What Does it Mean to be White in America?

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Breaking the White Code of Silence
A Collection of Personal Narratives

Edited by Gabrielle David and
Sean Frederick Forbes
Introduction by Debby Irving
With an Afterword by Tara Betts
Apr. 2016 | ISBN-13: 978-1-940939-49-0 (eBook)
LCCN: 2015913482



SKU: WDMWA022017 Categories: , , , , , Tags: , , , , , , , , Product ID: 9464


WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA? BREAKING THE WHITE CODE OF SILENCE, A COLLECTION OF PERSONAL NARRATIVES, is a collection that asks just that. While the literature on “whiteness” has long been dominated by an academic point of view, editors Gabrielle David and Sean Frederick Forbes came to the realization that there was an unmet need for an anthology of personal narratives about race and culture from the perspective of white Americans. In this conception process, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA? was born.

The first of its kind, this collection of 82 personal narratives reflects a vibrant range of stories from white Americans who speak frankly and openly about race, not only as it applies to people of color, but as it applies to themselves. The stories cover a wide gamut of American history from contributors around the United States; from reminiscing about segregation and Jim Crow, to today’s headlines of police brutality, politics and #BlackLivesMatter. In answering the question, some may offer viewpoints one may not necessarily agree with, but nevertheless, it is clear that each contributor is committed to answering it as honestly as possible.

With an introduction by racial justice educator and writer, Debby Irving, and an afterword by award-winning poet, author and scholar, Tara Betts, the purpose of WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA? is to, as Irving points out in her introduction, “break the code of silence” so that we can engage in frank conversations about race. An invaluable starting point that includes a glossary and a bibliography of suggested reading, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA? is highly recommended for students, teachers and anyone else interested in seeking a deeper and richer understanding of race in America.

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Author Bio


GABRIELLE DAVID is a multidisciplinary artist who is a musician, photographer, digital designer (epub, print and web), poet and writer. For twenty-four years, she worked as a desktop publisher and word processing specialist at Fortune 500 firms, and through her former company, Chimeara Communications, Inc., designed promotional materials for a wide range of clients. David managed and performed in bands during the 1970s and early 1980s; and was a partner of hotshots unlimited photography (1982-1986). She became involved in the New York poetry scene during the 1990s and served as literature coordinator at the Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center in Queens throughout most of that decade. Her work with the library prompted the creation of phati’tude Literary Magazine, which eventually became a programming incentive under the Intercultural Alliance of Artists & Scholars, Inc. (IAAS), a NY-based nonprofit organization which she founded in 2000 and has served as executive director since its inception. Other program initiatives include phatLiterature, A Literary TV Program, and 2Leaf Press, of which she currently serves as publisher. David is the editor of Branches of the Tree of Life, (2014), and co-editor of ¡Hey Yo! Yo Soy, 40 Years of Nuyorican Street Poetry (2012). She is the author of the chapbooks, Spring Has Returned and I Am Renewed (1996), and This is Me: A Collection of Poems and Things (1994). She attended LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) and New School University.

SEAN FREDERICK FORBES is a mixed race Afro-Latino and the series editor of 2Leaf Press’ 2LP EXPLORATIONS IN DIVERSITY, which explores the past, present and future of diversity and inclusivity in America. He is the co-editor of the series’ first book, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA? Breaking the White Code of Silence, A Collection of Personal Narratives (2016). The series also includes the publication of THE BEIGING OF AMERICA (2017), edited by Cathy J. Vials-Schlund and Tara Betts, of which he also serves as co-editor; and BLACK LIVES HAVE ALWAYS MATTERED (2017), edited by Abiodun Oyewole. His work has appeared in various journals including Chagrin River Review, Crab Orchard Review, Long River Review, Midwest Quarterly, and Sargasso: A Journal of Caribbean Literature, Language and Culture. He is the author of the poetry collection, Providencia: A Book of Poems (2013), and teaches creative writing and poetry, and is the director of the creative writing program at the University of Connecticut.


DEBBY IRVING is a racial justice educator, consultant, trainer, and public speaker, and the author of the acclaimed book, Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race (2012). Having worked as a community organizer and classroom teacher for twenty-five years, Irving is devoted to working with white people to raise awareness of the differential impacts that interactions, communities, and institutions can have on people along racial lines. Irving’s early career included serving as General Manager of Boston’s Dance Umbrella and later First Night Boston, where she developed outreach programs connecting Boston youth with artists. A graduate of the Winsor School in Boston, she holds a BA from Kenyon College and an MBA from Simmons College. She has trained with The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, Crossroads Anti-Racism, VISIONS, Lee Mun Wah’s Mindful Facilitation, and has appeared at The White Privilege Conference, NCORE, National Summit for Courageous Conversation, National Race Amity Conference, the People of Color Conference, and Facing Race. An enthusiastic lifelong learner, Irving works regularly with her coach Dr. Eddie Moore Jr. to stay focused on growing beyond white patterns of thought and behavior. She has appeared on numerous television and radio programs, notably MSNBC and Tedx Talk.


TARA BETTSis mixed race award-winning poet, author and scholar of African American and white French descent. Betts is the author of Break the Habit (2016), Arc and Hue (2009) and the libretto, The Greatest: An Homage to Muhammad Ali (2010). She has appeared in several radio and television programs, and her work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including POETRY, Ninth Letter, Crab Orchard Review, Essence, Nylon, American Poetry Review, Gathering Ground, Bum Rush the Page, Villanelles, both Spoken Word Revolution anthologies, The Break Beat Poets, Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, and GHOST FISHING: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology. She is currently a professor at University of Illinois-Chicago.

Press Kit

Download high-resolution photos, book covers, author bios, book information sheets and press releases. Please use photo credits where indicated. Right click on photos and book covers to “save as,” and download PDFs. For more information, contact Gabrielle David at gdavid [AT] 2leafpress [DOT] org.








Find out more information about WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA? contributors.

John Amen
David B. Axelrod
Roger Barbee
Beth Lyon Barnett
Barbara Beckwith
Christina Berchini
Brett Biebel
Lynn Bloom
Tereza Topferova Bottman
Perry Brass
Ann Chandonnet
Martha Collins
Sean Conroy
Marla Cooper
Jason Courtmanche
Josh Couvares
Justine Cozell
Linda A. Crate
Shireen Day
Ray DiZazzo
Carter Douglass
June Elizabeth Dunn
Carol Ehrlich
Sara Estes
Gil Fagiani
Katherine Fishburn
Kurt Michael Friese
Darci Halstead Garcia
Carole Gozansky Garrison
Elena Harap
Amie Heasley
Culley Holderfield
Daniel M. Jaffe
Karen Johnson
Ben Johnston
Alexander Jones
James Kates
Barbara Kellam-Scott
Sidney Kidd
Lauren Kinnard
Emily A. Klein
Keith Kohnhorst
Beth Kwiatek
Abe Lateiner
Maria Lisella
Benjamin V. Marshall
Deborah Mashibini-Prior
Anne Mavor
Patrik McDade
Gregory Mengel
Larry Montague
Chivvis Moore
Leah Mueller
Elena Murphy
Pam Nath
Harmony Neal
Julie Parson Nesbitt
Amy Nocton
Al Ormsby
Meg J. Peterson
Jan Priddy
Kristina Quynn
John B. Railey
Betsy Reeder
Genna Rivieccio
Christopher Rzigalinski
Lorraine Saint Pierre
Bonnie Schell
Samuelson Shain
Sara Sherr
Rebell Sowell
Janie Starr
Gil Steinlauf
Susan Sterling
Becky Swanberg
Sam Tanner
Jamie Utt
Julie Wang
Wendy Warren
Carol Weliky
Ariane White
Adam Wier

What People Are Saying

These deeply honest personal stories examine the effect and affect of being white which for so many years has meant ignorance or denial of how racism benefits and forges our own Caucasian identity. Reading this important collection, I am reminded of how processing whiteness is a journey although we may all be at different points of discourse, it is still critical to enter the conversation. May this book get people talking.

—Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Leaving Time and Small Great Things

The conversations about race in the U.S. have been unnecessarily one-sided and unfairly the burden of people of color. Without the white perspective, indeed white engagement, the struggle for change or even dialogue becomes even more challenging. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA? offers a long-overdue response that aims to complete the politicized discourse with this varied collection of exploratory essays that moves beyond expressions of guilt and admissions of privilege. The tones range from moving to provocative, from emotional to intellectual, but their common mission is to break away from apathetic silence and to help examine one the most charged issues affecting this country today. This is a timely and vital anthology.

—Rigoberto González, writer, book critic, award-winning poet and the author of Our Lady of The Crossword and Mariposa U

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA? is a must read by all. This collection of personal narratives provides varied perspectives about being white, white privilege and other counter points that need to be said and read. We tend to see and hear only one side of the discussion about white folks, now it s their turn to make their voices heard. After reading these personal narratives, I believe this book is on track to become a best seller, but more importantly, it will generate discussions and a much needed dialogue about race, and a catalyst for positive change in this country. This may be hopeful thinking, but hope is always a good thing.

—Andrew P. Jackson (Sekou Molefi Baako) Activist Librarian and Adjunct Lecturer