Ibram X. Kendi is a black man and author of How to Be an Antiracist. In the book, Kendi offers an in-depth examination of his mind and soul, including previously held racist beliefs and ideas, on his journey to adopt antiracist traits and tendencies.
What does it mean to be an antiracist? It is essential to understand the definition of the word “racist” before you begin to claim you are one or the other.
Racism is the “belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race,” according to Merriam-Webster.
For a person to be antiracist, they must “oppose racism and promote racial tolerance.” You can see here that “not being racist” is not the same thing as an antiracist. There are verbs in the definition that should resonate within the heart of an antiracist and propel them into action: oppose and promote.
Here are five things you can do to fight racism and advance racial tolerance.
Also read these racism quotes that inspire inclusion for all.
Educate yourself is a broad statement, so I will break it down as best I can. It is not enough to have graduated from high school and taken US History. History classes in America present students with the watered-down versions of our darkest secrets, the things we are ashamed of and do not want to “keep bringing up.”
Think of it like this: you are sitting in the jury, and the defendant is charged with rape. The victim might want to get on the stand and say simply, “He raped me.” She says this because the event is full of trauma and all kinds of feelings; guilt, shame, anger, powerlessness, injustice, and pain.
It is hard enough to get her here to testify as it is; however, any prosecutor worth their salt will prep her to say more. How it felt. What he did to her. What he took away from her. How she suffered because of him.
The statement that he raped her makes us uncomfortable, but it, sadly, does not move the masses or anger people the way it should. A detailed recount that removes any shred of doubt, and offers a glimpse into the wounds that a people can’t see, will do much more than creating unease.
The devil is in the details, and those details will not allow evil to hide behind our civilities and societal need not to offend. American History in high school acknowledges what happened with a statement, a timeframe, and recount of some stories. If you want to be genuinely educated, you will have to ask more questions and read more.
You could start with books like James Henry Hammond and the Old South: A Design for Mastery, Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household, and Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South. Education is not only understanding the past but also having a clear vision of where you are going.
There are quite a few books on the subject of antiracism and the actions we can take to be better. Of course, there is How to be an Antiracist, but be sure to check out White Fragility, and So You Want to Talk About Race.
Talk about race
I grew up hearing the adults around me say, “We don’t talk about religion or politics with people.” I was never expressly told that we don’t talk about race, but it was implied.
This exact kind of secret, exclusionary thinking has contributed to a lot of the fighting we experience today. Only like-minded individuals discuss these topics, so there is rarely another perspective to see or shifting thought processes.
Here are some lessons to keep in mind when talking about race, thanks to OpportunityAgenda.org:
- Lead with shared values
- Use values as a bridge
- Know the counter-narratives
- Talk about the systemic obstacles
- Be solution-oriented and forward-looking
- Consider the audience and your goal
- Be explicit
- Describe how racial bias and discrimination hold us all back
Question your own beliefs
If you believe that you are not racist but never question why the schools in black neighborhoods (or even why we have “black neighborhoods”) have fewer resources, you might benefit from a little introspection.
Would you send your child to the school with a predominately black student population? If the answer is no, and yet you voted for people who put policies into place that shift resources from that school to other area schools, then that perpetuates systemic racism.
Let’s say you live in a mostly white middle-class community. The house next door is for sale, and a black family moves in. Is your first thought any of these, then you might have more of a problem than you think:
- I wonder what they do to afford a house in this neighborhood?
- I hope my property value doesn’t decrease.
- They better not have any loud parties or drug dealing going on!
I was in middle school when I heard my grandma say these things about our new neighbors. Growing up in The South, I required a lot of introspection, even though I didn’t consider myself racist. I have never called black people disparaging names or attempted to weaponize another person’s skin color.
I had black friends as a child. My family’s racist comments always annoyed me, but being annoyed isn’t enough. It is not enough to stick my head in the sand and say I am not racist. When I got old enough to start hearing about a police officer shooting unarmed people of color, my first thought was always, “I wonder what the person was doing?” “Did they resist arrest?” The truth is that none of that matters.
Armed and angry white people resist arrest all the time, and they do not get shot. White people commit murder, robberies, and drug deals, but they go to jail and have a trial. Kendi refers to these types of things as racial disparities. Learn to spot where you have ignored them, and then have the courage to work on your internal dialogue.
Listen to your friends who are POC
They have first-hand accounts and stories from a different perspective. Hear them when they explain how racial inequality and injustices have shaped their lives. Sure, maybe you met them in college and assumed their path was similar to yours, but now is the time to find out about the challenges they faced because of their skin color.
When they tell you about the time they were in the grocery store and the little old white lady pulled her purse a little closer to her side and tensed up, don’t say things like, “I’m sure it wasn’t about your skin color, maybe she is just weird.”
Put yourself in positions where you are the minority
I am a professional woman, so I feel like I have some idea what it feels like to be a minority. I will tell you that a racial minority is different. My husband, who was born in Montana, and then raised in Wyoming, moved to Hawaii in the third grade. He was called names due to the color of his skin. Some people wouldn’t be friends with him because he was white. He would tell me stories, and I didn’t understand.
When we moved to Hawaii together at one point during our relationship, the only job he could get was as a dishwasher. I worked at McDonald’s. At this point, I had an Associate’s degree and supervisory experience, and after looking for a job for months, this one the only place that would hire me. We would walk around downtown, and there were signs on the electric poles that said, “End the United States occupation of Hawaii.” It was an unfamiliar and uncomfortable feeling.
Doing these things and actively being antiracist, like in the sense of it being a verb, will sometimes be uncomfortable. It may even feel unfamiliar, but it is the next step that we need to take if we are going to make real progress in healing our country. Ending racial injustices and inequality will be best for all of us, but it will only happen if we all do the work.
We have been in this moment before, enraged at the senseless death of an unarmed black man. We should all ask ourselves, “If we are finally ready to accept that we have a systemic race problem?” If the answer to that is yes, then we need to make real change within ourselves. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below. We would love to hear your stories.