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The Other Talk

Reckoning with Our White Privilege

Introduction by Jason Reynolds

Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Brendan Kiely starts a conversation with white kids about race in this accessible introduction to white privilege and why allyship is so vital.

Talking about racism can be hard, but...

Most kids of color grow up talking about racism. 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.

Discussion Questions for

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.

Discussion Questions:

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.
Photo credit by Gary Joseph Cohen

Brendan Kiely is the New York Times bestselling author of All American Boys (with Jason Reynolds), TraditionThe Last True Love Story, and The Gospel of Winter. His most recent book is The Other Talk: Reckoning with Our White Privilege. His work has been published in over a dozen languages, and has received the Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award, the Walter Dean Meyers Award, and ALA’s Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults. A former high school teacher, he is now on the faculty of the Solstice MFA Program. He watches too much basketball and reads too many books at the same time, but most importantly, he lives for and loves his wife and son.

"Well-executed and long overdue."

– Kirkus Reviews, STARRED, 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

More books from this author: Brendan Kiely