by David Mura
University of Minnesota Press
Uncovering the pernicious narratives white people create to justify white supremacy and sustain racist oppression
The police murders of two Black men, Philando Castile and George Floyd, frame this searing exploration of the historical and fictional narratives that white America tells itself to justify and maintain white supremacy. From the country's founding through the summer of Black Lives Matter in 2020, David Mura unmasks how white stories about race attempt to erase the brutality of the past and underpin systemic racism in the present.
Intertwining history, literature, ethics, and the deeply personal, Mura looks back to foundational narratives of white supremacy (Jefferson's defense of slavery, Lincoln's frequently minimized racism, and the establishment of Jim Crow) to show how white identity is based on shared belief in the pernicious myths, false histories, and racially segregated fictions that allow whites to deny their culpability in past atrocities and current inequities. White supremacy always insists white knowledge is superior to Black knowledge, Mura argues, and this belief dismisses the truths embodied in Black narratives.
Mura turns to literature, comparing the white savior portrayal of the film Amistad to the novelization of its script by the Black novelist Alexs Pate, which focuses on its African protagonists; depictions of slavery in Faulkner and Morrison; and race's absence in the fiction of Jonathan Franzen and its inescapable presence in works by ZZ Packer, tracing the construction of Whiteness to willfully distorted portraits of race in America. In James Baldwin's essays, Mura finds a response to this racial distortion and a way for Blacks and other BIPOC people to heal from the wounds of racism.
Taking readers beyond apology, contrition, or sadness, Mura attends to the persistent trauma racism has exacted and lays bare how deeply we need to change our racial narratives--what white people must do--to dissolve the myth of Whiteness and fully acknowledge the stories and experiences of Black Americans.
"More than anything, David Mura reminds us that history is still just a story, and life and death lies in who gets to tell it and what's been told. This is a re-examination of the American imagination itself and the myths we need to dismantle for a proper foundation to finally grow. It's fearless, illuminating, and revolutionary." -- Marlon James, winner of the 2015 Booker Prize
"The Stories Whiteness Tells Itself is the book I wish I could have been handing out during the height of the Black Lives Matters protests. There are many works written about the overarching effects of white supremacy in America, but what's essential about this book is the clarity provided by the wisdom and holistic vision of David Mura. The Stories Whiteness Tells Itself is the rare book that pulls off the magic trick of taking an incredibly explosive issue and disarming it with such grace as to make elusive truths feel suddenly accessible." -- Mat Johnson, author of Pym, Loving Day, and Invisible Things
About the Author:
David Mura is a poet, writer of creative nonfiction and fiction, critic, and playwright. He is author of A Stranger's Journey: Race, Identity, and Narrative Craft in Writing and the memoirs Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei and Where the Body Meets Memory: An Odyssey of Race, Sexuality, and Identity. He is coeditor, with Carolyn Holbrook, of We Are Meant to Rise: Voices for Justice from Minneapolis to the World. He lives in Minneapolis.