Yanique Redwood’s book, “White Women Cry & Call Me Angry: A Black Woman's Memoir on Racism in Philanthropy” leaning against a wall

In August 2023, writer and racial strategist Yanique Redwood released her first book,  White Women Cry and Call Me Angry: A Black Woman’s Memoir on Racism in Philanthropy. The book is about her own experience with racism at work, told through a collection of 18 essays.

When Redwood released White Women Cry, she had no idea what the public response would be or if it would resonate with others. Unfortunately, Redwood would soon discover that her experience with racism is not unique. Many Black women across the country resonate with the stories told in the pages of her book.

As someone deeply invested in meaningful work that leads to change, Redwood’s goal for writing the book was simple: she wanted other Black women to feel seen and know they were not alone.

In this interview with NPQ, Redwood talks about the responses received in the months following the release of White Women Cry, the physical and emotional toll of dealing with racism, and how Black women are building community and supporting each other.

Rebekah Barber: What has the response been like since the publication of your book?

Yanique Redwood: It was released last August—August 15th—and I hosted two conversations before it was actually released in the world.

“I knew, but I did not know, that there was so much pain happening as people are trying to do their work and…for many of them, trying to do work on behalf of our people, on behalf of Black people.” 

Part of what I was doing with those two [conversations] was trying to test to see if the book resonated—because I did not know if it would. It was my story. I had a hunch that there were Black women who had experienced some of what I’d experienced, but I just didn’t know if it would resonate. I felt like maybe the language was going to be too “soft.” I have that in quotes because it’s very emotional.

Those two conversations [before the book’s release] were definitely telling of what I could expect when the book was released. So many people—women, Black women, especially, saying things like, “This book…it’s like you’ve written my life.” “This book is a mirror.” “This book has helped me to feel like I’m not crazy.” “I’m in a job, and I’ve never felt so demoralized or made to feel so inadequate until I read your book.” Other people look at me and my career and say, “She has done so many things. She has done it with so much grace and enthusiasm yet still experiences this level of harm and emotional and mental health impacts as a result of the experiences.”

It’s been deeply resonant. Every book talk, there is at least one Black woman who comes up to me while I’m signing her book and is talking through a story that is deeply painful. It has been an unbelievable response. I knew, but I did not know, that there was so much pain happening as people are trying to do their work…and for many of them, trying to do work on behalf of our people, on behalf of Black people.

RB: Your background is in public health. Can you talk about how that has informed your work, especially as you were writing the book and thinking about how these issues might impact the health of Black women? 

YR: My background is deeply embedded in this book and in this work. My public health training was definitely rooted in an understanding of racism and other forms of oppression, rooted in community-based participatory research so that people who are most harmed, most marginalized should be in positions of power and have agency over their lives and decisions.

In the book, you see some of my journey academically—incorporating anti-racism and community participation in my work.  I think the big part of my public health training that shows up as the central theme in the book is about weathering.

The term was coined by Dr. Arline Geronimus, who was one of my mentors and professors when I was in grad school in my public health program. For a long time, the ways in which that research unfolded was really about a couple of things: Black women, especially Black women who are poor, and how their bodies get weathered because of all of the intersections of all the issues that they’re facing—and also Black middle-class women showing that class actually doesn’t protect us like you think it would because racism is so virulent.

I started to experience this harm in the philanthropic sector, and I started to understand how my body was being implicated. I was starting to take time off work because I was so, so fatigued and exhausted, and when I was writing, I really wanted the reader to experience that as much as possible. I talk a lot about the body. I try to make the book very, very visceral so that people can feel, in some small way, what I was feeling and what Black women are often feeling.

I have heard from so many people how that happened. I hate that it happened. I don’t want anyone to be in that pain, but I’m glad that I was successful in articulating how the body gets implicated when people are just undergoing stress after racism-related stress and doing everything that they can to try to negotiate. It’s not like we’re not trying to negotiate—trying to say the right things, trying to act the right way. That’s how I talk about the body through this kind of weathering hypothesis.

RB: In recent months, more Black women have started sharing their experiences with racism. One Black woman, Antoinette Candia-Bailey, committed suicide after experiencing racism and wrote about these experiences before her death. Do you think that the fact that so many Black women are beginning to tell their stories will lead to any substantial change?

“My sole purpose for this book is for Black women and other women of color to see their experiences on the page, to be witnessed, so that they know that nothing is wrong with them.”

YR: I had to wrestle with this with my own story. I’m a change agent at heart, so I want to make sure that [the] things that I do in the world lead to change. But there was a point in the writing that I decided that this book would not be—maybe somebody else’s book or maybe another book I write—but this particular book would not be about trying to change systems, trying to change White people, trying to change White women, trying to change racism.

None of that is the reason for this book. My sole purpose for this book is for Black women and other women of color to see their experiences on the page, to be witnessed, so that they know that nothing is wrong with them. If there’s any change I’m looking for, it is that. People have asked me about what I want White women to think or what I want the sector to do, but I just don’t have that answer because I tried to take the White gaze out of the equation.

RB: Is there anything else I should know about the response you’ve gotten since your book was released? 

YR: Nothing more about the book. I did want to share some data I compiled recently.

After Dr. Claudine Gay resigned as the first Black president of Harvard University, I was so shaken up by that. I wondered if there were other Black women who were experiencing this—being forced to resign, being fired under circumstances that have some kind of racial implication.

I wanted to know, and I knew it wouldn’t be perfect, but within about 10 days of posting on social media, I had gotten almost 100 names. I now have 135—115 who self-identified and about 20 where someone else identified a person who was experiencing what I was talking about. Most of the people who reached out to me were either C-suite or at the director level. Many of these women are further along in their careers and still experience a questioning of their abilities. Most of the harm that they named was coming from White women, White men, or White boards.

That’s important because, at every book talk, someone asks about the harm that Black women cause to each other. I recognize that that is a thing, but I always say that I don’t want to shift the conversation to talk about that. That’s not what this book is about. Many people name that most of the harm was coming from White people.

They also named the physical and emotional impact. Some people talked about blood pressure problems, breaking out in hives, having panic attacks, being unable to sleep, or having nightmares. It was unbelievable to read about people having the classic mental health symptoms—weight gain or weight loss, inability to sleep, depression, anxiety, or suicide ideation.

“I want Black women to thrive. I am trying to figure out what are the ways that we can thrive.”

RB: It’s interesting to hear that even Black women at high levels of leadership experience pronounced levels of harm. Are you finding that this deters younger Black women from seeking higher-level positions?

YR: I’ve been wrestling with this because I know that that can be the implication of this book. I don’t know how to answer that. We miss out on career prospects.

These organizations don’t have the benefit of our perspectives, and I believe in our perspectives.

I really don’t want to say that. At the very same time, I want Black women to thrive. I am trying to figure out what are the ways that we can thrive. I think there’s something there about community—being in deep, sustaining relationships and community with other Black women, especially as we are in these leadership roles.

RB: Can you talk about how you and other Black women show up and support each other in this moment?

YR: I am trying to experiment with what could be helpful. One little thing that I’m doing is a workshop on pleasure. I felt like tapping into what pleases me was my path to getting better, so  I wonder if that’s a path for other women. I’m hosting a retreat in Jamaica, where I’m from, to see if people, when they come together in community to practice somatic practice and pleasure practices, if that could be healing.

I’m also experimenting with a more intense support group. We recently met to start planning, working with a mental health clinician and a somatic practitioner to do a more intense cohort-based support group for Black women and other women of color who are actively experiencing distress. I know others are doing things so that we can start to learn from each other about what is needed, to care for, to love, to protect Black women.