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The Right Kind of White

A Memoir

About The Book

A revelatory memoir that earnestly reckons with whiteness.

As the product of progressive parents and a liberal upbringing, Garrett Bucks prided himself on the pursuit of being a “good white person.”

The kind of white person who treats their privilege as a responsibility and not a burden; the kind of white person who people of color see as the peak example of racial allyship; the kind of white person who other white people might model their own aspirations of being “better” after.

But it’s Bucks obsession with “goodness” that prevents him from building meaningful relationships, particularly those who look like him. The Right Kind of White charts Garrett’s intellectual and emotional odyssey in his pursuit of this ideal whiteness, the price of its admission, and the work he’s doing to bridge the divide from those he once sought distance from.

Reading Group Guide

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. The book’s title refers to White Americans' desire to distinguish themselves from one another. Where do you think this desire comes from? What, in your mind, draws a White person to want to define themselves as “The Right Kind of White”?

2. Bucks ends the introduction with an invitation, stating that while he focused on telling his own story in this book, he hopes that doing so would inspire White readers to tell their own version of attempting to stand out as “The Right Kind of White.” If you identify as White, do you have your own story about this quest? Why or why not?

3. An early reviewer mentioned that this book could equally be called “The Right Kind of White Man” or “The Right Kind of Middle Class White.” When were you most struck by the ways that Bucks’ experiences in the book were shaped by his gender? His class? Other identity markers?

4. The first chapter begins with a scene where a group of college students discuss how they first became aware of their own racial identity. What do you remember about the moment you first became aware of your own race and ethnicity? What lesson did you learn in that moment? Was it an empowering moment? A painful moment? A confounding moment? Were there adults in your life who helped you make sense of it?

5. Bucks devotes an entire section to “what he learned in school,” about how his educational experiences taught him explicitly or implicitly how to perform a racial, class and gender identity. When you think about your own school experience and how it shaped your identity, what lessons stand out? In what ways were those the lessons that the school was seeking to teach vs. lessons that you learned informally?

6. In the chapter about growing up in suburban Maryland, Bucks talks about that community’s obsession with “sorting”—celebrating diversity, but maintaining a clear hierarchy between groups. In what ways did that depiction resonate or not with your experience, either growing up or now? Have you been conscious of moments when you were “sorted” in place, or when you sought to “sort” yourself?

7. Bucks was raised in a variety of majority White communities that are ostensibly very different from one another– a small, more conservative Montana town, an elite, diversity-celebrating Maryland suburb and a progressive college town? In what ways was Bucks’ experience of each of these communities different? In what ways was there a shared throughline of his experience in each?”

8. Throughout the book, Bucks seeks out foils—be they the jocks with whom he argued in high school or the “Okie teachers” in New Mexico. What value did these foils provide Bucks, and what were the limits and risk of his addiction to these foils?

9. The section “Church and State” ends with Bucks mourning the death of his one-time dream of being a small town Methodist pastor, even though he recognizes that dream would not have been as prosaic as he imagined. He writes “the road not taken wouldn’t have been perfect. It might even have been terrible. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t mourn it.” What do you think Bucks mourns about this path not taken? What would that choice represented for him?

10. Bucks frequently returns to the koan that his pastor gave his confirmation class, about how “there are two religions in the world—the religion of being right and the religion of being in love, and the only rule is you can’t be a member of both at the same time.” It’s obviously a resonant line in Bucks’ life, but how does it land with you? What does it mean to be in “the religion of being right” and “the religion of being in love?”

11. What is it about Bucks’ professional trajectory that makes him so eager for proof that he is still more enlightened by other White people? How did that impact his relationships with Black, Brown and Indigenous friends, colleagues and students?

12. In Chapter Seventeen, Bucks recounts a night out with work colleagues that turned unexpectedly emotional for him. On its surface, it could be considered an extremely basic anecdote: He wishes that his colleagues were more eager to spend social time with him. Why do you think that such a simple (and relatable) emotion carries so much weight for Bucks? What did that night out with colleagues represent for him? Have you ever had a moment like that– where a relatively banal stimulus becomes a stand-in for a broader realization?

13. Bucks spends multiple chapters discussing the 2016 election cycle, and Donald Trump in particular. On page 166, he writes, “Truth be told, I loved having Trump traveling around doing Trump-y things that summer. He was a never-ending fuel source for liberal consternation.” What do you think Bucks (who doesn’t support Trump or his policies) means by this quote? What value does a political figure like Trump have for White liberals?

14. When Bucks is seeking funding for The Barnraisers Project, he increasingly finds himself telling a tokenized, cartoonish story of Jefferson County, Montana, where he grew up. Have you ever found yourself in a similar position, where you find yourself warping your own story or the story of your home community to match the expectations of others?

15. As Bucks starts to reconsider his relationship to other White people, he also deepens his understanding of what it means to be in community with others. During the summer of 2020, for example, he realizes that it’s possible to both critique other White people’s actions while not separating himself from them. What does true community mean to you? When have you experienced it? When have you most noticed it lacking in your life?

16. Bucks believes, by the end of the book, that it is possible to combat White supremacy while having curiosity for and even sympathy for both himself and other White people? Do you agree or would you challenge this belief? Why?

17. Bucks deliberately resists ending the book with a set of instructions for specifically what White people need to do with one another to fight racism without running away from one another. After reading the book, what does it make you want to do? What relationships do you want to strengthen? What more do you want to learn, and with whom? What kind of conversations does it inspire?

18. Bucks chose to dedicate the book to his grandparents, and describes it as “an intergenerational love story.” Why do you think he made that choice? What does that phrase, “intergenerational love story,” mean to you?

About The Author

Photograph by Chelsea Matson

Garrett Bucks is the founder of The Barnraisers Project, which has trained nearly one thousand participants to organize majority-white communities for racial and social justice. He is also the author of the popular newsletter The White Pages. Originally from Montana, he lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with his wife and two children. The Right Kind of White is his first book.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (March 19, 2024)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982197223

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Raves and Reviews

“I am so grateful to Garrett Bucks for his words, his wisdom, his wit, and most of all his willingness to thoroughly excavate his whiteness, his male-ness, and his good-ness. The Right Kind of White is a deeply revealing and vulnerable memoir that manages to be the opposite of navel-gazing—it's personal narrative for the greater good, self-knowledge-as-activism, and a compelling critique of the holier-than-thou mindset that us "good" white people engage in. I rarely read or recommend books by straight white dudes, but this one is a truly exceptional exception. Thank you, Garrett.” –KATE SCHATZ, New York Times bestselling co-author of Do the Work: An Antiracist Activity Book and the Rad Women book series

The Right Kind of White is a brilliant, unsparing memoir about the dreamworld of white American liberalism, where good intentions often mask the origins and consequences of white supremacy. Garrett Bucks has been to all every stop on the tour—liberal arts colleges, Methodist church basements, even Teach for America—and he’s here to tell us how hard, and necessary, it is for "good white people" to confront hard truths about themselves.” –JESS ROW, author of White Flights

“Things get tricky when someone wants to do good—and also be celebrated for it. Garrett Bucks offers a fascinating, immersive account of what it means to be white and progressive in a time of social and political reckoning. The Right Kind of White is unforgettable. It's an elegant testament to the pitfalls of ego and the desire for absolution.” –WENDY S. WALTERS, author of Multiply/Divide

“Garrett Bucks' The Right Kind Of White is a clear-eyed, deeply felt call for connection and community rather than individual saviorism. Bucks invites us to follow his path from a progressive childhood into a commitment to social justice work that hinged on exalting his separation from other white people. Recognizing this tendency writ large in white activist circles, Buck argues that the only way to reckon with whiteness and its harms is to give up trying to stand outside them, but to do the work for change together with other white people in a spirit of love rather condemnation.” –MAUD NEWTON, author of Ancestor Trouble

“It's easy to mistake self-flagellation for introspection. And it's much easier to perform that self-flagellation for others — and mistake that performance for actually doing the work of dismantling white privilege. Garrett Bucks has done both, and he knows it. But he also knows that there can be a different way forward: a way of grappling with whiteness in which the primary concern is not self-absolution. That's the beating heart of The Right Kind of White, a must-read for anyone who's ready to actually do the work.” –ANNE HELEN PETERSON, author of Can’t Even

The Right Kind of White is a funny, honest, beautiful, and necessary hard look at race, community, and belonging in America. Beginning with his own sense of self and identity, Garrett Bucks flips around notions of do-gooder liberalism and asks hard questions about community race and belonging in America. This book is important reading for all well-meaning White people who want to do better and build better communities. Garrett has written an indispensable manual to understanding ourselves and our communities and how we belong and how we can make them better.” –LYZ LENZ, author of This American Ex-Wife

“The Right Kind of Whiteness could be called The Right Kind of Masculinity or The Right Kind of Middle Class Progressive, which is to say, it's a sneak attack examination on the ways in which we often play to our roles rather than living into our deepest, least constructed knowing about love and justice. Garrett tells a familiar story—White, do-gooder dude coming-of-age—in a completely fresh and surprising way. Dude sees the way that his choices have been led by exceptionalism fantasy and tries to come back down to the messy, beautiful earth. Full of tenderness, humor, and aching towards a collective mindset, this book is sure to lead so many others down a path of joyful, self-examination.” —COURTNEY E. MARTIN, author of Learning in Public and The New Better Off

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