Layla F. Saad, public speaker and author of Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor, truly dedicated herself to writing after a powerful personal realization in 2017. That realization is summed up by the title of a blog post she wrote: “I Need to Talk to Spiritual White Women About White Supremacy.” That post, which went viral, was a turning point in Saad’s career. “It was this article that really initiated me into the work of antiracism,” Saad says, “but it was also this piece that made me realize it was time to seriously commit to the work of writing.”
While many readers applauded Saad and her ideas about the responsibility white women bear in confronting white supremacy, others expressed discomfort and outrage. “I received a lot of backlash from white people who were offended at some of the ideas that I was talking about,” Saad says.
But, a year after that blog post, Saad was still hearing from readers and was asking herself an important question: “What had the white people who had been following me on social media for some time learned about themselves and white supremacy?” As she sought to answer this question, she made an observation. White readers who had engaged with her and followed her discussions seemed less likely to respond defensively to the difficult topic. “I wondered what it was that had made them less fragile and more resilient when it came to racial conversations,” Saad says.
The next morning, Saad kicked off a new antiracism project on Instagram intended to inform and educate white readers on topics including “white fragility, tone policing, white silence, cultural appropriation, and white centering.” Saad presented the project as a “28-day challenge” for white readers. For each of the 28 days, Saad identified the topics, provided examples, and invited readers to journal about different aspects of white supremacy. The #MeAndWhiteSupremacy challenge was so popular that Saad decided to expand it. In November 2018, she published a free digital edition of the Me and White Supremacy Workbook. In three days, the book had been downloaded more than 11,000 times. Within six months, the number of downloads shot to 100,000, with endorsements from people like Robin DiAngelo, Glennon Doyle, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Anne Hathaway. The workbook also caught the attention of the publishing world, with the team at Sourcebooks recognizing that Saad’s challenge to white readers had the potential to resonate even further.
Opening Eyes, Inviting Conversation
As an introvert—but one who isn’t shy— Saad’s favorite public speaking platforms are those that allow for intimate and meaningful conversations. On Saad’s Good Ancestor Podcast, she conducts one-on-one interviews with guests from a wide range of personal and professional backgrounds to “really explore things that matter.” One question she asks her guests is, “Who are the ancestors—living or transitioned, societal or familial—who have influenced you on your journey?”
In Me and White Supremacy—an expanded, in-depth adaptation of her original workbook, which the author sees as a stepping-stone for people who want to fight racism—Saad also invites readers to answer that question, while urging them to become better ancestors themselves. “I define being a good ancestor as living and leading your life in a way that leaves a legacy of healing and liberation for those who are here in this lifetime, and those who will come after we are gone,” Saad says. “I believe we are all living ancestors right now and that the way we choose to be in the world, and the things we choose to create, matters not only to us but also to everyone who will ever come into contact with our legacy.”
And, Saad says, there’s no reason to wait until adulthood to begin aspiring to be a good ancestor. In fact, she is currently working on a young readers’ edition of Me and White Supremacy, which will be published in 2020. She hopes that by discussing race and white supremacy with young white readers, they will better grasp their complicity in the system and will be better equipped to help demolish it.
“Black people, indigenous people, and people of color have chosen to courageously defy white supremacy throughout time, often at great cost to themselves and their loved ones,” Saad says. “We will continue to do our work; however, it is up to people with white privilege to do their work, too, if real change is to happen.”