White Folks Facing Race: It’s Not Antiracism Without Action
I hope you are finding joy this holiday season. I have been thinking about a couple of things that I want to digest with you. I’m also including a “What I’m Reading” section at the end because my inbox has been a storage unit for so many amazing resources I have come across since October and I really want to share them with you before the new year.
I’m going to talk about harm in this post and I want to clarify something. I am not talking about harm caused to “others” in a way that perpetuates pity and its own kind of marginalization. The harm I speak about harms each and every one of us. The person being judged for their race is harmed and the person doing the judging is harmed. Harm is not one-directional; every harmful action has an impact, on the target, on the perpetrator, and on every bystander/witness. The degree and nature of the impact might be different; all of it is harm. I want to remove the assumption in our language of this idea of a perpetually downtrodden group of people who need our goodwill in order to thrive. Each and every person in this world has an inherent vibrant brilliance. Our work is to change behaviors and systems and to remove those barriers so that every brilliant star has the opportunity to shine. This is not savior work — this is liberation for each and every one of us.
The first thing I’ve been thinking about are the phrases “It was another time” and “They were a product of their time” when speaking about books/movies/relatives. I believe that there can be a balance between rejecting past popular works and engaging with them in the context of the time in which they were created despite their harmful content. It’s more complicated with people, especially loved ones who are no longer with us, with whom we cannot have conversations or ask questions.
We cannot let those phrases stand as excuses for behavior/content that was harmful then and is harmful now. These phrases center the discomfort of the speaker rather than the impact of the action. They also ignore the fact that so many people, even in these “other times,” were working for equality, for freedom, for social justice, for civil rights, for better lives for each and every one of us. They were also products of their time. We can recognize the pain of the knowledge that people we loved harmed others in repugnant ways AND we can draw strength from the sacrifices and determination of people who worked for change. We get to choose which ancestral paths we continue to walk and which ones we leave behind.
The second thing I’ve been thinking about is the requirement of action in antiracism. A new connection I made here in Denver, who has a lifetime of advocacy experience and who I am so grateful to know, MiDian Holmes, made this so clear to me in a recent conversation. She asked whether the conversation would be different if someone said they were “anti-rapist” and described the actions they would take to show that they were not only against rape in theory, but would act to prevent it from happening. They would speak up if someone made threats, they would interfere if they witnessed it happening, they would advocate for changes to systems that allowed it to happen. She uses this scenario in her consulting work to encourage people to understand how their actions/inaction impact whether or not they are being antiracist and how they can make changes accordingly.
If we stay in our antiracist work where we are most comfortable, then we are not pushing for change the way we must. Educating ourselves is important self-work, and essential for informing how we show up, but then we must show up, repeatedly and consistently, without stopping except for moments of self-care. When I asked MiDian how White people were creating the most barriers to her antiracism work, she said “They stop. They get tired. They don’t keep doing the work.”
We cannot stop, my friends. Antiracism is a lifestyle, a lifelong commitment, that in all likelihood will not change anything significantly during our lifetimes. It is hard, worthwhile work. If we are successful, if we do not give up, then those who come after us will have better lives for the work we have done. And we will continue the work of so many, generation after generation, who have worked in solidarity and love for liberation for all.
What I’m Reading:
I appreciate updates from Anti-Racism Daily so much, here are a few of my recent favorites:
- by Dominique Stewart, “Why Empathy is Important for Social Change” (10/12/22)
- by Andrew Lee, “The 1619 Project and Correcting U.S. History” (10/25/22)
- by Andrew Lee, “The Criminalization of Sharing in Public” (11/2/22)
- by Andrew Lee, “Recessions, Explained” (11/30/22), which taught me a lot about the cyclical pattern of the economy and how that serves wealthy people and how it harms systemically impacted people.
- by Andrew Lee, “Tiny from POOR Magazine on Radical Redistribution” (12/1/22), which clarifies the difference between charity and redistribution and how important it is who controls how funds given are spent.
Also, I’m donating to this and other fabulous resources I have found this year. Please join me!
- Mary Kadera wrote about a book called The End of Average by Todd Rose and her words helped illustrate for me just how essential equity in education (and so many other things) is: because no one is average, and our system teaches to the average, we’re not serving any student fully or adequately. A complete overhaul of our education system and the way it is funded is needed to address this.
- The Learning Policy Institute shared about a new book by David Kirp called Disrupting Disruption: The Steady Work of Transforming Schools (10/18/22)
- Eugene Robinson wrote about the test score results shared by the NAEP and called attention to the fact that scores dropped in every state, but the most impactful thing he said was, “Higher-performing students — those who lost less ground — were significantly more likely than low performers to have full-time access to a computer or tablet; to have high-speed internet access; to have a quiet place to do their homework; to have a teacher available remotely to help them almost every day; and to have an adult help them in person with their schoolwork at least once or twice a week. … Wealthy, highly educated parents are going to do everything in their power to educate their children. Less affluent parents in financially strapped school districts will need federal and state aid to keep up. The last thing this country needs is more inequality.”
- Moms Rising hosted a webinar called “Saving Our Schools: Activating Parents in an Age of CRT-Backlash” and you can watch the recording (10/25/22).
- Right to Learn Resources from the ACLU related to fighting censorship in schools.
- The SPLC’s Learning for Justice Magazine includes some really great topics around “Expanding Democracy Through Intersecting Movements” in its fall issue.
- Chris Talbot-Heindl wrote about how to be pro-Indigenous in a season of “rampant anti-Indigeneity” (10/10/22).
- Service Never Sleeps shared that they contribute a land tax to the Indigenous tribe(s) they currently occupy. You can calculate your contribution here.
- The Indigenous Solidarity Network hosted a webinar called “Rethinking Thanksgiving: From Land Acknowledgement to LANDBACK” and you can watch the recording (11/20/22) or check out the “Rethinking Thanksgiving” toolkit.
- Garrett Bucks wrote about Tema Okun’s “Characteristics of White Supremacy” work in a really thoughtful way (10/11/22).
I found Lyz Lenz’s post called “Dividing Women Against Themselves” haunting and painful and so necessary to read. It’s not about racism, but it is about the way people who are systemically impacted are divided against each other and themselves in order for those in power to stay in power. We can’t change it until we see it.
If you’re seeking some light and hope and resilience as the days are darker and things seem bleak, read this update from the Catalyst Project and Mab Segrest (10/20/22). I know I needed it and I imagine you do, too.
Please reach out to me if you want a thought partner/sounding board. This work is challenging and we are stronger together. I’m here for you.
Listen. Amplify. Follow. In Solidarity.