Skinner House Books Examines Racism in Visual Imagery in New Book, Through the Lens of Whiteness Book by Diane S. Grimes and Liz Cooney Seeks to Advance Antiracist Work by Challenging Racialized Imagery in Popular Culture

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Suzanne Morse
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Boston, Mass. (November 15, 2023) – On page two of their new book, Through the Lens of Whiteness: Challenging Racialized Imagery in Pop Culture, Syracuse University’s Diane S. Grimes and author Liz Cooney ask, “What exactly are white ways of seeing?” The book - published by Skinner House Books, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s publishing imprint – examines how visual imagery in our popular culture is dominated by white ways of seeing, the contributions such images make to white supremacy culture in the United States, and how confronting those norms can support antiracist efforts. Skinner House Books publishes books that sit at the intersection of progressive values and life’s biggest questions.

“Few people are talking about how images we encounter in our daily lives—both still and moving images, in the news, in entertainment, on social media, and elsewhere—contribute to white supremacy. Most of us white people interpret such images through a lens of whiteness, or with white ways of seeing… Our purpose is to help you recognize racism when it appears in these images—to change the way you see them,” Grimes and Cooney write in the book.

Through images as well as text, Grimes and Cooney assist their readers in identifying the lens of whiteness and how that lens is often applied to advantage white people and to harm people of color. They also offer an intersectional perspective by examining the relationship between gender expression and racialized imagery. Additionally, they highlight the problematic nature of the white savior narrative in popular culture. At the end of the chapters, the authors provide a set of discussion questions for readers to consider. They also make recommendations for challenging the lens of whiteness as part of antiracism work.

Grimes and Cooney acknowledge the debate about who can and should lead and participate in antiracism work. They also recognize that there are limitations to what their work can do as white women. But they hope Through the Lens of Whiteness can contribute to the understanding that white people have of racialized imagery. “Our aim is to break through that by speaking to you from a place in our society that we all, as white people, share,” they write. “In other words, there are not ‘good white people’ and ‘bad white people.’ Rather, all white people benefit from whiteness in some way or other, though those benefits will shift depending on our other identities. Although our individual life experiences vary, we benefit from white privilege, are often unaware of our shared white ways of seeing, and often, even if unintentionally, contribute to a racist, white supremacist culture.”

Diane S. Grimes is an associate professor of communication at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. She began studying race forty years ago and became interested in whiteness in 1992. Since then, she has studied, taught, and written about whiteness, race, and gender. Liz Cooney is a queer author from Des Moines, Iowa. Her work focuses on helping people communicate more effectively through valuing differences and navigating difficult conversations. She is a facilitator, executive coach, and keynote speaker, and has served as Director of Training for the award-winning professional development firm Tero International.

“As an inherited liberal tradition, Unitarian Universalists are accountable to the work of liberation and dismantling white supremacy. An important part of that effort is to center the lived experience of those whose voices have often been pushed to the margins. We must understand how the society that we are a part of reinforces a culture of white supremacy,” says Rev. Dr. Sofía Betancourt, the UUA’s president. “Through the Lens of Whiteness invites UUs and others to challenge the legacies of white supremacy as one way to decenter whiteness in our culture.”

Founded in 1976, Skinner House Books has published hundreds of titles for more than four decades. Major titles include Mira and the Big Story by Laura Alary, illustrated by Sue Todd; Swinging on the Garden Gate: A Memoir of Bisexuality and Spirit by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew; Katha Sagar, Ocean of Stories: Hindu Wisdom for Every Age by Sarah Conover and Abhi Janamanchi, illustrated by Shanthi Chandrasekar; The Stonewall Generation: LGBTQ Elders on Sex, Activism, and Aging by Jane Fleishman; Authentic Selves: Celebrating Trans and Nonbinary People and Their Families, edited by Peggy Gillespie; Trusting Change: Finding Our Way Through Personal and Global Transformation by Karen Hering; and A Fire at the Center: Solidarity, Whiteness, and Becoming a Water Protector by Karen Van Fossan. Significant upcoming titles for the imprint also include Blessing It All: Rituals for Transition and Transformation, edited by Heather Concannon and Allison Palm.

Readers can find Through the Lens of Whiteness wherever books are available or order it at the InSpirit bookshop. Explore other Skinner House titles online.

About the UUA

The UUA is the central organization for the Unitarian Universalist (UU) religious movement in the United States. Our faith is diverse and inclusive and the UUA’s 1000+ member congregations are committed to Seven Principles that hold closely the worth and dignity of each person as sacred, the need for justice and compassion, the right of conscience, and respect for the interdependent nature of all existence.