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The Other Talk
Reckoning with Our White Privilege
Table of Contents
About The Book
Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Brendan Kiely starts a conversation with white kids about race in this “well-executed and long overdue” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) introduction to white privilege and why allyship is so vital.
Talking about racism can be hard, but...
Most kids of color grow up doing it. They have “The Talk” with their families—the honest talk about survival in a racist world.
But white kids don’t. They’re barely spoken to about race at all—and that needs to change. Because not talking about racism doesn’t make it go away. Not talking about white privilege doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
The Other Talk begins this much-needed conversation for white kids. In an instantly relatable and deeply honest account of his own life, Brendan Kiely offers young readers a way to understand one’s own white privilege and why allyship is so vital, so that we can all start doing our part—today.
Here’s the situation:
Two teenagers go to a convenience store.
Actually, two different convenience stores.
Kid A is in a car that pulls up outside one at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida. Music’s bumping. Got “Beef” by Lil Reese, Lil Durk, and Fredo Santana cued up on the playlist.
Kid B walks into one on a busy street near Boston, Massachusetts. Headphones on. Head bobbing to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?” Yes you can, he mouths along as he pulls open the glass door.
Kid A’s there with three friends. One of them goes into the store to grab some snacks and a bottle of something long since forgotten.
Kid B’s there to get a bottle of Strawberry Nesquik.
They’re just two kids, two kids loving their music and going to the convenience store—but then everything changes.
Kid A’s waiting in the car. “Beef” blasting. He’s out with friends. They’re having a good time.
Kid B, though, grabs his bright yellow bottle of Nesquik and slips it into the folds of his puffy down coat. Yes you can! Then he strolls right out the door without looking back. He hasn’t paid for the Strawberry Nesquik. He’s stolen it. And he’s done this before. He’s got a crush on a girl who loves Strawberry Nesquik (even though it’s gross—and it is—it’s gross!), and he loves giving her a bottle in the hallway before homeroom because he likes the coconut smell of her hair and the way her high-sprayed bangs rise off her forehead like a flag. He likes the way roller coasters run wild loops through his gut whenever their eyes meet. He gives her one of these stolen bottles of Strawberry Nesquik about once a week, maybe more, and he’s been doing it for the past month.
He hasn’t thought twice about the people in the store.
Or anybody else, really.
Just the girl with the bangs climbing toward the sky.
More than one thousand miles south on Route 95, Kid A’s bumping to the music with his buddies, still waiting for the friend in the store, when a car pulls up beside them. The two adults in the car start giving the friends dirty looks. The clock starts ticking. In three and half minutes everything will be different. Lives will have changed. But when the car pulls up, Kid A has no idea. All he sees are the scowls. Scowls he’s seen before. He’s not doing anything wrong. He’s just a kid and his music is loud. And if the adults would just take a breath and let it go, let this boy be a kid and let his too-loud music thump, only a few minutes later his car would be gone, the music would be gone, and there’d be no story to tell.
Instead, the woman in the car opens her door, and before she leaves to go into the store, the man who’s with her turns to her and says, “I hate this thug music.” This man, the scowler, starts yelling at Kid A and his friends, starts calling them names. One of Kid A’s friends turns down the music, but Kid A’s sick of the scowler’s scowls. Sick of the way this man, this adult, keeps talking to him, so he turns the music back up and tries to drown him out. Tries to drown out everything the man’s saying. Those scowls. Those kinds of arguments. He’s all too used to them. He’s heard it all before, and all too often, he’s heard the slurs and the name-calling that follows. He’s heard it all before and he’s heard it enough—so up goes the music, bass rattling the car doors. Up goes his voice too, yelling back at the man, matching him insult for insult. But the clock is still ticking.
The clock is still ticking when Kid A’s friend comes out of the convenience store and gets back in the car. The clock’s still ticking as Kid A and the man keep yelling, their voices loud enough to climb up and over the music. The clock’s still ticking when the adult man shouts at Kid A, “You aren’t going to talk to me like that.”
And it’s supposed to be kids driving around through the night, shouting their lyrics—In the field, we play for keeps/I’m out here, no hide-and-seek—like kids all over the country do, are doing, will do later. The clock is still ticking when the man reaches into his glove compartment and pulls out a 9 mm pistol—and then everything goes into hyperspeed.
The man fires and fires. Bullets crash through the door beside Kid A. Bullets rip through the car around and into Kid A. Bullets explode and crack open the night as the kids throw the car into reverse, try to escape, but the man steps out of his own car, crouches in a shooting stance, and fires and fires and fires. Ten bullets in all.
The clock only stops ticking when the kids pull into a nearby parking lot and find Kid A gasping for air. Losing his breath. No chance to drink that bottle of who-knows-what soda or whatever as his blood spills across the car seats, down onto the concrete, where it stains the parking lot, the whole town, the whole state, the whole country, because Kid A’s blood is the blood of another innocent, unarmed child who has been called names, called all kinds of things, like a thug, and who hasn’t done anything illegal, hasn’t done anything wrong, except be a kid—and murdered all the same.
Kid B’s the one who did something wrong. Kid B’s the one who did something illegal. Kid B’s the actual thief.
But nobody’s ever called him one. Nobody knows he is one. Because nobody’s ever even suspected he’s one.
In fact, later that spring, when Kid B is working for a talent agency in Boston, auditioning to model for a series of magazine ads, the casting director will lean forward and say to Kid B, “Hey, yeah, we definitely want you. You look like the kid next door. You look like the all-American boy.”
Now let me tell you more about Kid A.
He was someone’s son. He liked Jacksonville, where he lived. He liked to play basketball and PlayStation. But his singular passion was music. All the music. In the field, we play for keeps… Making mixes for his buddies. He had dreams and family and friends.
You might say he was just another “all-American boy,” except I fear not enough people told him that. The adults who pulled up in the car beside him certainly didn’t. That man took one look at Kid A and suspected… assumed… profiled Kid A as a “thug.” As someone who was up to no good. Even though he wasn’t. The man prejudged Kid A—and his prejudice did all the thinking. And Kid A paid the price for it.
But Kid A wasn’t a thug. He wasn’t a thief.
Kid B was the thief. The way Kid B acted, you might call him the thug.
But here’s what else I have to tell you:
Kid A was Black.
And Kid A was a real person. His name was Jordan Davis.
And Jordan Davis was murdered because of racial prejudice—because of racism.
Kid B was white.
And Kid B was a real person too. That kid? He’s me. Brendan Kiely. I’m the thief.
And I’m alive because… well, we’re going to get to all that.
Reading Group Guide
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The Other Talk
by Brendan Kiely
There are ways that you can prepare as an individual to engage with The Other Talk, especially as you set expectations for your own experience with the book’s content. As you begin to read the text, know that your mental and emotional work as a reader will likely involve each of the following:
LISTENING to stories and perspectives you haven’t heard before;
QUESTIONING what you thought you knew, including messages you’ve internalized and narratives that have been used to frame how and why racial inequality exists and persists;
UNLEARNING some or maybe most of what you’ve been taught about American history, including the history of your own community;
GRAPPLING with your identity as a white person and your relationship to racist systems.
1. Most white people grow up thinking that race is skin color, but that idea is wrong: race is a social construction. How were you taught to think about race as a child? Who taught you, and how did they convey the information? How do the resources provided here, along with what Brendan writes—that race is a concept that was made up a long time ago by people with social power—give you new ways to think about what race is and what it isn’t?
2. Consider what Brendan shares in The Other Talk about the impact of the question “What are you?” on people who are not perceived to be white. How do you think individuals decide which box to choose on the census? What happens when more and more people start checking more than one box? How do increasing numbers of people who identify with more than one racial group change the way we think about race in America and about who is American?
3. Many of us were raised to think that racism is defined as individual acts of meanness, and that racism is a problem because of the harm it does to marginalized groups. But just like the concept of race, racism is much more complicated. Consider the idea that racism is multifaceted: it’s about beliefs, but it’s also about behaviors, policies, practices, and systems. Everyone is affected, and everyone is implicated. How do these ideas shift the way you think about the nature of racism, the unequal playing field it creates, and the different forms of harm it causes to different groups of people? How are white people, too, harmed by racism?
4. Consider the development of your own racial identity. When did you first realize that race mattered? How did you know it mattered? Who was involved? What thoughts and feelings were attached to this experience?
5. Think back to the earliest time you realized you had a racial identity. What did that experience teach you to think about your race in relation to other races?
6. What messages were you sent in your home, neighborhood, or school about race? What messages were you sent about who or what had value, who or what was desirable and good, who or what was undesirable and bad? What was confusing? What things were you left to make sense of on your own?
7. In The Other Talk, Brendan describes the process of revisiting stories from his life and seeing them in a new light—that is, making the conscious choice to retell every single story with a focus on how being white shaped what happened. What stories from your life can you revisit with this focus in mind? How do these stories look different when you think about the role whiteness played in what happened to you?
8. Consider what Brendan says in The Other Talk about reckoning with his Egyptian neighbor’s experiences in Queens, New York, in contrast to his own:
“I’d heard my neighbor talk about the difficulties he’d had with people looking at him condescendingly at the bank when he went in to apply for a loan. About how when he went to the public pool, some of the employees watched him, scrutinized him—as if they feared he might harm someone if they didn’t keep their eye on him, when all he was doing was going for his morning swim. But none of that had ever happened to me. Those are experiences I’ve never had when I’ve interacted with anyone in a position of authority. I’ve never been made to feel like I don’t belong in a public pool or a bank or a school or any public institution. Because I am white.”
How do these accounts from the book help you to think more deeply about the impact of whiteness on other people, and about how people who are not white navigate the power and impact of whiteness on their daily lives?
Learning to talk thoughtfully, compassionately, and accurately about race—and its corollary for white people, white privilege—takes knowledge and skill. It also takes practice. Racism is painful and traumatic; it’s a heavy weight we all bear, and it harms all of us. But we as white people don’t have to remain stuck. We can equip ourselves with new knowledge, we can build stamina for hard conversations, and we can replace guilt and shame with courage and hope. We aren’t responsible for the wrongs committed by our ancestors, but we are responsible for the world we’ve inherited. We can work together to make it a better and more just world for everyone.
This guide was prepared by Jennifer Buehler, Associate Professor in the School of Education at Saint Louis University.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
- Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (September 20, 2022)
- Length: 288 pages
- ISBN13: 9781534494053
- Grades: 7 and up
- Ages: 12 - 99
- Lexile ® 980L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®
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Raves and Reviews
Well-executed and long overdue.
– Kirkus *STARRED REVIEW*, September 1, 2021
A heartfelt, motivating, and necessary call to action.
– Booklist *STARRED REVIEW*, September 15, 2021
“There have been many calls to action; [this] is a mighty, necessary response”
– — Renée Watson, Newbery Honor recipient and Coretta Scott King Award-winning author of Love is a Revolution
“A clarion call to action, a call to love, to do better for ourselves, our neighbors, and our nation”
– — Samira Ahmed, New York Times bestselling author of Internment
"This is the book for all the white folks who asked ‘How do I talk to my kids/students about racism?’”
– — Joanna Ho, New York Times bestselling author of Eyes that Kiss in the Corners
"The kind of candor that challenges young people at the door, but also welcomes them inside."
– — Olivia A. Cole, critically acclaimed author of The Truth about White Lies
“Accessible and timely. It’s time for white people to talk to each other about racism…”
– — Julie Murphy, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Dumplin’ series
“The Other Talk is the conversation that white people should have had with each other long ago. This book is LONG OVERDUE. For those who have been unable to confront the truth about what whiteness is and how it is lived, Brendan Kiely offers a supportive, accessible, and necessary late pass. This book is not just an opportunity to school yourself. It is a rare chance to truly free yourself.”
– — Cornelius Minor, nationally renowned educator and author of We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be.
“Brendan tells the truth. It is as simple as that--and as complicated. In my 20 years of teaching youth about whiteness and white privilege, I have often found it challenging to be honest with myself and my students without being met with resistance. frustration and, sometimes, anger. Brendan offers us a way into "The Other Talk" with grace, patience, honesty, and vulnerability.”
– — Keith Newvine, educator and scholar.
"Can a nonfiction book about race be a heart-pounding page-turner? The Other Talk sure is."
– — Adam Gidwitz, bestselling author of the Newbery honoree The Inquisitor’s Tale
“An urgent call for white teens to listen, reflect, speak up, and join the fight for justice."
– — Randy Ribay, author of the National Book Award finalist Patron Saints of Nothing
“[This book] invites readers to enter the difficult conversation of race without blame and instead focuses on the necessary conversations that are needed for real change to happen.”
– — Ellen Oh, author of Finding Junie Kim and cofounder of We Need Diverse Books
"The Other Talk invites readers to an honest conversation that is uncomfortable, messy, and absolutely necessary."
– — Minh Lê, early care and education policy expert and critically acclaimed author of Drawn Together
"Compelling, riveting, emotionally stirring--Brendan Kiely gives us a critical tool for consciousness raising and freedom dreaming. Read this, then read it again, then talk about it with those you know and love."
– — Julia E. Torres, nationally acclaimed educator, scholar, and librarian.
"For all of us who have wrestled with our own whiteness and have asked, what can I do about racial injustice? This is the book we've been waiting for. Teachers, young people, their families, and school communities will find hope and humility in Brendan's book. It offers us practical ways to talk with each other about and move beyond the fear that paralyzes us in doing this work, and it gives us the strength of a larger community committed to having this other talk."
– — Sarah Fleming, PhD, educator and scholar
This approachable memoir and guide, comprising Kiely’s own experiences relating to race and allyship, is a welcome tool to help facilitate conversations with white teenagers about white privilege, and the ongoing journey to become effective allies to those in the “Global Majority,” on both a personal and systemic level.
– Publishers Weekly *STARRED REVIEW*, September 13, 2021
A compelling call to action that belongs in all collections serving middle and high school students.
– School Library Journal, *STARRED REVIEW*
Awards and Honors
- CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children's Book Council)
- Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best
- Kansas NEA Reading Circle List High School Title
- Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year Selection Title
Resources and Downloads
High Resolution Images
- Book Cover Image (jpg): The Other Talk Trade Paperback 9781534494053
- Author Photo (jpg): Brendan Kiely Photo credit by Gary Joseph Cohen(0.1 MB)
Any use of an author photo must include its respective photo credit
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