Dear Fellow White People,
I’m inviting you to engage in more active anti-racism. Many of you have felt outrage and sadness over the recent story of Ahmaud Arbery and far too many similar stories. It’s heartbreaking that, since starting to work on this piece a few weeks ago, there have been several more murders and racist encounters getting national attention — and those are just the ones caught on camera.
Of course, you should be upset. We all should be. But simply being upset, even going further to sign the petition for Ahmaud’s killers’ arrests or running your 2.23-mile run is not enough. Don’t get me wrong — it’s something. I too, ran. But we simply must do more.
I’m asking you to take another step forward — to go beyond just demonstrating frustration and anger for such blatantly racist attacks but, instead, to begin a journey towards active anti-racism.
It’s not enough to say that you are kind to everyone, no matter what they look like, aka be color-blind (in fact, that can be incredibly harmful, but much smarter people than me have talked about that so do your research). It is simply not enough to be angry; to send your thoughts and prayers, to sign a petition. We, as white people, are not doing enough to counteract the racism that we perpetrate and perpetuate. And, in many ways, the things we are doing that feel well-intentioned, continue to be harmful and maintain the systems of racism and oppression that hurt everyone who does not share the unearned advantage of being white.
I’d like to share with you steps towards anti-racism that I’ve learned over the past few years, as well as some helpful resources to learn more. I’m still new to my own journey of recognizing privilege and being actively anti-racist but I hope you’ll welcome me sharing what I’ve learned, and some resources to continue our learning together.
. . .
I will focus on an individual process of learning, but it should not be overlooked that individual actions alone are not enough. We must use knowledge gained from this process to influence broader systems.
Nor is just reading a few books or articles enough. We must also take immediate action. You do not need to read a single one of these resources to know that Ahmaud, Breonna, George should not have had their lives taken from them. We cannot continue to allow lives to be taken at the hands of racism and white supremacy. Stand up. Speak up. Do the work, right now.
SAY THEIR NAMES TOO ✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿 pic.twitter.com/Y1sHmRkUDt
— BLACK LIVES MATTER (@HYUCKHE1SM) May 28, 2020
Please, join me in learning and growing together.
. . .
Unfortunately, many of us grow up only hearing incomplete versions of history — not forced to confront the horrible timeline of racism and oppression that led to present day America. We must develop a more complete understanding of both history and current events.
Fundamental to this process is seeking out various perspectives. I learned a lot in my undergraduate classes in Human Services and Public Health, but they consisted mostly of white women — both students and professors. While I gained some strong foundational knowledge, it wasn’t enough.
More recently, I began reading more research, news, and op-eds from a variety of people submerged in equity work. I started following more and more activists of color on social media. I generated a reading list including work by both white and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) authors, all discussing racism, white privilege, white supremacy, equity, etc. and I got reading. I also continue to learn from colleagues within my professional network. Importantly, as I increase my awareness, I try to remind myself that we never finish learning.
This was how I started to better understand the system of racism and injustice in this country. I implore you to revisit both history and current events to more deeply understand racism and its impacts in America…and your role in perpetuating it.
Consider starting with basic definitions. Though definitions vary, it’s helpful to understand the basic premise behind concepts like: racism, systemic racism, white supremacy, privilege/white privilege, equity and inequity, justice and injustice.
Then work your way to more detailed information. Learn more about the history of slavery and racism in America. Take some time to understand how structural racism causes inequities in areas like housing, the food system, and the criminal justice system.
History of Slavery, Racism, and Whiteness
- 1619 | NY Times Podcast | Examining the history of American slavery
- Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America | Ibram X. Kendi OR…
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You | Jason Reynolds (a remix of Kendi’s book that is a bit more introductory and accessible for a wide range of audiences)
- Seeing White | Scene On Radio Podcast Series | Understanding whiteness
- Code Switch | NPR Podcast | Explores impact of race and racism on American society
- Racial Equity Institute Resources
- Structural Racism in America | Urban Institute | Research
- Other journalism, journalists, authors, and activists to follow** — Colorlines, Clint Smith, Dr. Camara Jones, Brittany Packnett Cunningham, Deray, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Tiffany D Cross, Maya Wiley, Shereen Marisol, Gene Demby, Adrienne Keene, Matika Wilbur, Rachel Cargle, Cathy Park Hong, Layla F Saad, Leah Penniman and Soul Fire Farm, and many more!
But, please, do your own research. The information is out there, and many people have worked hard to make it available. You don’t need to put the burden on your BIPOC friends to explain things to you. However, if you do have a trusted friend who is more familiar with this topic or has expressed willingness to discuss it, consider letting them know you’re working on learning more. They may have resources to direct you to, be willing to explain, or just be someone who can hold you accountable.
*These are also great resources to find out about ways you can tangibly support anti-racism work in your day to day life
**If you have additional suggestions, particularly to make this a more intersectional list, or for any other resources throughout this article, please drop them in the comments below!
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Awareness is not enough. Systems thinking fundamentally shifted how I understand complex problems. Systems thinking is a way of “understanding the complex and dynamic nature of the environments in which social problems and their potential solutions emerge” (Rebecca Riccio, Social Impact Lab). Understanding the elements that make up a system and how they interact to produce certain outcomes can be incredibly helpful in framing something as complex and ingrained as structural racism in the United States.
While aspects of individualism have their place, people are healthiest and best off in communities that are equitable and nurturing for all people (john a. powell explains this well).
I find universal design to be a helpful example. The idea began with a focus on people with disabilities and eliminating physical barriers in their day to day life. However, it quickly evolved with the realization that these changes could benefit a wide range of people (Center for Excellence in Universal Design). Consider curb cuts — the small break in a curb to allow people with wheelchairs to get on or off the sidewalk. Turns out, this simple innovation was beneficial to people with a variety of disabilities, parents pushing strollers, runners, bikers, people with luggage, and the list goes on. And, it didn’t inconvenience or present new barriers for anyone else (The Center for An Accessible Society; Blackwell, 2017).
The idea can extend to equitable systems as well. If we create and foster communities that are safe, supportive, and accessible for the people who are most marginalized, everyone will benefit (APHA, 2015; Turner, 2018).
Read more about systems thinking, and how we can use systems thinking to consider race and racism.
Consider a system you are a part of and try mapping out all the elements that impact that system and the outcomes generated by it.
- An Introduction to Systems Mapping | Joelle Cook at FSG Reimaging Social Change
Consider this: Our current systems are not failing. They are generating the exact results they are designed to. They are just designed to be racist.
. . .
Unlearning through Questioning
Awareness and systems thinking are not enough. After increasing your awareness and beginning to use systems thinking, you’ll likely start to realize that you hold some conscious and unconscious biases.
Now is the time to begin unlearning them. You’ll also probably start to notice your position of privilege. As white people, we have been socialized to see our experiences as normal which makes it difficult to identify when we are afforded a certain advantage, notably directly resulting from the disadvantage of others.
However, if you can recognize your biases and privilege, you’ll likely be in a much better position to question them. Try asking yourself questions like — Do I see people that look like me on TV? Why? Who might not? Do I feel safe walking down the street? When I’m pulled over by police? Why? Who might not? When I accomplish something, am I celebrated as an individual? Or is it seen as a victory for white people? Why? Why not?
Read more about unconscious bias and white privilege. Go through a few unconscious bias and privilege exercises like Peggy McIntosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack and Harvard’s Implicit Bias Test. Start to try to notice them in your day to day life — it might be helpful to keep a journal or list and reflect on times when you notice a bias or privilege.
Question, question, question. Ask why? Ask why not? Then, work to counter your biases and create new narratives.
Check out Rachel Cargle’s The Great Unlearn
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Use Power and Privilege for Good
It’s still not enough. Maybe you’ve already made it to this point. You’ve spent time learning more. You’ve examined your own privilege. But you aren’t sure what to do when you hear about stories like Ahmaud Arbery’s (or Breonna Taylor, or George Floyd, or even Christian Cooper in Central Park) beyond sharing posts, expressing anger, and running your 2.23 miles or doing another act in an effort to demonstrate solidarity. Even if you are still in the early stages of learning and growing your awareness, you can always skip to this step!
Speaking up is crucial. As white people, it is our responsibility to call out injustice and to actively stand against it. But that can’t stop at sharing posts, running for Ahmaud, or other gestures of support. We must step out of our comfort zone and actively decry racist people and racist systems. Unfortunately, for too many of us, this means calling out our friends, family, or communities, which can be incredibly difficult.
There are also other ways to use your power and privilege for good. Individual learning is important, but we must take what we learn and use it to influence broader systems. I love this sentiment from Chenjerai Kumanyika on the Scene On Radio Seeing White podcast series. He says, people must “be willing to participate in transforming our basic systems to distribute power differently.” Individual actions are — you got it — not enough. Part of your individual learning process must be finding tangible ways to address structural racism in the systems that make up our society (think food, housing, political, educational, criminal justice, etc.).
Keep in mind — it is not your place as a white person to speak for people whose experiences you cannot understand. Rather, we must use our position of power to listen to and make space for the voices of marginalized and oppressed groups. Ask how you can help and then commit to it.
Stand up and speak out. Here’s some words of advice for calling out friends/family. Take or leave what you will.
Be aware of, and avoid, the good/bad binary; address the person’s behavior, not their character
Reconsider blocking or unfollowing people you disagree with or who are openly demonstrating racist attitudes. Instead, consider that you have made progress too and likely started closer to where they are. How can you engage them in a productive way?
Be an ally; work towards being an accomplice (WhiteAccomplices.org)
Take action to influence systems change. You can do this by:
- Listening — to people with lived experience of marginalization and oppression, who experience the impacts of racism every day. Find out, from their perspective, whether they need/want help, what they need, and how they think you could support their existing efforts. This might include:
- Advocating — for policies that promote equity by joining policy action campaigns and calling your legislators.
- Voting — for politicians and policy makers that support those policies.
- Educating — share what you have learned with other white people
. . .
Be Willing to Give Up Power and Privilege, for good.
Making it this far is important. But it is still not enough. We won’t make lasting and meaningful change without being willing to give up some of our individual and collective white power and privilege. Systems are perpetuated because the people in power are significantly advantaged by those systems. We as white people, must give up and redistribute that power and privilege. Hopefully, if you’ve made it this far, you’ll understand that this will actually make way for a more equitable system that benefits all people.
Truth be told, I’m still working on figuring out what this step looks like. I plan to continue reading and learning about it and encourage you to do the same. And, if any readers out there have suggestions, please let us know! Some reading material:
Remember, our systems do not need to be fixed. They are not broken, because they act exactly as they are designed to and are built on a foundation of structural racism. Instead, we must dismantle these systems. In order to do that, white people must be willing to give up they excess power and advantage they have not earned.
. . .
These ideas are geared towards people early in their learning about systemic racism, white supremacy, and white privilege; but, I hope there’s elements of these steps that everyone can use to continue their learning and growth. Again, individual actions are not enough. We must work to change systems. We must work together. And we must work with love and humility, always.
No matter where you are in this process, here are some tangible and immediate ways to support Ahmaud, Breonna, George, Christian, their loved ones, and too many people like them, and to get more involved with anti-racism work.
- This google doc of anti-racism resources for white people compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein.
- This medium article — “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice” by Corinne Shutack
- These organizations to follow and support: Antiracist Research and Policy Center, Equal Justice Initiative, Black Lives Matter, Color of Change, Southern Poverty Law Center, The BIPOC Project, and many more.
- These organizations and funds to donate to if you have the financial means:
. . .
If you’ve gotten this far, thank you for reading. I hope you will consider these steps towards more active anti-racism. If we are going to dismantle racism within ourselves and the systems around us, we must do more. It won’t be easy, and it will take time, but we must do the work. Join me in learning, growing, and working towards becoming more than just an ally. Be an accomplice and an anti-racist.
A Fellow White Person ashamed by and tired of innocent people getting killed at the hands of racism and white supremacy.
P.S. If you have already started on this process towards more active anti-racism and you have additional insights or resources that might be helpful, please share them in the comments below. Be well.
This post was previously published on Equality Includes You and is republished here with permission from the author.
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Photo credit: Emily Breen