After writing on race for over a decade as well as spending the last five years as executive director of an anti-racism organization, I have a few thoughts on how we could be tackling our race problem. The problem, though, is that dismantling the system of racism requires action—because change is a verb…and most white people aren’t ready for that level of engagement. To actively create change is to walk into the unknown and human nature—being what it is—well, people fear change. Especially the type of change that requires giving up something. Or creating seismic and uncomfortable shifts.
Despite millions of white folks waking up since 2016, it’s become clear that the change that many white people want is a return to the status quo. Where racism hides in the shadows and was well known to Black and Brown folks but mostly hidden from white people with some exceptions.
People want to return to the niceness and politeness that hide our true intentions and keeps people in their places, as the system designed it. The “niceness” of whiteness is the backbone of inequity and participating in that system is to be complicit.
Which is why, as we head into the 2020 election season, we need to sit down and be honest with ourselves. It’s easy enough to stick to the “anyone but Trump” line, but is anyone but Trump really progress?
Given that we here in the United States are living with an illiterate, ignorant, and hateful leader, the desire for a quick fix is understandable. I mean, it would be nice to have a leader who isn’t an international embarrassment and who doesn’t regularly practice cruelty beyond words. The truth though is that as we enter this 2020 cycle, we are also standing on the cusp of real change.
While the last several years have unearthed the truth of how deeply embedded racism is in our country, that unearthing has opened the doors for knowledge as many have tried to get a better understanding of how this moment came to be. In 2020, we can take this newfound knowledge and look at candidates with a deeper and broader understanding of the system and decide on a new type of leadership, a leadership that brings in the voices of the marginalized and ushers in candidates who don’t shy away from naming the long-ignored ills that plague this country.
As Ibram X. Kendi states in his latest book, “How To Be An Antiracist,” one is either a racist or an anti-racist; it is not enough to be against racism. To simply be against racism and to love and accept all people is simply passive racism. An anti-racist supports anti-racist policy through their actions. Which begs the question, what are your anti-racist actions?
Over the years, I have asked that question and the most common response is that people are reading, learning and perhaps engaging in online spaces and—during the heyday of Black Lives Matter protests—perhaps attending a protest.
Those are great things and honestly, they are necessary steps to move toward becoming an anti-racist. But you have to do more, because how are any of those actions creating change for Black, Brown and Indigenous people? How does your reading about systemic oppression create material change in Black, Brown and Indigenous spaces? How does your reading lead to policies that benefit Black, Brown and Indigenous people? Reading and talking online are gateways to newer ways of being but they are merely the first step, not the final destination.
Furthermore, because of the intentional design of our communities in the United States, most of us live in racially segregated spaces which creates racial silos, or for white folks (and especially problematic), silos of whiteness. Thus, unless one is intentionally being an anti-racist through action, it means that even with the least racist of thoughts in your head, you have created a racial silo that benefits no one other than yourself—and means that you are centering whiteness. This is not anti-racism work, though it may seem like it.
No, moving into 2020 requires shifting to examine our actions and thoughts and hold them up against an anti-racist framework. It means moving beyond simple binaries, and asking ourselves: Are we upholding white supremacy or are we dismantling it? If you find yourself drawn to the nice, articulate candidates, examine it. Assuming you have some level of class privilege and resources to spare, are you supporting the work of Black, Brown and Indigenous people? While the national reparations discussion is ongoing, in many communities across the country, people are starting their own community-based reparations work. Projects such as the Boston Ujima Project. Are you supporting online fundraisers for Black, Brown and Indigenous people. Frankly, if you are a regular reader of this space are you a monthly patron or have you ever given? While there are very real costs to running this site and paying our writers and back-end help, we also use our funds to support women of color in Maine as needed.
There are a plethora of ways to offer support and to actively be an anti-racist in 2020. I would encourage you to think about what you can do and what you will commit to as we move forward. We need all hands on deck and it is simply not enough to be against racism anymore (and honestly, it never was).
If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.
Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.