A Book I Wish I'd Read Before Becoming an Activist

I suppose I've been some sort of activist my entire life, always pushing the status quo to the uncomfortable edge. In my younger years, my version of activism involved being on the inside of government institutions trying to confront the wrongs that I had personally experienced. It was a misguided and self-motivated journey back then that I am only now beginning to understand. For the last seven years, I have been on the less traveled path of activism for others.


When I say that this path is less traveled, I mean that it is less traveled for people like myself; a white, cisgendered woman. Although I am gay, I was able to hide my sexual identity while working in government. I came out when I chose to. The rest of my identity comes with generations of institutional and government support only brought about by the women who came before me.


My journey on this path to advocate for others, for asylum seekers and migrants who are mostly people of color, began with having to face and understand my own actions, prejudices and racism. Much like an alcoholic, I am forever a recovering racist. I am constantly learning and understanding how American history and our current environment was and is still shaped by slavery and racism. I will not ever be not-racist. It is not possible to be a white American, raised in a society completely designed and engineered towards the benefit of whites to not be racist. Accepting this fact was the first step for me.


Even though I am well read and educated, there are large gaps in my knowledge as there are for most white Americans about our country. The story of America as I learned it as young girl in Alabama was written by those who enslaved people and white supremacists. It is how I joined a notoriously racist and misogynistic agency without knowing it. It is how I defended my own racist and misogynistic actions for decades.


I wish I had known the truth.


I wish I had a book that talked about what it feels like to learn that most of what I had been taught, what I thought I knew, was a giant white lie. I wish I had read about those who went before me and became activists after learning the truth. I wish I had known that it would be uncomfortable to hear these truths and that the uncomfortableness we feel as white people was part of the journey, that I should lean into that discomfort because it is the only way to grow and understand my prejudices and possibly overcome them, that this path is the only way we as a country can move away from our racism and discover new and better ways of governing and becoming communities of inclusiveness.


This is the truth that Alyssa Milano's new book, "Sorry, Not Sorry" contains. To be fair, Alyssa's journey has been different than most of ours. As she points out, she has been wealthy and famous most of her life. This fact is all the more reason why I like this book. She did not and still does not have to do any of this work. Her career would likely go on unabated if she did not become an activist, if she did not go down this path.


"Sorry, Not Sorry" is a book about this path. It explains to those wanting to take this journey why it is so important and what it looks and feels like. Alyssa is quite honest about what it feels like to have your own prejudices called out, what it feels like to not understand and misstep, how it feels to try and do good but realize you are wrong. She talks about how those feelings often lead many back into their corners defending their actions and beliefs and falling back on their excuses as to why they cannot possible be racist. She recognizes that those feelings are the exact things that we must face as Americans and come to terms with if we are to ever become anything close to being not-racist. She understands that it is a life-long commitment meant to teach the generations after her.


If you are inclined to go down this path, I encourage you to read "Sorry, Not Sorry." If you long to understand how your white privilege works and how to recognize it, read this book. If you want to understand why you feel angry and lash out when your racism is pointed out and how to learn from those experiences to become a better ally, read this book.