thumbnail of book

Promise And A Way Of Life: White Antiracist Activism
by Becky Thompson
University of Minnesota Press, 2001
Paper: 978-0-8166-3634-1 | Cloth: 978-0-8166-3633-4
Library of Congress Classification E185.98.A1T48 2001
Dewey Decimal Classification 323.109

The first in-depth look at white people's activism in fighting racism during the past fifty years.

Not since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, when many white college students went south to fight against Jim Crow laws, has white antiracist activity held the public's attention. Yet there have always been white people involved in fighting racism. In this passionate work, Becky Thompson looks at white Americans who have struggled against racism, offering examples of both successes and failures, inspirations, practical philosophies, and a way ahead.

A Promise and a Way of Life weaves an account of the past half-century based on the life histories of thirty-nine people who have placed antiracist activism at the center of their lives. Through a rich and fascinating narrative that links individual experiences with social and political history, Thompson shows the ways, both public and personal, in which whites have opposed racism during several social movements: the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, multiracial feminism, the Central American peace movement, the struggle for antiracist education, and activism against the prison industry. Beginning with the diverse catalysts that started these activists on their journeys, this book demonstrates the contributions and limitations of white antiracism in key social justice movements.

Through these stories, crucial questions are raised: Does antiracist work require a repudiation of one's whiteness or can that identity be transformed through political commitment and alliances? What do white people need to do to undermine white privilege? What would it take to build a multiracial movement in which white people are responsible for creating antiracist alliances while not co-opting people of color?

Unique in its depth and thoroughness, A Promise and a Way of Life is essential for anyone currently fighting racism or wondering how to do so. Through its demonstration of the extraordinary personal and social transformations ordinary people can make, it provides a new paradigm for movement activity, one that will help to incite and guide future antiracist activism.

"Drawing on the stories of living people rather than on archives, Thompson finds the origins of white anti-racism not in the abolition movement of the early 1800s but in the civil rights movement of the 1950s South. For readers looking for an anti-racist interpretation of the feminist movement, the chapter on Multiracial Feminism is a must-read. By showing the various ways in which white people have become invested in anti-racist struggle, Thompson opens up a whole new world of ideas and practices located as 'white' but oriented toward social justice. For those of us stranded in the great white North, this book will be indispensable." Women's Review of Books

"Becky Thompson tells the life histories of 30 antiracist activists from the past half-century. An engaging, narrative style make this academic text accessible to the general reader." Reference and Research Book News

"Here is a fascinating collective portrait of an extraordinary group of white people who fought racism, often at great risk. Becky Thompson traces the background, the thinking, the actions of these people over a period of fifty years, as they participated in the most important social movements of our time. Her book is a valuable addition to the history of social movements in the 20th century." Howard Zinn

"A Promise and a Way of Life is a first: a detailed and highly engaging history of white people who have spent their lives fighting white supremacy, instead of embracing or ignoring it. Thompson provides dynamic new ways to understand the links among seemingly divergent movements such as Black Power and multiracial feminism. A Promise and a Way of Life is a groundbreaking, inspiring achievement." Barbara Smith, author of The Truth That Never Hurts: Writings on Race, Gender, and Freedom

Becky Thompson is associate professor of sociology at Simmons College. She is the author of Mothering without a Compass (2000), A Hunger So Wide and So Deep (1994), and Beyond a Dream Deferred (1993).

See other books on: Civil rights movements | Minorities | Promise | Racism | Whites
See other titles from University of Minnesota Press
Nearby on shelf for United States / Elements in the population / Afro-Americans: