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How I Learned to Be White Paperback – 2 March 2018

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Judith Arcana (Author of Announcements from the Planetarium) - Tricia Knoll has interwoven intimate details and complex emotions from her own past with the past we call history, and she's done that weaving in poems about how the concept of race is taught and learned in the United States. These poems are about how she grew up, learning as we all do, and how she "went another way" when she understood how she'd been taught to think. She'd grown up - like almost all white people in the USA, among adults who were silent or hiding or lying about racism - learning, as if it were a fact, that white means clean.

Knoll's choice to write about American racism in poetry prompts vivid, sometimes ironic, images: black and white photos, and chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream serve dual purposes in this verse memoir. Here are poems about her earliest encounters with Black people, about her ancestors and immediate family wielding their whiteness obliviously or knowingly - as needed. Even in these days of revelation, when the daily news offers literally countless stories of racism in the USA, this collection is notable, valuable because it shows, as the book's title makes clear, that how we think and feel and behave about race is taught. Tricia deeply felt poems present a hard-won lesson: We can learn, as the poet learned, to go another way.


Lucille Lang Day, author of Married at Fourteen and Becoming an Ancestor - The poems in How I Learned to Be White, by Tricia Knoll, wrestle with the important question of how to become a white person of conscience and action in a society that has traditionally conferred privilege on those with Anglo-Saxon and German ancestry. The material Knoll draws on ranges from letters written by ancestors who fought in the Civil War to the deeds of her parents and her own experiences as a teacher. She says, "A bubble surrounds me, /shimmer-soap surprise/I thought would never pop/until it did." May all our bubbles of privilege, in which we accept the status quo, similarly explode.

-- Lucille Lang Day, author of Married at Fourteen and Becoming an Ancestor

About the Author

Tricia Knoll is an Oregon poet who grew up in an affluent suburb of Chicago. She earned degrees in literature from Stanford University (BA) and Yale University (MAT). For decades she worked in communications for the City of Portland. Starting in 2014, she delved into current discussions on race relations in the United States to examine the influences of ancestry, education, childhood experiences and more on her understanding of her own white privilege and how she can work to change the influences of her background. Many of the poems in How I Learned to Be White have appeared in anthologies or journals related to racial justice. She spent three years on Portland's Human Rights Commission with an intense interest in people who were homeless and people with disabilities. She has a minor speech disability.

Product details

  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 72 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1943826471
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1943826476
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