Just Not Being a Racist is Not Enough

Ibram Kendi, author of How to be an Antiracist, defines the differences as:

“RACIST:  One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.”

Key word here is “inaction.”  To say “I am not a racist” is not good enough anymore.  It never really was.  Even if you have friends of color, don’t say anything hurtful to those of color, and maybe even read and watch movies about racism, that is not enough to be an antiracist.

“ANTIRACIST:  One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.”

This is being an active ally for people of color.  Being an antiracist is standing with Black people and those that experience racism and using your voice for positive change.  The antiracist is no longer on the sidelines witnessing systemic racism like police brutality, antiracists  help influence systemic change with their voice.  They speak up and take action on systemic issues in education, the media, politics, housing, and their own organizations where they work, volunteer, and spend time.

Organizational psychologists and authors Dolly Chugh and Malcom Gladwell illustrate the need for antiracists well with their research.  In any social change or social justice movement, people tend to fall into three broad categories – those that get it, those that want to get it, and those that do not get it nor want to get it.  

Those that get it are already antiracists doing the hard work.  They generally make up 20% of the population.  Those that want to get it makeup the majority of the population at 60%, and are not yet there because they lack the tools and education necessary to truly be antiracists.  Those that do not want to get it are often racists.  The good news is that they are merely 20% of the population.  Positive peer pressure will catch them some day, yet focusing on them now is often not a good use of time.  This is where I see allies get burnt out conversations become divisive.  You cannot want someone else to become an antiracist, they have to decide on their own merits.

For those in what I call the “magic middle” that want to be antiracists but are unsure of what to do.  This is the largest part of our population and the biggest opportunity for change.  When you layer this data with Malcolm’s research on critical mass, which specifies 30% of the population is needed for real social change, we see how close we really are to change.  Focusing on getting more antiracists creates positive momentum and at one-third, we start to see the power dynamic changing and the “magic middle” starts to open up more, ideas are freely shared, and systemic issues are addressed.

Are you in the “magic middle?”  You are not alone.  It is a journey, not a destination.  There will be good days and bad days.  This may sound like a big leap to being an antiracist.  It does not have to be.  LIke any life change you are making like getting healthier or navigating a career transition, it does not happen overnight.  Same here.  

Take some baby steps

To effectively begin being an antiracist, break down this big goal into some smaller, more manageable goals.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • What does antiracist mean to me?
  • How do I want to show up as an antiracist?
  • Where can I help most (my own strengths and connections)?

Write this down.  Define antiracism for you personally, and be vulnerable about where you can be most helpful.  For example, if you detest social media, that is not the best place to spend your time.  If you are not good at public speaking, not necessary either.  Where can you show up?  Oftentimes, if you are not a person of color, by sheer privilege, you have access to broader power structures in your network.  Introduce people of color to your network, engage in diverse communities, learn more about people different than yourself.

Learn the tools needed to have hard conversations

Perhaps the biggest misstep of allies in training on antiracism is saying or witnessing something hurtful and not knowing what to do to make it better.  It is due to a lack of education most often.  To better equip yourself for these mistakes when they do happen, because they will happen, commit to consistent learning.  Some ideas to reflect on:

  • Recognize systemic racism in your personal and professional lives.  System racism is embedded in all organizations and spheres of our lives (education, politics, housing, media).  Learn about how people of color experience these spheres and participate in activities to alleviate these issues.  Be an antiracist personally and professionally – there is no “on” and “off” switch.
  • Use your privilege as a chance to be an ally for others.  The more privilege you have, the more that you can likely help support others different than yourself.  
  • Lead inclusively in today’s polarized environment.  If you are a people leader or have influence in organizations, model antracism for others to follow suit.
  • Build an inclusive workplace culture where diversity thrives.  Get your team on board with supporting diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.  Have conversations about books, podcasts, and tools to support the journey to antiracism.
  • Create space for others through candid conversations.  Being active as an antiracist often means speaking up when it is hard.  Saying nothing is the same as saying “it is okay.”
  • Practice comfort with discomfort.  It is hard to have these conversations.  Practice self-care and be kind to yourself and others that misstep.

Like these ideas?  Ericka Young and I host regular workshops to unpack each of these six strategies in more detail.  Learn more about our Unpacking Racism Program.  We offer individual certifications, in-house training, and open enrollment online workshops to get a better understanding.

You got this.  Being an antiracist is important for all humans.  It is the right thing to do and you will be better for committing to it.  

Curious to learn more?

Check out my latest interviews with diversity, equity, and inclusion experts on the Next Pivot Point podcasttake our free team diversity and inclusion assessment, and schedule time with Julie to talk live about ideas.

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