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Reverse Integration

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Finally, the "Racism 101 for White People" primer I've been waiting for!

Synopsis

Working to Heal Our Racial Divide
As we seemingly become more and more divided,
the need for healing grows.

Dr. Klusky wrote “Reverse Integration” for white folks interested in learning to be with their brothers and sisters of color, though all readers will likely find something of value in its pages. “Reverse Integration” is part sociological study, part autobiography, Dr. Klusky first examines the sociological and psychological forces behind our disconnection, and its impacts on both Americans of color as well as white Americans. Then, through stories of the lessons he has learned as a white man serving in, and becoming a part of, the African American community in Portland, Oregon, Dr. Jay provides the reader with guides to creating their own paths to connection as we endeavor to make America a more just and equitable community

I am a writer. I am also a person of color. All of my work, whether fiction or nonfiction, touches upon race in some way. I explore race in my fiction because the concept holds so much power and is fascinating to reimagine, subvert, and deconstruct, particularly through science fiction, fantasy, and horror. At the same time, in my very mundane day-to-day life, race is something I can’t escape. As I’m writing this review, COVID-19 has spread around the world, and distrust of Asians, particularly Chinese people, is at a peak that I’ve never experienced before in my life.


But I believe that we can dismantle racism through a concerted group effort. Part of that effort includes compassionate education. Reverse Integration stood out to me as I was browsing Reedsy Discovery because it promises fill a notable gap within the conversation: how White people can do their part to undo racism. I’ve spoken on convention panels about how to write with diversity, how to sensitively represent a culture that isn’t your own, and why we need consultants to vet our work, among other topics. While I enjoy educating, I no longer have the time to revisit introduction-level topics when I want to explore more advanced questions in my own work. Over and over again, I’ve wished that I had a single book I could hand to well-intentioned White people who simply have no idea where to start in their journey to confront and end racism.


I was delighted to find that Reverse Integration is indeed that manual that I’ve been waiting for all these years. The book consists of eleven chapters arranged into three parts: Laying the Foundation, Understanding: The Psychological and Sociological Forces Behind Disconnection, and Connection: Reverse Integration and Joining the Village. The clarity of Klusky’s writing is a gift. From a pedagogical point of view, the scaffolding is excellent. Klusky presents a solid foundation onto which he introduces more and more complexity until, in the end, the reader feels equipped to think critically in response to their own experiences around racism. However, Reverse Integration is not a textbook, nor does it present racism in detached terms: Klusky never glosses over the ugliness of racism and its history. At the same time, he also brings in humorous examples of dealing with the topic of race drawing from his own experience as a White man working closely with African-American communities, showing that conversations about race don’t all have to be doom and gloom. 


Reverse Integration is a combination of well-cited research, psychological self-help manual, and memoir. Klusky’s background in education and psychology, as well as his understanding of sociology, synthesize well into a guide that is approachable, interdisciplinary, and personable, all while teaching the difficult skill of thinking critically. Our public school curricula purport to teach “critical thinking,” but the truth is that, in the age of fake news, science illiteracy, and social media, it can be all too easy for us in the United States to stop thinking for ourselves and fall prey to propaganda. 


Klusky’s psychology background is absolutely critical to why his approach works. Instead of chastising White people for their ignorance or privilege, Klusky is careful to acknowledge the very real psychological struggles that all people face when we confront and change our paradigms about the world. We may joke about “White women’s tears” or “White fragility”—terms that are important within the conversation—but when we bleach those terms of their specific meaning, we’re left not only losing powerful words to describe unique experiences, but also reifying disconnect by glossing over the real psychological toll of decolonizing. The defensiveness that White people display is a manifestation of privilege, but it is also a manifestation of cognitive dissonance and various psychological mechanisms at work. If we deny the psychological journey involved in decolonizing, we only end up turning people off the path when they ask themselves why they can’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps—one of the very fallacies we want to dismantle in the first place.


Of course, as with any primer, there are places where Reverse Integration falls a bit short. The language is very binary, with use of phrases like “brothers and sisters,” “s/he,” and “men and women” throughout. While I understand that Reverse Integration isn’t a work on gender, it still feels as if gender-neutral language would’ve streamlined the prose (“siblings,” “they,” “people”) and taken out the possibility of alienating people from the book simply over a stylistic preference. Additionally, while Klusky mentions other races and accounts for the genocide of Native Americans in his timeline of racism in the US, ultimately, the racial framework presented is a strongly Black/White one. As Klusky developed this book based on interactions and work with African-American communities, and given the history of the United States, I understand why the framework is presented as it is. I do feel that it’s appropriate for a 101-level approach. I simply present the binary as a caveat.


Overall, I was very satisfied with Reverse Integration as a primer for how White people can begin to question, challenge, and change their assumptions about race. Klusky’s scaffolding naturally leads the reader to the understanding that they are complicit in racism as an institution, but doesn’t linger on whether that’s something to feel guilty about—instead, Klusky focuses on how people can reconcile that knowledge and move on to more productive action. As Toni Morrison once said, “The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.” I will no longer have to sink my time into explaining the same basic concepts over and over; instead, I will be recommending this book in the future as my go-to “Racism 101 for White People” primer. In writing this excellent guide, Jay Klusky has given people of color the greatest gift of all: time. And for that, Dr. Klusky, I thank you.

Reviewed by

S. Qiouyi Lu writes, translates, and edits between two coasts of the Pacific. Their work has appeared in Asimov’s, F&SF, and Strange Horizons, and their translations have appeared in Clarkesworld. They edit the magazine Arsenika. You can find out more about S. at their website, s.qiouyi.lu.

Synopsis

Working to Heal Our Racial Divide
As we seemingly become more and more divided,
the need for healing grows.

Dr. Klusky wrote “Reverse Integration” for white folks interested in learning to be with their brothers and sisters of color, though all readers will likely find something of value in its pages. “Reverse Integration” is part sociological study, part autobiography, Dr. Klusky first examines the sociological and psychological forces behind our disconnection, and its impacts on both Americans of color as well as white Americans. Then, through stories of the lessons he has learned as a white man serving in, and becoming a part of, the African American community in Portland, Oregon, Dr. Jay provides the reader with guides to creating their own paths to connection as we endeavor to make America a more just and equitable community

Prologue: The Community That Was


     The year is 2017.  The African-American community in my city is no more.  What was once a thriving, vital cultural enclave in my predominantly white city has been dismantled.  Barbershops, barbecue joints, nightclubs, bookstores, and any number of black-owned businesses serving the community have been replaced by upscale grocery stores, coffee shops, high-end restaurants, boutiques, and any number of white-owned businesses serving the new residents.  You can still find barbecue, but not like the old traditional.  


     Twenty years ago, numerous African-American grassroots and religious organizations serving the African-American residents who made this community their home did abound.  These organizations were responsible for programming aimed at helping youth excel, seeing to the health needs of the elders, and providing employment services, to name but a few.  Over the past two decades, these organizations have been in decline as those they were tasked to serve have left.

     Did I say left?  Actually, the former residents were systematically moved out to make way for the more affluent.  Realtors descended on the community, literally knocking on doors offering the homeowners a fraction of their home's actual value in cash if they would sell immediately.  Some homeowners, particularly those in financial distress, took the money.  One of the reasons for their distress was the unwillingness of the local banks to allow them to borrow money against the value of their homes.  Where realtors couldn't get homeowners to sell, the city raised their property taxes, making living in their homes unaffordable.  To top all of this off, statutes were put on the books allowing landlords to evict their tenants without cause by giving them a simple 90 day notice.

     In the 1990s, this dismantling went unnoticed by all but a few, though all the necessary systems and conditions were in place.  Today, the community is unrecognizable to those of us who knew it a mere 15 years ago.  The community that sprung up during World War II when African Americans, mostly from the South, moved here to work in the ship yards, was torn asunder and its denizens moved to the less desirable outskirts of the city, to an area dubbed “the numbers.”

     Did this happen in a city in a 'Red' state?  Were these the machinations of your run-of-the-mill, stereotypical conservatives? Hardly.  All this took place in one of the most progressively liberal cities in America, in one of the 'Bluest' states in our country.  Portland, Oregon.  

     In a city that has a national reputation for being on the social cutting-edge, the powers that be continue to work to culturally isolate themselves, and hardly any of Portland's white citizens act as if they are aware that this is happening.  At the same time that these citizens pat themselves on the back for creating one of the most 'livable' cities in America, they have made it, and continue making it, more and more unlivable for citizens of color.

     Of course, this movement has not been without its consequences.  Black students no longer had their old neighborhood schools to attend.  The schools in their new neighborhoods, schools that have historically served their white constituents, have been ill-equipped to work with their African-American students and their families, and certainly not up to the task of addressing their needs.  Few teachers and administrators understand the mores and nuances of African American culture.  Most do not understand the role relationship building plays in the culture, and so do not identify the need to connect.  Consequently, most are at a loss when it comes to building connections in a manner that resonates with those they are trying to serve.  As a result, discord as well as dropout rates have increased, while at the same time the quality of education black students receive has declined.

     Like the local schools, social service agencies in these areas are also unfamiliar with addressing the needs of African-American families.  Many of their workers, the great majority of whom are white, have little experience working with families of color.  Worse still, some of those workers are fearful of those families.  Very often this results in well-meaning workers inadvertently angering and alienating those they are genuinely trying to help.  In such instances, everyone loses.

     And we haven't even begun to discuss the psychological, emotional, and spiritual impacts on a people who have lost their community.  I can only imagine what it must be like to not have a familiar place to go; where I can feel connected to my roots; where I can be with people who look as I do, have similar sensibilities and reference points.  Today, in Portland, if you are black, no such place exists.

     White Americans who do not think about this may be excused, for it is our privilege to not have to go anywhere that we do not feel a part.  Likely, Portlanders did not think about this,  and Portlanders are decent people, right?  We are progressive. We are forward-looking.  We are socially enlightened.  We certainly are not racist . . . Yet, we destroyed a community.


This is the big disconnect.  On the one hand, Portlanders believe themselves to be good, inclusive, progressive, tolerant people . . . and I believe we are.  On the other hand, most Portlanders remain unaware of our state's racist beginnings and how our state's historic racism plays a part in our institutions.  And Portlanders are not unique in this respect.  Most white Americans remain unaware of how our country's history of racism has been baked into the institutions of our society, how those institutions benefit even the poorest of white citizens, how those institutions continue to impact our fellow citizens of color, and how they contribute to the separation between white Americans and everyone else.  So, we remain unaware of how those institutions can encourage us to view each other through the lens of 'us versus them,' and how that lens promotes disharmony and isolation.  Perhaps of greatest import, we remain unaware of how that lens diminishes us.


     As America rapidly evolves into a society in which Americans of color outnumber white Americans, it is becoming increasingly important for us to learn how to act as one, how to make choices for the greater good, how to truly be a village.  At the end of the day, this is the only approach that makes sense if we are all to thrive.  Doing so first requires that we understand and respect each other, for understanding and respect are the roots of connection.

     Until now, our sisters and brothers of color have had to develop an understanding of white America simply in order to survive.  They have a much deeper understanding of white America than most of us know.  They have had to work to integrate into the dominant culture.  They've had to develop an understanding of our value structure, the manner in which we communicate, how we view fundamental concepts such as time and space, in order to be able to adapt.  At the same time, those who have been most successful have kept their identity, strengthened their roots, and passed their legacy on to their children, while at the same time making significant contributions to our society.

     It is time for white America to return the favor.  It is time for us to open ourselves up to understanding the ways of others, to begin to explore how we can best integrate into their cultures, and how we can work together for the greater good.  It is time for us to connect, join the village, and fight for justice for us all.

About the author

As a white man successfully working in communities of color, Dr. Jay has been dedicated to helping those with whom he works advance their own interests on their own terms. This dedication has fueled his commitment to understand, build relationships, and become part of, the communities he serves. view profile

Published on October 15, 2019

Published by

90000 words

Genre: Humanities & Social Sciences

Reviewed by

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