There’s an article going round on the Huffington Post right now, talking about how racism isn’t just having prejudiced feelings towards people, or saying nasty things about people of another race. It has to do with a bigger system that shapes the way the world works, and who has access to privilege and power, and who does not. If we think racism is only about saying mean things or personally hating people of another race, then we don’t ever stop and question a bigger system— and we can actually feed into that system. For white people who read that and were like, “Yes! Agreed… okay, so…and now what?” Here are a few ideas of ways to concretely tackle some of these issues. I have not come up with these ideas myself. Most of them come from other smarter people than I am. Also, I realize that I often talk in black/white language, but racism affects many groups in the US and SA in different ways- Asians, Latinos, Indians…it’s not just a black/white thing.
First, don’t be the boss. When it comes to fighting against racial injustice, there’s a massive need for white people to get involved—racism is our problem, it’s everyone’s problem—but we really don’t need to run the show. This happens in the States, and I’ve seen this happen All. The. Time. in South Africa. Us white guys are used to being the boss. If we think we’re doing a great job of including black people in decisions we’re making about making black lives better…uh, that’s already a problem. If we find ourselves thinking things like, “I’ve hired a black assistant pastor, so now our church is diverse!” that’s probably a problem. We can’t be running the show and co-opting people onto our team to make it more colourful. Whether it’s churches or work places or anything. Listen. Go join someone else’s team. Submit to black leadership. Find a mentor.
Listen & Learn about race and racial injustice. I feel like I’m a stuck tape recorder on this one. I love what Christina Cleveland has to say on this topic to leaders, “Within the family of God, members of oppressed groups should not have to mount a social justice campaign to be heard.” Of any group, Christians have some of the strongest and best motivations for listening to the ‘outsider’ and oppressed. Let’s reshape our structures in our churches and workplaces so that members of oppressed groups can be heard loud and clear. Let’s educate ourselves on the issue as well.
Become a white ally. The term that people use in America for white people who want to help end racism is “white ally”. You don’t experience racism first hand, but you ally yourself with people who do, and join their cause. Janee Woods has a great article listing 12 very practical things you can do to be a good white ally, from learning how modern racism is rooted in a history of racism, to getting active in your community around policing issues, to advocating for change in the criminal justice system. Read it! Several ideas of hers I will be expanding on, but she has lots of wisdom here.
Stay informed. Change your media. Unfortunately, I can’t offer much help for people in South Africa, except BrettFish’s blog (awesome stuff related to race here), but I know a few more in the US. Many of these are specifically from a Christian perspective. Here is a link listing some of the top blogs written by Christian people of color in the US, and many of them focus on racial justice issues–and even if they don’t do that constantly, you can be sure when something happens in the news related to race, they will “pause their normal programming” to weigh in on it. (This link is, yet again, thanks to Christina Cleveland. If you haven’t read her book, do that, too!) Because I’m lazy, and don’t want to subscribe to hundreds of people, I generally look for people who are good content curators, and retweet/post links to other people. Two of the best I have found for that is the blog “By their strange fruit” (@BTSFblog) and @CarisAdel.
Share your voice. The sad thing is that sometimes a white voice will be heard before a black voice will. This is wrong, we need to work to change that, but it’s reality. So use your voice to make space for black voices. Don’t be afraid to share about racial justice issues in your sphere of influence. Talk with your friends and family, your pastor, your school board. Speak in places where a black voice just won’t reach yet, and introduce people to new black voices.
Be willing to look at how economic & racial privilege are linked, and then make choices about your stuff. You don’t have to just go with the flow. Since the system is giving white people economic privilege, you can share that privilege, rather than horde it. For example, we were given a car to use for the next two years because our family is awesome and generous with their stuff, but also is able to be generous because of a history of privilege. So I can just take that gift and say “Score! More room in my budget for holidays!” or, I can figure out a way to give my money/time towards making it possible for people who don’t have that kind of privilege to get access to material possessions. Mine your social privilege for others. Make connections for people getting jobs. Tithe on major purchases (like a house) into organizations or groups that are working on getting people access to affordable housing*.
In South Africa, learn the majority language of your area. In the US, racism is really tied into slavery, but in South Africa, racism and colonialism are still very linked. Part of that means that if you’re an English first-language speaker, the system is built to privilege you. You can read more about that on a blog I wrote here. Also, based on feedback from that post, I want it to be clear that learning isiZulu is not some kind of magic “get out of jail free card.” There are plenty of racist people in South Africa who know isiZulu. But anyone who is committed to racial justice in KZN and hasn’t seriously made an attempt at learning isiZulu is missing something vital. In the US, you could learn Spanish, or the language of the most recent immigrant community in your area.
In the US, advocate for reform in the criminal justice system. Read a book like “The New Jim Crow”, which explains how our criminal justice system is whacked. It explores major inequalities (like how most drug dealers are white, but most people in prison on drug related charges are black, or how when a black and a white teenager are caught with the same amount of drugs, the white teen will get off with a warning and the black teen will serve time. It also talks about how possession of drugs as a felony means that people are never able to rebuild their lives after serving time on a drug charge, because of “the box” asking people to check if they have ever been convicted of a felony on job applications….) Obama is the first US president to ever visit a federal prison and speak out about this issue (see it here), and if you’re looking for a way to advocate around these issues, here’s a link to some organizations.
Advocate for better education for everyone, everywhere. As one guy has argued, we could be totally pragmatic about all this and forget trying to help white people come to terms with understanding racism. Instead, we could just focus on changing things “on the ground”- like improving education, ending the war on drugs, providing contraceptives etc. I don’t see this as an either/or, but a both/and. Especially because as a Christian, I see justice as holistic: oppressed and oppressors experiencing wholeness that comes from working together to make our world better for everyone.
Some more resources for understanding privilege:
- The implicit bias test: This test is talked about on this AMAZING TEDTalk on racism and bias. Take the test, then watch the TED talk if you’re wondering what to do next.
- Here’s an interesting review of a new book that has come out on modern racism.
Ok, your turn– what are some other good resources you know of to help white people join the cause of racial justice in both South Africa and the USA?
*Note: There are a lot of structural, big picture economic reforms that many people are advocating for in South Africa that could help the vast majority of people who are stuck in material poverty due to our racist history of apartheid. I think as a white person, a lot of our gut instinct is fear, panic, and immediately rejecting the very notion. Instead of that, we should educate ourselves about these proposals. Even if you end up being against large-scale change instigated by the government, you’ll need to offer a thoughtful alternative. You’ll also have a much better leg to stand on if in your personal life you are willing to live generously, sacrificially, and in a way that empowers others.
4 thoughts on “Ok, so I’m racist. Now what?”
THANK YOU SO MUCH. I have been thinking a LOT about how to take practical steps in this area.
I read both articles and I have a few things to say:
0. Before I start, I just wanted to say that nearly all of this only applies to the US, because admittedly I know very little about South Africa. I’m guessing the race problems there are far more serious than in the US.
1. I am not an oppressor. To say that just because I have white skin then I must be an oppressor is crazy. I don’t own slaves. I don’t think I’ve tried to hold anyone of other races down. Even if I was a white ally, would I still be an oppressor? Can someone oppress someone else while also trying to help them with civil rights?
2. Personally, I am privileged. Our family has had no trouble financially, and I’m really thankful for that. But how come all white people get put in that privileged category? Some white people aren’t born wealthy, so in terms of financial privilege, you might as well just say wealthy privilege. In terms of other privilege, I do know that it’s easier for Black and Hispanic people to get into colleges than white people (It’s even harder for Asian people than white people). I would think hiring is more favorable to minorities too, because the employer gets to check off that employee diversity box. Affirmative Action is still a thing. Why is this type of “minority privilege” okay?
3. I’m not a racist. You’re not a racist. Racism IS actually only about hating another race or targeting a certain race with hateful thoughts/wishes/actions. Here’s the dictionary definition of racism. ( http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/racism )
“If we think racism is only about saying mean things or personally hating people of another race, then we don’t ever stop and question a bigger system— and we can actually feed into that system.”
The term you’re looking for is Systematic Oppression. It’s much different. Careful about throwing around that all white people are racist. Many don’t take kindly to it, not to mention it just isn’t true.
4. Finally, I’d just like to put this quote from the Huff Post article.
“This is the country we live in. Millions of Black lives are valued less than a single White person’s hurt feelings.”
I know it’s a blog and an opinion piece, but it’s really hard to take him seriously when his exaggeration is so exaggerated that it can’t be considered an exaggeration anymore. There was a kid who was shot in the back by the police a couple of days ago. Good thing he was white, or there would be riots and 24/7 news coverage on the story. I can’t find the source, but I’ll dig it up and link you if you request.
If you read all the way through, thanks for reading it. I don’t normally do this, but it really bugs me when people I’m close to start drinking the SJW koolaid.
First, thank you so much for taking the time to read this and share your thoughts! I really enjoy hearing your perspective. You raise a lot of really good questions, I’ll try to clarify a few things, but I’m also pretty sure that it’s hard to do in just the comment section of a blog. 🙂 I’m worried that a lot of your objections come from the article which I linked to, which was written in a very inflammatory style, and I mostly was referencing it because it was super popular on fbook at the time, and I do think it raised a some really good points. But there are MUCH BETTER articles out there on racism, so I hope you’ll look up some of those, too! ☺
First, I totally agree with you that the term “racist” is offensive. I don’t like it, because when I think of it, I think of the KKK and there is no way I want to be stuck in that group, AND I think there is a major difference between people in the Klan and the average nice (but privileged) white person out there. But I don’t think racism is *just* hatred (despite what the dictionary says), I think it’s also systematic oppression based on race. Sometimes that systematic oppression has its roots in hatred, and sometimes it’s just the way the system is because of who has power/privilege and who doesn’t. So I don’t think it’s either/or. I think it’s both. What this writer was bringing up, is that people who are white benefit in racist systems, and he’s therefore calling all the white beneficiaries “racist”. I titled my piece the way I did because of his own title, and I tend to agree with you that if you’re really trying to get people’s behavior to change, calling them racist (or trying to get them to admit to being racist) is a pretty self-defeating. And that gets at your point of “oppressor” language—I know I used that, but I actually think a better word would be privileged, or beneficiary. And yes, you can be a beneficiary of a racist system while still fighting to end that system.
Second, the other tricky thing is with racism you’re dealing with a past history of discrimination/systematic oppression AND a present history of discrimination/systematic oppression. So people who are trying to bring racial justice often argue that you have to look at the background factors and not just the present situation when trying to decide what is just. For example, when giving financial aid, you could privilege alumni of a college by giving their kids scholarships (many places do this). However, if 50 years ago, the college would not admit black people, then the alumni pool is going to be majority white, so their white kids are going to get the most scholarships. Besides that fact, because their parents went to college, they are also probably less in need of financial aid, and probably also went to better schools with better teachers, so they have higher GPAs, so it’s kind of a snowball effect. Racial justice advocates would say that’s not just, and affirmative action and college entrance programmes are all created in order to try and help counter-act that unjust history. Whether they do that perfectly or not is definitely open to debate. But hopefully you can understand the reason for them, and if you can come up with a better way to make that process fairer—I think our country needs to hear it! ☺ I don’t think those programs are the be-all-end-all, but they’re trying to accomplish something, and if we do throw them out, we need a better system.
Same with police shootings. There’s a long history of black people not receiving protection from police, but rather harm, and black kids are convicted of crimes way more that white kids get warnings for… so while it’s terrible that an unarmed white kid was shot, and I think police brutality in general needs to be in check, the reason it hasn’t sparked as much outrage might be because there’s not a long history there. I’d encourage you to read the book “Blink” by Malcom Gladwell.
Third, one of the writer’s (and my) basic assumptions—which I’m not sure we see eye to eye on—is that there are still systems in the US that are racist. The reason I’ve come to my perspective is because of the research I’ve done. It’s hard to hear that there are systems still around that privilege white people and disadvantage other groups, especially because a lot of times we don’t see obvious acts of hatred, and we only know about the factors that impact our own personal lives. If you haven’t seen racism first-hand, it’s hard to believe it’s still out there, because nothing in your world points to it. (I wrote a blog about that one here: https://bridginghope.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/what-my-car-break-down-taught-me-about-racism/ )
So I would encourage you to keep reading articles and books that talk about racism, put yourself in positions where you are in the racial minority, ask black people in your life about their experiences of racism, and really listen.
Thanks for reading Kevin! And I hope we can have some more conversations on this in the future. 🙂