To the world, Regina Jackson and Saira Rao may seem like an unlikely pair. The two are co-founders of Race2Dinner, a two-hour experience where they meet at a table with white women for radically honest conversations about race and racism. The two are also the authors of the New York Times bestselling book White women: everything you already know about your own racism and how to do better, which was released earlier this month. Jackson and Rao sat down to unbox their new book and why they decided to write it and discussed their upcoming documentary Deconstruct Karena film where “nice white women attend the craziest dinner party of their lives”.
Janice Gassam Asare: Saira, Regina, why did you decide to write this book? I know a lot of people are wondering because there is a lot of similar content that has been posted. Why did you feel this book was necessary?
Regina Jackson: Saira ran for Congress in 2018 against a longtime incumbent. I worked on her campaign and she lost. But his whole platform was anti-racist. And every time she spoke, white women lined up to talk to Saira. And what they meant was, ‘Not me. I am not racist.’ I had an old white friend who told me: “I’m done with Saira”. She hates white people. But, if you can take her to lunch with me, I’d really appreciate that. I went to Saira and said, “So-and-so wants to go to lunch.” Saira says, “I don’t do that anymore.” She said, “I spent all my time, my money because these white women don’t want to pay anything. And she said, “And they still won’t vote for me.” She said, “If your white friend wants to have a dinner party and you do it with me, and she invites her white friends, we can do it.” We did a few and that was our Race2Dinner.
Saira Rao: What we saw at that first dinner party just outside the door was an all-white woman…the Broadway musical, crying, rolling her eyes, arms crossed, just the whole thing…why we decided to write this book is that I think the feedback we’re getting is that it’s unlike anything that actually exists because it’s very straightforward. It’s the anti-tone police. All these women have come to tone us down with the police, and we’re like, ‘No, thank you. It will not work. There is no grip. There is no tiptoe walking. We are not saying anything radical. We just say it in a way they may never have been told before. The most shocking thing is not what we say. The most shocking thing is that Penguin Random House released it. This is what is surprising. And there was a window where our white agent got to have her own wake up call and realize how desperately white women needed this book. She targeted 10 white female editors who she thought could do it. She sent them a very targeted pitch and it sold out in 36 hours.
In the same way: What has become a worrying trend is white people creating content, books, making millions from those books, talking about things they have no lived experience with.
jackson: Exactly. We just talked about it.
In the same way: Can you tell us a bit more, Regina?
jackson: Where do they get their information? They need to reach out to black and brown and indigenous people to find out what it is like to live as an oppressed person in this society. But, nevertheless, they can all become experts at DEI. And the reason DEI is tiptoeing around white women’s feelings… white women’s feelings.
Rao:I think another thing that really can’t be overlooked is Regina and I consciously subverted the divide and conquer white supremacy. There is a black woman with the model minority woman. A black woman with the South Asian woman. We are supposed to hate each other. I’m supposed to be anti-black against Regina. And Regina is supposed to be xenophobic towards me. And we’re like, ‘No, that’s not happening.’ And I think that’s an incredibly radical act. And the fact that we are joined. In the book, I talk explicitly about my institutional anti-blackness. In the film, I explicitly talk about my own institutional anti-blackness. Let’s all broadcast… where we all sit down in the power system and get the job done.
In the same way: Seeing an interracial solidarity that you both have formed can inspire others to truly consider their internalized oppression [and] anti-darkness. What was the [book] reception so far? Congratulations on doing the New York Times list of bestsellers.
jackson: On a personal level, we get great reviews from people like you. Black and brown women, and even white women because we have white women in our tribe who do the work, who take the books. We had a woman who put little posters of Whole Foods on the magazine rack. These are women who are ready to do the work. They see it. They see themselves in the book. Those who have seen the film see themselves in the film. They know we’re talking radical honesty.
Rao: I would say the biggest shock is, aside from Penguin publishing it, the next biggest shock is the reception, who have been the usual suspects…they haven’t even read the book. They just see the title and run away. People who have actually picked up the book and read the book, mostly black, brown and white, love it. It blew us away. I have a white woman I did a podcast with last week who is a proven white feminist. And she said, ‘I saw the book and I got mad. I started reading it and got mad. And then I had a conversation with myself in the mirror that it was time for me to do this. And she said, “It had been about 40 pages before I realized that was the most transformative thing I had ever read in my life. And this is a love letter to humanity. It’s not mean. It’s not violent. It’s filled with hope and love.
In the same way: What do you both want readers to take away from this book?
jackson: I want readers to remember that we are all wronged by white supremacy, including white women and their children. Who are the majority of mass shooters? They are young white men. Who are the majority of children who are killed in their class? Young white children. They are hurt as much as we are hurt. And if we can’t end white supremacy, we’re killing the earth. Capitalists are killing the earth for money…we all need to get on board, save our planet, save ourselves, save our children, save humanity.
Rao: When I am asked this question, I say it out loud and each time, I say to myself: ‘It’s so sad for them and for us.’ But it’s up to white people to racialize themselves. Very intentionally, the book is titled white women. The title of the book is a radical act because we are black and brown. It’s a good day. We know what they call it in camera. But, these are just people. They are only women. They are only men. And if you are the default, everyone else is by definition. We are altered by definition. Once you start racializing yourself, my Indian co-worker, my kid’s black friend, my kid’s white friend, my white co-worker, my white neighbour… you have to force yourself to see where you are in the power structure. And once you’ve done that, you better start dismantling that pretty quickly, or you’re knowingly oppressing others.
In the same way: How do you think the Forbes can readers amplify the book and amplify this message? I know that recently, a few months ago, Saira, you got banned from social media. I have a feeling this often happens to truth tellers. How do you think more people can get that message across and can support both you and the book?
jackson: I know we are building a movement. If we continue to tell the truth, that is our number one value. Radical honesty. We’re not going to lie. And we’re certainly not going to tiptoe with white feelings. Let’s just call a thing a thing. If you see people getting hurt, talk about it. Use your voice and let’s keep building this movement.
Rao: And I would add to that that companies need to stop pretending that they are outside the ecosystem of politics and culture. In a country based on capitalism, business is the epicenter of our culture. By design, it’s not polite to talk politics at dinner. You can’t talk about politics at work. Then it means you just don’t talk about it. There is no significant change if you don’t talk about it at home or at work. That’s basically what’s happening. Start having those conversations. I would say eject DEI. In my mind, DEI is lipstick on a pig. These are white women ticking boxes. Start having anti-whiteness work… anti-racism work. Have it in your business. Hire black, indigenous and brown women to lead this and be supported and not be tokens and not be ghosted, demoted and fired in low voice campaigns against them. Hire people who really have the power to change. The reality is…if you’re not hiring black, indigenous, and brown women to run these departments, you don’t want change. You want status. You want lipstick on a pig. This is what you want.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.