“Not racist” or “anti-racist” what’s your choice?

One of my readers just sent me an email and she asked a simple question: Cecily what is the difference between “not racist and anti-racist?”

This is the last paragraph of my memoir:
“ I do think change in our racial attitudes will occur, and is happening now, but I think it will take time – perhaps even a generation or more for us to see significant change. Small steps. Deciding to write my memoir was one small step for me, and it has fundamentally changed me. I have a new understanding of myself and my identity. To paraphrase an observation made by others: it is not enough to ‘not be a racist.” At this time, when social justice and racial prejudice are pressing problems that need to be addressed, it is more important to be “anti-racist.” I have heard the following response often to my discussions on race: “I am not a racist.” White friends and colleagues believe that whenever I now talk about race, they have to defend themselves. What I think Black people want from their white friends now is the realization that the discussion is not about them; it is much bigger than one person. What Blacks want whites to do is to listen and ask if there is something more that they can do to help? Anything however small will have an additive effect. What Black people want is understanding; for others to self-examine their actions and beliefs and see if there is anything that they can do differently to support change.”

This is what I want you to understand:
I am “not racist” is passive. Most of my white friend identify as “not racist.” They say this without a pause to think of what that means. They immediately list a variety of examples why. The most common are the “black” friends they have or have even dated. They may even have a relative who has married a POC and they have nephews and nieces of colour. They may move onto co-workers and other colleagues and how they treated them. The point is we are all racist unless we are actively striving not to be. Hence being “anti-racist”

So how do you become an “anti-racist?”

The first step is for you is to personally reflect on your own experiences. Understand the forms racism takes. Understand “white privilege” and how that separates you from POC.
Once you have reflected and are now more conscious of race and racism, the next step is to take action when you see inequality and racism in everyday life. Do something when you see inequality and take on the attitude that racism is everyone’s problem and you need to get on the band wagon and do something about it. For example, a black colleague was being harassed with the most awful microaggressions by a white co-worker. With downsizing she was transferred from food services to housekeeping. This white worker said to her that “all black people were good for was cleaning toilets” I personally reported this microaggression on her behalf to human resources, but the main thing I did was to support her emotionally. She would call me nightly to discuss her feelings of low self-esteem. The microaggressions affected her deeply. I was able to build her up and put the coworkers’ behaviour into context.

Being “Antiracist” is active. It is a process. Once we live in any first world country which is predominantly white, you would have been bombarded with racial stereotypes. Blacks for generations have been described as inferior, lazy, not trustworthy, dishonest … these are part of our psyche and influence how we think both consciously and unconsciously. Try to identify any racist opinions you have. I related an incident in my memoir where my son was banned from the mall across from his high school, he was the only one banned. I immediately took him to the mall and found the security guard and told him that his reasoning was because my son was a POC and had an afro and he had no reason to assume he would be dishonest, and he had no other reason to ban him. He said he could return with me. I said no, he will come with his friends without me and if he was harassed again, I would report him to management.

To be anti-racist will have to be a conscious choice you make. An active choice. It will always be a work in progress.
If you are a white person, the first step is accepting that you come from a position of privilege and make a commitment to use this privilege in a positive way.
If you are a POC you have to understand that POC are not all equal in terms of class and education, but you are all struggling in some way against the white majority.

Really think of the “Black Lives Matter” movement and why it was established and what it stands for. Communities of colour have experienced multiple killings of their men, women, sons and daughters. I know many of you think Whites are killed also but believe me black lives killed is significantly disproportional to white lives killed by the police. Realise that the life expectancy of a POC cannot be assumed.

Think of immigration and realize that Canada needs immigrants to be a financially and economically viable country. Immigrants contribute to a robust economy. One of my friends says has a friend who is antiimmigrant and she is always posting about “her tax dollars” well it is also the “tax dollars” of immigrants that make this country great. So please learn the facts.

Being antiracist is not really about who you are but what you do.

Understand that race isn’t biological. In spite of this, many racial ideas are considered normal. When a neighbour of mine said that she would see my 7 and 9 year old boys in court she was going on the assumption that their 25% black genes would somehow make them deviant!!!

Are you an educator? Education at the school level will be one of the answers to educations contribution to an anti-racist society. Please support the education of awareness of racialized attitudes and opinions. Educators have to be self-aware and feel comfortable to talk about race with their students and when the see racism DO SOMETHING. The most common on the school ground may be racial stereotypical jokes. Point out that these jokes are not funny and are in fact hurtful to the recipient.

Yes to be anti-racist will be a lifelong commitment, but you will be contributing to a better world of peace and harmony.