Anti-racist/racism: a form of action against racism and systemic racism and the oppression of marginalized groups. An understanding of anti-racism is key to becoming a diversity advocate in 2020.
Our present social climate has forced us all to confront the complex history of racism in our country and discuss the many effects it has on our world today. Understanding race and racism in our society means understanding a centuries-long story from the founding of America to Confederate slavery to now.
In many ways, we are a far cry from the days of Jim Crow, but we are also close enough to remember as many of us were alive during those days. No surprise then, that our society still lacks true racial equity and equality. As the debates around the past, present, and future of race in our country rage on, it has become clear that people are tired, and we must demand that things change.
To become a better diversity advocate, we must begin to evolve from simply ‘not being racist’ to actively being ‘anti-racists,’ intentionally addressing the question, “How do we become active contributors towards the eradication of racism and its effects on both our workplaces and communities?”
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Understanding the History of Racism
From slavery to Jim Crow Law, voting rights, red-lining, and much more, the history of institutional racism in America is deep-rooted and traceable back to its founding. Even to this day, schooling and housing are social structures that continue driving discriminatory outcomes.
While America is legally no longer institutionally racist, the long-term economic effects of racism continue to affect generations, further exacerbating the well-documented median wealth gap. When making the case for ‘anti-racism’, it’s important to remember the long history of government-sanctioned racism and realize that correcting for this means taking meaningful action. This is a key element of being an effective diversity advocate.
Self-Accountability (we’re all a little racist)
When understanding the present state of racism in our society, we must understand that we all play a role in upholding the norm and driving change, as put recently by someone on my team.
“Many people feel that because they are well-intentioned, they cannot be part of the problem. But racism is not about intention; it is about impact.” Recognizing this is the first step to actively becoming anti-racist.
The way people interpret the words ‘racist’ and ‘racism’ is an important part of understanding how we are all impacted by racial bias. Many people interpret ‘racist’ to mean a bad person, an evil individual with malintent, or a person who hates other races. Few of us actively identify with those definitions, so we must ask the question, “if we are all ‘not racist,’ why does racism continue to be such a huge issue?”
One answer is that many of us have strongly attached our identities to the idea of being free of racism. The degree to which that attachment exists links to the amount of resistance against critical self-examination needed for change to actually happen. If self-examination leads to change, the overwhelming amount of positivity would change society.
A Call to Action
A lack of sufficient progress in equity and equality has spurred a new wave of activism and calls for change. In reality, our ability to transform the complexities of racism comes down to our ability to get sufficiently educated on the history and issues upholding racism, have difficult conversations with a sense of vulnerability and accountability, and identify actions we can all take to purposefully undermine racism. It will take hard work to create more harmonious and equitable communities and workplaces.
If we are truly committed to drive change and create a better future, it may be extremely powerful to evolve from thinking, ‘is this [situation, system, perspective, action] racist?’ to ‘is this anti-racist?’ Determining anti-racism is a much easier distinction to draw.
This requires we actively work to understand what feasible and effective action looks like and how we can individually and collectively drive change. I welcome your opinion and further dialogue, especially from those who may disagree.