“Book Review: Survivor’s Guilt”
Reviewed by Samantha Hui
Naming the beast is the first part of the battle. Survivor’s Guilt: Essays on Race and American Identity is a reader’s guide to shifting from silent witness to empathetic ally.
Artress Bethany White’s Survivor’s Guilt holds a magnifying glass up to a supposed “post-racism” age and implicates all Americans for perpetuating this narrative. The book shines a light on America’s racial issues and calls into question its citizens’ preconceived notions of what it means to be Black in America.
“Survivor’s Guilt answers a resounding yes to the question: Could true understanding be only a shared story away?”
With the belief that one story can change a person’s perspective, Artress Bethany White combines personal anecdotes with informed ponderings on racial microaggressions, the violence inflicted on Black people, and America’s centuries-long history of Black enslavement, cruelty, and dehumanization.
Each essay begins with White’s experience encountering either national tragedy or personal injustices and leads us into a conversation about the larger implications of America’s history of racism. White puts her experiences into conversation with the writing of other authors and poets who were and are also thinking through America’s racist past and present. Survivor’s Guilt serves as an example for how to empathically engage with personal stories of the Other, either finding ourselves in their work or understanding and loving the parts that differ.
The author’s impact transcends beyond the prose, like when she is discussing how she transferred current events into teachable moments for her college students. White describes times in the classroom where prejudicial microcosms extend beyond academia, offering us an opportunity to see the lessons play out in real time on real faces. We see the truths of how, when we are silent on matters of racism, sexism, homophobia, and more, we are complicit in these injustices. She shows us that failing to discuss or acknowledge injustice allows for injustice to flourish.
“What I still wrestle with is that people don’t realize that empathy for those who are different shouldn’t just happen after a body has been gunned down and is no longer seen as a political threat.”
Artress B. White also helps influence our education on race and identity in America through this book by speaking of writers like Countee Cullen, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Leslie Marmon Silko. I myself have already expanded my library after reading White’s book in my attempt to understand myself better and expand my understanding of how I could be hurting those around me.
Survivor’s Guilt calls readers to open their eyes to the truth. It is full of heart, angst, confusion, and – above all – love. But this love and care is only gifted to those who wish to give it in return. Survivor’s Guilt transforms guilt from a feeling into action. I would recommend this book especially to those who recognize a problem but don’t quite know what to do about it yet. It is also for students of all life, desiring to learn and give to others what is owed.
Publisher: New Rivers Press
Paperback: 196 pages
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