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Anti-Racism 101

Introduction

INTRODUCTION

The topics on this website are just the barest introduction, and I don’t pretend to cover any of them thoroughly or even adequately. My aim is to curate and make available some of the most potent information I’m aware of, from people who know much more than I do. My hope is to further awaken any privileged person who’s ready to see more deeply and admit more freely the position they occupy. Let’s step back, humbly listen, learn all we can, and begin to come out of our collective blindness.

In the anti-racism world, the systemic oppression that activists are working to dismantle is commonly referred to as “white supremacy culture.” This term is not about specific individuals, but rather is an accurate characterization of our mainstream institutions. But for some people this can be confusing or triggering because of the association of “white supremacy” with the KKK, Neo-Nazism and overt bigotry, and can bring on feelings of defensiveness.

So if you’re not familiar with the 2001 “Pillars of White Supremacy Culture,” or if you’re uncomfortable or fear that someone might be accusing you of being hateful, nasty or anti-black, please remember that “white supremacy culture” as it’s used today refers to the thousands of unacknowledged and often unconscious ways in which American society is based on preferential treatment of people with light skin, as well as on exploitation and oppression of those with black or brown skin.

If that seems hard for you to believe, please know that you’re in very good company. Most of us have been confused about race and racism for a really long time, and beginning to undo those patterns takes care, humility and attention. My own awakening is still in its infancy, but I find comfort in knowing there are incredible resources available to help me continue moving forward.

It’s difficult to see or grasp facts that are so pervasive they’re like the air we breathe. Waking up to harsh truths that disturb your view of reality can be challenging and painful. If the term “white supremacy culture” turns you away from deeper consideration of the privileges and protections light-skinned people in our country enjoy, another designation could be “default culture,” which means that “normal” in America equals white skin, white-based culture, and white expectations, needs, desires.

In any case, please notice if you have difficult feelings, process them with someone you trust, suspend judgment as much as possible, and move ahead with openness and curiosity. And remember that it’s really easy to feel defensive about issues of race and racism, but that feelings of defensiveness don’t necessarily mean we are being attacked.

“When people say you’re speaking from a place of privilege it means that you’re likely to underestimate how bad the problem is by default, because you are never personally exposed to that problem. It’s not a moral judgment about how difficult your life is.”
–tweet by h-n

“It is confusing. Race isn’t real biologically but it is very real as a way that society has been structured. The effects of race as a social construct are real. The reason we can’t stop talking about it is because we can predict wealth distribution, police killing, all kinds of other sorts of life expectancy factors, health issues, based on race, access to schools, because society has been organized around a concept that is not biologically real. And then there’s another thing about race to me that’s also confusing, which is that we want people to understand [racism] as this systemic, structural thing, that is in institutions and in patterns of the way rights and resources are distributed….It’s not about just attitudes, like your distant cousin who’s a bigot. But we also do use the term racist for that too. So, I think that’s confusing….”

–Chenjerai Kumanyika

Inequality and racism exist not because of evil but because the unaffected majority put their interests above all others,’ and their inaction allows inequality to flourish.”

–Michael Herriot

“The thing about seeing whiteness…is that it changes how you see so many things. History. Politics. Sports….You don’t watch movies the same way….Is there a corner of American life that’s not racially loaded?…No doubt, this is why a lot of folks, especially white folks, would rather not see white. It complicates things, even in our own individual lives. Get to know a little more history, get a richer sense of what race is and how it works, and moments in your present and your past can take on new meanings. Take a story that you sometimes tell, this thing that happened. It’s one of your better stories in a life not all that eventful, frankly. You’ve told it to friends over the years. You get to seeing white, and it changes on you.”

–John Biewen

Both the history and the current reality of racism in our country can be overwhelming to take in, especially if you let yourself truly listen to and believe what marginalized people say about their myriad experiences of discrimination, violence, suppression and “othering.” Opening up to the truth of ways that our country still exacts a price from people with dark skin can lead to discouragement or hopelessness. The feelings are understandable, and they deserve care and attention in the right places – i.e. with appropriate support from people who know how to provide it – but ultimately we can’t let feelings deter us from moving forward toward whatever solutions we’re able to be part of.

Until you make whiteness give up its secrets none of us will get very far. Whiteness has privilege and power connected to it, no matter how poor you are. Of course the paradox is that even though whiteness is not real it is still true. I mean true as a force to be reckoned with. It is true because it has the power to make us believe it is real and to punish those who doubt its magic. Whiteness is slick and endlessly inventive. It is most effective when it makes itself invisible, when it appears neutral, human, American.”

–Michael Eric Dyson

The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes Black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you.

Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe. It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.” –Scott Woods

I keep hearing ‘Shouldn’t it just be about people of all races being nice to each other?’

The white supremacist structure of the US was firmly in place before any of us were born, and we’ve inherited a system that gives rights, advantages and immunities to those with white skin. Dismantling this system requires much more than refraining from calling people derogatory names, or engaging in ‘respectful dialogue,’ or having friends of many different skin tones.”

–Amy Childs

“Know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

[When a quote anywhere in “Anti-racism 101” doesn’t have quotation marks or attribution, then it’s mine.]

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