Do you think you already know what you need to know about racism? Do you think that others are racist but not you? As a white man I used to think I was not racist. Only through experiences as the father of three minority children from other countries did my eyes begin to open regarding the racial ignorance that was present for me and is for all of us. The concept of racial ignorance is championed by Dr. Crystal Marie Fleming. If you can learn from my ignorance and take initiative, you can learn about your racial stupidity without such promptings.
Dr. Marking Luther King Jr. said it well: “It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn”. We all have much to learn. I have long advocated that empathy in its pure form doesn’t exist because not one fully understands the experiences of another. We must apply this to race. As I have heard comments that range from horrifying to encouraging as American’s have tried to make sense of the death of George Floyd and how it represents centuries of oppression and inequality on all levels, it has brought to light just how far we still must go to overcome the white superiority and racism that rages from coast to coast. This begs the important question, what do you need to do to address your own racial ignorance?
Before addressing this let’s define what a racist is, and what an antiracist is as defined by the renowned leader on racism, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi.
Racist: One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.
Antiracist: One who is expressing the idea that racial groups are equals and none needs developing and is supporting policy that reduces racial inequality.
I propose three keys to addressing the racial ignorance that is present for all of us.
Key 1: Discovery and Education
The first thing one must do is go on an objective, raw, and honest quest of self-discovery. This is not meant to be an easy or casual process. Rather, as one takes seriously the charge to become an antiracist, one must change from within. This begins with exposure to ideas, concepts, and truths that will interrupt the internal racist thoughts and ideology that are deeply rooted within each of us. One of the most helpful ways I have found for people to go through this is by following the recommendations of experts. One in particular has had a profound influence on me.
Her expertise, insights, and clearly illustrated ideas have educated me in ways that I wish for others. I suggest you read the following book to begin this quest for yourself (I receive no benefit from this recommendations aside from the hope that your own racist self can be discovered and worked on as you strive for antiracism). How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide by Crystal Marie Fleming. In her writing, Dr. Fleming uses a necessary directness and honesty in her evaluation of what she calls “racial stupidity” which:
Involves the misrepresentation, minimization, denial, and justification of racial domination. Paradoxically, ‘racists’ (that is people who overtly or covertly support racial oppression) often alternate between denying that racism exists and justifying it. . . And dominant groups do not usually give up power.
A further key foundational idea she presents is that:
Much of the racial stupidity we encounter in everyday life derives from the fact that people think of racism as individual prejudice rather than a broader system and structure of power… The bottom line is that white supremacy is all about resources: who gets (and retains) access to them, who gets excluded, whose lives are made to matter, and whose lives are rendered disposable. . . Favoring whites and withholding resources from nonwhites has long been a well-established cultural norm. . . we will have to stop overvaluing whiteness and undervaluing people of color.
When we honestly see this in our society, we may be open to the fallacious ideas about white supremacy that she encourages us to explore. Read them and consider, where do you see this in yourself and in those around you?
The KKK Falacy: White supremacy – the dominance of people socially defined as white – is systematically maintained by hundreds of millions of ordinary people, as well as by everyday institutional practices that protect the racial order.
The Gaslighting Fallacy: Denying the existence of racial oppression.
The Class Fallacy: The wrong-headed notion that wealthy and ‘educated’ whites are somehow immune to racism and absolved from complicity with racial domination.
The Whites-Only White Supremacy Fallacy: If any person of color holds a position of authority or experiences any degree of success, their mere existence is taken to be evidence that systemic racism and white privilege do not exist . . . the foolish idea that proof of white supremacy requires every single person of color to be deprived of all rights and resources.
The Political Fallacy: Systemic white supremacy pervades politics on the left and the right.
The Black Supremacy Unicorn Fallacy: There is no such thing as black supremacy in the US, just as there is no such thing as unicorns. And though racial biases and denigrating stereotypes are widespread among all of us regardless of our racial or ethnic background, the fact remains that there is only one racist system in the United States, and that system is called white supremacy.
She offers a challenge to all looking to begin the process of personal discovery and education:
We also need to confront how racial stupidity functions to keep large majorities of the population ignorant about the social, political, historical, and economic realities of racial oppression. Racial stupidity serves to justify and reinforce racism. And if we’re ever going to build a better world, we will need to fearlessly identify and dismantle the many forms of ignorance that keep so many of us in bondage.
This process should have as a goal to become racially literate. To do this involves:
Developing our critical thinking, increasing our awareness of how race permeates our lives, forming meaningful relationships across difference, and using our knowledge to organize for antiracist transformations. And it requires brutal honesty.
Some other excellent books you should consider reading to help you with this process:
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin J DiAngelo
Key 2: Do Something
As a result of beginning our process of discovery and education (which should never end), we must as she counsels: DO! SOMETHING! ABOUT IT! This doing will be motivated by your internal change and is flexible so you can identify where you have the potential for influence. As each of us work to do something, collectively we will make a difference. Disrupt the status quo. Speak up when you see anything that even resembles racism. Become an advocate in every way for those who don’t hold the power. And follow her great concluding counsel:
We can be courageous. We can generate compassion for ourselves and others, build community and nurture our well-being even in the midst of great suffering. We can imagine a less harmful world, one in which white supremacy and heteropatriarchy and class oppression no longer exist, where love and interdependence are valued above power and dominance.
Key 3: Love
The key long-term antidote that will continue motivation to do something and heal the wounds of widespread discrimination is love. That healing emotion that can, with time, overpower the fear and pain. Love others. Love everyone. Look hard for opportunities to love those you don’t understand. Love those who look, feel, love, think, or believe differently than you. Our country is ill, and it is desperate for love. As hate dominates political and social media headlines, let us take back our country, one loving gesture at a time.
Part of your discovery and education should be facilitated by finding someone who is different from you and asking them to tell you their story. Listen and try to understand life in their shoes. Show them you love them. Become their advocate and their friend. Only by putting our arms around each other one by one and march together in love toward an antiracist future will we heal the pain and end the fear.