During this difficult time in our nation’s history, with the focus on “racial reckoning”, it is crucial that Americans understand when and how our “race-based hierarchy” came to be invented. The Promise of Whiteness: Its Past and Its Future explores the psycho-social impact of the promise of “whiteness” upon the past and present-day race relations in the United States. The “promise of whiteness”—which includes the “place”, “privilege” or advantages of whiteness, the “power” bestowed by whiteness, and the “protection” from punishment for violence toward blacks—is examined. Crucial to the book’s concept is a discussion of the psychological needs met by whiteness and the needs, fears, anxieties, and dissonance produced as well. Finally, the book questions if the “promise of whiteness” is still viable in America as it has evolved into a multiracial society, and recommends that Americans, as a nation, commit to an equal society for all members regardless of race or social class. This book expands on several chapters previously published in A Time for Change: How White Supremacy Ideology Harms All Americans.
Martha R. Bireda, PhD, has lectured, trained, and written about issues related to race, gender, and cultural diversity for 30 years. She has authored over 12 books.
Chapter 1. The Creation of the Racial Hierarchy
Chapter 2. The Promise of Whiteness
Chapter 3. The Psychological Power of Whiteness
Chapter 4. Racially Induced Dissonance
Chapter 5. The Violation of the Promise
Chapter 6. “It Must Not Be Again”
Chapter 7. The Betrayal of the Promise
Chapter 8. The Diminishing Power of Whiteness
Chapter 9. A Changing America: Impact on the Promise
Chapter 10. America at the Crossroads
Conclusion: Healing the Wounds of Mythology
About the Author
The Promise of Whiteness: Its Past and Its Future is an important, relevant, and necessary book for our times. Martha R. Bireda has put into words what everyone needs to understand about whiteness and how to eliminate its racist and deadly effects in order to work toward making this world a better place for all people and to perpetuate equality and freedom—and possibly the survival of the world. This book should be on everyone’s reading list.
I have attended many lectures, read many books, and participated in numerous gatherings regarding racism and its legacy effects. With few exceptions, I did not come away thinking that the presenters, authors, or participants did a precise job of presenting the deeply held beliefs underlying and canceling out any real progress about racism or the propping up and propagating of white privilege. Martha R. Bireda’s book is clearly the exception and is the no-holds-barred message this era needs. I give the book five stars. In my opinion, the expression of “American Exceptionalism” has such a dramatic positive appeal that it masks and hides what this country really is. Those things held up as “exceptionalism” shine so brightly that they disguise the horror of inhumanity that created them, starting with the creation of wealth.
While many watched the January 6th, 2021, insurrection in shock and disbelief, Bireda shows that this event was an inevitable outcome of a deeply harmful racialized contract made over four hundred years ago. Offering a comprehensive unpacking of the historic, cultural, and psychological roots of white rage and entitlement, Bireda gives a diagnosis of the past and offers new possibilities for the future. This timely and accessible book delivers an urgent message: the “promise of whiteness” must be denounced in order to birth a just and flourishing world.
Martha R. Bireda has written a fierce and lavishly intense book that succinctly crafts Black pain and suffering within the context of Anti-Black racism while deftly examining the psyche and performance of Whiteness. By skillfully employing sociological, anthropological, historical, and rhetorical primary sources as well as effectively utilizing contemporary archival works, The Promise of Whiteness: Its Past and Its Future will no doubt be a pivotal and immensely valuable addition to the study of race in America.
In The Promise of Whiteness: Its Past and Its Future, Martha R. Bireda gives us a rigorous analysis of our country’s current conflicts around race and class. She makes a compelling case for how much of what divides us is rooted in the misunderstanding that race exists to define our value as humans. She demonstrates that race is a construct that was developed by an elite class to divide and oppress the middle and working class of our nation. With historical research and her background as a counselor, Bireda shows the reader how the “promise of whiteness” was used to falsely elevate the psyches of poorer whites. As that promise seemed threatened by the undoing of segregation to the presidency of a black man, many felt betrayed. Those unenlightened white folks are now comprising a backlash that ranges from micro-aggressions toward minorities to violent outbursts around the country, most notably on January 6th, 2021. Her message is from one who lived through the Jim Crow south—don’t let the lie of racial supremacy and inferiority keep us from our full capacity to be loving humans.
Martha R. Bireda again confronts the challenge of American white supremacy. Employing insights from history, psychology, and the social sciences, she powerfully describes the central challenge of American society as its “race-based social hierarchy.” She details the tenuous white grip on the hierarchy’s apex by imagining African Americans as their essential and inferior contrapose. Through the four “P’s”—place, privilege, power, and protection—whites require “the black” for their very identity. But as Bireda explains, Barack Obama’s presidential election shattered the white illusion of supremacy, exposing their historic power and inherent vulnerability. In her revelations, however, we can see the groundwork for the creation of a just, multi-ethnic culture that one day might realize the true American democratic promise.
Why do many white Americans still gain psychological validation and comfort from politicians who tell them they are the ‘true’ Americans? How does this connect to the history of whiteness that began with slavery? Martha R. Bireda addresses these questions by breaking down “the promise of whiteness” that was given to white laborers into four elements: place, privilege, power, and protection. Bireda thus gives us analytical tools for examining how a dichotomy was established between ruling whites and subordinate blacks that disguised class distinctions and enabled the white owners of capital to inflict alienation on white workers in the knowledge that those white workers would take out their frustration on fellow black workers rather than the ruling whites who were actually causing their exploitation and misery. This book is essential for readers who wish to connect the psychology of whiteness to the power structures of white supremacy and track that connection through four centuries of racial oppression, from slavery to the present day, using tools that will enable them to see the underlying structures of white rule.
Dr. Martha R. Bireda has completed another phenomenal treatise on white supremacy in America. The Promise of Whiteness: Its Past and Its Future addresses the core of white guilt in light of the recent debate about Critical Race Theory and the January 6th insurrection. American society has forced an existential deviation of Blacks and other nonwhite persons and must eradicate the difference, incomprehension, and disharmony we find ourselves in. The outrage associated with the color problem and whiteness has survived far too long. America must grasp that the presence of people of color denotes an insurance policy on humanness. Dr. Bireda challenges us to comprehend the unhealthy manifestations of the Promise of whiteness and come face to face with a throng of white supremacist tendencies. Every American must contribute to the victory of the dignity of the human spirit and act accordingly to say no to a society that continues to subjugate persons based on the false promise of whiteness. It’s time to draw up the balance sheet of racial reconciliation in America.
8/25/22, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education: Bireda’s book was included in this roundup of recent books of interest to African American scholars.