Memoir of a Race Traitor

Memoir of a Race Traitor

by Mab Segrest

Against a backdrop of nine generations of her family's history, Mab Segrest explores her experience as a white lesbian organizing against a virulent Far Right movement in North Carolina.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Autobiography
  • Rating: 4.15
  • Pages: 274
  • Publish Date: July 1st 1999 by South End Press
  • Isbn10: 0896084744
  • Isbn13: 9780896084742

Read the Book "Memoir of a Race Traitor" Online

In her reflections I recognize the same sort of impulse to stand on the right side of history; the personal need to fight the most heinous aspects of the society that produced you and supposes to defend and privilege you because of your racialization as a white person. But really I'm foregrounding aspects of the book that speak to me, but the pages were much more full with this crazy documentarian look at this perfect (read: fucking scary) storm of white supremacist and homophobic terror and murders happening simultaneously in various corners of North Carolina in the 1980s. After the klansmen and neo nazi's literally got away with murder in Greensboro, North Carolina became the home of the fastest growing white supremacist movement in america. She spends most of the book retelling traumatizing stories in a factual way that makes you feel like you could be reading a newspaper. And all this goes down against this backdrop of her struggle to grapple with her own relationship with her family, who are white conservative racists in Alabama. Mab Segrest reckons with her family history in a way I can't quite do. it's freakishly text book the way the men of her family fit hand in glove with the sickening history of this country. But they gave her a bunch of books to read, such as Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America and Zinn's People's History of the US. Out of those readings she wrote this 43-page succinct and accessible history of the US that traces how race and racism was constructed here and laid the foundation for our supposed democracy (for white people) and immense capitalist accumulation (for white people). And she does this really interesting thing where she uses her family tree to situate her own ancestors within history and illustrate the role of white people in this nation's history.

It is largely a memoir of Segrest's time doing anti-racist organizing in North Carolina, set against the backdrop of her white family's long history of perpetuating white supremacy -- both her close, immediate family and her distant, long-dead relatives. But, as I mentioned earlier, her family and its history is largely the backdrop that informs and enriches her writing of her organizing against racist violence in North Carolina. This section of the book really does so much -- it's partly a chilling history of racist violence in civil-rights era Alabama & 1980's North Carolina, partly a history of those racist judicial systems, partly a window into what organizing work looks like, partly a window into what it was like to organize as a lesbian in the 80's, partly a window into how Segrest, as a lesbian, was affected by AIDS, partly a reflection on what it means to be white and doing anti-racist work (to be a "race-traitor"), partly a reflection on memoir itself -- it does so much, and so much more than what I've named, even. The second section of the book is titled "On Being White and Other Lies: A History of Racism in the United States." The history begins with English settlement, and, as the first section of the book, is informed by Segrest's family history, which can be traced in North America to the near-beginning of English settlement.

For instance the interesting and concise essay on the history of the united states which traces Segrest's ancestors would have been a great introduction leading into her memories of growing up in her family, and early memories of racism. I certainly could do no better as a writer (as you can see) especially faced with such a task, but I feel that a thoughtful, thorough, and even-handed editor could really improve the book overall. That being said, it is most certainly a book that needed to be written, providing a first hand account of an important part of recent history, which our society would do well to learn from.

so, i'm grateful for these treasures from a previous era of antiracism, where occasionally white antiracist activists did speak from their perspectives and memories, and i am also grieving that there are so few of these treasures, and none that quite speak to my own lineage (west coast origins, immigrant to so-called canada, no experience in mass civil rights or anti-klan organizing due to time & place & other context.) thank you, mab segrest, for your mentorship.

Of the three books of Mab Segrest's I've read, I think this is my favorite.

Most of the book tells us about Segrests work combating the Klan, the White Patriot Party, and other racist forces in the South. When she came out as a lesbian, the outsider status became more defined, and she started working to bring all the different parts of herself together as Southerner, as privileged white person, as invisible lesbian. My favorite part of the book is the last essay, A Bridge, Not a Wedge, in which Segrest tells a gay and lesbian audience why we need to pay attention to racism both in our community and outside it.

I am reading this for an anti-racist discussion/reflection group. I am going to read this book faster than everyone in the discussion group.

Mad scary to read about the Far Right's organizing late into the 80's.