Reverse Integration: Helping White America Join the Village by Jay Klusky, Ph.D., Uptone Press, December 2017, 310 pp., $19.95, ISBN 978-0-9634011-4-4. Buy.
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.