When I first saw Ibram X. Kendi’s book entitled How to be Antiracist, I was immediately intrigued. He eloquently explained that being non-racist isn’t a thing. When a white person claims to be “non-racist,” it’s an attempt at neutrality. However when it comes to racism, one is either racist or anti-racist. There’s no middle ground.
My multiracial family is well-aware that racism is, unfortunately, alive and well. Our experiences have taught us that black children are stereotyped from infancy, that the odds are stacked against them, and that their melanin is weaponized by white people. With the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd comes another raging debate about whether or not black lives matter and to whom. I’ve sensed a restlessness among some of my extended circle of white family and friends who want to do more, but don’t know what or how. Is it possible for a white person to be anti-racist?
I believe that the answer is yes. The real question is, are concerned white people willing to listen, learn, and apply that knowledge in their everyday decisions? Are they willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations, examine their personal experiences, face their feelings, and take action, even if it means making many mistakes along the way? I hope that the answer to all of these questions is yes.
1. Learn what anti-racism is.
Start your anti-racism journey by learning the history and definitions of commonly used race terms like white privilege, systemic racism, tokenism, and microaggressions. Find out more about the Black Lives Matter movement. Read some of the many articles and books on racism, listen to podcasts, and watch documentaries. But please, don’t burden any person of color in your life to teach you all about racism. Do the work yourself, becoming a white ally rather than remaining a passive accomplice to injustice.
2. Call out racism–every time.
When you encounter someone who is speaking or acting in a racist manner, based on what you’ve learned by engaging in anti-racism resources, tell that person. You don’t need to sugar-coat it, apologize for speaking up, or say, “I’m sure you didn’t mean it when you said…”. You can simply say, “That’s racist.” Be prepared that they may tell you they don’t have a racist bone in their bodies, that they “don’t see race,” that “all lives matter,” or throw in something about “black on black crime.” White fragility is real and feeds the beast of white supremacy. If, however, the person is genuinely interested in learning more, explain why their words or actions were racist, and then suggest resources.
3. Breakup with the racists in your life.
There’s no way around it. If one of your nearest and dearest is called out on their racism and outright refuse to listen, learn, and change, they shouldn’t be in your life, and certainly not anywhere near your kids. Ruby Bridges famously shared that racism is a “grown up disease” and we must stop passing it on to our children. It’s important that you lead by example. Also, a person’s generation or how they were raised isn’t an excuse to be racist. Racism has always been wrong. Uncle Frank doesn’t get a free-to-be-racist pass because he’s eighty-five. You aren’t obligated to stay in relationship with your college roommate who is adamant that “all lives matter” or your cousin who has an affinity for racist jokes.
4. Take action when injustices happen.
It’s one thing to post on social media about a racially unjust situation, but we must turn our concern into action. Call or e-mail the deciders, such as representatives, mayors, prosecutors, and principals, to let them know what you think. What steps do they need to take? Often, you don’t need to come up with what to say. Anti-racism organizations or the victim’s legal representatives sometimes put together petitions, scripts for phone calls, or draft e-mails for those who wish to speak up. Another way to take action is to vote wisely. The people who are put in powerful positions make and approve policies that impact communities of color.
5. Diversify your home.
Media is a powerful teacher. What books do you read? What music and podcasts do you listen to? Which films does your family watch? What is in your home is readily available to you and your family. Commit to spending more of your time and money engaging in media created by people-of-color. The same goes for the toys you purchase for your children. Unfortunately, in many children’s books and movies, the person of color (if they’re even present) is often stereotyped and relegated to a side-kick to the white protagonist or is the story’s villain. This sends a powerful, toxic message to children over time of who is good and right and who is bad and wrong.
6. Evaluate your circle of friends.
Who are you friends with? I’m not talking about someone you see maybe once a year, your “one black friend,” but about true friends with whom have coffee dates and BBQs. If you only have one friend of color, this means your circle is very white and therefore, very limited. I truly believe that the more diverse your circle of friends (not limited to race, but also age, orientation, religion, etc.), the better off we are when it comes to accepting and loving others, as well as empathizing with their struggles. Through relationships and heart-to-heart conversations, we learn. The next step after learning, is to embrace positive, productive change.
7: Give your money and time.
One of the ways to be anti-racist is to donate your dollars to organizations that are doing hands-on work. For example, donate money to organizations that are posting bail for Black Lives Matter protesters or handing out protective gear and refreshments to those who are protesting. There are also organizations donating funds to pay housing rent for people of color impacted by job loss in the midst of the COVID19 pandemic. You can also be hands-on, working with organizations that are distributing groceries to families-of-color in need, for example. Another option is to use your money to patron POC-owned businesses, which is particularly important right now as our nation continues to battle the coronavirus. The pandemic is an ongoing hard-hit for small businesses.
One thing I’ve noticed over the past several weeks, as the news seems to reveal nothing but repeated injustice and loss as a result of racism, is that some white people are genuinely trying to pull their heads out of the proverbial sand. I’ve had several conversations with some who are considering what it might mean to get their anti-racism sea legs and admit that silence is, in fact, compliance. I want them to know that it is possible to change.
White people, we all have to start somewhere if we’re going to not only learn to be allies to people of color, but intentionally raise children who are anti-racist. The alternative to is continue to feed whiteness’ fire, which ultimately endangers and destroys black lives. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be willing.