more? You can catch Rankin and Solomon in action during their How We Fight White Supremacy 2019 book tour, March 28-April 27.