Monday, November 26, 2012

Working on Anti-Racism

I've read a couple of really great things about how anti-racism isn't a state of being, but an active process. I wanted to take a second talk about this.

The first is by Lesley Kinzel, who I admire greatly and I've written about several times. She tweeted,
I don't call myself "a feminist" for the same reason I don't call myself "an anti-racist": these are things I WORK AT, not things I AM.

I make no concessions about identifying as a feminist, so I was a bit miffed at first. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what she was saying is really important (even though I won't balk on my personal identity as a feminist.) Then I read a similar statement from  Ms. Queenly, someone I follow on Tumblr, that went even further.
Passive anti-racism, or believing you sprung up outta the ground with good intentions and that actually counts for something, is part of the problem.
You have to be actively anti-racist, actively anti-oppression.
This is mostly aimed at white people: YOU HAVE TO REALLY WORK AT IT.
Its not a hobby, or an experiment, or something you can take off or put on. There are no shortcuts, no set-in-stone rules to be followed. You have to really do it and mean it and figure out what it means to do that.
Both of these points are incredibly important. They've served as a good reminder to me that, as a white person, I experience white privilege on quite literally a daily basis. Without actively thinking about race, without listening to people of color, without challenging white privilege, I can and will operate in a racist manner. It is how society is ordered and racial bias was ingrained in so much of what I learned as a child. Without really working on anti-racism, racism is how I will default.

I don't get to declare myself an anti-racist and move on from it. That's not how these things work. Like Ms. Queenly said, we have to really work at it.

Avory at Radically Queer had an important piece to add,
We need to accept that when a person of color tells us we’ve fucked up, the answer is not to get defensive. When we get that instinct to say “geez, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way at all,” it’s time to stop right now. It doesn’t matter how you meant it. It really doesn’t. Someone doesn’t have to have racism in their heart to do something racist. And doing something racist doesn’t make you an evil person who can never do good again, should never be an activist, should run off and hide in a hole somewhere. It means you did something hurtful, you made a big mistake, and you need to own that mistake. You need to say “I’m sorry.” Full stop. I’m sorry. And if the person who called you out is generous enough to take time to explain what you did wrong, you need to have a seat and listen.
I've written before about how sometimes when a white person messes up, the whole situation turns around into being offended about being called racist instead of addressing the racist thing actually said. Let me say it again: That is counterproductive. And a "I'm anti-racist!" mindset contributes to this.

It's quite simple, actually...when you believe that you are so fully anti-racist that you are unwilling and unable to work on the racist stuff you actually DO say, then you are part of the problem. No one gets to achieve a magic plane of existence where they are exempt from racial bias. Instead it is an active process that requires your effort. Daily.


  1. Great post. We white people need to get beyond 'I am not a racist'. It's not a question of being, but doing. If you don't go against the current in a racist culture you will go with the flow.

  2. Girl, your blog is tough to comment on.

    1. Yeah, sorry. Blogger doesn't have a great commenting system to start w/ and I've made it even less great trying to protect myself from some of the trolls I acquire.


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