By Emily Erickson
The death of George Floyd and the resulting Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the country has prompted me to engage in a great seeking and consuming of educational materials from leaders in the black community. Through scouring resources, watching videos and relearning my own history, I’ve come to understand that I have been complacent in racial oppression and, without taking the time to learn more, I’d never become a real ally to minority groups and people of color.
In this scouring, I came to the concept of anti-racism, learning it to be a standard above simply “not being racist.” The Alberta Civil Liberties Centre defines anti-racism as, “the active process of identifying and eliminating racism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices and attitudes, so that power is redistributed and shared equitably.”
Anti-racism can be practiced at the macro level — with systemic overhaul, redistribution of resources, governmental accountability and reorganization, and more — but not without its widespread practice at the individual level as well.
Through consolidating articles, research center guides and the work of social media educators, I’ve taken away a few major themes consistent across the material aimed at helping white people, like me, begin an active practice of anti-racism.
The regularly identified starting point for the practice of anti-racism is acknowledging our own privilege. White privilege, although incredibly nuanced, is defined by Francis E. Kendall in Understanding White Privilege as, “having greater access to power and resources than people of color [in the same situation] do.”
In other words, having white privilege doesn’t mean the absence of hardship or barriers to success; rather, it means that one of those barriers is not the color of my skin, and all of the past, present and future implications associated with it.
My white privilege is benefiting from the inherited opportunities and resources of my ancestors: being raised in a predominantly white, rural community with a high performing school system; having had the opportunity to engage in athletics and extracurricular activities, and consequently, earning a scholarship to a private four-year college; getting post-collegiate work opportunities not only by merit, but also by my appearance as a blonde, white woman; not being the subject of regular acts of descrimination and thereby nor carrying the trauma of those experiences every day; and so much more.
Next, many educators suggest performing an honest assessment of how you’re contributing, consciously or not, to sustaining racial oppression. This is an examination of behaviors, feelings and attitudes across your lifetime in search of racist tendencies and beliefs.
In my case, I haven’t actively sought out diversity in my social circles; have supported predominately white-owned businesses and corporations; didn’t actively follow or share black artists, writers and creators; placed value in brands that didn’t adequately represent indigenous peoples or people of color; and have been afraid to engage in confrontational conversations about race with my white peers.
Also consisted across anti-racist educational materials, there is a call to find avenues to support, uplift and listen to members of the black community, and to pursue allyship in ways that help the overall cause — critically, without seeking personal gain in the process or inflicting incidental harm.
On social media, there are movements like “Amplify Melanated Voices” and “Black Out Tuesday,” encouraging people to diversify their newsfeeds with black creators, storytellers, activists and educators, and uplift black artists on music platforms. Beyond social media, there is a push to find black-owned businesses, freelancers, makers, educators and more, and use personal resources to support them.
Other avenues of activism include letters to write and phone numbers to call for city, state and federal officials; there is aid necessary for protestors in the form of legal, financial, physical and emotional support; and there are marches, vigils and demonstrations for participation and engagement around the world.
Finally, anti-racism writings contain messages about continuing to learn, reflect, reform and repeat. Finding ways to hold ourselves accountable; to listen with an open heart and mind to the voices around us; to make changes based on what we’ve learned and from the stories we’ve heard; to be unafraid of discomfort, failure and a need for repair; and to understand that anti-racism is an active practice, without a final box to check or a finish line at which to arrive.
This is hard work, but I’m going to do my best to be better, everyday. To join in the pursuit of better allyship, I encourage you to find your own steps and resources, tuning in to the strong, beautiful, courageous leaders all around us.
Here are a few of the many channels of inspiration, education and creativity that I’ve connected with in the past weeks:
Educators Rachel Cargle, Shaun King, Layla F Saad; artists Jacquelyn Ogorchukwu Iyamah, Winnie Weston, Melarie Odelusi; and writers Yrsa Daley-Ward, Ibrim X. Kendi, Ijeoma Olou.
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