Teresa Reed, dean of UofL’s School of Music, has published a new book titled, You’re Likely Not a Racist: Answers for Curious White People. UofL News had the chance to catch up with Reed about the book and what she hopes people will gain from reading it.
UofL News: What inspired you to write this book?
Teresa Reed: About 12 years ago, I started writing, in bits and pieces, reflections on what I considered to be a big gap in the discourse about race relations in this country. It seemed clear to me that many white Americans were genuinely unlearned and confused about race and racial difference, which seemed especially evident throughout the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
I concluded that it was not simply racism, but rather widespread ignorance at the root of what many white people feared about Black people and other people of color. This, in turn, has continued to fuel the frustration that many people of color feel about being unheard and misunderstood.
Recent events – in particular, the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd – inspired me to formulate these reflections into a book that I hope will dispel some of the ignorance and dismantle some of the fears that fuel racial intolerance and keep people apart.
UofL News: What do you hope to communicate through the book’s title?
Teresa Reed: My intended audience is white people who want calm, honest answers to their questions about race in a nonjudgmental space. Many white people have legitimate questions about race, but they are afraid to ask those questions for fear of being ridiculed or labeled racist. Historically speaking, many white people have had neither need nor incentive to learn about what people of color experience; so, they simply don’t know, or their understanding may be shallow at best. Unless someone steps forward to answer those questions, good people will remain hopelessly ignorant, which gets society nowhere. I’d like to see the needle really move in a positive direction on race relations in this country. This book is my tiny contribution to that effort.
UofL News: Tell us a little about what you’ve written.
Teresa Reed: The book is part memoire, part research and part history. It is definitely not a scholarly treatise, however. Instead, it’s written to feel like a nonthreatening conversation at Starbucks. Most of the chapters are formatted to be read as a question with an answer. Some of the chapter titles (and I’m paraphrasing) are “Why Do Black People Think about Race all the Time?,” “Why Do Black People Get Away with Saying the ‘N’ Word When White People Cannot?,” “Isn’t Affirmative Action Racist?,” “Am I Racist for Wanting to Keep My Neighborhood Safe?,” “Why Can’t Black People Forget about Slavery and Move on?,” and “What’s All the Fuss about Black Lives Matter?” There are over 20 short chapters, and the book is an intentionally quick and easily digestible read.
UofL News: What do you hope will be the key takeaway(s)?
Teresa Reed: The more we understand about one another, the less we’ll have to fear about one another, and the more equipped we’ll be to transcend this country’s racial malady to forge new pathways for friendship and understanding across our differences.
UofL News: How does the content fit within UofL’s anti-racism agenda?
Teresa Reed: I think it fits like a glove. Managing behaviors through rules, trainings and policies is fine, and these approaches may always be necessary to some extent. But changing hearts through enlightenment and understanding puts us much more authentically on the pathway toward anti-racism.
UofL News: As a leader, how do you guide faculty, staff and students within your school?
Teresa Reed: Since June 2020, the School of Music has hosted ‘Safe Saturday Conversations about Race.’ These meetings, which started out weekly on Saturday mornings, were held on a Zoom call and invited any interested faculty, staff and students to bring their questions, concerns and thoughts about race into a safe place for discussion and consideration. No topic was off limits. All were welcome. We will resume Safe Saturdays once per month in the new school year.
UofL News: What does this book mean to you, personally?
Teresa Reed: My religion is compassion. I love all humans and I am a radical inclusionist. I want everyone, regardless of race, nationality, physical ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, political persuasion, or any other identifier to feel absolutely safe and valued in the spaces that I influence. With this book, I hope that I can make it safe for white people to learn, and that I can offer hope to Black people and other people of color who are weary and frustrated at being misunderstood. I also hope that it can offer a template leading to better understanding of those in the LGBTQ community, those in immigrant communities, and others who may feel marginalized by difference.
UofL News: Have you written other books, and if so, what is/are the title(s)?
Teresa Reed: This is my fourth book. I have also authored The Holy Profane: Religion in Black Popular Music (University Press of Kentucky, 2003), The Jazz Life of Dr. Billy Taylor (Indiana University Press, 2013), and Beneath A Heretic’s Wings with co-author Cassandra McClellan (GarySprings Independent Press, 2018).
UofL News: Anything else you’d like to share?
Teresa Reed: Proud to be a Cardinal. Be on the lookout for School of Music events in the coming academic year and come back to Comstock and Bird Halls for our in-person concerts. Most are free and open to the public and we are eager to welcome live audiences again.
Find the book, You’re Likely Not a Racist: Answers for Curious White People on Amazon.