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The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White Privilege

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  303 ratings  ·  41 reviews
In The Souls of Black Folks, W.E.B. DuBois wrote that the question whites wanted to ask him was: “How does it feel to be a problem?” In The Heart of Whiteness, Robert Jensen writes that it is time for white people in America to self-consciously reverse the direction of that question and to fully acknowledge that in the racial arena, they are the problem.

While some whites w
Paperback, 124 pages
Published September 1st 2005 by City Lights Publishers
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this book is a short, quick read and is written in accessible language. he doesn't spend a lot of time trying to prove how smart he is, or berating himself, which i appreciate. i wish he didn't have to spend the first half of the book proving that racism exists, because the last half, when he really talks about his experiences of identifying and grappling with the way racism and white privilege plays out in his life, i found to be really useful. i have to say i felt uncomfortable with his choice ...more
Bill Kyzner
A horrible book that I was forced to read for a multi-cultralism class. I would not recommenf this book to anyone unless it was the author's mother.
James Tracy
Robert is a great writer, indeed and I respect the fact that he is always ready to stir the pot on principle. First off, before reading this book one needs to be grounded in Theodore Allen's scholarship on whiteness. Read "The Invention of the White Race," (Volumes I and II) before you read this book. There are a lot of differences between the two approaches, but more than enough in common. Allen basically explains how white and black workers were split off from each other as an elite control st ...more
Jean G.
I cried when I read this book. It was an eye-opening book. I am not white but I grew up in a rich white suburb. The author is a former professor of mine and I got to hear him speak on another subject; I can't wait to get more information on this topic! It's a must read!
a book on racism and white privilege, written by a white guy. he’s totally ruthless with himself in this short but powerful book. clear and uncompromising. made me want to open my skull and scrape out the shit. recommended especially for anyone who’s white.
Apr 16, 2015 Zoë marked it as will-never-read
Recommends it for: SJWs/liberals/left-wing extremists
Are you...fucking...shitting me?

People are allowed to say shit like this?

This book is listed under "Anti Racist" even though in the description it blatantly says that white people are "the problem."

The problem.

The problem??? No, the PROBLEM is that people treat all of us like shit when some of us haven't fucking done anything.

Are we re-writing the English language now? Because I don't think "anti-racism" and "social justice" mean what these militant SJW fucktards think they mean.

If I have to re
This guy should be getting recommended for quick reads about whiteness instead of Tim Wise.

Public education is not racist because each day a bunch of overtly racist white people come to work and deliberately try and maintain a racist school system. It is the product of many decisions over many years, some of them no doubt made by people of conscience who thought of themselves as anti-racist, but who maintain an institutional structure that creates conditions that support white supremacy.


Jensen's basic premise is that the United States is a white-supremacist society, and while that might make you think of white guys wearing hoods and cloaks, Jensen means something much more subtle and sinister. This book is quite provocative. Self-examination and thoughtful introspection are inevitable as you read. Jensen puts it most succinctly: "I am often a fool. I am a white person living in a white-supremacist society who still sometimes feels racist feelings in his body, thinks racist thou ...more
Lee Bullitt
A one day read.

This look into the white supremacist attitude of America is not only examined but clearly felt by the author (who is a white man himself). And him being white, and not some afro-centric wanna be, makes a grand difference in how the message is delivered and how it will ultimately effect the reader. His words are not more true because he is white, I would never say that, but because he means them and means to perpetually do something about it. This is not a book by a white person th
I don't usually do book reviews because I enjoy them or I don't, and that's that. However, this book was fantastic, and I highly recommend it. It's a short read (under 100 pages) and Jensen uses language that's easy to understand. It isn't so highly academic that it's a struggle to get through, and in that way, really makes the content accessible to a broad range of readers. Aside from those stylistic components however, this book is great - he gives real life examples and is able to point out i ...more
Tony Visconti
I read this a few years ago, but I can remember appreciating Jensen forwardness.

While it may be possible to have privilege without being racist, it is far more difficult I may say impossible to receive that privilege without previous acts of racism. The ability to disregard the effects of privilege, is a privilege itself and one that the book I believe attempts to combat. I believe the harsh tone Jensen takes with the question "How does it feel to be the problem" is not some selfish attempt by J
Robert Jensen wears his heart on his sleeve and talks about the white supremacist culture we're all living in. There are a lot of people who should read this book, but part of me thinks it might be wasted on people who don't already feel this way - or if they aren't aware they feel this way, suspected it.

Maybe I think this because none of the information he briefly talks about is particularly new, but he's right. As a white person, you should be angry that the world is the way it is. The only w
Short. And sharp. Articulated a lot of things I'd thought about but not solidified or only thought around the edges of, despite a lot of academicizing on race; it's interestingly different to think about it outside of academia, even if what gets said is pretty similar. Including articulating things I'd never have been able to say without sounding pretentious or shrill; I think Jensen manages not to sound either, but I might well not have thought that if I hadn't agree with him about most of the ...more
Well, he makes some good points, and he uses personal anecdote rather than theory, which can be uncomfortable. I approve of uncomfortable. Ultimately, though, I didn't come away from this one with any new insights into white privilege. Good for bringing the topic into the foreground, though, which needs to be done for us crackers every once in a while so we don't let it slip out of mind. My main complaint is that this book is insanely short. I don't want to pay that kind of price per page unless ...more
Paul Cato
Read for my "Critical Whiteness in the US." Jensen is a beast, attacking his own race for their unwillingness to admit, confront, and make efforts to alleviate white privilege? Yes. Things get across better from a brother than they do from an outsider. He makes many generalizations but every argument is based in fact and pretty sound logic - the assumptions are their as a rhetorical deceive. Still, a Latina classmate pointed out to me that he was privileged enough to have the opportunity to writ ...more
Jason Marciak
What is racism? What is this concept of white privilege that pervades American culture? Robert Jensen's work is captivating in its honesty and simplicity. He does not try to fool the readers with sophisticated arguments and eloquent debates of ideology. Instead he delivers his own experiences to the reader in quiet prose as he uses his life to underscore the larger issues of ethnic subjugation at work in America.
Samuel L
Good read. Became introspective while reading. Jensen does a good job of using thought provoking examples from his own life to backup his claims that white people continue to impede the progress of those racial and ethnic groups they have held back in the past, because so many white people continue to not acknowledge the damage they have caused throughout history and the damage that has caused...
Hmmm... like with "getting off", I want to like it more because I'm so fundamentally moved by his point of view. Perhaps, if I already instinctively agree with you, I need more pith to be moved, more convincing and inspiring layers of thought to poke and prod at my brain. I'm not getting that here, although this book does have indisputably moving moments.
It was only 100 pages long, so my conclusion that while it was interesting and well-written, it wasn't very in-depth is not really surprising. The thing is, while it reminded me of things that I don't always focus on, in terms of white priviledge in North American society, I didn't feel it actually taught me anything new. But still worth a read.
A short read, but worthwhile. It is good to see an educated, White, middle-class male addressing the issue of covert racism from this standpoint, since it can be deemed more meaningful for White Americans.

Apparently his other works are are have a radical feminist approach of masculinity. Will probably look into those books too.
Jul 05, 2009 Ioana rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: race
This book is a brief wake up call to whites, asking them to confront their own privilege. It's honest and to the point, but does not provide too much analysis (it's less than 100 short pages, I finished it in a couple hours). My lower rating is due to the lack of analysis, not the quality of ideas, with which I mostly agree.
A bristling, furious pamphlet of a book, a first-person introduction to the fundamentally negative nature of white identity. Jensen is unafraid to talk about his own personal failures and struggles with facing race, which brings balance to the immediate anger of much of the prose. Read it and be shaken and learn to listen.
Robert Jensen is smart. Everything he says is honest and simple- he tells it like it is. I am a huge fan & admire him greatly. He both reminded me of a few things & challenged me in new ways with this book. I am grateful for that, especially living in a city that is supposedly progressive, but very segregated.
I thought this was a well written book that really does a nice job in plain terms describing white privilege. I actually was able to read it in a single sitting. I recommend especially for white activists to read it..but all white folks really should read it.
Feb 12, 2008 Leslie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: white teachers of black students
Recommended to Leslie by: Dr. King, my professor
this book is eye-opening to white teachers of black students. gives us a new theory for challenging our stereotypes and changing our mindsets. brings up misconceptions we may not be aware that we hold.
Highly recommended for those who don't get it, or think they get it. A very quick read. Addendum: For the record I don't necessarily buy everything that's argued, but it's still v. valuable.
An examination of American Genocide and Racism and how the white hegemony perpetuates patterns that shaped our country's race relations and how we view the rest of the world.
Max Mills
Great starter guide for white people looking to confront the white supremacist society that we live in. Jensen speaks with an anger and sadness that must be heard.
Oct 17, 2009 cat is currently reading it
it's a must read for white folks, especially one's (and i include myself) who need to challenge themselves more on personal and systemic race relations
José-antonio Orosco
Jensen always delivers. A book that challenges white people to deal with their privilege with more than just defensiveness or guilt.
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Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism and director of the Senior Fellows Honors Program of the College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin.
Jensen joined the UT faculty in 1992 after completing his Ph.D. in media ethics and law in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. Prior to his academic career, he worked as a professi
More about Robert Jensen...
Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice Arguing for Our Lives: Critical Thinking in Crisis Times Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream Fourth Printing

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“Jokes are funny only in context. There is no such thing as abstract clever word play. Words have meaning in the world in which we live, not in the abstract. Take away the politics, and there is no joke. The joke wouldn't make any sense. if the joke is funny, it's funny precisely because it's racist and sexist.” 3 likes
“We're all in the race game, so to speak, either consciously or unconsciously. We can overtly support white-supremacist racial projects. We can reject white supremacy and support racial projects aimed at a democratic distibution of power and a just distribution of resources. Or we can claim to not be interested in race, in which case we almost certainly will end up tacitly supporting white supremacy by virtue of our unwillingness to confront it. In a society in which white supremacy has structured every aspect of our world, there can be no claim to neutrality.” 2 likes
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