The Stories Whiteness Tells Itself

Racial Myths and Our American Narratives

2022
Author:

David Mura

Uncovering the pernicious narratives white people create to justify white supremacy and sustain racist oppression

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. Mura shows how deeply we need to change our racial narratives to dissolve the myth of Whiteness and fully acknowledge the experiences of Black Americans.

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.

Cover image description: Image of an extremely thick book that displays the title and author name in black text on white cover. Background is a glaring, solid red.

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 (Minnesota, 2021). He lives in Minneapolis.

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