Updated: May 16
Racist: A person who is supporting racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea. A racist idea is any idea that suggests that one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group, and that those inferiorities and superiorities of racial groups explain the racial inequities in society. Antiracist: A person who is supporting antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea. An antiracist idea is any idea that suggests the racial groups are equal in all their apparent differences. Antiracist ideas argue that racist policies are the cause of racial inequities. – Dr. Ibram X. Kendi | How to Be an Antiracist
First, let's set expectations.
This is going to be a long read. I invite you to read and explore everything here, and I invite you to intentionally set the time and space in your life to do that in the way that best suits you.
This work is uncomfortable. If you are never uncomfortable, you are not doing it right. Befriend the discomfort, it's telling you where to grow.
Next, I'll introduce myself and state my intentions.
My name is Desirée, and I'm trained as a licensed professional counselor and yoga teacher. I call myself a Soul Worker because I specialize in integrating all aspects of our experience and being into becoming who we truly are. My intersectional social identity is an adult, Anglo-American, racialized White, able-bodied, cisgendered woman, who is heterosexually married, highly educated, economically middle classed. Those are all the major signals of my identity to the other people in our society. They all intersect to form an idea for others about the kind of person I am and thereby also to form the kind of experience I am likely to have in our society. It affords certain privileges and access that I might not have otherwise as well as limitations on privilege and access that I might have otherwise. This is the place from which I am speaking. I am speaking primarily to other folx who experience white privilege in our culture and who are interested in learning more about how antiracism is a non-negotiable part of their soul work.
Primary Sources are immediate, first-hand accounts of a topic, from people who had a direct connection with it.
Secondary Sources are one step removed from primary sources, though they often quote or otherwise use primary sources. They can cover the same topic, but add a layer of interpretation and analysis. (https://umb.libguides.com/PrimarySources/secondary)
I am a secondary source. I urge you to fill your social media feeds, book shelves, podcast feeds, news feeds, etc. with primary sources. I will be recommending many to you in this article.
Here are some terms that will be helpful to know as you read through this and seek out other resources.
Whiteness or White Culture: When people talking about whiteness or white culture, they are not talking about having white skin. Whiteness is specifically about centering the idea or belief that "white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to BIPOC and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions." – The Conscious Kid This does not have to be a belief that you actively hold, but is often one held passively in the idea that whiteness is the norm against which all else is measured. For example, take a look at the books, movies, TV shows, billboards, etc. you see and watch. Non-white people are often on the periphery if they are there at all. Naming and calling out whiteness are an integral part of antiracism work. If you feel the warm wash of shame when you read about whiteness being called out, then that's a good place for you to seek out how you identify with what's being confronted. You do not need to feel shame for having white skin, but feeling guilt for engaging in passively or actively racist thoughts, beliefs, and actions (yes, even if you didn't realize it was racist) will lead you to growth.
BIPOC: This stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color
NBPOC: This stands for Non-Black People of Color
ABAR: This stands for Anti-Bias Antiracism and refers to a specific area of social justice work and activism
Centering Whiteness: This is taking a conversation about the experience of BIPOC and making it about the discomfort or experience of a white person in that situation or in response to what that person is sharing. It is putting yourself, as a white person, as the "main character" of a conversation rather than remaining on the periphery.
White Fragility: This is the discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice (dictionary.com)
Intellectualizing Racism: In its most neutral meaning, intellectualizing racism is simply thinking about racism. By nature, this is the default for those of us with white privilege. Thinking about racism as a philosophical, political, or mental exercise is usually the first and primary way we engage with racism. Often, it's the only way we engage with racism. When weaponized, however, intellectualizing racism is used to argue with a person's experience of racism by picking over semantics and engaging in rhetorical debate. See Teach and Transform for more on this.
Tone Policing: This is the classic, "You could've said this a different way", often said by a white person in response to not feeling coddled by someone's means of expression, and almost always done in response to frank or blunt communication (which is different from rude, aggressive, or shaming communication). Again, uncomfortable does not equal bad.
Emotional Labor: Originally, this term was meant to describe the emotional components of a person's job, like a desk clerk needing to be friendly, hospitable, and engaging, despite whatever may actually be going on. In common parlance nowadays, it's used to mean the emotional effort, work, and energy that is required of a person when engaged in an interaction, conversation, or endeavor. Just like when you sit down to do math, it requires intellectual labor, having a conversation about race, equity, and justice requires emotional labor.
Privilege: Privilege is unearned power and access (Brené Brown). The simplest and quickest way to test for privilege is to ask yourself about any situation or topic, "Do I HAVE to care (respond, react) about this?" If the answer is no, then that means you have privilege. In that situation, you have the privilege of not thinking about it. If you don't have to think about how racial discrimination will impact you today or this week, then you have racial privilege (which in the United States, is white privilege).
White Saviorism: This is the idea that BIPOC need white people to save them, to solve their problems for them. For a very deep and uncomfortable confrontation with this, I recommend following No White Saviors. This is often the thought that, "I need to fix YOUR problem FOR YOU." That is not giving care, that is not within your response-ability, and that is not practicing healthy boundaries. That usually quickly results in white-centering ("Look at me and what an awesome person I am, helping all these unfortunate people out," which is itself dehumanizing others and placing yourself in a position of superiority). It is a misplaced acceptance of responsibility. Instead of acknowledging how we need to change OUR actions, we end up further taking power away from people by stepping in and telling them what they need to do in order to "be better."
Now, let's talk boundaries.
You have gotten things wrong and you will get things wrong (yes, even when you're trying to get it right. This is why it's called an antiracism practice). You will miss the mark, misunderstand sometimes. You will get called out on it directly or indirectly. It will be uncomfortable. You might cry. You might feel really awful. When this happens, this is usually a signal for you to sit, listen, and then go churn it over. You do not need to respond immediately, and many times you don't need to respond at all. You certainly do not need to defend yourself. If you feel the need to write out a whole thing about, "Well actually," or, "What about," or, "That's not a fair comment," then that is a big red flag telling you that you've got some work to do. So go write that whole response down in a journal somewhere and then keep journaling until you can get underneath the defensiveness, shame, anger, feelings of unfairness, etc. until you can recognize where you need to grow and do that thing from a place of self-love and love for others.
Don't comment if not invited. Many times, BIPOC activists will host conversations on their social media platforms specifically for other Black people, BIPOC people, or NBPOC, and they will request explicitly that white people not comment. They will sometimes say, "You may like and share, but do not comment." Here's what that means: If you are racially white, do not comment. It doesn't mean, "No white people except you." It doesn't mean, "No white people, except the good ones" (we'll get to that in a minute). It doesn't mean, "No comments, but emojis of affirmation are okay" (again, thinking that I need to expressly affirm or agree with someone is white centering). Your emoji does not further legitimize what someone else is saying. No, when someone says "do not comment," it means what it means. If someone is clearly stating a boundary, honor it. NOT honoring that boundary is an example of centering whiteness and an abuse of privilege. Often times, even if the comments are left open to all, it's best not to comment. You have more to learn than you have to say, so simply read and listen and learn. A lot of times, we feel the need to comment to prove ourselves in some way, or to offer a confession and express our earnestness, which is again, about us. Unless you truly have something to add to the conversation, unless you are truly using your voice and privilege for good, then you probably don't need to say anything. You probably just need to keep digging into your own work.
"One of the good ones". When doing this work, it can be tempting to try and become "one of the good ones," to try and prove ourselves as "one of the good ones." But again, that is centering whiteness. It's saying, "Yeah, yeah. I hear your experience. That's rough that those other white people have been so terrible. But I'm not that way. I'm not that bad." It's dismissing, it's defensive and making the conversation about yourself, and it's entirely, completely, 100% missing the mark of doing your own soul work in this area. Trying to be "one of the good ones" is a non-goal. It's a red herring. It's a symptom of our culture's dichotomous, "either good or bad" thinking. We will never be done doing this work in our lifetime, so get the idea of being done or being "one of the good ones" out of your mind. Instead, ask yourself, "how can I go deeper into this work?"
Your emotions are your responsibility. Many times I see white people who are new anti-racism work say things like, "Go easy on us, we're doing our best!" or who will express feelings of victimization at having their intentions misunderstood. Say it with me: this work is uncomfortable. You're going to get it wrong, and you're going to get called out. It doesn't feel good. Here is what you do. Say, "Thank you for that feedback. I'm so sorry I got it wrong. I value your labor in holding me accountable, and I'm going to honor that by doing some work around this." And then you go and take care of your own self. Your emotions, your feelings of embarrassment, humiliation, shame, guilt, or whatever you are feeling, are not the responsibility of anyone else, most certainly a BIPOC activist who is already actively, daily doing their work under a system of oppression. Do not contribute your emotions to that oppression. You go journal about your feelings AND do the anti-racism work that you got feedback about. See this post from Rachel Cargle for an example.
Sharing violent images on social media. As you talk and share on social media about injustice, inequity, and the murder of Black people who have died at the hands of modern day lynching, ask yourself the question, “Do I need to see it or hear it in order to believe it?” This question comes from Britt Hawthorne, an Anti-Bias Antiracism educator. This is an important question to ask, because media fetishizes violence, especially the violence committed against black bodies. Do you need to see the photo of George Floyd being suffocated, do you need to hear the video of him saying he can’t breathe in order to believe it happened? This speaks to two issues:
Believing people’s experiences as they tell them to you. This is basic empathy and compassion. We do not need to examine proof to determine whether or not someone’s suffering is deserving of our empathy, compassion, care, or support. We simply need to listen.
Trauma. What happens to Black people on a daily basis here in the United States is traumatic, and it is re-traumatizing to see these images and videos over and over. Don’t become desensitized to seeing violence against black bodies; it’s not something we should be used to. Do not use violence against black bodies for your message or your agenda. Respect the Black people who have died by respecting their bodies in death.
Now, let's talk about showing up.
This is an excerpt from my work on Community:
Showing up and participating is how we influence community and intentionally work together for change. This can look lots of different ways for lots of different people and that's good. You don't need to participate in everything; the world doesn't need you to. We need you to show up and participate in the ways and with the gifts that are authentic to you.
This includes our participation in collective learning.
DO: Search out the people and public figures who have chosen their work to be educating, informing, and empowering others to have the knowledge necessary to make impactful and informed changes.
Follow them on Instagram and Twitter
Buy their books
Join their Patreon
Attend their webinars
Listen to their podcasts
Amplify their work and recommend them to others
Pay them and financially support their work
Cite them when you quote them or share something of theirs
DO NOT: Simply strike up a conversation with someone who is different from you by some observable trait by saying something like, "Hey, can you tell me what it's like to be an immigrant in this country? Or transgender? Or disabled?" I know that this can come from a well-intentioned place of wanting to learn more. I see the "learning" motive happen a lot on social media and other settings where there's been no container building or invitation for a discussion of differences. When we approach people who we aren't in close relationship with, with these kinds of questions, we are asking them to educate us for free. We are assuming that they want to teach us about their experience simply because we perceive them to be a member of a certain group. We are asking them for more free labor.
Let's unpack this a little.
Who is asking whom for what in this kind of scenario? Typically it's a person with some privilege in some area asking a person who has experienced some kind of oppression or abuse to explain, teach, or prove to them the reality of their experience. This happens when the person being asked to explain has not invited this conversation, and this happens in spite of the fact that there is a wealth of information about this in the world already from people who do this work professionally and vocationally. This is, again, another display of privilege and centering whiteness. It says, "I'm asking, and that should be enough. I'm asking, therefore I am entitled to hear this from you. Nevermind the fact that I haven't been listening to the years and years and years of history around this social justice issue, I want you to spoon feed me this information right now." It is asking someone to give of their time, emotional labor, intellect, and vulnerability, often despite having been dismissed or invalidated many times before, without any payment or guarantee of action. It is solely for the "edification" of the person asking. It is asking for free labor for your own personal growth. (And the concept of doing antiracism work for your own personal growth, is again a sign of privilege).
This includes DMing an ABAR (or any) activist to ask them for special treatment and individual attention. Unless you go through the appropriate channels to hire them for an individual coaching session or a team training, they do not owe you a response. They are working, and you are asking them to work for free.
Before we go any further, I want to talk about moral development.
Lawrence Kohlberg theorized that humans have an arc of moral development, similar to how we have cognitive and emotional development. I bring this up because I think it's a valuable exercise to do some self-examination about where you might be in your own moral development and how that has influenced your own reactions and responses to racial injustice, civil unrest, and the idea of changing our policies and systems toward a more equitable society. Remember, just because something is what you've always known or what you're comfortable with, it doesn't mean that's what's right, good, or true. According to this theory, our moral development goes as follows:
Level 1 (Pre-Conventional)
Obedience and punishment orientation: The primary concern at this stage is avoiding punishment.
Self-interest orientation: The primary interest in this stage is behaving in a way that will result in a reward or benefit to the self.
Level 2 (Conventional)
Interpersonal accord and conformity: In this stage we begin to conform to social norms and expectations. The goal is to be a "good girl" or "good boy" so that we will be well thought of, respected, and remain included within the safety of our social group.
Authority and social-order maintaining orientation: In this stage, we move beyond the need for individual approval and maintaining safety within a group to prioritizing social convention for the purpose of maintaining a well-functioning and cohesive society.
Level 3 (Post-Conventional)
Social contract orientation: In this stage, we come to believe that laws and social edicts should exist to serve the greater social contract, or the idea that they should promote the welfare and "the greatest good for the greatest number of people" possible and that the laws should be changed when they don't perform that function.
Universal ethical principles: In this stage, moral reasoning is based on abstract reasoning using universal ethical principles. We view laws to be valid only if they are grounded in justice. In this stage, a person's commitment to justice carries with it an obligation to disobey unjust laws or social edicts.
Now let's go over some topics that are important to understand.
Black Lives Matter
"Black Lives Matter is a movement to rehumanize black citizens. All lives matter, but not all lives need to be pulled back into moral inclusion. Not all people were subjected to the psychological process of demonizing and being made less than human.” – Brené Brown
If you find yourself (or hear someone else) wanting to respond with "all lives matter," know that that comes from a place of feeling that your power is being threatened, which comes from a place of believing that there is a finite amount of power that we all must fight over. Instead, grow yourself into viewing power as an infinite resource that can be shared and held together with people. If you truly, deeply believe that all lives matter, then you are outraged that Black lives have not mattered in our country and want to use your power to bring Black lives into a place of humanity, equity, reparations, healing, and care.
Black LIFE Matters As in Black health, Black wealth, Black success, Black joy, Black breath, Black love, Black anger, Black laughter, Black creativity, Black abundance, Black peace, Black ease, Black well-being, Black self-expression, Black community, Black culture, Black safety, Black protection, Black leadership, Black history, Black self-determination, Black individuality, Black truth-telling, Black humanity, Black existence. – Layla F. Saad
These are aspects of life that have all been oppressed for Black people through policy from the foundation of this country. Through indentured servitude, chattel slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, eugenics, White vigilantism, lynching, mass incarceration, police brutality, Internet algorithms, capitalism, and a lot more. The golden thread keeping that oppression alive and well is White supremacy. Even if you are not a tiki-torch carrying, MAGA hat wearing White supremacist, you have benefitted from and engaged in White supremacy. When scrolling through social media and seeing posts about Black anger, have you dismissed it? Have you thought things like, "that's their problem," or "I just don't get what they're so upset about"? White supremacy. Have you thought about speaking up, but been afraid of what a friend or family member might say or think of you? White supremacy. Have you thought about taking a public stand in some way, but been afraid of what other White people might do to you so chose to stay quiet? White supremacy.
So, expressing that Black Lives Matter recognizes that some of the people who make up "all" of us are having their humanity, their life denied and oppressed.
Understanding Police Brutality
From 2013-2018, 319 police officers were killed from violence in the US.
From 2013-2018, the police have killed approximately 6617 people of which 959 were considered unarmed.
For comparison, from 2014-2019, 165 US Service members died in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Since post-9/11 2001 to 2018, 6591 US service members have died in the war on terror.
US police have killed more citizens in 5 years than all of our wars combined have killed US service people in a 17 year span.
Read about #8toAbolition an initiative to defund the police and redistribute funds in ways that would support community safety, cohesion, and health
I gave an introductory definition of the concept of whiteness above, so here is more information for you to dig into understanding your own whiteness.
Understanding and Responding to Narrative
There are a lot of typical responses to the revolutionary work of antiracism. These responses come from places of not knowing, willful ignorance, fear of losing power or security, active hatred. No matter where the response comes from, it is framed in our collective cultural dichotomous thinking. That means that as a whole, the Westernized world holds a philosophy that stuff is either one thing or another thing.
Criticism comes from people who are intent on forcing false either/or dichotomies and shaming us for not hating the right people. The only true option is to refuse to accept the terms of the argument by challenging the framing of the debate. Because the argument is set up to silence dissent, discussion, and questions. It comes from fear, acute emotion, and lack of knowledge. Silence comes at a cost: individually, our integrity; collectively, divisiveness and our ability to problem solve. – Brené Brown | Braving the Wilderness
Here are some ways to learn more about the bigger picture of the problems around racism and oppression, get out of that false dichotomy, and respond to others when you're speaking up.
What to say when people deny the reality of what's happening right now:
Part I – Covers the following:
"The police were wrong, but this is an overreaction."
"Looting/destruction of property are never acceptable."
"Not all cops are bad."
"I'm tired of looking on social media right now. I wish things would go back to normal."
"My participation won't help anything."
Part II – Covers the following:
"But I'm not racist."
"All lives matter."
"So, what? No more cops?"
"MLK would not have supported violent protests."
"My children are too young to learn about racism."
SURJ Toolkit: Calling People in Around Violence – Covers the following:
“I’m outraged too, but I don’t agree with property destruction/riots/the way they are going about it.”
“If they want real change, they should vote.” “I just hope all of these people vote in November!”
“Why are they still out there? The officer was charged.” “They should let the legal system do its job.” “These bad cops need to be held accountable, but I don’t agree with defunding or getting rid of the police.”
“The people I really feel bad for are the business owners who’ve lost everything.”
“The police -- the good ones -- support Black Lives Matter, as long as the protestors don’t get violent. Haven’t you seen them taking a knee with the protestors?”
“Well the military is only keeping the peace.” “If the protestors weren’t violent then the government wouldn’t need to call in the military!”
"Not All Cops" - Jeffrey S. Mueller
Activists doing ABAR social justice work
Andréa Ranae : Liberatory Leadership
Britt Hawthorne: ABAR activist and education consultant
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi : One of America’s foremost historians and leading antiracist voices
Support: Antiracism Center