What Is An Anti-Racism Journey?

Young women protesters holding placards

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Though racism has been a major issue in the U.S. since the inception of our country, in recent years there has been a renewed call for people to actively work to dismantle systemic racism and stop racist acts from being perpetrated.

Experts on racism tell us that it it's no longer enough to not be actively racist. Instead, they insist that we should go one step further and work towards becoming anti-racist.

White people aren't negatively impacted personally by racism. Because they do not experience racism, it's particularly important that they understand what racism is and learn how to be anti-racist. To move forward and find success in anti-racist efforts, it's crucial that the dominant demographic aid in this process if we want to see real change.

Additionally, 2020 brought the rise of Black Lives Matter protests that made people aware that even other people of color do not tend to experience racism as violently as Black people do. In fact., many people of color (POC) have also taken to doing internal work to become more anti-racist toward, and helpful to, Black people.

Undoing our own racism isn't a quick task—it's a lifelong journey. Let's look at what anti-racism is, why it's a journey, and how you can change your own behaviors to make your anti-racism journey a successful one.

What Is Anti-Racism?

Anti-racism is exactly what it sounds like: being against racism. The difference between considering yourself not racist and being actively anti-racist lies in how you deal with race and how proactive you are about your relationship with it. A few examples of how anti-racism is different than just not being racist include:

  • An anti-racist will speak up when they see an act of racism occurring, where a not racist person might just not take part in it.
  • A not racist person might not ask questions about racism or racist behaviors; an anti-racist will actively ask questions and have curiosity about systemic racism and personal behaviors that contribute to it.
  • An anti-racist regularly examines their own behavior for signs or acts of racism.

What Does Being Anti-Racist Mean?

Anti-Racism

Being anti-racist means that you are actively, not passively, against racism. Anti-racism means that you examine your own behavior regularly for racist thoughts or acts, and work on changing those thoughts or acts so that they are not racist.

Entering a journey of anti-racism also means that you don't tolerate other people behaving in racist ways. Whether you go to protests, film a police interaction, or speak out about a topic at your workplace that could be harmful to BIPOC colleagues, anti-racism is about being active instead of passive.

What Is An Anti-Racism Journey?

Becoming anti-racist is not a one-and-done type of activity. Instead, it's a lifelong one. We were all born into a racist society, and many of us have profited off of living in a racist society.

Anyone who has benefited from our society's racism has some amount of it hardwired into them. Inadvertent racism is often the product of privilege.

Anti-racism is considered a journey for two reasons: for one, it is a slow process. And for another, it isn't a process with an end.

No matter how much work you do to be anti-racist, you will never be able to stop doing the work. It gets amalgamated into our lives, and takes gradually less effort, but it does not end until racism is eradicated from our society.

Challenges

Becoming anti-racist isn't easy. Some of the challenges you might face on your anti-racism journey are listed below.

It's Physically Uncomfortable

Examining your own behavior can be difficult. It becomes harder when you realize you may have caused harm to others, even if you weren't intending to. This discomfort can even feel viscerally bad, in your stomach or elsewhere in your body.

It's Hard On Our Egos

Inasmuch as realizing we've hurt others can feel bad physically, it can also be difficult for our minds and egos. That's because most of us think of ourselves as good people who don't hurt others.

When we examine ways we've acted racist, we're forced to realize the harm we've caused. Our inner defense mechanisms can then spring up and make us feel upset.

There's A Lot Of Work Involved

Being anti-racist takes effort and time. Caring takes emotional energy and learning takes intellectual energy.

It can feel exhausting to become anti-racist, and it can feel especially exhausting when you are working hard on fighting racism but you see instances in your life or in the media that show how much it's still happening.

Not Everyone Will Agree With You

Some people are racist and proud of it. Others are complicit in racism but don't call themselves racist. And still other people don't like racism but don't think White people need to take any action to stop it.

Because being anti-racist involves speaking up when you see, hear, or experience an act of racism, you may find yourself in conflict with others. This can be difficult. It may be hard to stand your ground, you may be someone who prefers to avoid conflict, or you may not have the energy to "get into it" with someone.

How to Persevere

We can be successful on our anti-racism journeys by approaching it from the standpoint of how people change behavior. Let's look quickly at how to use behavior changing steps to inform an anti-racism journey:

  1. Precontemplation: You may not have been aware of racism, or at least of how terribly it impacts people, before recently. This is the precontemplation stage, when you weren't yet considering taking any action.
  2. Contemplation: Now that you know being anti-racist is something important to do to help dismantle systemic racism, it's on your mind. You're weighing your options and thinking about the pros and cons of taking action.
  3. Preparation: You've decided to embark on an anti-racist journey. You're reading books on the subject, joining online communities, and/or telling people in your life about your decision to change your behaviors about racism. You begin to study your own thoughts and actions for signs of racism.
  4. Action: You begin your anti-racist journey with direct action. Perhaps you share a book on racism you are reading with a colleague. Maybe you talk with your family about racism, or speak up when you see someone in a victimizing situation. You continue to study your own thoughts and actions for signs of racism, and when they arise, you actively reframe your thoughts and actions in a non-racist way. If you don't know how to do this, you research to find out.
  5. Maintenance: Keeping up is the challenge now! It may feel like a lot of work to be anti-racist. It may be uncomfortable often. It might force you to not engage in some acts of privilege that you enjoyed. But despite these challenges, you remain dedicated to being anti-racist.
  6. Relapse: While you're on your anti-racism journey, you might relapse into old thoughts and behaviors. This is a normal experience for anyone who's working toward self-improvement in any area of life. You might find yourself thinking an unkind thought, or benefiting from systemic racism. Rather than beat yourself up about it, think it through: Why did it happen? What triggered it? Most importantly, how can you behave differently next time?

Once you have gone through these steps, which will take anywhere from weeks to years, the goal is to stay in the "maintenance" phase indefinitely. Being on an anti-racism journey has no end. It's lifelong work that saves and protects the lives of others. It may not be easy, but doing the work is so worth it!

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  1. Project Implicit. Featured Task: How we think about race/ethnicity.