Courageous Discomfort: How to Have Important, Brave, Life-Changing Conversations about Race and Racism by Shanterra McBride and Rosalind Wiseman

c.2022, Chronicle Books $24.95 208 pages

By Terri Schlichenmeyer
The Truth Contributor

About a size seven.

That’s how big your mouth must be, because you just stuck your size-seven foot into it – which is great, because now things are awkward and you never meant harm. You want to have the right conversation about race, you strive to be respectful, and Courageous Discomfort by Shanterra McBride and Rosalind Wiseman can help.

So your foot is back on the ground now and that didn’t feel good, did it? Probably not, but McBride and Wiseman say that discomfort is necessary for (eventually) doing good in order to make change. Recognizing that everyone has a right to dignity and acknowledging their worth is the first step. The next is reading the series of “questions” or might-happen scenarios that the authors present and getting some ideas on how to be a good ally.

Should you speak up, for instance, if a teacher says something racist in class, even if it might mean trouble for you? What if it’s a friend, or a family member who says something offensive? Should you apologize for what others have done, even it was a long time ago – and if so, how? You say you don’t “see color,” but when do you actually need to see it?

Everyone has biases, the authors say, but curiosity is natural for learning, so take care that microaggressions don’t get in the way. They acknowledge that being curious is tricky, but that you should never be afraid of it.

Don’t be offended if someone doesn’t trust you; there’s a reason for it, and it goes way back. Likewise, don’t be mad if they don’t always include you in every event. Be willing to listen if someone has a gripe with you, a post, a statement, or something you did that hurt them. Be patient. Figure out what being an ally means to you. Leave a Black person’s hair alone. And finally, remember that taking ownership isn’t about shame, but about growth. A step in the right direction is a step in the right direction.

In its first few pages, Courageous Discomfort is a perky explanation of the friendship of McBride (who is Black) and Wiseman (who is white and Jewish). It doesn’t linger; the book then takes a scolding tone before it settles in to the help it promises.

When the authors advise readers to use caution, they mean it, though.

There’s a little bit of talking-in-a-circle inside this book, and enough repetition that you’d notice. There’s some confusion in how readers should act when meeting new people – do you ask them about themselves, or don’t you dare? – and prompts to speak up when one sees injustices, but no good help on that for the quietest of readers.

Conversely, and to be sure, the advice the authors give lays a great foundation for equality work, but nuances in the narrative mean that this is probably a book for older teens and young adults. If day-to-day activism is the goal, Courageous Discomfort helps you put your money where your mouth is.