By Kendall Getzinger, Corrine Marconi, and Stephanie Miller
Over the last couple of years, the idea of anti-racism has gotten a lot of attention in the United States and around the world. The term itself has roots in decades of civil rights work by Black Americans and is used to describe what it means to actively fight against racism instead of simply “not being a racist.”
Part of the work is acknowledging White people’s positions in a white supremacist system. Eradicating racist policies and working towards a more egalitarian society to improve the world at large is the difference between “not being a racist” and engaging in anti-racist actions. To begin your journey to being an anti-racist, it’s important to educate yourself on the history of racism and anti-racism. There is a plethora of resources available – anti-racism programs, books, articles, podcasts, YouTube videos and more. At the end of this post, you can find a brief list of resources to get you started.
The three of us had the privilege of taking an anti-racism class, called “Healing Racism Within My Country, My Community, and Myself” through the Women’s Leadership Lab in Chicago. We wanted to share how we all felt during this difficult but enlightening course. We hope everyone reading can walk away with increased knowledge on how to be an anti-racist and what to expect if you take a course like this.
1. Expect the work to be difficult – you will be unlearning hundreds and hundreds of years of white-washed history.
History is very complicated and complex—as is trying to find the “truth” because there are many versions of it. There are endless sides to every story, so it is necessary to digest a wide range of media from a variety of sources. Most of us grew up learning just a sliver of American history. To fill in the missing information, some of us have found that one of the most profound learning experiences is listening to personal stories directly from people of color. Hearing about what it is like to live in the U.S. as a person of color has changed the way we see the U.S., the way we see our communities and the way we see the world.
2. Engage in vigilant self-awareness – becoming hyper aware of your actions, thoughts and emotions and whether they do (or don’t) align with your internal standards. When highly self-aware, you can better evaluate yourself objectively.
Facing the dark history of America as well as some of own ancestors is really depressing, scary and anger-provoking. Thinking about all the people of color that have been forgotten, tossed aside and abused for centuries by the white majority is overwhelmingly sad and shameful. And even though we’ve been studying anti-racism, we know we still have biases. However, enhancing our self-awareness, while it will take a lifetime, will make a difference in dismantling the system that White people continue benefit from to the detriment of people of color.
3. Be ready to acknowledge your own racism and the ideology of white supremacy.
Many of us grew up in primarily white neighborhoods, were educated in largely white educational institutions and currently live in white communities. This is the “perfect storm” in terms of creating the opportunity for White people to continue to ignore racism and the benefits they reap from white supremacy. When you step into this work, you slowly become more aware of your own as well as others’ racism. It really opens your eyes and once you start unlearning biases, the floodgates open and you see racism everywhere you look. That is because racism is indeed everywhere.
4. When you see something (racist), say something.
It can be difficult to challenge the beliefs and patterns of your upbringing. It will disrupt your relationships with your family, friends, peers, co-workers and community. When you begin to internalize being an anti-racist, you will have to start difficult conversations with people that you love—and it will be terrifying to confront others about their racist comments and actions. But simply acknowledging hate isn’t enough. Standing up to it allows for self-reflection, change and a chipping away at white supremacy.
In sum, to shape an anti-racist future, never stop learning. Every small step taken to stand up to racism will change the world. Stay strong, allow yourself to feel the emotions that arise during your learning journey, practice how to have difficult conversations about racism and seek out others who want to engage in the journey with you.
List of Resources:
Podcast: Scene on Radio; “Seeing White” (14 episodes)
Podcast: 1619 (The New York Times)
1. Caste; The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson
2. How to be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
3. Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
The 13th on Netflix