A personal journey of a priest’s understanding of his Whiteness widens into an invitation to wrestle with larger cultural issues of race and belonging
With humor, and a sharp, easily-readable style, Peter Jarrett-Schell delves deeply into how Whiteness has shaped his life. By telling his story, he challenges readers to personally consider the role of race in their own lives.
In recent years, white institutions, congregations, and individuals have all begun to wrestle with their racial legacy. But these reflections often get lost abstracting ideas of “white privilege,” “white fragility,” “structural racism,” and the like, until they become nothing more than jargon. This book challenges its readers to look closely at how these concepts show up in their everyday lives. By examining how Whiteness has distorted his own perceptions, relationships, and sense of self, Jarrett-Schell argues for the personal stakes that white people have in dismantling racism, and offers the creative possibilities that emerge when we begin to do the work.
Read an excerpt
“Peter Jarrett-Schell’s vignettes, from childhood to present, paint a picture of the learnings and limitations awaiting white people striving to be racial allies and accomplices. Through humility and vulnerability, Jarrett-Schell drew me into his ongoing efforts to responsibly navigate racism inside and outside his interracial family and work relationships. In a way no other book has done for me, Seeing My Skin made visceral the reality that living in white skin will always dull my ability to sense racial danger, requiring me to develop and nurture cross-racial relationships that help direct my energies in ways that disrupt, not perpetuate, patterns of whiteness.
—Deborah Kittredge Irving, racial justice educator and author of Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race
“Seeing My Skin is an important read; it is important because it is a conversation; it is a confession; it is a guide for anyone who is serious about eradicating race in this country. While Jarrett-Schell claims that it is not theological, it is a book ‘for such a time as this.’ Perhaps for Whites to truly understand race in America, how life is lived in Black skin, they must take a walk on the wild side and see life—experience life—through the eyes of people for whom they would lay down their lives: the black children most will never have.”
—The Rev. Gayle Fisher-Stewart, PhD, Calvary Episcopal Church, The Center for the Study of Faith in Justice @ Calvary
“In his stunning new book, Seeing My Skin, Peter Schell recalls a series of haunting encounters with friends, family, and strangers and considers the seductive power and incalculable costs of his Whiteness. This vital work is essential reading for White people ready to confront the insidious workings of Whiteness in their own lives and in the world around them.”
—Jacob Slichter, Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing, Sarah Lawrence College, and author of So You Want to Be a Rock & Roll Star
“A riveting, all-too-convincing testimony to the endemic and institutionalized racism in which all white Americans still participate, regardless how pure our motives or whether we notice or not. Jarrett-Schell helps me sense how dimly I’ve understood my own blithe, lifelong trajectory along ‘the rails of race.’ To me this book is more revealing than any other I’ve read about the racist order of things in our country and why general White liberal ‘goodwill’ in itself won’t change the way things are.”
—Alan Venable, author of Hope’s Kids: A Voting Rights Summer
“Seeing My Skin is an invitation to enter into the interior struggle of a White man who acknowledges the racialized air that he has been breathing. This air claims to sustain him as a White man, at the same time he realizes this same air is toxic to those who are not defined as White. It is like a fish who willingly jumps out of the water to see what water is like, all the while ‘gasping’ for water. Through memory re-membered with the wisdom of age, experiences, and honest relationships with those who are not White, Jarrett-Schell debriefs his experiences by shedding light on the hidden, deep, dark, systemic racism that so shaped him and the United States. He offers no easy answers; instead, he shares his willingness to step out of denial, resist the temptation to turn back, and stay in this uncomfortable, uncompromising, and discerning place. His tenacity and courage to hang in there to keep digging into the deep, dark abyss of Whiteness is refreshing. His faith in his family and the people of his church is what holds him in this in-between place—not to make everything all right, or smooth things out for him, but to hold him accountable while supporting him to walk this life-long journey that will have impacts for the next generation: his son, his church, and his readers. This is a must-read for anyone who cares about the state of race relations in the United States.”
—Eric Law, director, The Kaleidoscope Institute
“From the beginning to the end of this important book, Jarrett-Schell takes us beyond jargon and deep into the world of Whiteness by means of a riveting and deeply personal series of flashbacks and erudite reflections. Any of us who claim the term White must interrogate the contours of privilege and cross-examine our own assumptions, intentions, and values about race. Jarrett-Schell’s intimate unpacking of Whiteness in his own life is a brilliant example of what we all must do. Insightful, at times surprisingly humorous, and always honest, Seeing My Skin asks the deep questions of identity, invites us to join in on the long and hard work of dismantling White supremacy, and compassionately shows us the path of love and right relationship. This is an excellent book highly recommended for book clubs, churches, seminarians, and all people concerned with social justice working for liberation in our world.”
—Dr. Jason B. Crawford, Humanities Instructor at Champlain College, Saint-Lambert, Quebec, and Lecturer in Christian Social Ethics at the Montreal School of Theology