White People Really Love Salad: What My Childhood Taught Me About Diversity, Equity & Inclusion by Nita Mosby Tyler, Ph.D.
I have had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler of The Equity Project speak at three different trainings for the library system in which I work. She is wonderful and a total hero (literally the 9News Person of the Year this year). She is a compassionate and precise speaker and does a wonderful job of clarifying some of the confusing terms that are used somewhat interchangeably when we talk about diversity and inclusion.
In her book, she calls these terms “the Power Four”: diversity, inclusion, equality, and equity (5). What I personally found most helpful was her differentiating between equality–giving everyone the same thing–and equity–giving each person what they need to thrive.
When I heard that Dr. Nita was publishing a book, I was eager to read it. White People Really Love Salad uses thirty short stories about her experiences growing up that she uses to explore different issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is funny, sad, insightful, and a fast, informative read. I highly recommend this book.
Among many insights into doing equity work is this gem:
“You should plant a part of yourself in what you are fighting for and the other part of yourself must always be anchored in other things you care about (community, family, church, etc.). When you are anchored beyond your work, you will find that you are more balanced (literally) and able to be the catalyst for much more.” (3)
One story I found especially interesting was “Grade ‘A'” (47-49), in which Dr. Nita describes her experiences with playing school with her dolls in such a way that reinforces the findings of the Clark Doll Experiments, which were used as compelling evidence in the Supreme Court case Brown v Board of Education, the decision that made segregation in education unconstitutional. As she assigns grades to her dolls, her white dolls got better grades than her black dolls until her mother, noticing the pattern, gradually gave her more black dolls, helping her to change the way she saw them.
In the book, Dr. Nita also includes a story that I heard at one of her trainings. She describes how one night, she got fed up with the inequality she saw in the world and the inability of adults to make things right. She decided to run away from home:
“As my parents were preparing for us to have dinner, I went to the front door. My father asked what I was doing. I told him I was running away from home. I told him grown-ups were too dumb to get the job done. I expected adversity, but instead I got a few moments of uncomfortable silence. Eventually my father spoke as my mother looked on with horror. My father said, ‘Wait right there a second. I need to grab my camera. I want to take a picture of you before you leave so I can always remember what you look like.'” (67-68)
She explains that this moment helped introduce to her the strategy of “the pause.” She describes how there are sentinel moments in life when something big happens, or when something hurtful, stressful, etc. happens and before reacting, a pause can help you orient yourself and find a more productive response than your first impulse. That is solid advice for life changing moments as well as daily life.
In the story that the book gets its title from, Dr. Nita was invited over for dinner by one of her classmates, a neighbor in the all-white neighborhood her family had moved into (123-126). When dinner is served, a bowl of salad is passed around and she takes a comparatively small portion, not understanding that the salad was the meal. She took this dinner as evidence that her classmate was actually poor, despite living in this nice, middle class neighborhood. Hoping to help, her parents prepare a “reverse welcome wagon” by cooking a big meal and delivering it to this poor white family. Dr. Nita uses this story as an example of how not understanding cultural norms can lead us to misunderstand a situation:
“You see, in my Black experience, salad was rarely a part of the meal and in the rare occasions it was, it was served as a small side dish. Seeing it as a main course represented scarcity; the absence of ‘real food.'” (125)
Structurally, White People Really Love Salad is easy to follow. Each of the stories is followed by Dr. Nita’s musings and then space for the reader to jot their own notes and thoughts. I think this book is great for the causal reader but would also make for an outstanding book club book or textbook for classes or organizations invested in talking about equity issues.