Commit to Racial Justice in 2015!

We are calling on all white people living in the US to commit to working towards racial justice in 2015 and beyond!

THANKS TO OUR LOVED ONES IN
CLEVELAND FOR THIS LANGUAGE!
#CLEDemands (http://cledemandsjustice.org) Collaborative for a Fair, Safe and Just Cleveland

Wait, racism?  I thought that was over in America.

Some believe that, since the civil rights amendments, or since the election of a black president, racism is a thing of the past.  But recent police killings, and people’s reactions of dismissal and victim blaming, show that racism still operates behind the scenes, and often out in the open.  As does racial profiling and mass incarceration of young black men.  As do the murders of black transwomen and the way police handle these murders.

As white people, most of us are completely unaware of what happens in communities of color concerning these and other issues.  Our privilege acts like blinders, allowing us to go home at the end of the day and not worry about police shootings, not worrying that our kids will be next.  We get to pick when black lives are important to us – enjoying the talents of athletes and musicians, but demonizing the victims of state violence.

Why should I commit to racial justice?

Racism in this country finds a safe harbor in white media, white communities, white politicians.  Our communities.  As long as we refuse to do the work of learning about racism and becoming allies in fighting against it, we are allowing it to continue to run this country. Black lives matter, brown lives matter, indigenous lives matter – it’s time to show that they matter to us.  If you lived under Jim Crow or slavery, would you stand by and not speak up?  Don’t stand by as another phase of racism enables and perpetuates violence against black people.

We have an interest in ending racism because it takes away from our humanity and because it upholds other systems of oppression that nearly everyone is impacted by. Racism hurts all people, including white folks. It makes us all vulnerable by pitting groups against one another.  Racism supports economic injustice, supports war, supports environmental destruction, and supports reactive right-wing political agendas.

How can I work for racial justice?

Dismantling racism inside ourselves is a necessary but hard task. It takes consistency and openness. The willingness to make mistakes, for those mistakes to be called out, and for us to recognize mistakes, be accountable for them and continue to learn. It takes a willingness to listen, trust and take leadership from people of color. All of these things take time and practice.

Here are some small steps to take towards dismantling racism (adapted from loveisntenough.com)

1. Broaden your definition of racism.

The KKK is an example of racism, but to think of racism ONLY in these terms is to ignore the other types of racism that are much more pervasive in our current society, and are just as damaging. Most of the time, when we talk about racism we are talking about institutional racism; and microagressions that reinforce racist systems.  (Look these terms up!)  It’s worth noting that both of these forms of racism are often committed UNCONSCIOUSLY by people WITH GOOD INTENTIONS.  If we fail to acknowledge the day-in day-out racism that people of color live and breathe, we not only invalidate the experience of people of color but also miss opportunities to catch ourselves and others committing this sort of racism.

2. Acknowledge how racism has shaped you.

Author Beverly Tatum has compared racism to a smog that we all breathe in whether we want to or not.  It shapes our thinking and our actions, often unconsciously, even if we don’t want it to.  A critical step in working for racial justice is accepting that our thinking and our actions—despite our best intentions—are often influenced by racism.  Once we acknowledge that, we can begin to explore how we contribute to the problem and what we might do to stop.

3. Acknowledge your white privilege.

Privilege does not mean that you are rich, that you’ve had an easy life, that everything has been handed to you and you’ve never had to struggle or work hard.  All it means is there are some things in life that you will not experience or ever have to think about, just because of who you are.  There are also many social and economic benefits we receive, most often at the expense of people of color.  We are usually unaware of our privilege because part of that privilege is that we don’t even have to know that it exists – so we have to go out of our way to learn about it.
(Adapted from 5 Tips for Being an Ally by @chescaleigh)

4. Exercises humility and accept your limitations

White people can learn to become less oblivious about our racism, but we will never have the lived experience of people of color. People of color are experts on racism; white people are not.  That can be a hard pill to swallow in a society that teaches us that we can be anything, do anything.  Practice being okay with not being the expert, not being sure of the answer, not ever getting to some point where you have magically arrived.

This requires considerable humility.  The more you learn about racism and privilege, the more you’ll realize how little you know, and how many times you have been wrong in the past or done something you now think is dreadful. Enter conversations about race conscious of how little you know. All that not-knowing leaves room for you to learn, and listen, and grow. And it’s a way of giving up power, which we white people tend to have way too much of.

5. Educate yourself.

It’s not our fault that there are some big holes in our knowledge. Various social forces have conspired to make us that way.  But now that we’re aware of the holes, it’s time to get educated!  But it is not the responsibility of anyone else—particularly not people of color—to teach us.  So, how might you go about educating yourself? First, read, read, and read some more. There are tons of good blogs and tons of good books out there. Second, engage in productive conversations about race. Do this in person, and do this on the web.

6. Don’t take racism personally.

If you engage in conversations about race, you are going to hear some unflattering things about yourself and white people in general. Don’t take it personally; it’s not about you. It’s about the larger system of racism. If you get caught up in your own hurt, you stop listening, and when you stop listening, you stop being an ally. Concentrating on your injury is also a way that white privilege sneakily encourages you to value your own experience over the experience of people of color.  Don’t let it.

7. Listen to people of color and accept their truth.

Listen to the experts: people of color. And when you listen, really LISTEN. Focus on that person’s experience, not on your own, and accept that what this person is saying is what is TRUE FOR THEM.  Respond by asking questions that help you understand THEIR EXPERIENCE better  (Look up Active Listening).  Do not discount their experience or question its legitimacy. Do not attempt to change the subject from racism to something else by using common derailing techniques (see derailingfordummies.com).

8. Accept that effect counts more than intention.

Sooner or later, you will say or do something racist. Probably you will not mean to. what you must understand is this: it was racist, whether you meant it to be or not, and people of color have been hurt. That hurt does not magically disappear when they learn that you didn’t mean it. So, if you misstep, apologize. If, instead, you mount a “but I didn’t mean it” defense—and you will be tempted to—you are failing to acknowledge the very real pain you caused people of color.

9. Speak up and do your part.

Too often, white people leave the job of speaking out against racism to people of color. But that is unfair.  It’s our responsibility to use our unearned white privilege to actively combat racism.  It is our obligation as people who have likely caused harm to non-white people to combat racism.  Being an ally means being intolerant of racism in all of its forms. It means speaking up and speaking out. It means taking issue with racist jokes. It means calling people on their racism. It means educating. It means a willingness to be uncomfortable and, sometimes, unpopular.

Resources

Websites

Books & Movies

  • Uprooting Racism by Paul Kivel
  • Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria by Beverly Tatum
  • The Color of Violence by INCITE!
  • Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequality: crackingthecodes.org
END WHITE SILENCE copy
Members of WHAT’S UP?! on First Night in Pittsburgh holding lit up sign that states “#End White Silence” and “I Resolve to Challenge Racism in 2015”
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3 thoughts on “Commit to Racial Justice in 2015!

  1. Can you help me? I am interested in connecting with another white person in the Pittsburgh area. I am at present unable to participate in community actions but want someone to talk with on-line. I have started to engage on Facebook after a couples of years of following (in the background mostly) Black Twitter. I also want to post some memes but am afraid my whiteness will shine through more than racial justice. A person who can see my whiteness when I can’t would be helpful.
    Hoping we can join forces.
    Margaret Collins
    Springdale, PA

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