Race and Identity Racism What Does It Mean To Be Anti-racist? By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MSEd Facebook Twitter Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book." Learn about our editorial process Updated on April 17, 2023 Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Cara Lustik Fact checked by Cara Lustik LinkedIn Cara Lustik is a fact-checker and copywriter. Learn about our editorial process Print Verywell / Catherine Song Anti-racism is a process of actively identifying and opposing racism. The goal of anti-racism is to challenge racism and actively change the policies, behaviors, and beliefs that perpetuate racist ideas and actions. Anti-racism is rooted in action. It is about taking steps to eliminate racism at the individual, institutional, and structural levels. It is not a new concept, but the Black Lives Matter movement has helped increase the focus on the importance of anti-racism. Why Anti-Racism Is Important The problem with systemic racism is that it is all around us. We are born into it. It is deeply embedded in our culture and our communities including our schools, the justice system, the government, and hospitals. It is so pervasive that people often don't even notice how policies, institutions, and systems disproportionately favor some while disadvantaging others. People often mistakenly believe that simply being “not racist” is enough to eliminate racial discrimination. The problem with this perspective is that White people are often unaware of their own unconscious biases. People often don’t fully understand the institutional and structural issues that uphold White supremacy and contribute to racist behaviors, attitudes, and policies. Saying “but I’m not racist” also allows people to avoid participating in anti-racism. It’s a way of saying “that’s not my problem” while failing to acknowledge that even people who are not racist still reap the benefits of a system that is biased against other people. Another problem is that research has found that people who believe that they are not racist are often much more prejudiced than they think they are. One study found that people who described themselves as believing strongly in racial equality tended to have significant implicit biases against Black people. In his book How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi, a leading scholar on race and racial discrimination, examines many of the individual attitudes held by both White and non-White people that play a role in sustaining racism. It is impossible, Kendi notes, to be “not racist” if you hold negative attitudes about entire groups of people based on their race, ethnicity, or cultural heritage. It is the casual, insidious forms of racism that people are often blind to that play such a pivotal role in upholding racism. People don’t see it because these attitudes are often so deeply ingrained that it takes the ability to be deeply self-critical to examine and challenge those attitudes. As Kendi explains in How to Be an Antiracist: "the only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it — and then dismantle it." What Are Microaggressions? Understand What Racism Is People often think of racism solely in terms of individual actions. The word may conjure up images of people in White cloaks or neo-Nazi’s with shaved heads. While both represent racism, it is important to realize that racial discrimination is not always so overt. Believing that racism is always so direct blinds us from recognizing and examining our own biased beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. For example, Merriam-Webster dictionary defined racism as, “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” In the wake of the George Floyd protests, editors of the dictionary decided to update the definition in response to one reader’s request to more clearly include the role that systemic racism plays. Kendi suggests that a racist is “One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea." The Effects of Racism Anti-racism also involves working to understand how race and racism affect people. Research has shown that racism has wide-reaching negative effects on individuals, families, communities, and entire societies. Racism has an impact in areas you may not have considered including healthcare, education, employment, and housing. Economic Disparities Racism influences economic status for a number of reasons. Racialized individuals are discriminated against in educational and employment access. For example: White households are on average 13 times wealthier than Black households.One 2016 report found that while 72% of White households owned their home, only 44% of Black households and 45% of Latino households owned their homes.Black bachelor’s degree-holders earn significantly less than White bachelor's degree holders. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021 the median pay for White workers was about 23% higher than it was for Black and Latino workers. Employment Inequality Ethnic minorities are less likely to be offered jobs compared to their White counterparts. Black workers are twice as likely to be unemployed as White workers. Statistics also show that Black employees are more likely to be underemployed in comparison to their educational and skill levels. Incarceration Disparities Statistics show that there are significant disparities in how the criminal justice and legal system treats White vs. non-White defendants. People who belong to an ethnic minority receive longer, harsher sentences. For example, Black men receive almost 20% longer sentences than White defendants for the same crimes. Healthcare Inequality Racial discrimination has a detrimental impact on health for a number of reasons. Research has shown that racism has negative effects on physical and mental health. Studies have also found that BIPOC are less likely to receive adequate healthcare, both because of reduced access to healthcare and because of poor patient experiences. Understanding these issues as well as how systemic racism contributes to such disparities is an essential part of anti-racism. Redlining, which is the systematic denial of services, is one reason for the significant disparities in homeownership. Racial minorities are less likely to be offered financial services including loans and insurance. They are also less likely to be shown available homes for sale. They are less likely to receive job offers and are frequently paid less than their non-racialized counterparts for the same work. All of these factors — as well as many others — contribute to the social and economic disparities that are indicative of widespread systemic racism. Examine Your Own Biases Anti-racism requires looking at your own beliefs and actions critically. Research has shown that even people who support racial equality often unknowingly hold racist attitudes. This discrepancy is often explained by the existence of implicit biases, or attitudes that are largely unconscious but nevertheless influence behavior. For example: While people may consciously support racial justice, they can still hold subtle beliefs about different races, often based upon internalized stereotypes. Data from the Implicit Association Test (IAT) has found that while nearly 70% of White respondents claim that they have no preference between Black and White, almost the same percentage of respondents showed some type of preference toward Whites on the test.Such biases can have an impact on behavior. One study found that having implicit racial biases made doctors less likely to recommend appropriate treatment to Black patients. These unconscious, automatic associations are a result of how the brain operates. In order to make sense of a complex world that inundates us with information, our brains like to create categories and shortcuts that help us make sense of the world. The problem is that these shortcuts can lead us astray, causing bias and making it difficult to think critically. While it is impossible to rid yourself of your cognitive biases entirely, it is possible to develop critical thinking skills that allow you to challenge your assumptions. If you are interested in learning more about your own implicit biases, you can take the Implicit Association Test free through Project Implicit. How to Practice Kendi explains that anti-racism requires the ability to examine your own biases and engage in critical thinking. The events that helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement have helped many see the critical need for anti-racism. Learn About Racism Do the research to learn about the history and effects of racism. Learn how racism is still happening today and how it shapes our social, economic, and political landscape. There are many great ways to learn more about the history and effects of racism including books and online resources, including: How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo An Antiracist Reading List, compiled by Ibram X. Kendi for the New York Times Code Switch, a podcast series from NPR Racial Equity Tools Listen Listen to what racial justice advocates have to say about racist behaviors and policies. Remember that just because you have never experienced or witnessed these things doesn’t mean that they don’t happen. Reflect on things you may have done or believed that might have been rooted in racism. Also recognize that race intersects with many other aspects of a person’s identity including sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, and disability. Not all people are impacted by race in the same way. Black women, for example, are affected by both racial discrimination and sexism. And Black and Indigenous people often experience discrimination differently than other people of color. Listening to these experiences and thinking about how policies may affect people differently can help people adopt an anti-racist stance. Participate Take part in events that are designed to combat racial injustice. Steps you can take to help make a difference include: Volunteering for and donating to organizations that fight injustice Participating in social movements Amplifying minority voices Voting on issues in your community Getting involved in politics such as serving on committees or running for office Work to make changes in any setting where you have the power to do so. Use your position and voice to effect change in your workplace, your school, your community, and your local government. Discuss Racism Talk to friends and family about the effects of racism. Call out racism when you see it. Posting your support on social media can be helpful, but real conversations with the people in your life can often be more influential and effective. Talk to Your Kids Opening up a conversation about race and racism with your kids is an essential part of raising kids to be anti-racist. Staying away from conversations about race and skin color can lead kids to think that such topics are bad or taboo. It also leaves kids to draw their own conclusions based on the often stereotyped representations they see in the media. Adding multicultural books to your child’s reading list can be helpful. Books can also be helpful for guiding conversations about difficult topics such as slavery and segregation. Seek Diversity One way to combat racist beliefs is to seek diversity in your life. It’s hard to gain a new perspective if all you do is spend time with people who look like you, think like you, and act like you. It is also hard to learn about other people if the media you consume only reflects people who are similar to you. One study found that simply living in areas with greater diversity cause people to be less racist and more tolerant. This phenomenon, known as passive tolerance, happens because people are exposed to more positive examples. Rather than basing beliefs on racial stereotypes, people gain a more representative and realistic perspective through direct experience. 7 Strategies to Help Your Anti-Racism Journey Impact of Anti-Racism Because anti-racism is an active process, it has the potential to have an impact on the individual, community, and societal levels. Some of the potential effects include: Reducing obstacles to employmentImproving educational experience and attainmentReducing racial disparities within the criminal justice systemImproving interventions for youth who are at riskIncreasing access to community resourcesEncouraging social and political participationReducing bullying, hate crimes, and racially motivated violenceElecting officials to office who are committed to anti-racism It is important to remember that anti-racism is not a one-time or occasional action. It’s a lifelong commitment to fighting for racial equality and justice. A Word From Verywell Anti-racism requires reflection and action. It involves looking not only at your own beliefs and behaviors, but also fighting racism on the interpersonal, institutional, and structural levels. Being anti-racist is a conscious choice to make choices and engage in actions that support equality. How to Support Black Lives Matter and Communities of Color 16 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. West K, Eaton AA. Prejudiced and unaware of it: Evidence for the Dunning-Kruger model in the domains of racism and sexism. Personality and Individual Differences. 2019;146:111–119. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2019.03.047 Kendi, Ibram X. How to Be an Antiracist. United States, Random House Publishing Group, 2019. Merriam-Webster. Definition of racism. Hauser C. Merriam-Webster Revises 'Racism' Entry After Missouri Woman Asks for Changes. The New York Times. Paradies Y, Ben J, Denson N, et al. Racism as a Determinant of Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS One. 2015;10(9):e0138511. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0138511 Pew Research Center. Demographic trends and economic well-being. Inequality.org. Racial Economic Inequality. Wilson V. African Americans are paid less than whites at every education level. Economic Policy Institute. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Table 2. Median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers by selected characteristics, quarterly averages, not seasonally adjusted. Williams J, Wilson V. Black workers endure persistent racial disparities in employment outcomes. Economic Policy Institute. United States Sentencing Commission. Demographic Differences in Sentencing. Stanley J, Harris R, Cormack D, Waa A, Edwards R. The impact of racism on the future health of adults: protocol for a prospective cohort study. BMC Public Health. 2019;19(1):346. doi:10.1186/s12889-019-6664-x Krysan M. Does race matter in the search for housing? An exploratory study of search strategies, experiences, and locations. Soc Sci Res. 2008;37(2):581-603. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2007.06.001 Nosek BA, Smyth FL, Hansen JJ, et al. Pervasiveness and correlates of implicit attitudes and stereotypes. European Review of Social Psychology. 2007;18(1):36-88. doi:10.1080/10463280701489053 Green AR, Carney DR, Pallin DJ, et al. Implicit Bias among Physicians and its Prediction of Thrombolysis Decisions for Black and White Patients. J Gen Intern Med. 2007;22(9):1231-8. doi:10.1007/s11606-007-0258-5 Christ O, Schmid K, Lolliot S, et al. Contextual effect of positive intergroup contact on outgroup prejudice. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2014;111(11):3996-4000. doi:10.1073/pnas.1320901111 By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book." See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? 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