Quick Tips for Confronting Racism and White Privilege
1. Educating and confronting yourself should be an immediate and ongoing process
Spend time researching all forms of racism and white privilege, your own role in these systems, your own biases, and how your own perspective and forms of communication affects people of color. Attempt to understand anti-racism concepts such as white fragility, tone policing, purity politics, non-racist vs anti-racist, good/bad binary, microaggressions, cultural appropriation, etc. Spend time learning about effective ways to confront racism, common excuses, perspectives and anti-racism detours for racism, and how to offer constructive feedback. And study persuasion techniques such as morally reframe, cognitive dissonance, and backfire effect. And if applicable check out organzational and children anti-racism techniques.
2. Understand how white complicity and complacency protects and supports racism
Racism Complicity – to support racism by consciously or unconsciously supporting systemic and implicit racism
Racism Complacency – to support racism by not challenging it
Effective Allyship: Don’t just be non-racist, be anti-racist
3. Don’t let white fragility stop you or others from talking about race
White fragility is when white people feel uncomfortable talking about race and often retreat. You may feel this while confronting racism or you may cause this to the people you are comfronting. A common reaction to this is to retreat from the conservation or to water down the conservation. Its important to fight this urge and to continue having these important conservations as much as possible even if it doesn’t end well. Its better to make a situation awkward than to not confront a racist action. An awkward situation is not anywhere near as bad than living with racism.
4. Avoid shaming
Focus on the action or idea, not the person. “What you said was racist because it re-enforces racist stereotypes…” instead of saying “You’re racist for saying that”. This allows someone to feel like they have the power to change their actions rather than becoming reactionary to being shamed. Its easier for people to change a behavior than to change themselves. And people are more inclined to change when its just a behavior.
5. Learn when to “call out” or “call in”
Sometimes its important to “call out” in the open when many people could benefit from this lesson on racism. But most people, when “called out”, often become reactionary or withdrawn, and may be too distracted to understand the lesson. When you’re main purpose is to change someone’s behavior its often better to “call in” that person to a private conservation online, or even better in person. A behavior is often more likely to change for the longtern, when its done from a place of compassion, instead of shame.
6. Be specific, respectful and when possible provide alternatives
Don’t just say, “that was racist!”. Sometimes when you’re not being heard and a line desperately needs to be established, being loud and crude is effective. But often people are more likely to hear you when you’re respectful and offer specifics and alternatives. For example say, “I feel you meant well (only say that if its true), but what you said can be perceived as racist because it re-enforces negative stereotypes. In the future could you say this instead to get your point across…” Try to articulate the other position accurately back to show you’re listening and not just preparing a reflex respond before your finished reading. When appropriate try to validate their feelings and/or perspective, acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion and try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews. And in the case of supporters of a populist leader like Trump, try to prove you are not a made up enemy.
Life Hacker: The Importance of Empathy
“During a conversation, especially a heated on, most people formulate their response before the other person even finishes their statement. This form of communication is more verbal combat than an exchange of ideas or opinions. Avoid this reflex by slowing down. Rather than rushing to reply, take a moment to consider the other person’s statement. Ask follow up questions to better understand what the speaker intended. Try to understand their emotional state and the deeper motivations behind their statement. What life experiences led them to their current worldview? Remember you don’t need to share someone’s opnion to understand it and acknowledge it. And listening will help inform and expand your own opinion.”
7. When possible talk in first person
No one expects perfect “I” statements but its important to show that you are speaking for yourself instead of general assumptions. Talk in the first person–“I felt…” or “When I heard you say . . . I had this reaction”
8. Ask questions and identify bridges
Try not to assume whats behind a racist statement or idea and ask why they came to this conclusion. When possible identity “bridges” or any common ground (beliefs, thoughts, actions, concerns, etc) to avoid polarization and increase the chances of being heard.
9. Defend important social justice concepts
Since the 1990s there’s been concerted efforts from conservatives (and sometimes white moderate and liberal) pundits, to misinform and demonized important anti-racism concepts. These efforts often fuel conservative backlashes against progressive anti-racism movements. Two easy targets are “Political Correctness” and “Identity Politics“. both of these strategies are essential to fighting inquality but have also been so demonized that they are causing white (on all sides of the political isle) anti-racism backlashes. These strategies are important enough to learn about and defend.
10. Know your own limits, practice self-care and when possible wait till your calm before responding
Learn ways to calm yourself down and process what your feeling. Try not to respond until your calm and not emotionally charged. And recognize the situations to avoid that go beyond your own limits.
11. Have a few good memes on hand when you hit your limit.
When dealing with a white person who expresses how exhausting it is to hear about racism all the time post this meme.
Table of Contents
Lessons about Confronting Racism and White Privilege
Brene Brown: We need to keep talking about Charlottesville
Dismantling Racism: Analysis Tools
DYNAMICS OF DENIAL & resistance
As lived and reproduced by white people.
TACTIC | What it is | What it sounds like
DENIAL | denial of existence of oppression; denial of responsibility for it | Discrimination is a thing of the past. It’s a level playing field. It’s not my fault; I’m not responsible.
MINIMIZATION | playing down the damage | Racism isn’t a big problem anymore. It’s not that bad.
BLAME | justifying oppression, blaming the victims of oppression for it | Look at the way they act. If they weren’t so angry… Women are too emotional.
LACK OF INTENT | claims the damage is unintentional | I didn’t mean it like that. It was only a joke.
IT’S OVER NOW | the oppression was in the past and is no longer an issue | Slavery was over a long ago. Feminism has gone too far.
COMPETING VICTIMIZATION | claiming that targets of oppression have so much power that we are threatened | Women really have all the power. We just want our rights too. They’re taking away our jobs. White people are under attack.
Our identity and relation to power: we may feel guilt or anxiety for being a member of the dominant group (a man when sexism is the issue; a white person when racism is the issue). We may be afraid to speak out because we’ll be seen as a troublemaker and become isolated when we belong to the target group.
Our discomfort with the content and perspective: the implications of what we’re learning may be very threatening to us if we belong to the dominant group or may not be critical or threatening enough if we belong to the target group.
Our discomfort with the process: those of us used to doing things a certain way may get impatient or frustrated when the process is unfamiliar, slow, or too ‘touchy feely.’ We may assume that the way we respond to the process is the way everyone responds to the process, whether or not that is true. Some of us feel we have a ‘right’ to be included, while others never expect to be fully included.
Our fear about losing: taking in and/or acting on the information presented may mean loss – of family, of friends, of a job. A white person who opens up to how racism is playing out in their family or community may risk losing important relationships if they decide to speak or act. A person of color who decides to work in coalition with white people may risk losing important relationships as a result.
Our fear of critical thinking: many of us tend to hear critical thinking as criticism. For example, the suggestion that we could do better on race issues in our organization is heard as criticism that we’re doing a bad job. This can be particularly difficult when we have a lot of personal investment in the organization or community.
Dismantling Racism: Action Tools
Offering feedback is one method of learning about what is working and what could be improved. Offering feedback is not about judging skills, knowledge, and understanding; neither is it about hurting feelings. Often our habit is to say what we like publicly and what we dislike privately and to someone else. This makes it very difficult to learn from our experience and mistakes. It also creates a climate of distrust. Offering feedback is a tool, which should be used strategically. Because we work in organizations that must think critically, we sometimes have difficulty discerning when critical thinking is helpful and when it becomes important to offer support, regardless of the circumstances. Approval and affirmation are as important as critical thinking; both should be offered at appropriate times.
To give constructive feedback:
- talk in the first person–“I felt…”or “When I heard you say . . . I had this reaction” show that you are speaking for yourself and avoiding general or global conclusions.
- be specific. – Focus on the particular action or statement. Avoid saying things like “You always . . .” or “You keep on . . .” and give a specific incident or example.
- challenge the idea or action, not the person – Stick to the actions or behaviors that a person can do something about.
- combine recognition of what worked with a challenge to improve – Be as specific as possible about what worked and speak to the reasons it worked.
- ask questions to clarify or probe the reasons – Assume that people have a reason for what they do, and ask them to explain it so you can give more credible feedback.
- identify the bridges – It helps to acknowledge when you act or think in a similar way, saying things such as “I know that when I am in this situation, I tend to . . .” in a way that reminds the person that you’re on the same side. You may want to bridge by acknowledging differences – “I know my experience as a man is different, but it still may be useful to note that . . .” It can help to acknowledge that you’ve gotten stuck or had a similar problem and the issue at hand is helping you to reflect on what to do as a facilitator.
- wherever possible, make specific suggestions for alternative approaches – Questions like “Have you considered . . .” or “What would happen if we tried . . .” open up possibilities. Using ‘we’ suggests this issue is of interest to the whole group. Encourage a range of solutions to make the point there is more than one way to do it.
How To Tell Someone They Sound Racist
AJ+: Responding to Racism
Everyday Feminism: Calling In: A Quick Guide on When and How
“Nobody is perfect, but when people screw up and do oppressive things, we need to let them know what they did was wrong. In social justice circles, we often do something called “calling out,” which usually includes someone publicly pointing out that another person is being oppressive.
Calling someone out serves two primary purposes: It lets that person know they’re being oppressive, and it lets others know that the person was being oppressive. By letting others know about this person’s oppressive behavior, more people can hold them accountable for their actions.
While staying silent about injustice often means being complicit in oppression, calling out lets someone know that what they’re doing won’t be condoned. Calling out, essentially, aims to get the oppressive person to stop their behavior. While I have absolutely no doubt that calling out has immense value – I do it all the time – it can be really difficult and sometimes counter-productive. I have come across situations where I think a more gentle approach would be more effective.
For example, when my best friend says something ableist, how should I approach it? What about when my partner – a thoughtful, socially conscious person – says something that is subtly heterosexist? What about people who aren’t consciously being oppressive? What about people who don’t speak English as a first language, and therefore don’t realize the oppressive connotations of some words? Is there a more compassionate way of calling someone out?
There is a big difference between a person making a few screw ups and a person repeatedly engaging in hurtful behavior without apologizing. If the ultimate goal is to get someone to change their problematic behavior, then we need to be intentional and strategic about how we encourage people to do that.
“I picture ‘calling in’ as a practice of pulling folks back in who have strayed from us. It means extending to ourselves the reality that we will and do fuck up, we stray, and there will always be a chance for us to return. Calling in as a practice of loving each other enough to allow each other to make mistakes, a practice of loving ourselves enough to know that what we’re trying to do here is a radical unlearning of everything we have been configured to believe is normal.”
Much like calling out, calling in aims to get the person to change their problematic behavior. The primary difference between calling in and calling out is that calling in is done with a little more compassion and patience. Sometimes people – especially people who are shy, new to social justice activism, or easily hurt – receive messages better when they’re sent gently.
As someone who is socially anxious and very sensitive, I often feel afraid to participate in certain spaces online because I’m too afraid I’ll say something wrong and be ostracized by the group. Of course, my personal hurt is not an excuse for my oppressive behavior to go unchecked. But those who are mentally ill shouldn’t feel afraid to participate in these online spaces – when possible and appropriate, we should extend compassion to people, even when they’ve messed up.
I want to make one thing very clear: I am not advocating that people shouldn’t get angry at their own oppression. Trans people have the right to get angry about transantagonism. Women and non-binary people have the right to get angry about sexism. Black people have the right to get angry about racism.
Calling people out allows us to hold people – particularly those who have privilege over us – accountable for their oppressive actions. It’s important that marginalized folks are allowed to do that, and it’s important that people who do oppressive things are held accountable.
I’m also not saying that calling people in is always and inherently better than calling people out. I think both calling in and calling out can be constructive in different circumstances. Rather, I want to discuss another method of engaging with oppressive behavior. Our activism, like our general behavior in life, should be as compassionate as possible, but for many of us, energy and compassion are not renewable resources. We can burn out really easily. We can run out of patience. And some people are simply not worth our energy.
For our movement, and for our own self-care, we need to budget our compassion and not waste it on those who won’t return it. But it’s really difficult to figure out when we’re wasting our energy on people and when we’re not. Here are a few questions you might want to ask yourself when deciding whether you should call someone in or out.
1. Do I Have the Emotional Capacity to Call Someone in Right Now?
Dealing with oppression can be draining. Taking on the task of trying to reach out and possibly educate someone requires emotional energy. Nobody should feel obligated to call someone in, especially when it’s too emotionally painful to do so. So before you call someone in, ask yourself if engaging with them will be more harmful to you than beneficial. You could always take a break and call them in later if necessary.
An alternative option is asking another person – perhaps an ally – to call them in and help educate them. When it comes to activism, we need to take care of ourselves first. It’s not selfish to indulge in self-care when you need to; it’s important for your survival. We need to make sure we have the emotional and mental energy to keep going.
2. Do I Have Privilege Over Those Who Are Harmed by This Person’s Actions?
A huge part of allyship is talking to other privileged people and getting them to be supportive of marginalized groups. It is exhausting for marginalized people to constantly call in people who have privilege over them, so our supporters should be doing that for us whenever they can.
Marginalized people should not have to educate their oppressors.
As a queer person, I should not be expected to educate every person who perpetuates heterosexism – intentionally or not. But I would really appreciate it if straight people attempting to work in solidarity with the queer movement would encourage other straight people to avoid engaging in oppressive behavior.
As a white person, I could do more to engage with other white people when their behavior or attitude perpetuates racism. Of course, I can’t go around compassionately educating every willfully ignorant racist.
But I can attempt to compassionately engage with those who, like me, are willing to learn more about oppression in order to better support people of color. Calling people in is one of the ways in which this could be done.
3. What Are (Or Were) Their Intentions? Do You Think They’ll Change Their Behavior?
When it comes to supporting marginalized groups, the impact of our actions is more important than our intentions. Let’s use a really simple example to illustrate this idea. Imagine that I am standing in the kitchen next to my friend, who is too short to reach something on the top shelf. I move over and try to grab it for her. In doing so, I stand on her toes. She then shouts out, “Ouch! You’re hurting me! Stop standing on my toes!”
In this situation, I didn’t intend for her to get hurt. I intended to help her. But it won’t be very helpful if I turn around and say, “But I didn’t meant to hurt you! I’m trying to help you! I refuse to get off your toes because it’s not meant to be hurtful!”
Instead, I should stop standing on her toes because it’s hurting her and then apologize. In fact, I should do the work, in advance, to be intentional about asking if she would like my help and how I should best support her in the process.
When it comes to supporting marginalized people, we might accidentally end up doing something more harmful than helpful. In those situations, it’s not helpful to prattle on about how we never meant to hurt them. Rather, we should pay attention to people’s self-advocacy, engage with their complaints, and avoid hurting them as best as we can.
After all, if our intentions are good, we should be willing to take notice of people when they tell us how to support them. If we only mean well, we should understand the importance of apologizing and changing our hurtful behavior. How does this fit into calling people in? Well, a person’s intentions might not make their actions any less harmful. But if someone truly has good intentions, they will be willing to change their behavior.
4. Why Exactly Did They Do This Oppressive Thing?
Sometimes, people make mistakes because they simply don’t know they’re making those mistakes. For example, I met with a group of young high school girls recently to discuss feminism and social justice. One of the girls in the group referred to trans people as being “born in the wrong body” – a phrase many trans people object to.
Instead of calling her out on it, I called her in: I gently explained why the phrase isn’t okay to use and offered to e-mail some of the girls some information on trans-friendly language. The reason why she used that phrase was because she was genuinely ignorant. High schools don’t usually offer much trans education, and the mainstream media often uses oppressive language or ignores trans issues altogether.
I thought about how eager, yet afraid I was to get involved in social justice when I was in high school. At that age, I didn’t need someone to shout at me for using a phrase I didn’t know to be oppressive – I needed a bit of guidance. She was ignorant, but she was willing to learn. She immediately apologized and asked for more information. Since then, she’s started a personal blog on feminism and has gotten really involved in social justice activism.
I can’t help but feel that if I called her out with less compassion, she might have felt less confident and she wouldn’t have responded as she did. In social justice activism, it is important that we invest what we can in one another’s growth and happiness. After all, humans drive the movement, and if we don’t take care of the each other, the movement becomes less powerful.
If someone is intentionally being an asshole, let them go. If someone is intentionally ignoring marginalized groups, let them go. But if someone is engaging in oppressive behavior because they didn’t know it was oppressive – or because they had a momentary lapse in judgment – calling them in could be the most constructive move.
How Can We Call Someone In?
There is certainly no single, full-proof formula for calling in people effectively. That said, it can be helpful to have a flexible guideline on how to call someone in. I have a general pattern which I use when I try to call people in, and I adjust it when circumstances change.
Firstly, it’s a good idea to figure out which method of communication would be best. Is it better to approach them in person? Would a message or phone call be more effective? Sometimes it’s better to have the conversation privately, as sometimes a public conversation isn’t inappropriate. It depends on the nature of the oppressive thing they did and what kind of relationship you have.
For example, if someone uses the word “lame” – an ableist slur – when commenting on my Facebook posts, I usually just comment and explain nicely why I don’t want them to use that word on my posts. However, if I am familiar enough with that person to know they might be scared or embarrassed about their mistake, a private conversation could be better. After all, I’m more interested in helping them change their oppressive behavior than publicly shaming them for it.
Secondly, mention the specific action and explain why it was hurtful or oppressive. Maybe the person doesn’t understand exactly why their behavior is harmful. Let them know how it impacts you directly, if it does. I’m personally really hurt by people perpetuating the stigma attached to mental illness, because I’m mentally ill. So when someone does that, I explain how their actions hurt my feelings. I’ll be sure to explain how the stigma attached to mental illness directly prevents people like me from getting adequate mental health care. The beauty of social media is that we can quickly link our friends to educational articles, thus saving us the effort of rehashing common arguments – use this advantage!
Lastly, we should be willing to have a discussion with them about their actions. They might want to apologize for their actions. They might ask for help on changing their behavior or language. If we can help them, and if they’re willing to learn, we can attempt to guide them so that they become more conscious of their actions.”
“You’re always hanging out with that girl, are you a lesbian?”
“Why are black woman always so sassy?”
“How did you fail that test? Are you a retard?”
Unfortunately, these are all phrases I’ve heard said in one day. The list could go on. It’s shocking. It’s tremendously difficult to hear people I love, people I know, and people I’m acquainted with use exclusive language and hurtful language like this on a daily basis.
What am I supposed to do every time I hear language like this? Sit them down and tell them how lazy they’re being with their language? Explain how their language is offensive whether or not someone is there to be offended in the first place? Tell them that they’re supporting white supremacy and make them feel like they’re lesser than me?
I have done it before. I’ve sat there and yelled at people, I’ve lectured people on the impact of their words and how it creates and us verses them mentality. And it doesn’t work. It makes them feel uncomfortable for the time being and then they forget about it and slip up again eventually.
Then I learned about calling someone in. Instead of saying “Hey, you’re a sh*t face for using the r-word,” or, “Do you know how dumb you sound,” there are ways to talk to people to make them realize the impact of their words without making them feel like they’re terrible people. This way we don’t make people just feel bad for their poor vocabulary and walk away. We can address the problem, provide replacements, and lead someone down the path of social justice.
Calling someone in can still be awkward but I think most people would rather be taught a better way to say something than to just be told they suck when they say the wrong thing.
You don’t want to make the person feel like they’re lesser than you and you are pushing them out, exposed and alone in front of everyone. One way to change this is to talk to the person one on one. If you’re with a group of people you can ask to go speak to them in another area, or talk to them later when it’s just the two of you. That way it feels less like a lecture in front of all your friends and more of a conversation between two human beings.
The potential learning lesson becomes more a conversation between two people who both are not perfect. And to top it all off they might have a misunderstanding of the language they’re using. If someone uses the word ghetto to describe everything that’s cheap and broken, they might not know what ghetto really means.
Here’s a few ways to start the conversation:
“Hey, I noticed you used the word ghetto when you were talking about that guy’s clothes. What did you mean by that?”
“Can you explain that joke to me? I don’t understand it.”
“I think you meant to say unreasonable or stupid, the r word doesn’t really work in that situation.”
Their response may vary but in the end you’re being sincere, you’re actively listening, you’re addressing the fact that they’re using exclusive language, and maybe even teaching them something they honestly didn’t know about.
And most of all you might be bringing another person over to the social justice side of things!
Getting Called Out: How to Apologize
Just Jasmine: Do Not Unfriend the Racists
“For some reason Trayvon Martin’s senseless death is a marker in my social media history. The specifics of his death were significantly traumatizing to my psyche, but so was the national debate that proceeded George Zimmerman taking the unarmed Black teen’s life. Each day I would log in to work, because social media has been a part of my work life for almost ten years. At first, I was shocked by the updates that flooded my timeline. Friends, who I adored, were expressing such racist views that my mind couldn’t process how to reconcile the reality. Slowly, shock gave way to a deep sense of grief. This grief was marked by the reality that so many people in my friends list, people who I’ve lived life with online and in real life, are utterly entrenched and accepting of the systemic and active racism that we live with. I hit a depression and wondered if I should even move. Where was I safe? I watched as my white friends also expressed exasperation.
“I will unfriend anyone who expresses racist views on my timeline. Zero tolerance.”
One friend wrote about how she would “eradicate” anyone who defends racist beliefs on her page. She wasn’t going to put up with it. I watched then and I watch again and again as the media cycles news of yet another and another race-based death or incident. More and more of my white friends are expressing outrage and intolerance for racism, prejudice, and bigotry. My white friends are doing this because they are trying to be allies. On its face I wish I could accept this sentiment as an act of solidarity with people of color who suffer from wounding racist comments. “What a great thing,” we might be tempted to think. “Unfriend the racists!”
- Unfriending racists doesn’t change the laws that are put in place, and continue to be put in place, legislating prejudice against people of color.
- Unfriending racists won’t help them see how their thinking is harmful.
- Unfriending the racists will not allow them to see that other white people disagree with them.
- Unfriending the racists renders you silent from their dialogues.
The reality is that unfriending racists might protect YOU, but it doesn’t protect me and my family. Unfriending all the racists creates an echo chamber of comfort for you. YOU get to be surrounded by friends who agree with you and re-share that same cat video. YOU get to forget that there are nasty people out there who think my son is a thug because of his race. YOU get to be lulled back into complaceny and live your life. YOU get to avoid being assaulted by MY lived reality. I can’t unfriend the racists in-real-life. I get to go to the gynecologist, after having a miscarriage, like I did last month and have a nurse say flippantly to me, “I am sure you have plenty other kids, right? Are you married?” I am just another Black woman over here with too many welfare babies.
Qui tacet consentire videtur: He who is silent is taken to agree. Thus your silence gives consent for those people to continue to represent you as they spew their hate.
I need you, People of Color need you, to stay friends with the racists. I need you to continue to live in the space filled with discomfort that their vitriol breeds. I need you to be reminded, daily, of their existence. I need you to remember that those racist commenters and updaters will raise their kids with their views. They will impact their nieces and nephews. They will teach in schools. They will be policy makers. They will be conference planners. They will be servers.
I need you to see that our nation didn’t just end up where it is at by way of some social anomaly. I need you to see that where we are is an intentional destination. As you are reminded of their existence and the realization that their ideologies have reach and impact, I need your discomfort to be the catalyst that leads you to action. Those people who you are unfriending have been steering the ship. I need you to engage them. I need you to tell them that they can’t steer anymore, and if they don’t like it they can get the fuck off the boat.
The rules have to be different now, I think. I think people of color have to engage in a certain kind of self-care, these days. Brown and Black people need to unfriend to their heart’s content. We don’t need to stay friends with racists on social media to know it exists—- we live it every day.
Stay friends with the racists. You shrugging them off and dismissing them as fringe could mean the difference between my life or death one day. Engage them. Feel the discomfort. Would you turn a blind eye to a Black person being verbally assaulted by a group of white people in the street? Would you walk by?
Unfriending racists in your friend list is the online equivalent to turning a blind eye to suffering of Brown and Black people. You can’t afford to do that any longer.
Medium: How America Spreads the Disease that is Racism by not Confronting Racist Family Members and Friends
As of today, the mother of the murder suspect who killed at least one person in Charlottesville Virginia during a white supremacist rally, told reporters that all she knew the last time she talked to her son, is that he was going to an “Alt-Right” rally. She had no idea her son was a racist — or did she?
Racism is the elephant in the room in America — particularly, white America. White people would like racism to go away. The thought that their ancestors could have been slave owners is an embarrassment to most.
In counseling many white Americans who are against racism, one thing stands out: they are afraid to confront their racist family members and friends. They are against racism, but they also love their family and friends. I am often asked, “April, I don’t know what to do. How do I confront them without upsetting them?”
Racism is complex in scope because it is both a mental illness and a value. In other words, it is a valued, sheltered, and protected mental illness. One might even say it has been incubated and allowed to fester throughout the course of American history.
Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in thinking, emotion or behavior (or a combination of these). Racism meets those criteria.
Like all illnesses, it needs to be treated in order for it to be cured. The problem, is that we do not see racism as a problem, because we do not see it for what it is — an infectious disease that has been an epidemic plaguing our nation.
Epidemics can spread rapidly and can be notoriously difficult to treat. In the medical field, the way to stop an epidemic is to educate and involve the general population on what the symptoms are in order to prevent spreading the disease. If the symptoms are not recognized, then the disease spreads and exacerbates. It can and will harm many people over the course of time — which racism has.
The mental illness that is racism has killed thousands upon thousands of people of color, particularly, African-Americans and Native Americans.
The murders in Charlottesville Virginia would be considered an outbreak of the disease. Without swift and timely containment, it will only further spread and spur new outbreaks.
To prevent the disease, it is important to know the signs. Like many diseases, the symptoms can appear subtly, and if not treated, will get worse and become untreatable.
Review the “Racism Scale: Where do you fall?” below to begin to explore and understand whether or not you have symptoms.
If you fall below “awareness”, then this is a red flag that racism is a problem for you. If it is not a problem for you, but find that it is a problem for your family members and/or friends, then it’s time to address it or it will continue to spread throughout America.
Like alcoholism, an alcoholic cannot thrive without their enablers. It is the same white Americans who enable their relatives and friends who are racist. It is important to identify and recognize that racism is a mental illness and recommend that individual to a psychotherapist as needed.
There is no easy way to contain a disease, but if we can identify the symptoms, then we can put a stop to it through education and awareness.
Effective Allyship: Don’t just be non-racist, be anti-racist
“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist—we must be anti-racist.” — Angela Davis, 1979
” “Honestly, the best thing that white people, especially young people, can do, right now, is start at home,” I replied. “Disrupt the exchanges and instances when you see injustice happening. Don’t be a bystander.”
I then explained that people who benefit from systems of power and privilege and are afforded greater access to social welfare benefits, equal protection under state law, and due process in our criminal justice system —among other things—have an immense responsibility to challenge the status quo. I reminded them that this goes for all systems that orchestrate and facilitate injustice, like those that rely on transphobia, sizeism, classism, sexism, ageism, and racism…
…“How do we differentiate between ‘non-racist’ and ‘anti-racist?’” I asked the room. “There’s a big difference between the passive work of simply not being racist and the active work of dismantling systems of oppression that is being anti-racist.” A few people nodded. Others snapped. Some even let out an “mmm” in thoughtful agreement.
Many of the solutions I heard in that room and other rooms like it were “non-racist” subtle processes and practices meant for well-meaning whites to let themselves and other “good whites” off the hook for their complicity in systemic racism. Their participation in this system, they believed, was mostly subconscious. So, by opting out of explicit involvement in that system, many concerned white people believed they were doing (some of) “the work.” The expressions on most of their faces when I spoke up that day showed that actively disrupting the racist modus operandi and intentionally divesting from systems of white supremacy was a foreign concept. Like the teens I had spoken to a few weeks before, they seemed confounded at the role they could play in this ongoing process. They were overwhelmed by “the work” required to both confront the systemic oppression faced by others and reckon with their own oft-hidden entanglements in that system simultaneously.
The desire to “do work” on one’s self, immediate community, and the larger world makes these questions imperative. They are the first steps toward taking stock of one’s own participation in systems of racial hierarchy. But, as critics of the “safety pin allyship” have rightly pointed out, much of the activism originating outside of communities of color devolves into performative gestures with little material purchase and even less sustainable impact. As we move into the New Year, closing in on the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration, white people who want to “do work” on ending racial oppression and disparity in the United States will have to do more than have “difficult conversations.” They have to push past the initial discomfort of correcting friends and family who rely on “insensitive language” or archaic ideas about race in the United States.
Anti-racist pedagogical work in the classroom must be connected to communities and grassroots organizing because curricula and coursework in race, gender, and class that does not center those most affected by systemic disparity is incomplete. I create a space in my classroom for students of color to express their experiences with racial aggression and frustration. I don’t censor them in the name of respectability politics—a set of unspoken rules that regulate the public and private lives of non-white, especially Black, people into particular behaviors of decorum and conformity.
In the coming year, white people will have to work with their communities to ensure that they are divesting from anti-Black policing and criminalization of those most at-risk, top priorities for the organizations within the Movement for Black Lives. Conversely, this work must include investing in health care and education access and fair wages for communities of color. This means writing to congressional legislators and governors about how they spend tax dollars, like Chicago’s continued spending to grow the police force as schools are continually closed. It means donating to organizations like BYP100, a Black member-organization of 18 to 35-year-olds who are committed to building Black futures, and Color of Change, an online racial justice community dedicated to making a “less hostile world for Black people in America.” Exacting systemic change at the institutional level is more impactful than conversations alone. It targets the redistribution of economic and social capital in the United States.
Modern capitalism is rooted in racial injustice. Many of the financial structures and processes in the United States that facilitate social and economic mobility are marred by generations of racism, from predatory lending to redlining. So, the work of ending that disproportionate economic access also includes a real engagement with the many forms of reparations and racial redress to Black Americans. To this end, Safety Pin Box is a “monthly subscription box for white people striving to be allies in the fight for Black Liberation…to financially support Black woman and femme freedom fighters while completing measurable tasks in the fight against white supremacy.” While learning how to actively dismantle anti-Black systems, subscribers also invest directly in the financial health of Black women and femmes. Inherently, these small actions work to reverse the larger systems that operate at the expense of Black and poor people in the United States. It also pays Black women and femmes for labor that often goes unrecognized and unacknowledged.”
In this formulation, racism is not a system but an inherent quality within an individual, proof of which comes when they publicly espouse racist views or use racist language. By formally classifying Trump “a racist” (“calling him out”), well-to-do liberals are able to implicitly deem themselves “non-racists” while keeping the pervasiveness of the attitude that Africa and Haiti are shitholes where it belongs: swept well under the rug.
But racism is not an individual quality; it is a hierarchical system of distributed power that gets mediated through people’s acts. As black-power activist Stokely Carmichael is quoted as saying, “If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem.”
Affluent liberals, however diligently inoffensive their public speech, have less to be proud of in a framework wherein politicians are praised not for having the correct opinion but for leading collective action toward redistributing power. The question then shifts away from whether a person has good politics and toward whether a person wages good politics.
The dominant liberal conception of white anti-racism emphasizes altruism. In this mode, white people must set aside our own self-interest in order to extend kindness to those less fortunate. Humanitarian assistance is rewarded, and those who practice it are hailed for their self-sacrifice and generosity.
White people are encouraged to defer, shrink, and assist. It is not our fight, the white-altruism mode says, so we must strive to decenter ourselves and support black people’s “advancement” as peripheral allies, doing what kindnesses we can to compensate them for the privileges we enjoy. We must reliably articulate non-racist positions using suitably non-racist terminology, correct white people who fail to do these, and under no circumstances use racist language out in the open.
Not that people shouldn’t interrupt racist personal acts or respect the expertise of people of color regarding how racism plays out in their lives and communities, but that alone does not constitute a strategy. At best, these interruptions and this deference are a woefully inadequate response to systemic racism. At worst, white altruism is a recipe for disaster. Not only does it treat racism as personal flaw rather than a system of power; it also insists that white people have an obligation to help black communities “advance,” a construction that is vulnerable to white people’s misconceptions of what constitutes “advancement.” Without being anchored to a goal of redistributing power, altruism is often carried along by the prevailing currents of racist capitalism.
At the end of the Civil War, instead of furnishing formerly enslaved black people with the 40 acres Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman had promised, well-meaning moderate Republican Reconstructionists championed the Freedman’s Savings Bank “to instill into the minds of the untutored Africans lessons of sobriety, wisdom, and economy,” which Congress considered crucial to “the economic and industrial development of a people.” According to bank’s founder, Congregational minister John Alvord, black people didn’t want free land: “We hear them saying, ‘We will work and save and buy for ourselves.’”
Over a decade, the bank’s board, made up of highly regarded philanthropists, transformed the bank into an investment outfit conducting risky speculation, bribery, and fraud. When the Panic of 1873 threatened the bank’s viability, the trustees, desperate to reinforce an image of the bank as a trustworthy institution, appointed Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist and former slave, as bank president. In this capacity, Douglass discovered the enterprise to be “full of dead men’s bones, rottenness, and corruption.” The bank folded, leaving over 60,000 depositors without access to millions in strenuously earned deposits, and obliterating more than half of accumulated black wealth.
White altruism fared no better out West than down South. The policy of “allotment,” which broke up tribal lands into individually owned plots, came from white altruists. The architect of the 1887 Dawes Act, which made allotment official federal policy, was Alice Fletcher, an upper-class New York City suffragist who, out of anthropological curiosity, went west to live with and studied the Omaha Indians, ultimately adopting one as her son. She and other reformers were sure that tribal landholding was unproductive, inefficient, and destructive to the individual work ethic, that it thus prevented Indians from making healthy economic advances. In practice, allotment shrunk Indian-held lands from about 150 million acres to 48 million by the time of the Dawes Act’s 1934 repeal, leaving two-thirds of Indians either completely landless or without enough land to subsist.
Later, in the early 1940s, altruism struck again when the Rockefeller Foundation made an effort to alleviate the “tragedy of hunger” in the “backward” country of Mexico, touching off the much celebrated “Green Revolution.” Rockefeller Foundation scientists and policy experts implemented a system designed to raise Mexicans’ daily calorie intake by improving agricultural efficiency through “higher yielding and higher quality crop varieties” and disease control. The white people who designed and implemented the Green Revolution won awards. But for the farmers of Mexico, the program dramatically narrowed the genetic base of crops, destroyed indigenous agricultural practices, supplanted small and communal farming with commercial agribusiness, and displaced millions of peasants into urban slums or across the border.
Still today, manifestations of white altruism undermine the well-being of the very “shithole” denizens whose “advancement” it seeks. Microfinance, or inviting poor people into small amounts of debt, has been held up by its most powerful, enthusiastic advocates as a panacea for the ills that beset impoverished countries. In 2005 the United Nations even gave microcredit its own international year. Honors notwithstanding, microloans tend to worsen livelihoods overall, notoriously driving hundreds of Indian women to suicide. Far from raising living standards, microfinance has calcified the hierarchy that produces such poverty—and enriches Europe and North America.
Time and again, white people acting as allies in other people’s “progress” have not just failed to address racist power relations; they have entrenched white dominance. Altruism cannot be the basis for white anti-racist action. There’s only one thing that can: solidarity.
Solidarity is about unity, not around like-mindedness or affinity but around common interests. Neither having the same opinions nor even mutual fondness is required for one to enter into a solidarity relationship with another. All they need is the acknowledgement that, to achieve liberation, “I need you and you need me.” Solidarity is about fighting for oneself alongside another person, for one’s family alongside another family.
The thing is, when two people fight for themselves alongside one another, when they perceive themselves to be teammates, they begin to warm to each other. In 1939, a Chicago stockyard worker, Jim Cole, told a reporter from the Federal Writers’ Project, “I don’t care if the union don’t do another lick of work raisin’ our pay, or settling grievances about anything. I’ll always believe they done the greatest thing in the world gettin’ everybody who works in the yards together, and breakin’ up the hate and bad feelings that used to be held against the Negro.”
Only when white people come to see that our own liberation is bound up in the liberation of others can we achieve solidarity and have a basis for white anti-racism that does not produce the colonial outcomes generated by altruism.
White people in and adjacent to poverty have solid grounds for this type of solidarity; they are directly victimized by a politics that relies on racist rhetorical appeals. The cycle works the same way time and again: Politicians gin up fear of a racist mythological problem, and propose a solution that harms poor and working-class people of all colors—while consolidating wealth and power for the (almost entirely) white rich.
In the late 1970s and ’80s , the racist mythological problem was “welfare queens” living decadently off government fraud, illegitimately claiming white people’s “taxpayer money.” To solve this problem, the government cut safety-net payments, the largest share of whose beneficiaries had been white. The entire, diverse working class, disproportionately people of color, was harmed, and the white rich claimed tax cuts on behalf of aggrieved “taxpayers.”
Then in the 1990s, the racist mythological problem was “superpredators,” committing violence with “no conscience, no empathy”—the sort of people who, if affluent white Americans were ever to be safe, needed simply to be brought “to heel.” To solve “superpredators,” the government enacted harsh policing and sentencing measures, which served to expand the carceral system in which black and brown people were overrepresented, but a majority of whose inmates were white. The whole time windfall profits streamed into the accounts of the mostly white capitalists driving the prison-industrial complex.
Lately, the racist mythological problem has been “voter fraud.” Trump, in his characteristic way, has eschewed the normal dog whistles and campaigned outright on the fear of “illegal immigrants voting all over the country,” encouraging his 2016 supporters to “go down to certain areas” and make sure that “other people don’t come in and vote five times.” To solve the “voter-fraud” problem, the government has enacted a host of suppression measures from requiring documentary proof of citizenship to an Interstate Crosscheck system, which disproportionately disenfranchises voters of color and rural communities.
In each of these cases, the millions of lower-class white people whose lives are materially damaged have a firm basis for teaming up with the other nonwhite members of their class in opposition to the racist politics that fuel the policies hurting them. Poor and working-class white people are suffering under white supremacy, and have good reason to demand that they too be freed from it.
The even greater challenge is to bring affluent white people into solidarity relationships with working-class and poor people of color. The systems of property, policing, and uneven distribution of political influence favor them. But even those who sit atop the racist hierarchy are pressured and bullied into the constant battle to maintain their position. In forcing them to jealously guard their resources and power against those with less—black people, immigrants, indigenous Americans, Muslims, and “white trash”—our hierarchical system makes them develop fearful and contemptuous attitudes that worsen their lives. It alienates affluent white people from their fellow Americans and humans, depriving them of fellowship and cooperation.
The wealthy are terrified of falling a few strata down the socioeconomic ladder, and who can blame them? The less money you have, the poorer your health and education outcomes, the less decent your housing, the less healthful your food, the likelier you are to be abused on the job or by the police, and the less confident you can be that your children will have it any better. Losing ground in America is such a scary prospect that it blinds the affluent to the goal they might achieve if they adopted solidarity: liberation from that fear. If they there weren’t so far to fall, they wouldn’t be saddled with paranoia at every turn.
Solidarity requires that we rethink “privilege.” At present, white anti-racism demands intense examinations of and attempts to correct for privilege. To build solidarity, we must shift away from this practice and toward a demand for universal rights. As long as anti-racist white people remain fixated on privilege at the expense of all else, we remain divided from black people and relegated to the role of, at best, helpful allies. If we can shift to a universal-rights framework, we recast ourselves as all on the same team.
To perform this shift, it’s important to differentiate what political scientist and blogger David Kaib calls the “two faces of privilege.” On the one hand, “privilege” refers to things nobody ought to have, such as the power to dominate discussions, the feeling of entitlement to the body of another person, and the unthinking assumption that comes with social hegemony: that your experiences are the default. We should indeed pay attention to such dynamics, remaining vigilant about white people’s systematic conditioning to behave in ways that exasperate teammates or cause them pain or fear.
On the other hand, it refers to things everybody ought to have. This is where the “privilege” framework can be harmful. For example, I am said to be “privileged,” because my housing has always been dependable, I have never been deprived of nutritious food, I have been able to access treatment and surgery when I have been sick or injured, I have not only received a quality education but had some say in its direction, my periods of unemployment have been brief, and I have enjoyed the free time and freedom of movement and communication necessary to pursue art, inquiry, social life, and other sorts of joy and fulfillment.
Those are human rights, and calling them “privileges” undermines the fight to get them universally respected. Freedom, dignity, and democracy are due to everyone. If the lives of other people are less free and less dignified than mine, if they are denied the say I’m afforded in the systems that affect them, that is not a matter of their lacking my degree of privilege but of their rights being violated.
The baseline matters. Describing human rights as “privileges” uses destitution as the baseline. When people work from that baseline and treat every step above it as another “privilege,” we are affirming the right-wing idea that we naturally have nothing, that we have to ruthlessly compete just to get by. But when we talk of “universal rights,” the baseline shoots way up to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and freedom from want and fear. That is the life we all deserve; that is the life we are owed.
In the “privilege” framework, racist inequality induces white people to feel guilty, which produces inaction. In the “universal-rights” framework, it induces us to feel fury, which inspires action. No longer is it, “I feel bad for even thinking it, but thank goodness I don’t have it as bad as those who are worse off.” Instead, it becomes, “let’s get together and collect our due.”
Fostering solidarity will require diverse groups (labor unions, community organizations, and political parties) organized around guaranteed rights to good jobs, decent housing, quality health care, educational opportunities, nutritious food, and so forth. People’s membership in these organizations must not be superficial, as grass-roots engagement tends to be with, say, the Democratic Party. For the solidarity to be real, disparate people have to take courageous collective action.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign, which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was organizing at the end of his life. Premised on moving “from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights” and securing “a radical redistribution of economic and political power,” the Poor People’s Campaign was supposed to bring poor people of every color, ethnicity, and geography together to “raise certain basic questions about the whole society”—like who owned the resources and why poverty persisted in a land of plenty.
King was assassinated before the campaign came to fruition, but 50 years later Rev. William Barber II, pillar of the Moral Mondays movement, is anchoring a reimagination of the Poor People’s Campaign called A National Call for Moral Revival. Designed to bring thousands of people together in at least 25 states for a season of action targeted at state legislatures and the US Congress, the campaign will call for a dramatic overhaul of our national priorities in order to defeat poverty, systemic racism, ecological devastation, and the war economy.
In each state, people directly impacted by these “quadruple evils” are in the leadership of the campaign, which is specifically interracial and focused on universal human rights—precisely the antidote to the “white altruism” that pervades the predominant model of white anti-racism. People dissatisfied with merely proclaiming the president “a racist” and congratulating themselves on their bravery would do well to figure out how they can get involved.”
Look Different: 5 Ways To Use Your White Privilege To Help Others
Cultural Bridges to Justice: Training and Resource for Building Just Communities
DETOUR-SPOTTING for white anti-racists
“For white people living in North America learning to be anti-racist is a re-education process. I must unlearn the thorough racist conditioning to re-educate and re-condition myself as an anti-racist. I need knowledge, guidance and experience to avoid the detours and traps waiting for me on this journey.
There is little social or political encouragement for this journey of re-education. We are constantly tempted to change course by the racist propaganda of society and our own guilt and denial. In the face of society’s and our own resistance, sustaining the will to continue this journey takes bold and stubborn effort…
…I have observed in myself and other white people of conscience, patterns of guilt, denial and defensiveness that appear regularly in our interactions with people of color and other white people. Below is an examination of several attitudes or behaviors that detour us from our anti-racist journey of re-education. Each one will be formatted in this way:
The Detour: Attitudes or behaviors that indicate a detour or wrong turn into white guilt, denial or defensiveness.
Reality Check and Consequence: A clarification of the underlying meaning and consequence of this behavior pattern.
[A note about consequences: There are always consequences to our actions or inactions. Since our intentions have little or no bearing on these consequences, our unintentional racist behaviors will often have the same consequences as the intentional racism of a confirmed bigot. This is a tough lesson for white people of conscious. If we are doing our best, have good intentions, then we want everything to be made better. We, at least, want to feel better for the attempt. We want others, especially people of color, to appreciate what we’ve done. This is another trap for white anti-racists.]
1) I’m Colorblind
“People are just people; I don’t see color; we’re all just human.” or “I don’t think of you as Chinese.” or “We all bleed red when we’re cut.” or “Character, not color, is what counts with me.”
Reality Check and Consequence
Statements like these assume that people of color are just like me, white; that they have the same dreams, standards, problems, peeves that I do. “Colorblindness” negates the cultural values, norms, expectations and life experiences of people of color, and most importantly, their experience as a target of racism. Even if an individual white person could ignore a person’s color, the society does not. By saying we are not different, that we don’t see their color, we are also saying we don’t see my white-ness. This denies their experience of racism and our experience of privilege.
“I’m colorblind” can also be a defense when afraid to discuss racism, especially if one assumes all conversation about race or color is racist. Speaking of another person’s color or culture is not necessarily racist or offensive. As one of my African American friends says, “I don’t mind that you notice I’m Black.” Color consciousness does not equal racism.
2) The Rugged Individual, the Level Playing Field and the Bootstrap Theory
“America is the land of opportunity, built by rugged individuals, where anyone with grit can succeed if they just pull up hard enough on their bootstraps.”
Reality Check and Consequence
These are three of the crown jewels of U. S. social propaganda. They have allowed generation after generation to say, “If you succeed, you did that, but if you fail, or if you’re poor, that’s your fault.” Belief in this propaganda is founded in a total denial of the impact of either oppression or privilege on any person’s chance for success.
Attacks on programs like affirmative action find rationalization in the belief that the playing field is now level, that is, that every individual, regardless of color (or gender or disability, etc.) has the same access to the rights, benefits and responsibilities of the society. The rationalization continues: since slavery is ended and people of color have civil rights, the playing field has now been leveled. It follows then, that there is no reason for a person of color to “fail” (whether manifested in low SAT scores or small numbers in management positions) EXCEPT individual character flaws or cultural inadequacies. This form of denial asserts that such “failures” could have no roots in racism and internalized racism.
The consequences include “justified” victim blaming, and denial of the daily impact of generations of institutionalized racism and white privilege.
3) Reverse Racism
(a) “People of color are just as racist as white people.”
(b) “Affirmative Action had a role years ago, but today it’s just reverse racism; now it’s discriminating against white men.”
(c) “The civil rights movement, when it began was appropriate, valuable, needed. But it’s gone to the extreme. The playing field is now level. Now the civil rights movement is no longer working for equality but for revenge.” or
(d) “Black Pride, Black Power is dangerous. They just want power over white people.” (Include here any reference to pride and empowerment of any people of color.)
Reality Check and Consequence
(a) Let’s first define racism:
Racism = Racial Prejudice (white people and people of color have this)
Systemic, Institutional Power (white people have this)
To say people of color can be racist, denies the power imbalance inherent in institutionalized racism.
Certainly, people of color can be and are prejudiced against white people. That was a part of their societal conditioning. A person of color can act on their prejudices to insult even hurt a white person. But there is a difference between being hurt and being oppressed. People of color, as a social group, do not have the societal, institutional power to oppress white people as a group. An individual person of color abusing a white person – while clearly wrong, (no person should be insulted, hurt, etc.) is acting out a personal racial prejudice, not racism (by this power definition.)
(b) This form of denial is based in the false notion that the playing field is now level. When the people with privilege and historical access and advantage are expected to suddenly (in societal evolution time) share some of that power, it is often perceived as discrimination.
(c + d) c is a statement by Rush Limbaugh. Though, clearly he is no anti-racist, both c + d follow closely on the heels of “reverse racism” and are loaded with white people’s fear of people of color and what would happen if they gained “control.” Embedded here is also the assumption that to be “pro-Black” (or any color) is to be anti-white. (A similar illogical accusation is directed at women who work for an end to violence against women and girls. Women who work to better the lives of women are regularly accused of being “anti-male.”)
The Root: Is Reverse Racism A “Thing?”
4) Blame The Victim
“It’s their fault they can’t get a job, or be managers.” or “We have advertised everywhere, there just aren’t any qualified people of color for this job.” or “If he only worked harder, applied himself more, or had a stronger work ethic.” or
“If she just felt better about herself…” or “Internalized racism is the real problem here.” or “She uses racism as an excuse, to divert us from her incompetence.” and “If he didn’t go looking for racism everywhere…” (As if racism is so hidden or difficult to uncover that people of color would have to search for it.)
Reality Check and Consequence
All “blame the victim” behaviors have two things in common. First, they evade the real problem: racism. Second, they delete from the picture the agents of racism, white people and institutions, who either intentionally perpetuate or unintentionally collude with racism. (Similar to agent deletion in discussions of rape. Most statements refer to a woman being raped, focus on her clothing or behavior at the time of the rape and delete the male rapist from the picture.) As long as the focus remains on people of color we can minimize or dismiss their reactions, and never have to look directly at racism and our own responsibility or collusion.
5) The White Knight or White Missionary
“We (white people) know just where to build your new community center.” or “Your young people (read youth of color) would be better served by traveling to our suburban training center.” or “We (white people) organized a used clothing drive for you, where do you want us to put the clothes?”
Reality Check and Consequence
It is a racist, paternalistic assumption that well meaning white people know what’s best for people of color. Decisions, by white people, are made on behalf of people of color, as though they were incapable of making their own. This is another version of “blame the victim” and white is right. It places the problems at the feet of people of color, and the only “appropriate” solutions with white people. Once more the power of self-determination is taken away from people of color. Regardless of motive, it is still about white control.
6) Lighten Up (lighten? whiten?)
“Black people are just are too sensitive and thin-skinned.” or “Indians should get a sense of humor. We’re just kidding around.” or “I didn’t mean anything racist, it’s just a joke.”
Reality Check and Consequence
Here are racism and agent deletion in partnership again. The problem and perpetrators are exonerated, because the rationale declares that humor isn’t hurtful. This form of denial serves most to trivialize the pain and reality of daily racism.
7) Don’t Blame Me
“I never owned slaves.” or “I didn’t vote for David Duke.” or “None of my family joined the Klan.” or “I taught my children that racism is wrong.”
Reality Check and Consequence
Often white people hear blame whenever the issue of racism is brought up,
whether or not blame has been placed on us. As beneficiaries of racism and white privilege, we sometimes strike a defensive posture even when we are not being individually blamed. We may personalize the remarks, put ourselves in the center, but most references to racism are not directed personally at us. It is the arrogance of our privilege, that drags the focus back to us.
When we are being blamed or personally accused of racist behavior, this defensiveness and denial further alienates us and probably precludes our examining our possible racist behavior.
“But What About Me. Look how I’ve been hurt, oppressed, exploited…?”
Reality Check and Consequence
This diminishes the experience of people of color by telling our own story of hardship. We lose an opportunity to learn more about the experience of racism from a person of color, while we minimize their experience by trying to make it comparable or less painful than ours.
9) We Have Overcome
“We dealt with racism in the 60’s with all the marches, sit-ins and speeches by Dr. King. Laws have been changed. Segregation and lynching are ended. We have some details to work out but real racism is pretty much a thing of the past.”
Reality Check and Consequence
The absence of legalized, enforced segregation does not equal the end of racism. This denial of contemporary racism, based on inaccurate assessment of both history and current society, romanticizes the past and diminishes today’s reality.
We just have to look at the volcanic rise of racist hate groups during the campaign and since the election of President Barack Obama, to know racism is alive and well in the United States.
10) The End Run, Escapism
“Of course, racism is terrible, but what about sexism? or classism? or heterosexism?” or “Racism is a result of classism (or choose any other oppression,) so if we just work on that, racism will end, too.”
Reality Check and Consequence
I agree with Audre Lorde’s statement, “There is no hierarchy of oppression.” I would not establish a rank order for oppressions. At the same time, we cannot attempt to evade recognition and responsibility for any form of oppression. Statements like the ones above divert attention away from racial injustice to focus on some other form of oppression. They are usually said by white people (women, working class people, Lesbians, gay men or others) who experience both white privilege and oppression in some form. We are all more willing and more comfortable decrying our oppression than scrutinizing our privilege. Oppressions are so inextricably linked that if we allow our fear, guilt and denial to constantly divert us from confronting racism, even while we work to dismantle other forms, no oppression will ever be dismantled.
11) Due Process
“Lady Justice is [color] blind.” White parents who tell their children, “The police are here to protect you. If they ever stop you, just be polite and tell the truth.” Then when a Black teen is beaten or killed by police, those same parents say, “He must have been doing something wrong, to provoke that kind of police response.”
Reality Check and Consequence
Many white people believe that the police, courts, the legal system and social services work without bias; that due process, fair trials, juries, judges, police officers and case workers have everyone’s best interest at heart, including people of color. Or at least, no less than they do for white people. This belief clouds reality. We tend to look at isolated incidents rather than the patterns of institutionalized oppression.
The legacy of institutionalized racism has left its indelible mark on the U. S. legal system. Even when individual police officers, judges or juries strive to be fair and unbiased, the system itself has been corrupted by centuries of racism. “Innocent until proven guilty” may be turned to “guilty until proven innocent” for too many people of color who enter the legal system.
12) Innocence By Association
“I’m not racist, because… I have Vietnamese friends, or my lover is Black, or I marched with Dr. King.”
Reality Check and Consequence
(Perhaps, if every white person who says they marched with Dr. King actually had, the current situation would look different!)
This detour into denial wrongly equates personal interactions with people of color, no matter how intimate they may be, with anti-racism. There is an assumption that our personal associations free us magically from our racist conditioning.
13) The Penitent
“I am so sorry for the way whites have treated your people.” or “I am sorry for the terrible things that white man just said to you.”
Reality Check and Consequence
While there is probably no harm in the “sorry,” if it is not attached to some action taken against racism, it is most often just another expression of white guilt. Being an ally to people of color is not limited to our apology for other white people’s behavior, it must include anti-racist action.
14) The White Wash
“He’s really a very nice guy, he’s just had some bad experiences with Koreans.” or “That’s just the way Uncle Adolf jokes. He’s very polite to the Black janitor in his building.”
Reality Check and Consequence
This “detour” is another manifestation of our guilt. We attempt to excuse, defend or cover up the racist actions of other white people. We are particularly prone to this if the other person is a family member or friend, or if we feel their actions may reflect on us.
15) Not Here In Lake Wobegon
“We don’t have a racism problem here at this (school, organization, community)” or “We didn’t have a racism problem in this town until that Mexican family moved here.”
Reality Check and Consequence
As white people we do not have to think about racism when our school, organization or community is all white. Racism does not usually become apparent TO US until there are people of color in our frame of reference.
16) I Was An Indian In a Former Life (2)
“After that sweat lodge I really know what it feels like to be an Indian. I have found my true spiritual path.”
Reality Check and Consequence
This is spiritual or cultural appropriation and poses a serious threat to the integrity and survival of Native cultures. To fill a void in their own spiritual core, some white people are drawn into the New Age garden to pick from a variety of Native spiritual practices usually offered for sale. (White writers, such as Lynn Andrews and others, garner high profits from fictitious “Indian” writing and teaching, while many Native writers can’t find publishers.) Since Native spiritual practice is inseparable from history and current community, it cannot be disconnected from that context to service white people searching for life’s meaning. Appropriating selected parts of Native cultures romanticizes the lives of Native peoples while denying their struggles. Their land and livelihoods stolen, indigenous peoples now see white people trying to steal their spirituality. Rather than escape our white racism by finding a spiritual path, we instead collude in one more way with the genocidal attacks on Native cultures.
17) Straightening Up or Boys Will Be Boys
The white heterosexual who says, “we can’t talk about AIDS or homophobia because we’re trying to work in coalition with a Latino group.” White organizations, in which women are unheard, disrespected or prevented from assuming leadership. “We’ll deal with any gender inequities or sexism after we solidify this coalition with the NAACP.”
Reality Check and Consequence
When white people with privilege in some other aspect of their life (gender, sexual orientation, lack of disability, class, etc.) use their focus on racism as an excuse to not challenge and therefore perpetuate other forms of oppression, the consequence is a disingenuous and unsustainable commitment to justice.
18) The Isolationist
“I thought we resolved this issue (racism) when it came up on the board last year.” or “We need to deal with this specific incident. Let’s not complicate it by bringing other irrelevant issues into it.” or “This incident only happened today because the TV news last night showed police beating that Black kid.”
Reality Check and Consequence
Attempts are made to isolate a particular incident of racism from of the larger context. We blame a publicized incident of racism outside our organization to rationalize an internal incident and to avoid facing the reality of racism within. When trying to resolve an accusation of racism within an institution, we often see the incident in a vacuum, or as an aberration, in isolation from an historic pattern of racism in this institution and nation. Racism has been institutionalized so that every “incident” is another symptom of the pattern. When we continue to react incident-to-incident, crisis-to-crisis, as though they are unconnected, we will find genuine resolution only further from our reach.
19) “Bending Over Blackwards” (3)
“Of course, I agree with you.” (Said to a person of color even when I disagree) or “I have to side with Jerome on this. (Even when Jerome, a man of color, represents opinions counter to mine.)
Reality Check and Consequence
Our white guilt shows up here as we defer to the person of color. The person of color is always right, or we never criticize or challenge her or him. We try not to notice that we notice they are Black or Native American or Latina or Asian or Middle Eastern. We don’t disagree, challenge or question a person of color the way we would a white person. And if we do disagree, we don’t do it with the same conviction or passion that we would display with a white person. Our racism plays out as a different standard for people of color than for white people.
If this is our pattern, we can never have a genuine relationship with a person of color. People of color know when we are doing this. Our sincerity, commitment and courage will be rightly questioned. We cannot grow to a deeper level of trust and intimacy with people of color we treat this way.
20) Teach Me or Help Me, I’m Stuck
“I want to stop acting like a racist, so please tell me when I do something you think is racist.” (Spoken to a person of color.)
Reality Check and Consequence
White people often assume that they can learn about racism only from people of color. We further assume that people of color have the energy and/or desire to do this teaching. My understanding is that most people of color are weary of educating white people about racism.
We will get stuck. We’ll get frustrated and impatient with ourselves and other white people in this struggle. We’ll stay stuck if we don’t seek help from other white anti-racists. Our inclination in the past has been to ask people of color to help us. We should seek out other white people BEFORE we go to people of color. Perhaps, as we become more trustworthy as allies, we will build genuine relationships with a few people of color who will offer their reflections for us when we get stuck. But this is at their discretion, not ours. We can’t assume or act as though people of color should be so grateful for our attempts at anti-racism, that they will be willing to guide us whenever we are ready to be guided.
21) White On White, and Righteously So
“What is wrong with those white people? Can’t they see how racist they’re being?” or “I just can’t stand to be around white people who act so racist anymore.” And
You’re preaching to the choir
“You’re wasting your time with us, we’re not the people who need this training.”
Reality Check and Consequence
We distance ourselves from “other” white people. We see only unapologetic bigots, card-carrying white supremacists and white people outside our own circle as “real racists.” We put other white people down, trash their work or behavior, or otherwise dismiss them. We righteously consider ourselves white people who have evolved beyond our racist conditioning.
This is another level of denial. There are no “exceptional white people.” (4) We may have attended many anti-racism workshops; we may not be shouting racist epithets or actively discriminating against people of color, but we still experience privilege based on our white skin. We benefit from this system of oppression and advantage no matter what our intentions are. This distancing serves only to divide us from potential allies and limit our own learning
22) Smoke and Mirrors
We use the current politically correct language; we listen to the right music; we state the liberal line; we’re seen at the right meetings with the right people. We even interrupt racist remarks when the right people are watching and when there is no risk to us. We look like anti-racists.
Reality Check and Consequence
This is the “Avon Ally,” the cosmetic approach. People of color and other white anti-racists see through this pretense quickly. This pseudo-anti-racist posturing only serves to collude with racism and weakens the credibility of sincere white anti-racists.
23) I Have To Do My Personal Work
“ I have to do my personal work first.” or “Ending racism is only about changing personal attitudes.”
Reality Check and Consequence
If we assume that personal reflection and interpersonal work is the end of our job as anti-racists, we will stay out of the public, institutional arenas. We will ignore cultural racist practices that don’t include us personally. We won’t take action, until we have finished ridding ourselves of all racist conditioning. And since that complete “cure” will never happen, we will never take any institutional or cultural anti-racist action.
24) Whites Only
I have no connection with or accountability to people of color. I do all my anti-racism with whites only. I am accountable only to other white people.
Reality Check and Consequence
While it is vitally important for white anti-racists to work with other white people, this detour results in white people again controlling the direction and focus of anti-racism work.
Learning to follow the leadership of, and taking direction from people of color, while being accountable to them are all vital components of our ally-ship.
25) The Accountant
We keep a tally sheet. If we perform some “feat of anti-racism,” we expect reciprocity from an individual or group of color, usually with some prestige or power that can serve our interests.
Reality Check and Consequence
“I scratch your back, you scratch mine is NOT justice seeking nor ally behavior. It serves only to reduce justice work to some kind of power brokering currency.
26) The “Certificate of Innocence”
Some times we seek or expect from people of color some public or private recognition and appreciation for our anti-racism. Other times we are looking for a “certificate of innocence” telling us we are one of the good white people.
Reality Check and Consequence
If our ally commitment depends on positive reinforcement from people of color, we set ourselves up for sure failure. The first time a person of color is displeased with our actions, we could respond, “Well, if the very people I’m doing all this for don’t want my help, then why bother?” Clearly, we’re challenging racism for “them” not for us. We have not identified our self-interest, as a white person, for fighting racism. Until we do, we will not be able to sustain this lifelong journey.
We stay silent.
Reality Check and Consequence
Our silence may be a product our guilt or fear of making people of color or white people angry with us or disappointed in us. We may be silent because our guilt stops us from disagreeing with people of color. We may be afraid that speaking out could result in losing some of our privilege. We may be silenced by fear of violence. The reasons for our silence are many, but each time we are silent we miss an opportunity to interrupt racism, or to act as an ally or to interact genuinely with people of color or other white people. And no anti-racist action is taken as long as we are silent.
[A note about silence: Silence is a complicated matter. There are times when faced with a potential intervention situation that we may choose not to interrupt – for reasons of good sense or strategy. Anti-racists need courage, but taking foolish risks makes little sense. When the choice is between intervening in this moment, alone, or gathering allies to speak out later in a more strategic way, the latter may prove more effective. Though the fact remains: the racist incident in that moment was not interrupted.]
28) Exhaustion and Despair –Sound the Retreat
“I’m exhausted. I’m only one person. I can stop and rest for a while.” or “Racism is so pervasive and entrenched, there just isn’t any hope.”
Reality Check and Consequence
Despair is a real enemy of anti-racists. If our commitment is a lifelong one, we must find ways to mitigate the effects. Neither burn-out nor desertion are of any use to the struggle. We can remember men who jumped on a “Take Back the Night” bandwagon, challenging violence against women – for a while. Until the attention on them as good men waned. Until the “glamour” of the issue faded. One of the historical, repeated failures of “liberals” in social justice movements has been their short-term and inconsistent commitment to the “issue du jour.
If we quit, for any reason, we are engaging our “default option.” (5) As white people, we can rest, back off, and take a break from the frustration and despair of anti-racism work. There will be no significant consequence to us for this retreat. White people will not think less of us. Racism doesn’t allow such a respite for people of color. One of the elemental privileges of being white is my freedom to retreat from the issue of racism. If things get too tough I can always take a break. And our work against racism doesn’t get done.
THE JOURNEY CONTINUES
Once identified, behaviors like those above are possible to change. The patterns are repeated less often. We re-educate and re-tool ourselves to take more potent anti-racist action. Each anti-racist action we take brings new challenges and learning, propels us forward smarter, more confident, better prepared and most importantly, more effective. Every experience takes us deeper into new territory and the complexities of racism, expanding our vision of the possibilities of a future without racism. Each turn brings us face to face with another set of potential detours and reversals. Like traveling unmarked roads, staying on the right track demands constant attention and intention.
Racism oppresses and exploits people of color. While it grants white people undeniable advantages and benefits, racism also robs each of us of our full humanity. We didn’t construct racism; we inherited it. But the unchallenged perpetuation of racism is our responsibility. Racism continues in the name of all white people.
People of color will continue to demand their rights, opportunities and full personhood. But racism in North America won’t end because people of color demand it. Racism will only end when a significant number of white people of conscience, the people who can wield systemic privilege and power with integrity, find the will and take the action to dismantle it. That won’t happen until white people find racism in our daily consciousness as often as people of color do. For now we have to drag racism into our consciousness intentionally, for unlike our sisters and brothers of color, the most present daily manifestation of our white privilege is the possibility of forgetting about racism.
10 Excuses Used To Deny Racism DEBUNKED! | Decoded | MTV News
Looking for specific responses to conversations about white supremacy in this moment? Feel free to share these with your friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors! Many thanks to illustrative designer Rachel Ashley-Lovelace. Find her on Instagram at La_Lovelace.
University of Minnesota Press: There’s strength in a politics of imperfection
A politics of imperfection, a politics of responsibility.
Lately it seems like every day brings a new bad thing for anyone not invested in white supremacy and capitalism. As the tweet went: “First they came for the Latinos, Muslims, women, gays, poor people, intellectuals, and scientists and then it was Wednesday.” And every day, I become more convinced that a politics based on purity will let us down. Let me explain.
Saturday, January 28, 2017, was early in the litany of bad. That weekend thousands of people converged on airports around the United States to protest the effects of an executive order imposing a ban on travel from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia. Trump signed that order on Friday and by Saturday there were refugees as well as people with green cards from these countries arriving at US airports. They were then held in custody and denied access to lawyers. I was at the manifestation at the San Francisco airport. I have been at many protests, encampments, and manifestations over the last twenty years, and this one stands out; it was tremendously moving and powerful.
On the Facebook event page for the protest, someone posted: “So where was this when Obama signed a ban in 2011 against Iraqi’s and again in 2015 when he put a ban on Muslims?? Hypocrisy at its finest!!” Later he clarified that he didn’t actually care about the travel ban (he thought it was a good move for the US to protect its borders and not let anyone in). He was just pointing out the hypocrisy of protesting Trump’s policies without having had an equally explosive and massive resistance to Obama’s policies.
Conservatives, particularly the subspecies whose main political work is trolling people on the Internet, are fond of this line of critique. It can take the form that it did here, calling hypocrisy on people who now are saying something when they did not raise a protest in the past. It also takes the form of pointing out inconsistencies, as when trolls tweeted to a friend that she could not both oppose human-fueled global warming and drive her car. Or it could be arguing that if someone benefits from something they cannot protest it (as when people say that it is impossible to criticize the US military and enjoy the supposed peace that it is supposedly protecting). Conservatives also use this approach in response to people opposing bigots speaking on university campus—if we care about free speech, surely we mean free speech for everyone, and “everyone” definitely includes people who think that (as the T-shirts put it) “Feminism Is Cancer.” Each of these criticisms deploys what we can call “purity politics”: because the person expressing the desire for another world is complicit or compromised, they are supposed to give up. Conservatives use purity politics to try to close down critique and action.
Recognizing our involvement in and complicity with things we think are wrong, fully understanding the weight of wrongdoing in the history we inherit, or understanding the harms that have come from our failure to act can feel quite awful. The right uses purity politics against the left because we’re the ones who respond to being implicated in doing harm. They’re correct that we are involved in the very things that we want to stop, but they’re wrong to think that being compromised means we should stop protesting. If we stop working against them, terrible things simply continue. If we are to be effective, we who want to have a world in which many beings and ecosystems can flourish, we should reject purity for purely tactical reasons—it demobilizes us.
But we should resist purity politics for deeper reasons, too. Purity has long been the domain of the racist, nativist, and eugenicist right. It has been the technology through which laws about miscegenation were formulated, and it’s still the emotional hinge on which today’s alt-right argues that the white race is dying. Purity of the nation has been the rallying cry for tightening borders against the free movement of people; it is the engine that drives vigilante border patrols and murderous refugee policies. Purity of the species has been the scalpel that forcibly sterilizes disabled people, and that continues to support policy based on the idea that disabled lives are not worth living.
We do better to aim for a politics of imperfection. If we do not fit the mold of perfection—if we’re disabled, sick, young, old, not working, not productive—we are definitely beings who offer care, help, solidarity, and presence to the world. If we’ve failed to help in the past, if things we do are implicated in harm, if we benefit from something that harms others, or if we accord only some people access to a podium, we can still be of benefit to this world. Even people who have harmed others or the world, whose ancestors owned slaves, whose current government is actively pursuing genocidal colonial policies, who regularly make mistakes—even we can be useful.
But how to unfurl a politics that holds our imperfections? I suggest taking up a “politics of responsibility,” a concept from social movement scholar Gary Kinsman. He defines this as involving “those of us in oppressing positions recognizing our own implication within and responsibility to actively challenge relations of oppression.” A politics of responsibility recognizes our relative, shifting, and contingent position in social relations of harm and benefit; it enjoins us to look at how we are shaped by our place in history. We can take responsibility for creating futures that radically diverge from that history, seriously engaging that work based on where we are located, listening well to the people, beings, and ecosystems most vulnerable to devastation.
Listening well, taking responsibility, and acting even though we recognize that we can’t be pure is going to be much harder than disengaging would be. Two poems have helped me think about this. Johnetta Elzie co-founded an organization working to end police violence. Her poem “Where were you” addresses itself to people—largely white women—who participated in the enormous protests march the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. It asks a lot of questions, and on the surface many of those questions sound like our Facebook troll friend—the last line of the poem ends “We’ve been marching for years — where the hell have all of you been?” But Elzie’s questions are the opposite of trolling. She is calling her listeners in to responsibility for not having been there, asking us to reflect on how we are placed in history, and then inviting us to step up now. She asks,“What happens tomorrow? Will you march with us when we need you most?” Danny Bryck’s poem “If You Could Go Back” likewise calls us in to a politics of responsibility. Drawing on the fact that many of us in the present believe, looking back, that we would resist fascism, racism, and oppression with every fiber of our being, it points to things that are happening now:
If You Could Go Back
By Danny Bryck
I know, I know
If you could go back you
would walk with Jesus
You would march with King
Maybe assassinate Hitler
At least hide Jews in your basement
It would all be clear to you
But people then, just like you
were baffled, had bills
to pay and children they didn’t
understand and they too
were so desperate for normalcy
they made anything normal
Even turning everything inside out
Even killing, and killing, and it’s easy
for turning the other cheek
to be looking the other way, for walking
to be talking, and they hid
in their houses
and watched it on television, when they had television,
and wrung their hands
or didn’t, and your hands
are just like theirs. Lined, permeable,
small, and you
would follow Caesar, and quote McCarthy, and Hoover, and you would want
to make Germany great again
Because you are afraid, and your
parents are sick, and your
job pays shit and where’s your
dignity? Just a little dignity and those kids sitting down in the highway,
and chaining themselves to
buildings, what’s their fucking problem? And that kid
That’s King. And this is Selma. And Berlin. And Jerusalem. And now
is when they need you to be brave.
is when we need you to go back
and forget everything you know
and give up the things you’re chained to
and make it look so easy in your
grandkids’ history books (they should still have them, kinehora)
is when it will all be clear to them.
“Where were you?”
Where were you when your ancestors set out to steal my ancestors from our homes?
When they raped African women then refused to acknowledge their own children, who were born as a result?
When Harriet was on the run, fighting for freedom?
Where were you?
Where were you when Claudette decided not to get up out of her seat on that bus?
When Rosa did the same?
When they told us to sit in the “Colored” section, and beat us when we disobeyed?
Where were you?
Where were you when we wanted the right to vote, too?
When we had to care for our families AND yours? Serving you dinner, while struggling to put food on our own tables?
When your “Women’s Movement” came around, and our needs were ignored?
Where were you?
Where were you when your friends made lewd remarks about the sizes of our men’s penises — objectifying them while discriminating against them?
When your men fetishized our butts and our breasts — objectifying and discriminating against us?
When they believed we were hypersexual, and the brutalization of our bodies was okay?
Where were you?
Where were you when the Little Rock Nine were threatened for attending a “White school”?
When, years later, white men berated affirmative action programs, while you silently benefited from them?
When people said “segregation is over,” yet the government didn’t provide the tools for all to succeed?
Where were you?
Where were you when Mike Brown, Jr. was killed, and we took to the streets of Ferguson to honor his life?
When your husbands, sons, brothers, and fathers left their homes to point M-16s at black women and their babies for protesting?
When your coworker, or partner said Mike deserved it?
Where were you?
Where were you when the media called us “thugs” for protesting?
When I stood outside on those hot summer days, and needed ice water?
Or a back rub?
Or someone to talk to?
Why weren’t you standing with me?
Where the hell were you?
Where were you when black women had a stand-off with the Ferguson Police Department?
When we yelled the names and the stories of the black men who have vanished from our lives because of law enforcement?
When we braced ourselves for the next video and name to be released?
Where were you?
Where were you when they defended the murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, and more?
When we took to the streets every damn time and chanted Black Lives Matter?
Where were you?
Where were you when we asked you to #SayHerName?
When Rekia Boyd was killed while playing at the park with her friends?
When Tanisha Anderson, Sandra Bland, Shantel Davis, and others died at the hands of police, with little media attention?
When our trans sisters — Brandi Bledsoe, Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee
Whigham — were also murdered and also forgotten?
Where were you?
Where were you when our principal told my family I was smart, but not gifted enough to be in the accelerated programs like you?
When “Ryan” touched my afro puffs without my permission in kindergarten?
When I was told I’d grow up to be nothing but a ‘welfare queen’?
When I thought I had the job in the bag, but they hired you instead?
When I was told my hair was “too ethnic” for the workplace?
When I was called “sassy” for voicing my opinion?
When white women clutched their purses as I walked by?
Or, wait — was that you?
Where were you during the Women’s March?
When millions flooded the streets, protecting their pussies and their wages?
When Instagram was flooded with newfound activism?
Where were you?
Were you chanting “Black Lives Matter” then?
Were you coming up with solutions for the 53 percent of white women who voted for Donald Trump?
Were you marching for all of your sisters, or just your white ones?
What happens tomorrow? Will you march with us when we need you most?
If you can answer at least one of the questions here, answer me this: We’ve been marching for years — where the hell have all of you been?
Let us be imperfect, for we are, but let us be brave too.
We are alienating each other with unrestrained callouts and unchecked self-righteousness. Here’s how that can stop.
“Callout culture. The quest for purity. Privilege theory taken to extremes. I’ve observed some of these questionable patterns in my activist communities over the past several years. As an activist, I stand with others against white supremacy, anti-blackness, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, and imperialism. I am queer, trans, Chinese American, middle class, and able-bodied.
Holding these identities scattered across the spectrum of privilege, I have done my best to find my place in the movement, while educating myself on social justice issues to the best of my ability. But after witnessing countless people be ruthlessly torn apart in community for their mistakes and missteps, I started to fear my own comrades.
As a cultural studies scholar, I am interested in how that culture—as expressed through discourse and popular narratives—does the work of power. Many disciplinary practices of the activist culture succeed in curbing oppressive behaviors. Callouts, for example, are necessary for identifying and addressing problematic behavior. But have they become the default response to fending off harm? Shutting down racist, sexist, and similar conversations protects vulnerable participants. But has it devolved into simply shutting down all dissenting ideas? When these tactics are liberally applied, without limit, inside marginalized groups, I believe they hold back movements by alienating both potential allies and their own members.
In response to the unrestrained use of callouts and unchecked self-righteousness by leftist activists, I spend enormous amounts of energy protecting my activist identity from attack. I self-police what I say when among other activists. If I’m not 100 percent sold on the reasons for a political protest, I keep those opinions to myself—though I might show up anyway.
On social media, I’ve stopped commenting with thoughtful push back on popular social justice positions for fear of being called out. For example, even though some women at the 2017 women’s march reproduced the false and transmisogynistic idea that all women have vaginas, I still believe that the event was a critical win for the left and should not be written off so easily as it has been by some in my community.
Understand, even though I am using callouts as a prime example, I am not against them. Several times, I have been called out for ways I have carelessly exhibited ableism, transmisogyny, fatphobia, and xenophobia. I am able to rebound quickly when responding with openness to those situations. I am against a culture that encourages callouts conducted irresponsibly, ones that abandon the person being called out and ones done out of a desire to experience power by humiliating another community member.
I am also concerned about who controls the language of social justice, as I see it wielded as a weapon against community members who don’t have access to this rapidly evolving lexicon. Terms like “oppression,” “tone policing,” “emotional labor,” “diversity,” and “allyship” are all used in specific ways to draw attention to the plight of minoritized people. Yet their meanings can also be manipulated to attack and exclude.
Furthermore, most social justice 101 articles I see online are prescriptive checklists. Although these can be useful resources for someone who has little familiarity with these issues, I worry that this model of education contributes to the false idea that we have only one way to think about, talk about, and ultimately, do activism. I think that movements are able to fully breathe only when there is a plurality of tactics, and to some extent, of ideologies.
I am not the first nor the last to point out that these movements for liberation and justice are exhibiting the same oppressive patterns that we are fighting against in larger society. Rather than wallowing in critique or walking away from this work, I choose a third option—that we as a community slow down, acknowledge this pattern and develop an ethics of activism as a response.
I believe it’s sorely needed as we struggle to mobilize in a chaotic and unjust world.
What might an ethics of activism look like?
Knowing when to be hard and when to be soft
I believe that when confronting unjust situations and unjust people, sometimes hardness is necessary, and other times softness is appropriate. Gaining the discernment to know when to use each is a task for a lifetime. I have often seen a burning anger at the core of activism, especially for newer activists. Anger can be righteous, and it often is when stemming from marginalized peoples weary of being mistreated. And yet, I want to use my anger as a tool for reaching the deeper, healing powers I possess when carving out a path of sustainable activism. Black social justice facilitator and doula adrienne maree brown writes of her oppressors, “What if what’s needed isn’t sexy, intimidating or violent? What if what is needed is forgiveness?” I’ve spent a good deal of energy exercising my ability to speak truth to power and boldly naming my enemies. Perhaps it is time to massage my heart so that I can choose to be soft toward someone in community who is hurting me, and open up the possibility of mutual transformation.
Adopting a politics of imperfection and responsibility
I have been mulling over sociologist Alexis Shotwell’s call for the left to adopt a “politics of imperfection and responsibility” as one way to move forward toward action and away from purity. A politics of imperfection asks me to openly acknowledge the ways in which my family and I have benefited and continue to benefit from oppressive systems such as slavery, capitalism, and settler colonialism. This is an ongoing investigation into my own complicity. I am a Chinese American with immigrant parents, and my family has built economic stability by buying into the model minority myth, which is based largely in anti-blackness. As uninvited guests and visitors to this part of the world, we have claimed our new home on lands stolen from indigenous peoples. A politics of responsibility means that as I am complicit in harmful systems, I also possess full agency to do good. This allows me to commit to dismantling these systems and embracing centuries-long legacies of resistance. It means I am accountable in community spaces and do not destroy myself when others call me out on my errors. It means I practice a generosity of spirit and forgiveness towards myself and others. To do all this, I must publicly claim both imperfection and personal responsibility as an activist.
Tapping into our shared humanity
Marginalized people ask that privileged people look at them and see a human being, not a lesser-than being. Oppressive systems operate by systemically dehumanizing some groups for the benefit of others. On the flip side, I believe people with privilege are dehumanized when internalizing their societal supremacy over others. For example, the ethnographic studies that have been conducted to explain the election of Donald Trump have revealed the mass identity crisis in white America. We have seen poor and working class white Americans denounce people of color and diversity efforts because, sadly, they perceive them as threats to their historically established power and access. Rather than base cultural identities solely on power, could we tap into what we all have in common: our humanity, no matter how trampled it is? Black public theologian Christena Cleveland practices envisioning the humanity in those who challenge and attack her. According to her, training herself to cultivate love for her enemies makes it more effective for her to communicate and speak her truth into their hearts. She is as concerned about her well-being as she is about transforming antagonistic people in her life into “liberated oppressors.” Black elder activist Ruby Sales firmly tells her oppressors, with unyielding love in her voice: “You can’t make me hate you.”
These are suggestions that have aided me in navigating toxic social justice environments. In testing them out, I try to stay open to new tactics while understanding that I must remain flexible and responsive to the variable stages of justice work. If we as activists do not feel safe in our experimental microcosms of justice and liberation, what can we attempt to replicate across larger society?
“Your Black Friend” Animated Short Film by Ben Passmore, Alex Krokus & Krystal Downs on why its important for white people to do more confronting
Lessons on how White People can discuss Race Responsibly
Look Different: Bias Cleanse
Interested in working on your own biases? With input from the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, we’ve created seven-day bias cleanses on race, gender and anti-LGBTQ bias that will provide you with daily tasks that will help you begin to change your associations.
“Social scientists understand racism as a multidimensional and highly adaptive system — a system that ensures an unequal distribution of resources between racial groups. Because whites built and dominate all significant institutions, (often at the expense of and on the uncompensated labor of other groups), their interests are embedded in the foundation of U.S. society. While individual whites may be against racism, they still benefit from the distribution of resources controlled by their group.
Yes, an individual person of color can sit at the tables of power, but the overwhelming majority of decision-makers will be white. Yes, white people can have problems and face barriers, but systematic racism won’t be one of them. This distinction — between individual prejudice and a system of unequal institutionalized racial power — is fundamental. One cannot understand how racism functions in the U.S. today if one ignores group power relations.
This systemic and institutional control allows those of us who are white in North America to live in a social environment that protects and insulates us from race-based stress. We have organized society to reproduce and reinforce our racial interests and perspectives. Further, we are centered in all matters deemed normal, universal, benign, neutral and good. Thus, we move through a wholly racialized world with an unracialized identity (e.g. white people can represent all of humanity, people of color can only represent their racial selves). Challenges to this identity become highly stressful and even intolerable. The following are examples of the kinds of challenges that trigger racial stress for white people:
- Suggesting that a white person’s viewpoint comes from a racialized frame of reference (challenge to objectivity);
- People of color talking directly about their own racial perspectives (challenge to white taboos on talking openly about race);
- People of color choosing not to protect the racial feelings of white people in regards to race (challenge to white racial expectations and need/entitlement to racial comfort);
- People of color not being willing to tell their stories or answer questions about their racial experiences (challenge to the expectation that people of color will serve us);
- A fellow white not providing agreement with one’s racial perspective (challenge to white solidarity);
- Receiving feedback that one’s behavior had a racist impact (challenge to white racial innocence);
- Suggesting that group membership is significant (challenge to individualism);
- An acknowledgment that access is unequal between racial groups (challenge to meritocracy);
- Being presented with a person of color in a position of leadership (challenge to white authority);
- Being presented with information about other racial groups through, for example, movies in which people of color drive the action but are not in stereotypical roles, or multicultural education (challenge to white centrality).
Not often encountering these challenges, we withdraw, defend, cry, argue, minimize, ignore, and in other ways push back to regain our racial position and equilibrium. I term that push back white fragility.
This concept came out of my on-going experience leading discussions on race, racism, white privilege and white supremacy with primarily white audiences. It became clear over time that white people have extremely low thresholds for enduring any discomfort associated with challenges to our racial worldviews. We can manage the first round of challenge by ending the discussion through platitudes — usually something that starts with “People just need to,” or “Race doesn’t really have any meaning to me,” or “Everybody’s racist.” Scratch any further on that surface, however, and we fall apart.
Socialized into a deeply internalized sense of superiority and entitlement that we are either not consciously aware of or can never admit to ourselves, we become highly fragile in conversations about race. We experience a challenge to our racial worldview as a challenge to our very identities as good, moral people. It also challenges our sense of rightful place in the hierarchy. Thus, we perceive any attempt to connect us to the system of racism as a very unsettling and unfair moral offense.
The following patterns make it difficult for white people to understand racism as a system and lead to the dynamics of white fragility. While they do not apply to every white person, they are well-documented overall:
Segregation: Most whites live, grow, play, learn, love, work and die primarily in social and geographic racial segregation. Yet, our society does not teach us to see this as a loss. Pause for a moment and consider the magnitude of this message: We lose nothing of value by having no cross-racial relationships. In fact, the whiter our schools and neighborhoods are, the more likely they are to be seen as “good.” The implicit message is that there is no inherent value in the presence or perspectives of people of Color. This is an example of the relentless messages of white superiority that circulate all around us, shaping our identities and worldviews.
The Good/Bad Binary: The most effective adaptation of racism over time is the idea that racism is conscious bias held by mean people. If we are not aware of having negative thoughts about people of color, don’t tell racist jokes, are nice people, and even have friends of color, then we cannot be racist. Thus, a person is either racist or not racist; if a person is racist, that person is bad; if a person is not racist, that person is good. Although racism does of course occur in individual acts, these acts are part of a larger system that we all participate in. The focus on individual incidences prevents the analysis that is necessary in order to challenge this larger system. The good/bad binary is the fundamental misunderstanding driving white defensiveness about being connected to racism. We simply do not understand how socialization and implicit bias work.
Individualism: Whites are taught to see themselves as individuals, rather than as part of a racial group. Individualism enables us to deny that racism is structured into the fabric of society. This erases our history and hides the way in which wealth has accumulated over generations and benefits us, as a group, today. It also allows us to distance ourselves from the history and actions of our group. Thus we get very irate when we are “accused” of racism, because as individuals, we are “different” from other white people and expect to be seen as such; we find intolerable any suggestion that our behavior or perspectives are typical of our group as a whole.
Entitlement to racial comfort: In the dominant position, whites are almost always racially comfortable and thus have developed unchallenged expectations to remain so. We have not had to build tolerance for racial discomfort and thus when racial discomfort arises, whites typically respond as if something is “wrong,” and blame the person or event that triggered the discomfort (usually a person of color). This blame results in a socially-sanctioned array of responses towards the perceived source of the discomfort, including: penalization; retaliation; isolation and refusal to continue engagement. Since racism is necessarily uncomfortable in that it is oppressive, white insistence on racial comfort guarantees racism will not be faced except in the most superficial of ways.
Racial Arrogance: Most whites have a very limited understanding of racism because we have not been trained to think in complex ways about it and because it benefits white dominance not to do so. Yet, we have no compunction about debating the knowledge of people who have thought complexly about race. Whites generally feel free to dismiss these informed perspectives rather than have the humility to acknowledge that they are unfamiliar, reflect on them further, or seek more information.
Racial Belonging: White people enjoy a deeply internalized, largely unconscious sense of racial belonging in U.S. society. In virtually any situation or image deemed valuable in dominant society, whites belong. The interruption of racial belonging is rare and thus destabilizing and frightening to whites and usually avoided.
Psychic freedom: Because race is constructed as residing in people of color, whites don’t bear the social burden of race. We move easily through our society without a sense of ourselves as racialized. Race is for people of color to think about — it is what happens to “them” — they can bring it up if it is an issue for them (although if they do, we can dismiss it as a personal problem, the race card, or the reason for their problems). This allows whites much more psychological energy to devote to other issues and prevents us from developing the stamina to sustain attention on an issue as charged and uncomfortable as race.
Constant messages that we are more valuable: Living in a white dominant context, we receive constant messages that we are better and more important than people of color. For example: our centrality in history textbooks, historical representations and perspectives; our centrality in media and advertising; our teachers, role-models, heroes and heroines; everyday discourse on “good” neighborhoods and schools and who is in them; popular TV shows centered around friendship circles that are all white; religious iconography that depicts God, Adam and Eve, and other key figures as white. While one may explicitly reject the notion that one is inherently better than another, one cannot avoid internalizing the message of white superiority, as it is ubiquitous in mainstream culture.
These privileges and the white fragility that results prevent us from listening to or comprehending the perspectives of people of color and bridging cross-racial divides. The antidote to white fragility is on-going and life-long, and includes sustained engagement, humility, and education. We can begin by:
- Being willing to tolerate the discomfort associated with an honest appraisal and discussion of our internalized superiority and racial privilege.
- Challenging our own racial reality by acknowledging ourselves as racial beings with a particular and limited perspective on race.
- Attempting to understand the racial realities of people of color through authentic interaction rather than through the media or unequal relationships.
- Taking action to address our own racism, the racism of other whites, and the racism embedded in our institutions — e.g., get educated and act.
“Getting it” when it comes to race and racism challenges our very identities as good white people. It’s an ongoing and often painful process of seeking to uncover our socialization at its very roots. It asks us to rebuild this identity in new and often uncomfortable ways. But I can testify that it is also the most exciting, powerful, intellectually stimulating and emotionally fulfilling journey I have ever undertaken. It has impacted every aspect of my life — personal and professional.
I have a much deeper and more complex understanding of how society works. I can challenge much more racism in my daily life, and I have developed cherished and fulfilling cross-racial friendships I did not have before.
I do not expect racism to end in my lifetime, and I know that I continue to have problematic racist patterns and perspectives. Yet, I am also confident that I do less harm to people of color than I used to. This is not a minor point of growth, for it impacts my lived experience and that of the people of color who interact with me. If you are white I urge you to take the first step — let go of your racial certitude and reach for humility.”
Too Young for the Living Dead: This is a post about tone policing
“I’ve been seeing an awful lot of tone policing on my dash lately. It seems a lot of people don’t really understand why someone would respond aggressively or angrily, or otherwise emotionally, to having something really fucked up/hurtful/oppressive said to them. Or, they think it’s counterproductive to respond in that way.
First off, the reason that people may respond in a “harsh” manner to oppression: Living in a world that reminds you daily of your lesser worth as a human being can make a person very tired and emotional. When someone says something oppressive — that can be a racist slur, an ableist stereotype, a misogynist dismissal, an invalidation of identity/experiences, being asked invasive and entitled questions, and so on – it feels like being slapped in the face, to the person on the receiving end. The automatic response is emotion and pain. It’s quite exhausting and difficult to restrain the resulting anger. And, frankly, it’s cruel and ridiculous to expect a person to be calm and polite in response to an act of oppression. Marginalized people often do not have the luxury of emotionally distancing themselves from discussions on their rights and experiences.
Second, tone policing is the ultimate derailing tactic. When you tone police, you automatically shift the focus of the conversation away from what you or someone else did that was wrong, and onto the other person and their reaction. Tone policing is a way of not taking responsibility for fucking up, and it dismisses the other person’s position by framing it as being emotional and therefore irrational. The conflation of emotionality with irrationality is often used to silence women and people who are read as women, when they are trying to speak about anything at all. It’s also used against all marginalized people when they attempt to speak about their very personal experiences with oppression. But being emotional does not make one’s points any less valid. It’s also important to note that, by tone policing, you not only refuse to examine your own oppressive behavior, but you also can blame that on the other person, because they were not “nice enough” to be listened to or taken seriously.
Third, the implications: Tone policing assumes that the oppressive act is not an act of aggression, when it very much is. The person who was oppressed by the action, suddenly is no longer a victim, but is “victimizing” the other person by calling them out. Now, I’m not saying it’s okay to be abusive, or oppressive in response to a person who fucks up. But anger is valid. Anger is valid, anger is important, anger brings social change, anger makes people listen, anger is threatening, and anger is passion. Anger is NOT counterproductive; being “nice” is counterproductive. Nobody was ever given rights by politely asking for them. Politeness is nothing but a set of behavioral expectations that is enforced upon marginalized people.
If you see someone who is angry and upset about something that was said or done to them, don’t tell them they should be nicer. Instead: Recognize their emotions as valid. Recognize that their emotional state is an indication that something extremely harmful was done to them, whether it was by you, or someone else. Work to understand why the action was oppressive. Take all that energy that you’re wasting being so concerned with how people are responding to their own oppression, and channel it into fighting oppression.”
What’s the Harm in Tone Policing?
Tone policing is a dangerous habit that has real psychosocial consequences. By telling people not to express their anger at oppression, tone police are not only promoting their own personal comfort over that of someone who is in pain, but they are also asking the angry people to suffer in silence, which has very serious psychological consequences. In addition, the current academic obsession with “civility” (a fancy proxy for tone) seems to have only placed (uncooperative) scholars of color in its crosshairs.
People engaging in tone policing are often having a difficult time distinguishing between discomfort due to a potentially emotional person communicating about their experiences of oppression versus discomfort due to someone’s malicious behavior. When someone communicates the factual and emotional truth of their experiences with oppression to you, it is not a malicious attack on you or your existence. Your discomfort is not their fault either; it is the fault of the oppressive structure they are responding to, one which you may be benefiting from.
Moreover, tone policing is mean, as I explain elsewhere. When tone police tell people that they can’t or won’t listen because of tone, what they are really communicating is, “I don’t care about your experience with oppression or how it makes you feel. I only care about how it is discomfiting for me to hear about it.”
The following quotes all come from essays that you should read, and hopefully they will help create more understanding about why tone policing is bad.
My response to racism is anger. I have lived with that anger, ignoring it, feeding upon it, learning to use it before it laid my visions to waste, for most of my life. Once I did it in silence, afraid of the weight. My fear of anger taught me nothing. Your fear of that anger will teach you nothing, also. — Audre Lorde
First, let me say — tone policing is boring. If somebody is delivering points in a way you don’t like, it doesn’t make their points invalid. It just means you do not like the delivery. Big deal. Get over it and deal with it. — Sara Luckey
“No one gives a shit about how it makes me feel when I am told that things would get better if I just “asked nicely”. You don’t think I’ve tried that? The reason I’m angry is that I tried playing by your rules of niceness, and you ignored me.” — NinjaCate
this is why respectability politics are garbage. cause even when you’re nice, smiley and friendly they STILL tone police & say you’re angry
Tone policing, simply put, is the dismissal of a person’s argument (generally a less-privileged person in social justice discourse) because of their tone, which may be perceived by the bigoted more-privileged person as ‘too personal,’ ‘too emotional’ or ‘too angry.’ Meanwhile, the oversensitivity argument basically amounts to the bigoted more-privileged person telling the less-privileged person to suck it up and deal with the abuse the kyriarchy deals out. Put together, these things add up to a massive display of double standards. ‘I shouldn’t have to deal with your [justified] anger/pain, but you should just sit back and take my [unjustified] bigotry.’ — Anger is Justified
Firstly, it’s wrong. Being calm and nice does not help me get more allies. It might get me “allies.” “Allies” meaning men who want to look good to feminists but are really misogynists who expect their every need to be catered to and will hold their allyship hostage any time someone says something they don’t like. — Lindsey Weedston
The purpose of polite behavior is never virtuous. Deceit, surrender, and concealment: these are not virtues. The goal of the mannerly is comfort, per se…. Most often, the people who can least afford to further efface and deny the truth of what they experience, the people whose very existence is most endangered and, therefore, most in need of vigilantly truthful affirmation, these are the people — the poor and the children — who are punished most severely for departures from the civilities that grease oppression. If you make and keep my life horrible then, when I can tell the truth, it will be a horrible truth; it will not sound good or look good or, God willing, feel good for you either. — June Jordan
Now, who gets to determine what “civil” behavior and speech is, and what is not? Even as administrators espouse the value of “community” it is clear that the final arbiters of civility are they themselves. And this is what makes signing on to civility something one should think twice about — civility is in the eye of the powerful. And if one believes that it will protect one against homophobic, racist, sexist, and emphatic political speech of all stripes in an even and “democratic” manner, one should first look at the case history of civility, and its relation to free speech. — David Palumbo-Liu
We do not pretend to know what Native Hawaiians should do to transform the lives of our people, but we do know that none of us can figure that out alone. Disagreements should be expected and honored, as should a whole range of emotions from anger to sorrow. None of us can afford to lose each other, and certainly not because some of us do not appear “respectable,” as defined by OHA and as amplified by the mainstream media.
We know that Colonialism in all of its manifestations (loss of land, health, genealogy, culture, unity; all of which Native Hawaiians on both sides of the question of federal recognition continue to testify to again and again) will not go away if we simply “be good.” Colonialism will not go away if we just refrain from yelling, crying, or talking for more than two minutes. — Lani Teves
If I sound angry and pissed-off to you, it’s because I am. Stop taking it so fucking personally and start trying to figure out more about how systemic inequality functions in the university to produce death by a thousand paper cuts for women faculty . . . — Thus Spake Zuska
If you see someone who is angry and upset about something that was said or done to them, don’t tell them they should be nicer. Instead: Recognize their emotions as valid. Recognize that their emotional state is an indication that something extremely harmful was done to them, whether it was by you, or someone else. Work to understand why the action was oppressive. Take all that energy that you’re wasting being so concerned with how people are responding to their own oppression, and channel it into fighting oppression. — Do or Die
“Calm down so we can discuss this like adults.”
Have you ever tone policed someone in a conversation on oppression? Tone policing focuses on the emotion behind a message rather than the message itself – and you might think you’re helping by making the conversation more “comfortable.”
But in this comic, Robot Hugs makes a great point about how tone policing protects privilege – and silences people who are hurting. This is no way to get justice, and this breakdown will help you understand exactly why.
The Editors at Everyday Feminism
Getting Called Out: How to Apologize
Everyday Feminism: How White Americans’ Hatred of Racism Actually Supports Racism Instead of Solves It
Nothing upsets White Americans like calling them a “racist.” It can spark outright indignation, extreme defensiveness, a faucet of tears, and a host of emotions that dwell in our primal selves.
Why do White Americans fear the word so much?
Over the past 15 years of teaching about race and racism at the high school level, I have polled my students on their associations with word “racist.” The list is relatively consistent from year to year: the Confederate flag, the Ku Klux Klan, burning crosses, white sheets. In other words, they consistently associate “racist” with the symbols of the most egregious and deadly forms of White Supremacy.
No wonder so many White Americans flee from racism.
But fleeing racism is the primary way we as White Americans support, protect, and perpetuate racism. Here’s why: When we bolt, we don’t discuss racism. We don’t analyze it. We don’t even face it. We are too busy creating distance, with our backs turned. In short, fleeing precludes the necessary process of discovery that transforms an ignorant White American to one we desperately need: an anti-racist White activist. Consequently, the status quo remains with its nails sunk deep into the future.
Robin DiAngelo, a scholar who writes extensively on whiteness, explains these responses as an inevitable outcome of what she calls the “good/bad binary.” As White Americans, we think of racism as bad, so if we hold a racist belief, then we too are bad. Conversely, if we hate racism, then we are good. To many White Americans, even exploring the concept of the White Privilege confines them to the binary, condemning them as evil racists and sending them packing.
My students’ associations with “racist” perfectly exemplify this binary. But if we White Americans truly hate racism, then we can’t distance ourselves from it. After all, what threat has ever ended because we turned and fled? Like espousing colorblindness, distancing yourself from racism is a flawed strategy. Here’s what we need to do instead:
1. Break the Good/Bad Binary
Dissociate the egregious symbols of White Supremacy from the concept of racism. Racist messages are everywhere. The question isn’t how could you hold racist beliefs, but rather, how could you not hold racist beliefs?
Beverly Daniel Tatum – in her classic text on racism, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? – compares racism to smog. We are all breathing it in; we are all affected. So cut yourself some slack if you have internalized racist ideas. It doesn’t mean you are bad; it means you watched Peter Pan as a kid (or the thousands of other biased films and television shows). It means you were likely raised by folks who too fled racism.
Then repeat the following:
“I can internalize racist beliefs and still be a good person.”
“I can internalize racist beliefs and still be a good person.”
“I can internalize racist beliefs and still be a good person.”
And that statement can be true, as long as you complete this next step.
2. Unearth Your Racism and Challenge It
Most of our racial biases go unnoticed. There’s even a name for them: Implicit biases, which can be defined as the “thoughts about people you didn’t know you had.” Remember that smog? It means our bodies are full of polluted thoughts. Even mine. Even yours. And arguably, implicit bias – not conscious racism – is what accounts for many of the disparities highlighted in this three-minute video.
But you are never going to unearth these biases until you finally pick up the shovel. In other words, it takes work – deliberate and sustained effort. You must actively bring your implicit biases to the surface. (There’s even a test for them here!) You must actively challenge the stereotypes you have internalized (which generally don’t hold up). You must actively learn about microaggressions and cultural appropriation so that you aren’t perpetrating them.
Do the work, and you won’t be able to help but repeat the inevitable:
“I am racist.”
“I am racist.”
“I am racist.”
If enough White Americans repeated this statement– and did so loudly – the word “racist” would lose its debilitating power over us. Instead of signaling us to flee, it would remind us to reach again for that shovel, ready for some strenuous self-examination. If we practiced repeating these words, perhaps no one would need to declare:
BLACK LIVES > WHITE FEELINGS
3. Understand Systemic Racism – Deeply
Systemic racism, also known as institutional racism, is the “policies, practice, and procedures that work to the benefit of white people and the detriment of people of color.” Some even make a distinction between institutional racism and structural racism, which is the “interplay of policies, practices, and programs of differing institutions which leads to adverse outcomes and conditions for communities of color compared to white communities.”
The point is: Racism is bigger than one person; it’s not about you. At the same time – and I don’t think this is stressed enough – individuals make up systems.
White individuals can become cashiers who make the checkout line an unpleasant experience for shoppers of Color. White individuals can become teachers who don’t recognize the brilliance of their students of Color. White individuals will invariably make up many hiring committees, holding the keys that open the doors to upward mobility.
Thus, it’s crucial to analyze how the individual interacts with and connects to the institution. One of the best primers on institutional racism is Robin DiAngelo’s “Deconstructing White Privilege.”
Note that when exploring racism, DiAngelo argues that we must go deeper than the obvious – the racial slurs and racist jokes. If you’re new to exploring systemic racism and you think you get it, there’s a good chance you have not dug deeply enough.
4. Take Action
Dismantling these systems will require action. Awareness and education are certainly part of the process but, alone, they are not enough. Recently, students at Seattle University staged a three-week-long sit-in to challenge a whitewashed humanities curriculum, forcing their problematic dean to retire. Students at San Francisco State University led a 10-day hunger strike to win crucial funding for their perpetually underfunded College of Ethnic Studies.
Awareness did not win these victories. And keep in mind that it was the educational systems themselves that opposed the students. Thus, not only is education not necessarily the solution, but it’s often the problem. Racial injustice infects pretty much every facet of our world.
This fact can be overwhelming, but it also makes it relatively easy to find a struggle to join. Maybe it’s at your workplace, in your child’s school, in front of your computer, or on the streets during rush hour. There is no shortage of ways to act. In fact, in a search engine of your choice, type the words “White people fight racism” and you will find endless articles with ideas (many of which are compiled here).
While too many White Americans still get racism wrong, the Black Lives Matter movement has led to the burgeoning of anti-racist organizations, like Showing Up for Racial Justice, made specifically for White Americans who want to, well, show up for racial justice.
But don’t wait.
The epitome of White Privilege is this country losing another Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and Deeniquia Dodds and Korryn Gaines and Paul O’Neal while we wait for a critical mass of White Americans to wake the fuck up. And waking up begins with discussing racism, analyzing racism, and facing racism – especially our own.
Paradoxically, waking up means building a relationship with racism, not fleeing from it. Once we do, the word “racist” won’t incite debilitating behaviors but instead will foster meaningful change and racial justice. “
Everyday Feminism: Why White People Shouldn’t Impose Their Feelings Into Conversations on Race
To be completely honest, talking about race and racial injustice makes me very uncomfortable. Whenever someone brings up topics like police brutality, immigration, or protesting, I squirm a little. The more they talk, I feel a pressure in my chest and a desire to swiftly exit the premises. All the while, I’m praying they don’t ask my opinion or say something so off-the-wall that I have to interject.
As a black writer who often writes about racial injustice, this may seem strange. I’m very comfortable behind my keyboard. Writing the articles allows me to thoroughly research, organize my thoughts, and present information using the stylistic choices I feel are appropriate.
In a live conversation, I can’t organize my thoughts and present them in a clear manner as easily. I can’t always pull up quotes and statistics off the top of my head or walk away if the conversation goes rancid.
Truthfully, it isn’t the subject matter that bothers me – it’s the people who want to have these conversations who make me feel uncomfortable. I hate having conversations on race with misinformed white people. Most of my experiences doing so have been quite unpleasant.
I’ve found that white people took comments too personally, as if I was blaming every societal injustice on the white people in the discussion. I wasn’t. Still, they expressed feeling like they were under attack, feeling as if I was trying to make them feel guilty, and feeling tired of having these race-based discussions (which confuses me, since they were always the ones to bring up the discussion in the first place).
If you’re a white person and you’ve participated in conversations on race and racism, this might sound familiar. And you’re certainly not the only white person who has had such feelings arise in these discussions. These white feelings, the feelings many white people have when they encounter conversations and situations involving race, make conversations on race difficult. Additionally, they are detrimental to progress in our society.
Here are four reasons why.
1. White Feelings Derail Productive Conversations
When I must have conversations about race with white people, I’m always aware of how many times they use the word “I.” While “I” statements are useful for interpersonal communication, they can also be powerful tools used (sometimes accidentally) to disrupt or change the course of a conversation on systemic oppression.
Before bringing the word “I” into a conversation on race, white folks should ask themselves a few questions:
- Am I asking for advice on how I can help eliminate the specific problem addressed in the conversation?
- Am I being a supportive ally by checking the other white people involved in the conversations?
- Or am I centering myself in a conversation that isn’t really about me?
When white people bring up their feelings, they often change the course of an otherwise productive conversation by making everyone in the discussion cater to their emotions. These feelings leave little room for diving deeper into the discussion and brainstorming actions that can be taken to find solutions to problems.
In the time it took to coddle the upset white person, the conversation could’ve gone many other ways: It could have been a valuable learning experience for other participants involved. It could have won over a few potential allies. It could have led to change in a company’s culture to make it more inclusive, a healthier classroom environment, a safer neighborhood for children of color, or a decision to retrain of a violent city police.
When your feelings take precedence over social change, we have a serious problem. See, whether a conversation on race is productive or it comes to a screeching halt, white people don’t have as much to lose. You already live in a society that’s friendly to your whiteness.
Because you benefit from white privilege, you don’t really even have to have these tough conversations. You might even just consider it a fun exercise in debate. But it’s so much more than that to people of color. So disrupting a conversation that could benefit people of color is not only selfish, but it also means you are figuratively standing in the way of much-needed progress.
2. White Feelings Often Tone Police People of Color
Sometimes white people feel under attack in discussions on race, especially if the people of color involved are passionate. Here’s the thing: Racial injustice physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially hurts us. Sometimes, it even kills us.
Therefore, when you ask my opinion on police brutality and I tell you a story about how my partner and his friend almost didn’t make it home one night because the police pulled their weapons on two unarmed black men, I’m likely going to tell this story with a heavy heart.
When another person of color tells you the story about how they had to change the name on their resume to a more “American-sounding” name before hiring managers started contacting them, they might tell that story with some frustration – especially if they are in a financial strain.
This is one of many reasons why you should avoid tone policing when people of color express strong emotions on race-related topics. These emotions are legitimate reactions to our reality. They are not personal attacks on your character. They aren’t actually about you at all.
Furthermore, tone policing also suggests that only certain “non-threatening” people of color can be involved in such conversations. For example, you might prefer to speak to my pacifist father rather than my ex-con childhood friend (both black men) about systemic racism.
My father might tell you of stories growing up in the projects in Chicago in the ’70s, and how white students in his public school were encouraged by teachers and counselors to go to college, while black students were encouraged to find jobs after graduation – and he’ll do it with a calm, collected approach.
My childhood friend could give you a first-hand account of his experience as a black man in the penal system, his struggles to find employment, and the roadblocks he faced with registering to vote. (Despite only having a misdemeanor, he went through a long process to make sure he could vote after his release.)
His blackness and his criminal record strongly impacted his life. Searching for a job as a black person is hard enough; searching for one as a black person with a criminal record is harder – and studies show that it’s harder than a white man in a similar position.
He might become angry while telling his story, but it is an important story nonetheless. Both of their stories offer unique perspectives about different examples of racism in our society. When you brush off passionate voices like my ex-con friend’s, you deny yourself access to varying perspectives.
Your exclusionary approach to conversations on race dismisses the experiences of many people who don’t live up to your expectations for what these conversations should entail.
Discussions on race are not about accommodating the white people involved. These conversations can become heated, especially when people are addressing painful experiences – but getting heated doesn’t mean they can’t offer positive outcomes.
3. White Feelings Don’t Compare to the Reality of Racial Oppression
When you enter a conversation on race, you may feel uncomfortable, guilty, or upset. In comparison, people of color feel unsafe in their environments, fearful for their lives, worried about their status in the country, or heartbroken from the loss of their loved ones due to a hate crime.
Your whiteness means you don’t experience this to the same extent – or at all, in many cases. If you think talking about police brutality is uncomfortable, imagine the fear that comes over many black people when we are pulled over. Many of us are thinking, “Am I next?” and wondering if we’ll receive the same fate as Sandra Bland or Freddie Gray.
You may feel uncomfortable talking about microaggressions in the few minutes that you spend discussing it, but you have to understand that microaggressions are a daily discomfort (to say the least) for many people of color.
Additionally, I often see white people derail a conversation by bringing up how they “feel the same way” or they’ve been oppressed like people of color because they are also marginalized. But there are holes in this argument. Even if you’re marginalized in another way and you want to talk about your oppression as a working-class person, as a queer person, as a woman, and so on, this isn’t always appropriate either.
At the end of the day, you’re forgetting three important things:
First, you still have white privilege.
Second, the conversation isn’t about how you are marginalized.
Third, people of color can also be working class, queer, women, and more, and their race intersects with other marginalized identities.
Because of how our various identities intersect, your feelings about how you “feel the same way” because you’re also marginalized aren’t exactly as similar as you think they are. If you do want to find parallels and ways to relate your experience to that of a person of color, maybe you can find time to talk to them about it in another conversation.
Just be careful about dismissing their oppression or saying it’s the exact same thing. There may be parallels, but every person brings their unique experiences of privilege and oppression. In the future, you could also use these parallels to help other white people who are marginalized understand racial oppression.
4. White Feelings Keep Potential Allies From Taking Action
Many white people who willingly enter into conversations on race have great intentions for doing so: They want to become more informed about the issues, they want to help fight for racial justice, and/or they want to learn how to be a better ally, friend, or feminist.
However, they don’t realize that their feelings get in the way of accomplishing these good intentions. When white people have feelings that contradict the evidence that people of color bring to a conversation about oppression, they hold themselves back from becoming a better-informed ally. Rather than allowing these bothersome feelings to interfere, why not learn how to manage them and use them to further your goals?
First, you’ll need to address and process these emotions. Here are a few tips on how to do that without disrupting a conversation.
Once you’ve gotten your own feelings in check, it’s time to use them to your advantage in your goals for racial justice. Your feelings and your whiteness make you relatable to other white people. So you can help other white people manage their feelings.
Next time you see a white person derailing a conversation on race, you can say something like, “You know, I used to feel that way, too,” and you can explain to them why you no longer feel this way.
You can also add, “Honestly, this really isn’t the time to address your feelings. We should really let so-and-so speak, as they have personal encounters with racial oppression. Why don’t the two of us talk about it later so this important conversation can continue?”
When you add to a conversation in this way, the conversation can carry on, and the people involved can learn something new. Additionally, if you talk to other white people about their feelings, you can help educate others who also want to be better allies.
Yes Magazine: Dear White People, Stop Making Racism All About You
In regards to White folks and their anti-Blackness, here is a list of 10 ways they can stop annoying people of color on social media.
1. When we post about racism—like being called racist names, racial harassment, feelings about being called racist things, or being racially harassed—stop saying you’re shocked. Don’t say, “I can’t believe this still happens.” Don’t tell us all the ways you’re surprised, because you’re either lying or haven’t been paying attention. Don’t show us how much you don’t listen when we talk by carelessly stating “shock.” Think about what it says to us about how you see us before you say something.
2. When we share whatever flavor of racial pain we’re in, don’t proclaim what a good White person you personally are and then go on to tell a story about that time you rescued a poor Black child from the ghetto. We don’t want to hear about that time you bought some jammy pants that gave 5 cents to an elephant in India or whatever. Just don’t do it because it’s not about you personally unless you personally caused the problem. If you want to tell your story about what a wonderful White person you are, take it to your own space because we’re not here for it.
3. Related to number 2, say you come across a post on Facebook and there is a lengthy thread where people of color are going off about how terrible White people are: Don’t be the White person to #notallwhitepeople the thing. If you are personally offended by the “stereotyping” and “generalizations” of a group of people either sharing their pain or cracking jokes about Whitey, calm the hell down. There is not a comment thread long enough. You, singular Good White Person, cannot be the savior of Whiteness.
4. Not all conversations need your stories about something tangentially related. For example, a group of Black folks on social media are talking about hair issues. Maybe we’re talking about things like little Black girls being threatened with suspension from school for wearing their hair natural or wearing braids. Maybe we’re talking about living in majority-White cities and not being able to find certain products, whatever. Mind. Your. Own. Business. The time someone told a Blonde joke that hurt your feelings or the glossy lady-rag article you read that says curly hair isn’t serious—please do not insert yourself. Stay in your lane.
5. If you don’t understand a Black colloquialism, African American Vernacular English, or other brown people slang, do not start yammering about the demise of the English language and how terrible slang is. AAVE is among the most vibrant and ever-changing dialects of the English language. So don’t. If you don’t understand, Google before you ask or just deal with the fact that it isn’t for you.
6. Related to number 5, think about how you use AAVE. Do you use it when you want to feel sassy? If the only use for Blackness you have is to consume it and regurgitate it, skip it. Quote Miley Cyrus or Katy Perry or somebody until Blackness means more to you than two seconds of cachet or sass.
7. Stop letting your white friends act like a-holes on your friends’ posts. You don’t have to be confrontational, you don’t have to ride to the rescue. You can say to your friend, This is not appropriate, here, I am sending you a message so that we can talk. Handle your own people.
8. If ignorance suddenly turns you into the sort of person who leaves 4 inches worth of a comment on a Facebook thread where you police tone, demand emotional labor, and refuse to do your own research—just stop. Your anti-Black biases are making you perceive our responses as aggressive thanks to racist tropes like the Angry Black Woman. There is nothing gentle about racism, and our responses to it don’t warrant subtlety or kindness in return.
9. Don’t ask us why we hate White people. Just don’t. Please stop. Don’t commend us if we decide to say not all white people, don’t demand to a light on you for being The One Truly Good White Person.
10. If reading this list has you furiously writing up a long comment to explain to me how you’re not the problem, how racism is bad, how I don’t really know the struggle, if you are earnestly going to #notallwhitewomen and/or #notallwhitepeople me—you ain’t ready. If you believe this is directed at you personally—it definitely is.
“I am not interested in white allies. What we need are co-conspirators,” Feminista Jones, a 36-year-old social worker and writer shouted into a bullhorn. Her solemn audience cheered her on.
“The definition of ally-ship is to mutually benefit and support. Black people are not obligated to provide support to people who are dominant,” Jones said. “We are not working together on a mutual goal. My goal is to live. You don’t have that same goal.”
But the disparity in realities does not mean Jones wants to exclude white people from participating in rallies and civil action, quite the contrary. Jones wants more, not less.
“What I need is for people to come and work with us in the trenches and be there alongside us. It’s not about being on the outside and saying ‘yes, I support you!’ It’s about ‘not only do I support you, but I am here with you, I am rolling up my sleeves. What do I need to do?’”
The Atlantic: The Simple Psychological Trick to Political Persuasion
For example, when Feinberg and Willer asked liberals to write an op-ed aiming to convince conservatives of the value of same-sex marriage, most wrote something to the tune of, “Why would we punish these people for being born a certain way? They deserve the same equal rights as other Americans.” The problem is, research on thousands of people around the world, summed up in something called Moral Foundations Theory, has shown that liberals are more likely than conservatives to endorse fairness-based arguments like these. Meanwhile, just 8 percent of the liberals in Willer and Feinberg’s study were able to craft an argument that would appeal to conservatives’ value of loyalty toward your own kind. (So something like, “Our fellow citizens of the United States of America deserve to stand alongside us … We should lift our fellow citizens up, not bring them down.”) What’s worse, some of them picked an argument that directly contradicted what many conservatives value, with arguments like, “your religion should play no part in the laws of the United States…
…“We tend to view our moral values as universal,” Feinberg told me. That “there are no other values but ours, and people who don’t share our values are simply immoral. Yet, in order to use moral reframing you need to recognize that the other side has different values, know what those values are, understand them well enough to be able to understand the moral perspective of the other side, and be willing to use those values as part of a political argument.”
Some people just can’t bring themselves to take that last step, he said, even if they know it’s more effective. And perhaps the reason it’s so difficult is because politics is so deeply intertwined with our personal values. When something is important to us, it’s usually for a reason, and it’s hard to break free of those reasons, even for political expediency’s sake. To do so would take an abundance of empathy, and that’s in short supply all around these days.
What’s more, not every researcher buys that it is quite so easy to persuade ideological opponents in the current climate, where people are changing their avatars to “#Resist” and “#MAGA.” “This [research] assumes that both sides are rational and at least partially open to hearing a different point of view,” said Blair Kidwell, a Florida International University professor whose consumer psychology research was cited by Feinberg and Willer. He says Trump is spearheading a “war on facts and even information itself,” which is causing many conservatives to distrust anyone but a fellow Trump supporter. “This is something, in my opinion, that cannot be fixed simply by appealing to conservative’s authority, purity ,and duty,” he added.
Still, there’s one thing Feinberg said definitely won’t work. In the wake of the executive order, Feinberg said he saw lots of liberals lobbing ad-hominem attacks, such as “you’re being un-American” or “you’re making the Statue of Liberty cry.”
“People typically do not do well when attacked,” he said, “this could simply push them to be more staunch in their position.”If you can’t persuade your political foes, that is, you can at least try not to make the conflict worse.”
2. Know when there’s “Cognitive Dissonance” and “BackFire Effect”
Cognitive Dissonance: uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts simultaneously.
Backfire Effect: when corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question because it threatens their worldview or self-concept.
Scientific American: How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail
“In their 2007 book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), two social psychologists, Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson (a former student of Festinger), document thousands of experiments demonstrating how people spin-doctor facts to fit preconceived beliefs to reduce dissonance. Their metaphor of the “pyramid of choice” places two individuals side by side at the apex of the pyramid and shows how quickly they diverge and end up at the bottom opposite corners of the base as they each stake out a position to defend.
In a series of experiments by Dartmouth College professor Brendan Nyhan and University of Exeter professor Jason Reifler, the researchers identify a related factor they call the backfire effect “in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.” Why? “Because it threatens their worldview or self-concept.” For example, subjects were given fake newspaper articles that confirmed widespread misconceptions, such as that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When subjects were then given a corrective article that WMD were never found, liberals who opposed the war accepted the new article and rejected the old, whereas conservatives who supported the war did the opposite … and more: they reported being even more convinced there were WMD after the correction, arguing that this only proved that Saddam Hussein hid or destroyed them. In fact, Nyhan and Reifler note, among many conservatives “the belief that Iraq possessed WMD immediately before the U.S. invasion persisted long after the Bush administration itself concluded otherwise.”
If corrective facts only make matters worse, what can we do to convince people of the error of their beliefs? From my experience,
1 keep emotions out of the exchange
2 discuss, don’t attack (no ad hominem and no ad Hitlerum)
3 listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately
4 show respect
5 acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion
6 try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews.
These strategies may not always work to change people’s minds, but now that the nation has just been put through a political fact-check wringer, they may help reduce unnecessary divisiveness.”
Why Facts Don’t Convince People (and what you can do about it)
Proving your not the enemy
“The only difference is that Trump, now in power, paints himself as a fighter under siege — even more so than as 2016’s outsider candidate. The Russia scandal, the occasional betrayals by members of his own party, the condemnation of so many of his actions are all attempts to “stop” him. What you call scandal is only a sign that he is fighting back. Indeed, that he is fighting you. To his supporters, this is no scandal at all — he’s doing exactly what he promised he would do.
It does not matter that he is eroding the nation’s democratic institutions. That this combat is dangerous, hypocritical, built on lies. That you, after all, are innocent. His supporters are sure that you are to blame. Until you can convince them otherwise, they will cheer him on. The name of the game is polarization, and the rookie mistake is to forget you are the enemy.
Normal politicians collapse in the face of scandal because it shows them dozing on the job or falling short of their promises. To get elected, they offer a bargain: “Vote for me. I will make you richer/fight for your rights/assure your progress.” Scandals reveal that they can’t do that, and thus, they tumble. However, like all populists, Trump offered a much different deal: “Vote for me. I will destroy your enemies. They are the reason you are not rich/have fewer rights/America is not great anymore.” Scandal is the populist’s natural element for the same reason that demolishing buildings makes more noise than constructing them. His supporters didn’t vote for silence. They voted for a bang.
So where you see Mueller making progress at getting to the truth of Russian election interference, Trump supporters see an altogether different scandal. When Trump’s aides are indicted but Hillary Clinton isn’t, the probe serves as proof that the system is corrupt. Or when the Muslim travel ban is not enforced, it means the “deep state” is plotting some sort of coup.
That’s how populism works. As long as Trump is still swinging back, scandals help him to polarize the country further. The scorn of his adversaries, in the eyes of his supporters, proves that he’s doing exactly what they want him to do: dismantling a rigged system that they believe destroyed their hopes.
I know how you feel. You are outraged. What did you ever do to these people to deserve their hate? What can possibly be going on? How can they, for example, make sense of so many former Goldman Sachs men in the Trump Cabinet? Weren’t the bankers supposed to be the enemy? Not to mention Russia? All your senses (and your Facebook friends) tell you that, with all this hypocrisy, justice demands that Trump be impeached — indeed, it should have happened long ago. For your sake and for his supporters’ sake, too. Instead, it continues, and each day that goes by, it makes less sense to you. As Venezuelans used to tell one another: Ch ávez te tiene loco. Trump is making you crazy. Making you scramble for ways to make this end.
Look, I’ve been there. And I don’t have all the answers; Chávez is dead, but chavismo lives on. But I do know that before trying to convince Trump supporters that he is a hypocrite who must be impeached, that the news is not fake, that your statistical charts and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are in dire need of their attention — before you try to convince them that they are being racist or, worse, ignorant by believing in Trump — you should ask yourself: Will this help show them that I am not their enemy? Because what can really win them over is not to prove that you are right. It is to show that you care. Only then will they believe what you say.
Sheer outrage at the president’s scandals is pointless. When directed at Trump, your anger gives him rhetorical ammunition to point toward his besiegers (“We should have a contest as to which of the Networks, plus CNN and not including Fox, is the most dishonest, corrupt and/or distorted in its political coverage of your favorite President (me)”) or to bolster his claims to be fighting for his base (“Drain the Swamp should be changed to Drain the Sewer — it’s actually much worse than anyone ever thought, and it begins with the Fake News!”). But worse still is directing your anger at his supporters. Then you’re doing the same thing Trump is: believing your side is all right and the opposite side is all wrong. Rejecting your common humanity and sense of country, you’re playing into the polarization game instead of defeating it.
This is not a call for appeasement, only for efficiency. If dwelling on scandal too much can be counterproductive, then the focus must be elsewhere. I believe it should rest on understanding and empathizing with the grievances that brought Trump to power (wage stagnation, cultural isolation, a depleted countryside, the opioid crisis). Trump’s solutions may be imaginary, but the problems are very real. Populism is and has always been the daughter of political despair. Showing concern is the only way to break the rhetorical polarization.”
The Power of Vulnerability – Brene Brown
You’ve seen it happen dozens if not hundreds of times. You post an opinion, or a complaint, or a link to an article on Facebook. Somebody adds a comment, disagreeing (or agreeing) with whatever you posted. Someone else posts another comment disagreeing with the first commenter, or with you, or both. Then others jump in to add their own viewpoints. Tempers flare. Harsh words are used. Soon enough, you and several of your friends are engaged in a virtual shouting match, aiming insults in all directions, sometimes at people you’ve never even met.
There’s a simple reason this happens, it turns out: We respond very differently to what people write than to what they say–even if those things are exactly the same. That’s the result of a fascinating new experiment by UC Berkeley and University of Chicago researchers. In the study, 300 subjects read, watched video of, or listened to arguments about such hot-button topics as war, abortion, and country or rap music. Afterward, subjects were interviewed about their reactions to the opinions with which they disagreed.
Their general response was probably very familiar to anyone who’s ever discussed politics: a broad belief that people who don’t agree with you are either too stupid or too uncaring to know better. But there was a distinct difference between those who had watched or listened to someone speak the words out loud and those who had read the identical words as text. Those who had listened or watched someone say the words were less likely to dismiss the speaker as uninformed or heartless than they were if they were just reading the commenter’s words.
That result was no surprise to at least one of the researchers, who was inspired to try the experiment after a similar experience of his own. “One of us read a speech excerpt that was printed in a newspaper from a politician with whom he strongly disagreed,” researcher Juliana Schroeder told The Washington Post. “The next week, he heard the exact same speech clip playing on a radio station. He was shocked by how different his reaction was toward the politician when he read the excerpt compared to when he heard it.” Whereas the written comments seemed outrageous to this researcher, the same words spoken out loud seemed reasonable.
We’re using the wrong medium
This research suggests that the best way for people who disagree with one another to work out their differences and arrive at a better understanding or compromise is by talking to one another, as people used to do at town hall meetings and over the dinner table. But now that so many of our interactions take place over social media, chat, text message, or email, spoken conversation or discussion is increasingly uncommon. It’s probably no coincidence that political disagreement and general acrimony have never been greater. Russians used this speech-versus-text disharmony to full advantage by creating Facebook and Twitter accounts to stir up even more ill will among Americans than we already had on our own. No wonder they were so successful at it.
So what should you do about it? To begin with, if you want to make a persuasive case for your political opinion or proposed action, you’re better off doing it by making a short video (or linking to one by someone else) rather than writing out whatever you have to say. At the same time, whenever you’re reading something someone else wrote that seems outlandish to you, keep in mind that the fact that you’re seeing this as text may be part of the problem. If it’s important for you to be objective, try reading it out loud or having someone else read it to you.
Finally, if you’re already in the middle of an argument over Facebook (or Twitter or Instagram or email or text), and the person on the other side of the issue is someone you care about, please don’t just keep typing out comments and replies and replies to replies. Instead, make a coffee date so you can speak in person. Or at the very least, pick up the phone.
Why Debates Turn into Arguments
Life Hacker: The Importance of Empathy
Use Active Listening
“During a conversation, especially a heated on, most people formulate their response before the other person even finishes their statement. This form of communication is more verbal combat than an exchange of ideas or opinions. Avoid this reflex by slowing down. Rather than rushing to reply, take a moment to consider the other person’s statement. Ask follow up questions to better understand what the speaker intended. Try to understand their emotional state and the deeper motivations behind their statement. What life experiences led them to their current worldview? Remember you don’t need to share someone’s opnion to understand it and acknowledge it. And listening will help inform and expand your own opinion.”
“Sarah Silverman may be known for her biting comedy, but her recent exchange with a Twitter troll is being held up as a model of compassion. A few days ago, Silverman sent out a tweet, and a total stranger replied cruelly with nothing but the “c” word. But instead of lashing back or blocking the user, Silverman opted for a compassionate response.
I believe in you. I read ur timeline & I see what ur doing & your rage is thinly veiled pain. But u know that. I know this feeling. Ps My back Fucking sux too. see what happens when u choose love. I see it in you.
Remarkably, the troll then let down his guard, and explained his pain.
I can’t choose love. A man that resembles Kevin spacey took that away when I was 8. I can’t find peace if I could find that guy who ripped my body who stripped my innocence I’d kill him. He fucked me up and I’m poor so its hard to get help.
Silverman went on to ask the man if he uses heroin and if he wants to get clean. The man replied that he smokes weed and takes prescription meds. Then Silverman talked about the pitfalls of self-punishment and suggested that he join a support group.
Good. I want to kill him too so I can’t imagine your rage. All I know is this rage- and even if you could kill him— it’s punishing yourself. And you don’t deserve punishment. You deserve support. Go to one of these support groups. You might meet ur best bros there.
The man agreed to get help, and confessed that he’s antisocial and has no friends.
At the end of the exchange, Silverman wrote,
Im so psyched you’ll go. KEEP ME POSTED. Don’t give up on yourself. Be brave enough to risk getting burned. It’s what happens when u fight for yourself. But it’s worth it. I promise.
Then she called for others to help.
Yo SAN ANTONIO! Any kickass back/neck care specialists willing 2 help my friend @jeremy_jamrozy He has several slipped discs, no insurance, & can’t work bc of severe pain. Let’s get him back on his feet!! Who’s in?
The response was swift, and a spinal clinic in San Antonio reached out to the user to offer help.
Hey Sarah, just to let you know we’ve been in contact with Jeremy. We’re on it! 🙂
The exchange has become an internet hit, with legions of Silverman fans singing the star’s praises for taking the high road.
This is honestly one of the nicest and truly decent gestures I’ve ever seen a human being, much less a celebrity, give to another human being. Your heart and character are as big as your talent.
The approach seems to be part of Silverman’s mission to help calm the increasingly nasty and confrontational political discourse that has taken hold, especially in the U.S.
“Screaming at each other has never caused change,” she said in a 2017 Uproxx interview. “Sure, sometimes major protests and rioting in the streets causes change, but when it’s people one-on-one? Having a screaming competition in that setting never changes minds. So we need to try and understand each other.”
The Alt-Right Playbook: Never Play Defense
Rational Wiki: Gish Gallop
The Gish Gallop (also known as proof by verbosity) is the fallacious debate tactic of drowning your opponent in a flood of individually-weak arguments in order to prevent rebuttal of the whole argument collection without great effort. The Gish Gallop is a belt-fed version of the on the spot fallacy, as it’s unreasonable for anyone to have a well-composed answer immediately available to every argument present in the Gallop. The Gish Gallop is named after creationist Duane Gish, who often abused it.
Although it takes a trivial amount of effort on the Galloper’s part to make each individual point before skipping on to the next (especially if they cite from a pre-concocted list of Gallop arguments), a refutation of the same Gallop may likely take much longer and require significantly more effort (per the basic principle that it’s always easier to make a mess than to clean it back up again).
The tedium inherent in untangling a Gish Gallop typically allows for very little “creative license” or vivid rhetoric (in deliberate contrast to the exciting point-dashing central to the Galloping), which in turn risks boring the audience or readers, further loosening the refuter’s grip on the crowd.
This is especially true in that the Galloper need only win a single one out of all his component arguments in order to be able to cast doubt on the entire refutation attempt. For this reason, the refuter must achieve a 100% success ratio (with all the yawn-inducing elaboration that goes with such precision). Thus, Gish Galloping is frequently employed (with particularly devastating results) in timed debates. The same is true for any time- or character-limited debate medium, including Twitter and newspaper editorials.
Examples of Gish Gallops are commonly found online, in crank “list” articles that claim to show “X hundred reasons for (or against) Y”. At the highest levels of verbosity, with dozens upon dozens or even hundreds of minor arguments interlocking, each individual “reason” is — upon closer inspection — likely to consist of a few sentences at best.
Gish Gallops are almost always performed with numerous other logical fallacies baked in. The myriad component arguments constituting the Gallop may typically intersperse a few perfectly uncontroversial claims — the basic validity of which are intended to lend undue credence to the Gallop at large — with a devious hodgepodge of half-truths, outright lies, red herrings and straw men — which, if not rebutted as the fallacies they are, pile up into egregious problems for the refuter.
There may also be escape hatches or “gotcha” arguments present in the Gallop, which are — like the Gish Gallop itself — specifically designed to be brief to pose, yet take a long time to unravel and refute.
However, Gish Gallops aren’t impossible to defeat — just tricky (not to say near-impossible for the unprepared). Upon closer inspection, many of the allegedly stand-alone component arguments may turn out to be nothing but thinly-veiled repetitions or simple rephrasings of the same basic points — which only makes the list taller, not more correct (hence; “proof by verbosity“). This essential flaw in the Gallop means that a skilled rebuttal of one component argument may in fact be a rebuttal to many.
“”On the radio, I have been able to stop Gish, et al, and say, “Wait a minute, if X is so, then wouldn’t you expect Y?” or something similar, and show that their “model” is faulty. But in a debate, the evolutionist has to shut up while the creationist Gallops along, spewing out nonsense with every paragraph.
Creationists are fond of it; see “101 evidences for a young age of the Earth and the universe” or the various lists of creationist scientists. Sam Harris describes the technique as “starting 10 fires in 10 minutes”.
Gish Gallops can be sorted into spoken and written types. Both have different advantages and disadvantages (for both the Galloper and the Gallop-ee).
In spoken debate
The formal debating term for this is spreading. Because debates are timed, the technique arose as a way to throw as much rubbish into their speaking time as possible, leaving an opponent no choice but to ignore multiple ones. In response, some debate judges now limit number of arguments that a debater can make as well as time, and opponents and moderators often try to keep people on topic as closely as possible. However, in places where debating judges aren’t there to call bullshit on the practice (like the Internet, or where creationists control the environment) such techniques are remarkably common. Any audience whose consciousness isn’t quite raised to the technique may mistake it for a vast breadth of knowledge on a subject.
As Gary Fine put it in Gifted Tongues: High School Debate and Adolescent Culture:
It is now common for negative teams [against the topic of the debate] to attempt to win [debate] rounds by “spreading” their affirmative [for the topic of the debate]: presenting as many arguments as they can in their constructive [opening] speeches in the hopes that their opponents may not answer one argument (“drop it”), leaving it on the flow [a chart of arguments made within the debate] for the judge to base the[ir] decision on. Negative teams have the advantage of being able to focus on selected affirmative arguments, while, in general, affirmative teams must respond to every negative argument. Some negative teams present a dozen different arguments with numerous subpoints, none well developed, but each an argument to which the affirmative team must respond. Many debaters understandably feel that this strategy is unfair and ‘a scare tactic’. In the process, the round becomes filled with arguments that are not fully developed, teams talk past each other, and the round becomes hard for judges (and opponents) to flow [fill in that chart of arguments made in the round].
For inexperienced live debaters, in the public or academic setting, spreading can be a difficult tactic to respond to. The Gish Gallop in particular relies on making numerous points that are difficult to follow individually, often on a sufficiently wide variety of points that an opponent likely will not have the working knowledge of every subject touched on required to respond to it. The most effective (or in some cases only) way to respond to it is to press through the fog of bad presentation, following these points individually so that they can be lumped together based on their respective, individually weak arguments and then dismantled in groups, and maintain as a broad knowledge base for situations where research can’t be easily consulted. On the whole, most of the difficulty of dealing with it is due to the learning curve — it can definitely be overcome with practice.
In written debate
“”Cite a giant wall of text, or a three hour long [Y]ou[T]ube video, and then claim it as irrefutable proof.When they ask for the relevant excerpt, whine about how it’s not your job to do the research for them.
When they go through the video and start explaining why the video is wrong, accuse them of cherry picking […] because they aren’t addressing the “important” arguments.
When they ask you what the important arguments are, insist that it’s not your job to do the research for them.
In written form, a Gish Gallop is most commonly observed as a long list of supposed facts or reasons, as a pamphlet or green ink web page, with a title that proudly boasts the number of reasons involved — see the examples below. The individual points must also be fairly terse, so that each point individually can be easy to refute. Writing a single paragraph or two to refute, say “How come there are still monkeys?” is easy enough. But combined, a Gish Gallop might run to the same length as an essay of several thousand words, as each point requires in-depth deconstruction, refutation and evidence, whereas the initial assertion needs to be just that, an assertion.
This provides insight into the motives of the Galloper. By using a quantity of arguments as a quality itself, a Gish Gallop tries to create the illusion of authority and weight of evidence. It is effectively style over substance. If brevity and ease of understanding were the aim then they would be better off with a smaller number of points, like “the best five reasons” or “the top ten arguments” as opposed to lists of hundreds. If, on the other hand, the aim was a coherent and thorough argument (as suggested by the word count), then the purpose would be best served by using the thousands of words expended in the Gallop to make a full essay, with each point expanded and elaborated on to ensure it was thoroughly argued.
For example, in “77 Non-religious Reasons to Support Man/Woman Marriage,” the overall word count is around 2,300 — the size of a substantial essay that would include references, quotes, definitions, asides and thoroughly unpacked terms. Yet the list of reasons itself contains no such things — it is mostly repetitive points on the same vague theme masquerading as separate reasons. Citations aren’t given, reasons aren’t expanded upon, they are merely left hanging despite the word count being available. In short, the point is not to provide “77 reasons” but to provide “77 reasons.”
To supporters, the illusion works, but those who disagree with the Galloper’s points often find the repetitive assertions and non-explanations tedious.
Why it’s a problem
“”A fool throws a stone into a well and it requires a hundred wise men to get it out again.
|—Friedrich Nietzsche, Also sprach Zarathustra|
The Gish Gallop is often used as an indirect argument from authority — as it appears to paint the Galloper as an expert in a broad range of subjects (in which case it may take several actual experts in multiple fields to properly debunk the Gallop) or with an extensive knowledge of an individual one. Simultaneously it presents opponents (in spoken debates) or refuters (in written, Internet-based ones) as incompetent bumblers who didn’t do their homework before the debate. Such emphasis on style over substance is the reason many scientists disdain public debates as a forum for disseminating opinions.
Use of poor evidence
It is often successfully combined with the “point refuted a thousand times” (PRATT). The Gallop must consist of as many points as possible, and even old and worn out arguments are useful in overwhelming the respondent and bamboozling the audience. The technique also takes advantage of the one single proof fallacy, since if a respondent only manages to refute 99 out of 100 points there is still one point that proves the Galloper correct. The Galloper takes to heart the advice (commonly misattributed to Joseph Stalin) that “quantity has a quality all its own.”
Effort involved in refutation
“”The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.
|—programmer Alberto Brandolini|
Refuting a Gish Gallop is hard. Not because it’s a well-formed argument that forces you to reconsider your worldview in a new light, a process taking critical thought over a long span of time. Not at all. It’s hard because there’s so fucking much to refute. Every claim probably requires at minimum one Google search, a writeup of what was found, and a link to the source. Conversely, making the claim only requires one of those steps: the writeup itself. And if the Gish Gallop itself seems to have some substance, this process becomes much harder: each claim’s evidence must be thoroughly debunked. As such, the debunker must understand both the claim and why it’s bullshit. The claimaint need only understand the claim itself.
All of this is compounded once further if the Gish Galloper chooses to respond to the rebuttal. The Galloper need only win on one issue to claim victory. Thus, they can attack where their evidence is strongest and/or their opponent’s evidence is weakest and thus distort the debate. Even though the rebuttal has won on the vast substance of the debate, the Galloper can play up any failures of the rebuttal as “critical flaws” or “central failures” that make everything else invalid. As such, the rebutter must either (1) make their initial rebuttal so ironclad that it cannot be debated, which is incredibly time-consuming, or (2) fight an unfair second debate after they have already exhausted themselves while winning the first debate.
And worst of all: when the first Gish Gallop is completely rebutted, the Galloper may simply produce a second Gish Gallop, repeating this whole process once more.
Psychologist Brian Earp once described how a hypothetical researcher, Lord Voldemort, could swamp the scientific literature in favor of a certain medical procedure. As he wrote:
A similar phenomenon can play out in debates in medicine. In the case of Lord Voldemort, the trick is to unleash so many fallacies, misrepresentations of evidence, and other misleading or erroneous statements — at such a pace, and with such little regard for the norms of careful scholarship and/or charitable academic discourse — that your opponents, who do, perhaps, feel bound by such norms, and who have better things to do with their time than to write rebuttals to each of your papers, face a dilemma. Either they can ignore you, or they can put their own research priorities on hold to try to combat the worst of your offenses. It’s a lose-lose situation. Ignore you, and you win by default. Engage you, and you win like the pig in the proverb who enjoys hanging out in the mud.
Avoidance of introspection
Let us assume that the Galloper is Galloping in good faith. They genuinely believe every word of the nonsense they spew. It may be that they recognize that they cannot weave their ideology into one coherent mass — that it is flawed and has contradictions. But they are too invested to ever let it go. The Gish Gallop — spewing out a point and then quickly moving on — might be a preservation mechanism in the face of facts you don’t like. As Ryan Mackey writes in The Great Internet Conspiracy:
Debunkers and skeptics have long held that the Gish Gallop is a tactic designed to frustrate opposition and create the illusion of controversy, which it certainly does. However, the behavior may also be a cause rather than a symptom. The rapid change of topics also allows a conspiracy theorist to avoid an undesirable topic or uncomfortable fact before it leaves any lasting impression, moving on instead to ground that feels safer until that too is abandoned, and so on.
If this is one’s response to any and all criticism, we have every reason to expect some holes and inconsistencies in one’s recollection. Short-term memory fades. We sometimes need to apply special practices to remember things. The Gish Gallop is the exact opposite, a technique not to remember, a means to permanently avoid or repress something we wish to forget. Hence we may argue with a conspiracy theorist endlessly, finding ourselves retracing old ground with nauseating consistency.
Misuse of statistics
Not only may the arguments contained within the Gish Gallop misuse statistics, but the case for the Gish Gallop itself may make fallacious use of statistics. For example, in Conservapedia‘s cp:Counterexamples to Evolution, the claim is made that “even if there is merely a 10% chance that each of these counterexamples is correct… then the probability that the theory of evolution is true is less than 1%”. This is flawed logic in at least two ways. For one, probabilities given for arguments almost certainly emerge fully formed from a rectum, and could be much lower (e.g. zero). In addition, calculations such as the one described assume that all the probabilities are completely independent, which is untrue for practically all Gish Gallops, given that all the arguments are related to a common theme.
How to respond
There are several ways to rebut a Gish Gallop:
- Gish Rebuttal: Go toe-to-toe and rebut every individual argument. This is the most difficult method (since every point is in contention). Potential pitfalls include the fact that if the rebuttal features even one error, the Galloper can seize on that (see “Single Flaw Rebuttal”) and claim all rebuttals are similarly flawed. Extensive and authoritative take-downs may also strain the attention span of the audience. Even the best arguments are worthless if they are never heard.
- Small Sample Rebuttal: Select a portion of their arguments (first 10, random 10, etc.) and rebut that. This is the second most difficult method (since many points are in contention). This has the benefit of casting doubt on the quality of the Galloper’s remaining arguments as being similarly flawed. It is also less likely to drain the attention of the audience than a point-by-point analysis. But, it also leaves the rebuttal open to accusations of cherry picking, and still requires more effort in rebuttal than the Gish Galloper used in the first place.
- Overriding Theme Rebuttal: Attempt to identify an overriding theme or essential fact that unites some or all of the points of the Gish Gallop, and attack that. The advantage of that is that it can attack several arguments at once by undermining the premise of them all. It is also most likely to force the Galloper to engage in debate because they are more likely motivated by some emotional or logical core of beliefs than by any one of myriad facts in the Gish Gallop.
- Best Point Rebuttal: Ask the Galloper to select and summarize the “best” proof and debate that. This is one of the easier methods since only one point is debated and the burden of proof is shifted to the Galloper. It is also more likely to result in a collaborative discussion that could change minds because it forces the Galloper to consider what is actually important to them, rather than seeing right or wrong as an abstract quantum of proof. However, this method depends on the Galloper actively engaging with the rebuttal and putting effort in to defending their arguments, which is generally antithetical to the Gish Gallop in the first place. The Galloper can avoid engaging by arguing that all the other points are good enough to win, in effect accusing you of asking for one single proof).
- Single Flaw Rebuttal: Select the weakest argument the Galloper presents, rebut it, and call it a day. This is the one of the easiest methods, since it’s necessarily the easiest-to-rebut argument. But it leaves any rebuttal open to the charge that the it lacks the apparent authority or effort of the Gish Gallop.
- Fallacy Namedropping: Say that it’s a Gish Gallop and walk away. This method is unlikely to change any minds. However, because the point of the Gish Gallop is to make opponents waste time and energy playing a game on the Galloper’s terms, the best move may be to not play.
The strength of the Gish Gallop is in its ability to create the appearance of authority and control. The Galloper frames the debate and forces opponents to respond on their terms. The Galloper wins by making the point that their opponents have failed to disprove their arguments sufficiently or completely enough for their satisfaction. Their goal is not to win on the facts, but to minimize the time and effort they need to expend to achieve maximum apparent credibility, while ensuring that opponents expend maximum time and effort in rebuttal for inconsequential gains. They want to drop a bomb into your lap and run away, telling you it can only be disarmed when they say it is, and that it isn’t their job to tell you when it’s disarmed.
Defeating the Gish Gallop is about putting the bomb back into the Galloper’s lap, or at least tricking them into staying in the room with you while it ticks down. Success depends on re-framing the debate to put the Galloper on the defensive. Make them elaborate on their points and to reveal potential weaknesses or gaps in their knowledge. Get them to assign value to their own arguments so that they cannot later claim that any successfully rebutted points were unimportant. Find ways to tie the Galloper’s credibility to the viability of one or all of their points such that the Galloper feels compelled to engage and defend. If all else fails, shift the debate away from the Gish Gallop so they can no longer rely on the apparent mountain of proof to support their position.
The following are some prime examples of the “Gish Gallop.” They are usually characterized as “lists,” titled “100 reasons why…” or similar. Thus, the points raised in the Gallop are often very short and non-specific. It takes a lot of effort to fully refute everything and it is far easier for the Galloper to add another question than it is for the respondent to formulate a suitable answer, which is the point behind the tactic.
- 200 Evidence-Based Reasons NOT To Vaccinate, by alternative medicine website GreenMedInfo
- One of the most notorious anti-vaxxer Gish Gallops out there.
- 100 Authors Against Einstein
- Published in 1931, this was an attempt to discredit the theory of relativity by weight of numbers alone — although “100” authors was an overestimate. Because of the simple errors and straw man nature of the work — not helped by the brevity of the entries — Hans Reichenbach described it as “unintentionally funny,” and Einstein observed that “if [he] were wrong, one would have been enough”!
- Top 11 Reasons to Oppose Nuclear Power, by prominent anti-nuclear organization Nuclear Information and Resource Service
- Once Amory Lovins manufactured some arguments against nuclear power in the early 1970s, this tactic became the anti-nuclear power argument.
- 200 Proofs Earth is Not a Spinning Ball, by Flat Earther Eric Dubay
- Reconsidering Climate Change
- Given 70 points and presented in a 110 Mb Powerpoint file, this was referred to by Skeptical Science as a “climate ‘Gish Gallop’ of epic proportions.”
- Ask Darwinists, by Muslim creationist Harun Yahya
- 25 mostly meaningless questions, some of which are just the same thing repeated for a different example. They’re not terribly difficult to answer, and in most cases the best response is simply “so what?”
- 101 evidences for a young age of the earth and the universe, by Christian creationist organization Creation Ministries International
- Yep. 101 evidences. Countable nouns be damned! Trying to refute this work takes time, a lot of time. Years, in fact. But that’s the point! Under the principle of falsifiability, only one piece of evidence is needed.
- Scientific Facts in the Bible: 100 Reasons to Believe the Bible is Supernatural in Origin, by Christian creationist Ray Comfort
- Ray Comfort habitually attempts to Gallop through as many “facts” as possible, in order to overwhelm the casual reader
- 50 Reasons to Believe in God
- Ponatahi Christian School’s list of reasons they teach creationism
- 29 points in total. But once you realise that the first two points allow them to pick and choose what science to believe in “just because,” there’s not much point in continuing further down the list.
- Questions college students should ask science professors, by Uncommon Descent
- Just 16 questions need so much background knowledge in so many different fields it is unlikely that any single person can answer them all without background research.
- A Clear and Present Danger: The Threat to Religious Liberty in the Military, by the Family Research Council
- This continuously-expanded list contains 66 (!) very brief descriptions of so-called persecution of Christians. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has an excellent response.
- 77 Non-religious Reasons to Support Man/Woman Marriage, from the Eagle Forum
- Raging Against Self Defense: A psychiatrist Examines The Anti-Gun Mentality, by Sarah Thompson of the “Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership”
- A pseudoscientific Gish Gallop dressed up to look like a journal article, complete with reference to The Talmud (“If someone comes to kill you, arise quickly and kill him.”). How can you argue with THAT?
- 100 reasons that climate change is natural, from the Daily Express
- 100 reasons, each reason with about 20 words in it. To pick one at random: “6) Significant changes in climate have continually occurred throughout geologic time” doesn’t actually prove anything!
- 276 strange coincidences of 9/11, from NC911Truth.org
- 276! Usually it’s the ink that’s green, not the background.
- The whole silly flood story, from the anti-YEC, pro-science Skeptic Report
- Some good points thrown in alongside some absolutely wretched illogic and nonsense in a rambling list.
Abusers of this technique
- Donald Trump
- William Lane Craig
- Dinesh D’Souza
- John Hawkins has made a career out of this technique
- Scott Huse
- Alex Jones
- Christopher Monckton
- Dennis Prager (See Still the Best Hope)
- Ray Comfort
- Ben Shapiro
In his essay, Graham proposed that the “web is turning writing into a conversation,” recognizing that the internet has become an unprecedented medium of communication. In particular, it allows people to respond to others in comment threads, on forums and the like. And when we respond on the web, we tend to disagree, concluded Graham.
He says this tendency towards disagreement is structurally built into the online experience because in disagreeing, people tend to have much more to say than if they just expressed that they agreed. Interestingly, Graham points out that, even though it might feel like it if you spend much time in comment sections, the world is not necessarily getting angrier. But it could if we don’t observe a certain restraint in how we disagree. To disagree better, which will lead to better conversations and happier outcomes, Graham came up with these seven levels of a disagreement hierarchy (DH):
To Graham, this is the lowest level of argument. This is when you call people names. That can be done crudely by saying repulsive things like “u r a fag!!!!!!!!!!” or even more pretentiously (but still to the same effect) like, “The author is a self-important dilettante,” wrote the computer scientist.
DH1. Ad hominem
An argument of this kind attacks the person rather than the point they are making—the literal Latin translation of this phrase is: ‘to the person.’ It involves somehow devaluing a person’s opinion by devaluing the one who is expressing it, without directly addressing what they are saying. “The question is whether the author is correct or not,” pointed out Graham.
DH2. Responding to tone.
This is a slightly more evolved form of disagreement when the debate moves away from personal attacks to addressing the content of the argument. The lowest form of responding to writing is disagreeing with the author’s tone, according to Graham. For example, one could point out the “cavalier” or “flippant” attitude with which a writer formulated their opinion. But why does that really matter, especially when judging tone can be quite subjective? Stick to the material, Graham advises: “It matters much more whether the author is wrong or right than what [their] tone is.”
This is a higher form of addressing the actual meat of the argument. In this form of disagreement, you offer an opposing case but very little evidence. You simply state what you think is true, in contrast to the position of the person you are arguing with. Graham gives this example:
“I can’t believe the author dismisses intelligent design in such a cavalier fashion. Intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory.”
This next level sets us up on the path to having more productive disputes. A counterargument is a contradiction with evidence and reasoning. When it’s “aimed squarely at the original argument, it can be convincing,” wrote Graham. But, alas, more often than not, passionate arguments end up having both participants actually arguing about different things. They just don’t see it.
This is the most convincing form of disagreement, argues Graham. But it requires work so people don’t do this as often as they should. In general, the higher you go on the pyramid of disagreement, “the fewer instances you find.”
A good way to refute someone is to quote them back to themselves and pick a hole in that quote to expose a flaw. It’s important to find an actual quote to disagree with—“the smoking gun”—and address that.
DH6. Refuting the central point
This tactic is the “most powerful form of disagreement,” contended Graham. It depends on what you are talking about but largely entails refuting someone’s central point. This is in contrast to refuting only minor points of an argument—a form of “deliberate dishonesty” in a debate. An example of that would be correcting someone’s grammar (which slides you back to DH1 level) or pointing out factual errors in names or numbers. Unless those are crucial details, attacking them only serves to discredit the opponent, not their main idea.
The best way to refute someone is to figure out their central point, or one of them if there are several issues involved.
This is how Graham described “a truly effective refutation”:
The author’s main point seems to be x. As he says:
But this is wrong for the following reasons…
Having these tools in evaluating how we argue with each other can go a long way towards regaining some civility in our discourse by avoiding the unproductive lower forms of disagreement. Whether its trolls of other nations or our own home-grown trolls and confused spirits, the conversation over the Internet leaves a lot to be desired for many Americans. It’s hard not to see it as a social malady.
Graham also viewed his hierarchy as a way to weed out dishonest arguments or “fake news” in modern parlance. Forceful words are just a “defining quality of a demagogue,” he pointed out. By understanding the different forms of their disagreement, “we give critical readers a pin for popping such balloons,” wrote Graham.
Read the full essay here: How to Disagree.
Dangers of Compromise
Rise Up: How to Change the Minds of White Supremacists
Dismantling Racism: Analysis Tools
Effective Problem Solving
Living in an urgent culture and facing urgent problems in our communities, one of the challenges we face is how often we give into the pattern of moving from awareness to action without taking the necessary steps that help us to be more effective and successful in reaching our vision and goals. This diagram illustrates the steps that we need to take if we are going to be thoughtful, deliberate, strategic, and collaborative in crafting a shared vision and goals. Awareness of the problem leads to intentional time devoted to building relationships with and among communities most affected by the problem. Those people and communities then engage in information gathering and analysis in order to build a shared understanding of the problem, including an ability to distinguish between root causes and symptoms. The next stage is collaborative visioning, goal setting, and planning followed by deliberate and thoughtful action. Action is followed by ongoing reflection and evaluation so that we learn from our mistakes and build on our successes. The stages are not necessarily as clearly defined as they are shown in the diagram; for example relationship and community building can be integrated into every stage. They do inform how we think about moving forward; for example, our action will be more effective if we have taken time to gather information, analyze our situation, vision, and plan together. We also need to make sure and take time to reflect on how we’re doing, what we’re learning, and how our experience with relationship-building, visioning, goal setting, planning, and action has informed and deepened our understanding of how to move forward.
RACE EQUITY STAGES
Organizations who make a commitment to race equity move through somewhat predictable stages, illustrated in the accompanying diagram.
Many organizations start their equity commitment with an already established identity as white-led, predominantly white, or operating out of a dominant white culture ideology. The organization might be operating as an all white organization, as an organization with token participation by POC who are expected to “fit in” to existing white dominant culture, or as a multicultural organization that appreciates diversity without challenging racist and/or dominant white culture practices and ideology. In this stage, all people in the organization are operating in a state of what could be called “familiar dysfunction.” Essentially, everyone in the organization has adjusted to the way the organization centers white dominant culture norms at the expense of everyone and particularly POC in the organization and/or Communities of Color served by the organization. Often (if not always), POC in the organization and those being served are experiencing levels of trauma as a result of racism and internalized racism in the larger society and in the organization. Many white people in the organization are unaware of the level of trauma POC are experiencing or if aware, are taking responsibility individually, often by separating themselves from other white people in order to position themselves as the “good” white person. People across the organization tend towards a “fixing” stance, meaning that individuals and the organization as a whole is on a mission to “fix” others, often in the name of empowerment. While individuals in the organization may be very satisfied to very dissatisfied, people have generally accepted the status quo as inevitable and have learned to function within it.
Explicit Commitment to Race Equity
As the organization begins to state an explicit commitment to race equity, equilibrium begins to shift. As people in the organization begin to develop a shared language and framework for understanding racism as race prejudice + social and institutional power, the familiar dysfunction begins to unravel. People of Color often begin to hold renewed hope that the organization might become more responsive to their strengths, needs, and wisdom; white people often begin to question what once seemed certain, particularly when it comes to their assumed power in the organization. As POC’s expectations for the organization begin to rise, particularly as a framework for racism begins to be clarified, they may assume that white people know what to do and are nonetheless choosing to perpetuate racist attitudes and behaviors. As white people sense that the framework requires some change in attitudes and behaviors, they may become either hypersensitive or hyperdefensive, particularly as they sense the expectation that they should behave and believe differently while not knowing exactly what to do.
This is the beginning of a culture shift in the organization. POC often read white people’s ignorance as intentional; they may also equate race equity with the need for white people to change, which can diminish their sense of power and agency. As a result, they may feel high levels of frustration and/or hopelessness. White people often become so unsettled by no longer having power to define the organizational “norms” that they begin to take every challenge by others, whether from a white person or a POC, as very personal and begin to try to prove they are one of the “good” white people, either by disassociating from other white people, intellectualizing the process, criticizing the process, or seeking approval from individual POC. People in the organization begin to “flip the script;” the organization engages in either/or thinking that positions POC as inherently good and white people as inherently bad. At this stage, the organization tends to blame individuals for doing things “wrong” and there is little ability to hold complexity or appreciate oneself or others. This flipping of the script into either/or thinking can increase the sense of traumatization on the parts of both POC and white people, as expectations for needed and desired change are not met.
This leads to the stage of “not knowing,” a place where many experience frustration and/or fear. Many if not most people want the process to offer clarity and quick fixes; when the process does not, both POC and white people give into the tendency to identify people and actions as “right” or “wrong.” Some people in the organization move into positions of high righteousness, believing that race equity is based in “one right way” of doing things; energy goes into identifying who or what is “right” and who or what is “wrong.” People can feel very unsettled because this righteous judgment can either lead to significant self-doubt and/or a desire for the organization to address personal ego needs. At the same time, in the middle of this “not knowing,” relationships may begin to subtly shift as some individuals within the organization work to negotiate conflict with heightened personal awareness and increased accountability to the mission. In addition, the organization as a whole begins to recognize ways in which racism is tending to reproduce itself and attempts are being made to address those.
At this point, the organization acknowledges that culture shift is messy and chaotic and focuses on efforts to build relational trust and a culture of appreciation to help move people and the organization through the chaos. People start to identify their individual and collective power to make change or shift the organization without focusing or depending on others to change. People continue to identify useful and/or effective ways to disagree, looking for the value in different perspectives while assuming positive intent. Caucuses provide support for people to work through challenges related to equity work. People begin to sharpen their skills for holding each other accountable with a sense of possibility rather than judgment. Both POC and white people are working to bring intention and impact closer together out of a mutual respect for the hard personal work involved in a race equity commitment.
OR … In cases where the organization is unable to hold the chaos of not knowing, it reverts to familiar dysfunction, often solidifying old patterns of power and privilege. The rationales for reverting to dysfunctional white supremacy patterns include a need for clarity (which is essentially an admission that those with power in the organization are too disturbed by changing power dynamics), urgency related to the organization’s mission (“we don’t have time for this,” “we can’t afford to be distracted,”), the need to produce measurable results for funders, among others. Some people may leave or threaten to leave the organization. While the reasons are often different, both POC and white people can become advocates for reverting to familiar dysfunction.
Equity Goals Clarified
At this stage, the organization is ready to identify and name specific and explicit race equity goals at the cultural, institutional and personal levels. Naming these goals now rather than earlier, before the culture shift and “not knowing” stages, allows these goals to address the nuance and complexities inherent in race equity work. Naming these goals now also means the groundwork has been laid for everyone to understand the integral interconnection between institutional, cultural, and personal work.
Once goals have been clarified, the organization leans into the equity work with an appreciation for complexity, ongoing learning and reflection. The organization works to establish a culture that provides support and accountability, one that presumes good intent while continually improving on the effort to bring intent and impact closer together through improved communication and mutual respect. The organization understands race equity as an ongoing practice rather than a specific destination. People have learned how to offer appreciation, disagree, make mistakes, call into account, reflect and revise. People have also learned to identify their individual bottom lines and know when and how to stand their ground while remaining accountable to the organization’s vision and mission.
Race Equity Stages 2
How a Movement is Built
Movements for social change emerge when:
- Individuals refuse to act outwardly in contradiction to something they know to be true inwardly.
- Groups emerge when these individuals find each other, begin to build community, and spread the word.
- Collective action happens when the group begins to translate individual problems into public organizing issues that address the root cause of the issue.
Our work within organizations must be approached as movement building work. Organizers, working to create organizational change with a movement mentality, can:
- remember that resistance is only the place where things begin,
- know that opposition merely validates the idea that change must come,
- find sources of countervailing power outside of the organizational structure,
- nurture that power,
- work together to translate individual problems into broader organizing issues,
- create alternative rewards to sustain energy for working toward your vision,
- work from a power, rather than a victim, analysis.
Barriers and Bridges Brinciples
These principles were developed by Grassroots Leadership’s (Charlotte, NC) Barriers and Bridges program, a precursor and contributor to the Dismantling Racism process for which this workbook is designed. These principles speak to the assumptions and values that ground dismantling racism work.
- We need an analysis of how oppression works. This is not simply about reducing prejudice. This is about radically changing the way we do things, about redistributing power.
- There is a difference between appreciating diversity and recognizing oppression and abuse of power.
- To build multi-cultural organizations, we have to build cross- cultural relationships one-on-one.
- In order to do that, we have to be willing to do personal work, learn more about who we are, and change.
- On the other hand, we can’t build multi-cultural organizations alone; we have to build a strong team of people committed to the same goal.
- We must be open to doing things differently, sometimes radically so, than we’ve done them in the past. We may have to redefine the very things we thought were basic.
- We need to learn that points of resistance, both within ourselves and as exhibited by others, are the sources of greatest learning. We must recognize discomfort as a signal for learning rather than an excuse for withdrawal or defensiveness.
- We need to acknowledge that we get out of this process what we put in. We must be open to learning even if it is not packaged in ways that we expect or in ways with which we feel comfortable. We must be actively engaged in the learning process.
- In this work we must learn to seek to understand before turning to judgment. At the same time, we can expect, and we deserve, appropriate, loving, and just behavior.
- Change is often experienced by those in power as moving too quickly and by those with less power as moving too slowly. Change does not need to be slow, but often is.
Fakequity: Color Brave Space — How to run a better equity focused meeting
“Racial equity work should make us all think and challenge us to think and accept new information. Racial equity work is also about changing systems and centering the experiences and voices of people and communities of color. The Color Brave Space format when used correctly creates a different norms which allows this to happen more easily and readily.
To help you understand the elements/principles we will go a little more in-depth into a few of them.
Put Relationships First – Work to build community and trust with an awareness of power dynamics.
This is about trust building, connecting on a personal level, and helping us humanize each other, especially during conversations that are deeply personal, uncomfortable, and fraught with racialized mistrust. We also remind people trust is built over time so the meeting or training you are in is only the start and people should do the harder work of connecting outside of the meeting as well.
Keep Focused on Our Common Goal – We care deeply about [insert your mission], especially those who are directly impacted by racism. [This line can be your mission instead of filling in the blank.]
Heidi almost always emphasizes this principle, because this is why we are all here. You can personalize it to your organization’s mission or goal. It is important for everyone, even the facilitator to know that you are all there in pursuit of a common goal. When sharing it remind people we are all on the same team. Racial equity work is about reaching the common goal, not a ‘gotcha’ or ‘you’re a bad person’ sort of thing, it is about the work and getting to a common equitable outcomes.
Notice Power Dynamics in the Room – Be aware of how you use your privilege: From taking up too much emotional and airtime space, or disengaging.
We emphasize this one because power shows up in many different ways that people may not be conscious of. There are the obvious forms of power, who talks a lot, who uses their title, or when Erin facilitates she say “I am standing in the front of the room and speaking, I have a lot of power in this moment.” Power isn’t always bad, but it needs to be acknowledged and kept in check.
Some of the ways power shows up that are less obvious are things like who disengages or focuses all of the attention on them when things get uncomfortable. This person is the one who maybe keeps leaving the room to take a call, or picks up their phone and plays with it during the middle of the meeting, or argues or tells long personal stories to defend their ways of thinking. These are forms of using power which doesn’t advance the group agenda.
The best example of an unrecognized power is most of the time in dominant society (white) spaces, we are literally using ‘academic English’ as the tool or language of power. So if English is your first and primary language you will be able to participate quicker, more comfortably, and with deeper nuance. As an example, we have the Color Brave Space translated into Spanish. Erin once had a native Spanish speaker in an otherwise all English speaking room, read the Color Brave Space in Spanish. English only speakers looked uncomfortable because all of a sudden couldn’t understand what was happening though the written English translation was provided. It was a great reminder about the power of language.
Create Spaces for Multiple Truths and Norms – Speak your truth, and seek understanding of truths that differ from yours, with awareness of power dynamics.
A couple weeks ago, Erin signed me (Heidi) up for a meditation class. I’m not sure what she was trying to tell me, but I went despite knowing that I had a preconceived opinion that I don’t really like to meditate. But since Erin signed me up, I tried to stay open. Honestly, it was a struggle. But I am glad I went. I appreciated the instructor shared a Buddhist perspective about working hard to be in a “middle place.” Our brains are wired to be constantly judging (you’ve probably already decided if you like this blog piece or not, I guess if you’re still reading, you must like it), but the key is to use our conscious mind to not just fall directly into your immediate judgement and stay open to the ‘middle place.’ As a side note, I am still not sold on meditating, but willing to stay open to working on the practice. Erin’s note to Heidi: meditation like racial equity work takes practice, if you try meditation again you might resist it less, or we can try to meditate during happy hour.
When Erin facilitates she often reminds people that this shows up when people want to pit policies against people’s lived experiences. Sometimes when things get heated a person with formal power/authority may dismiss another person’s story by saying “Well, the policy says this so that couldn’t have happened,” or “I need evidence…” We need to consciously create space to allow people to share different perspectives and work to figure out the systems creating the discrepancies.
Be Kind and Brave – Remember relationships first, and work to be explicit with your language about race, class, gender, immigration, etc.
One of the greatest disservices we have done to conversations about systemic racism is use coded and ambiguous language like ‘diversity, culture, inclusion, or equity.’
Be clear in your language — when you say equity are you talking about racial equity or gender equity? This vague language actually prevents us from having an effective conversation. So let’s work to be specific with our language, and ask for clarification from others when we hear them use terms like diversity, culture, or equity. Along with being kind and brave, remember we need to build relationships for the long haul so use your language in ways that builds bridges.
Practice Examining Racially Biased Systems and Processes – Individual actions are important, and systems are what are left after all the people in this room leave.
Most of these processes and systems in place are ones we’ve inherited. They existed before us, and will continue to exist after we are all gone if we don’t examine and redesign them. It is important to remember we need to work at a systems level, so while the work may feel personal it isn’t about you it is about undoing institutional and systemic racism.
Look for Learning – Show what you’re learning, not what you already know. Avoid playing devil’s advocate, the devil has enough advocates.
Educators call this having a growth mindset. We all continue to have to continue to learn about dismantling racist systems. The best way to create a learning community is to show what we are learning, not what we already know. Heidi asks people explicitly not to play devil’s advocate; this is a use of power to control the conversation. If you really are thinking of an unpopular idea that you should be able to say what is on your mind, while also being open to others sharing counter-narratives. If you want to play devil’s advocate or argue, the meeting/training isn’t the place to do it, doing so is hoarding power. Instead, take Heidi out for a beer, but no PBR, just the good stuff. Erin will warn you though if you try to play devil’s advocate with Heidi you are likely to lose, she’s good I have yet to win an argument, unless it is about something like food.
Harvard Business Review: How Black Women Describe Navigating Race and Gender in the Workplace
“A few years ago I started attending classes for my part-time MBA. What I noticed almost immediately was that my experience in the classroom largely mirrored my experience of close to a decade in corporate America: I’m consistently one of very few black women and black people in the room.
In September, Ellen McGirt published an article in Fortune exploring why there are zero African-American women running Fortune 500 companies. This lack of female leadership is important to explore, but what are the experiences of black women in the workplace before they make it to the c-suite? I wanted to find out how other black women navigate the intertwined barriers at the intersection of race and gender.
Over the course of a year I worked with Professor Elizabeth Morrison, Vice Dean of Faculty at NYU, to interview 10 women of color in order to understand the challenges they face in the workplace, how they cope with those challenges, and how those coping mechanisms affect their chances of long-term success.
Here are the highlights of what I learned about their experiences at work in corporate America:
“Your work is judged plus other intangible things”
A lot of women told me that they code-switched, which involves embracing the dominant culture or vernacular among certain groups (like co-workers, for example) and switching to a more authentic self when around friends and family.
One woman I spoke with, a successful entrepreneur who was interning at a tech startup before going to business school, excitedly described her most recent position where, for the first time in her career, she reported to a black woman. She said she, “performed better” and was “a lot more comfortable and confident.” She described what it might have been like if she had to code-switch instead: “Being judged on your work versus mentally performing well would have been more taxing. Your work is judged plus other intangible things. You second-guess yourself and that affects your confidence.”
She wasn’t the only woman to mention the mental strain associated with trying to live up to a professional ideal originally created to stifle, rather than support, diversity. Another woman passed on an opportunity for a full-time position at the Obama White House because she felt inhibited by stereotypes. “I was given opportunities to stay at the White House but I didn’t because I felt like people were very judgmental of my race, and my gender, and everything. My ideas weren’t getting traction that I feel like others from white guys were.”
A twenty-something woman at a top-tier consulting company described the first time she worked for a client team that included other people of color. The client was a prison and her team was making recommendations for how to group specific inmates together. “I said, ‘You wouldn’t put Nicki Minaj in a cell with Remy Ma.’ Everyone instantly got it and it was a beautiful thing. I wouldn’t be able to make that analogy on another team. It was the project I performed the best at. That partly had to do with the fact that your clients look like you and it’s easier to build that relationship.” Because she performed so well on the project, she gained social capital with her supervisor. It’s a direct example of how working with people you can relate to can positively influence your career.
There was a general disillusionment among these women about how their colleagues view the world versus how they experience it. One woman described crying in her hotel bed after reading about a police officer killing a person of color. She had been traveling with coworkers for a business trip and they were all on a text chain to coordinate logistics. That same day a Hollywood couple had also broken up and the conversation on the text chain focused on the Hollywood gossip, never addressing the shooting. She said, “I remember watching [a shooting] and crying in my hotel bed. And then having to go to work. And no one checked in for your wellbeing.” This is the reality for many black women at work in America. They care deeply about the issues affecting the black community but that feeling isn’t generally supported or acknowledged in the workplace.
“We are tied to other people of color”
Each interview revealed just how much these women’s experiences at work are viewed through a larger filter of race and class.
“I can go into my office right now and meet five people, out of that, four will be white,” described one woman I spoke with. “Out of those white, their whole family might be of generational wealth. That one black person they can more than likely identify someone in their family who is living in the projects, living in poverty or doesn’t have education beyond high school level. That is the experience of black people in general — that we are tied to other people of color who are in poor situations.”
This isn’t to say that every white person in corporate America comes from generational wealth. It is to say that it’s impossible to divorce current statistics about race in this country from black women who have to go to work every day. Black women in corporate America aren’t immune to the realities facing black people in general or the historical relationship between race and resource access in this nation. Instead, they’re forced to put that aside when they sit down at their desk.
This forced separation between hardships facing the black community and the institutional whiteness of the white-collar job can be mentally taxing and make it harder to perform well at work.
“My mentors talk to me about dimming my light”
It’s not uncommon for black women to feel like they have to make others feel comfortable when they’re in a group (especially if that group is made up of people who look nothing like them).
The women I interviewed talked a lot about having to dampen aspects of their personality to feel like they could fit into the culture of their workplace. One woman told me, “My mentors talk to me about dimming my light. I always thought I had to bring that down to make people comfortable.” These women tended to feel that their organizations “weren’t ready” for them and they felt like they couldn’t be their authentic selves in the office at the risk of making others feel uncomfortable or hurting their chances of professional advancement.
These sentiments echoed similar things I’ve experienced. I’ve been told to smile in the office and, at the risk of coming across as too aggressive, I tend to wait until everyone else has spoken before choosing to weigh in. Part of that is simply because I’m an introvert. But another part is because I’ve been conditioned by society and its predominantly white institutions to feel that as a black woman I come across as aggressive, bossy, and selfish when I speak my mind compared to a man or white woman making the same statements. Many people feel as though they can’t be their true selves in the workplace at the risk of seeming unprofessional. These interviews made it clear that for the most part black women don’t expect to be able to bring their full selves to the workplace and still get ahead.
“If you have no one in your corner you get weeded out”
Almost every woman I interviewed touched on the idea of needing to find sponsorship in the workplace — the idea of finding someone at your company who can advocate for raises, projects, and promotions on your behalf. One woman who works as a consultant put it like this: “Sponsorship is very important. The black community where I work we have a hard time finding that. It’s not a formal program but it’s part of the review process. People ask who was in this person’s corner? You need sponsors to get projects. Staffing is really anxiety-driven. You interview for every project. If you have a sponsor you might not need to interview. If you have no one in your corner you get weeded out.”
Black women often find sponsorship challenging in their organizations if they have trouble relating to those whom they work with. Because of this, they may often attribute their lack of advancement in the company to a lack of sponsorship.
“You can’t be what you can’t see.” These are the famous words by Marian Wright Edelman and they are as much true for children dreaming of becoming rocket scientists or astronauts as they are for black women climbing the corporate ladder.
Aside from not seeing professional role models, there are real business consequences to consistently being in the minority at work. Differing from the majority at work creates what Katherine Phillips, Nancy Rothbard, and Tracy Dumas call status distance, that is, how far away you are from the perceived norm and power structure in your company. When you know that you suffer from status distance, you’ll seek to conceal status-confirming information about yourself. Exclusion forces people to deviate from their authentic selves. And authenticity is integral to well-being.
And beyond the emotional and mental toll, homogeneity and bias can have real career consequences for black women. Researchers found that when a group is shown photos of different people, black women’s faces were least likely to be recognized out of a group of white men and white women. Statements said by a black woman in a group discussion were also least likely to be correctly attributed compared to black men, white women, and white men. Black women in leadership positions are also more likely to be criticized or punished when making mistakes on the job.
While I tried to limit my own bias as much as possible by interviewing only women whom I did not know and sticking to the same set of questions for every interview, it was impossible to completely remove my own personal experience from this project. Without it, I wouldn’t have been driven to undertake it in the first place. This is also a small sample size which makes it impossible to draw sweeping conclusions. Though the fact that consistent themes emerged and that out of 10 black women, 0 regularly work with other women of color, means that if true equality in the workplace is what we’re after, then sooner or later we’ll have to address the issues that are unique to women of color — and black women in particular — in the workplace.
For black women it’s not just a pipeline issue. Once they are in the door, they need to feel supported in ways that are specific to being a woman of color. So that even if they are alone on their team, they will realize they’re not alone at all.”
White Supremacy Culture
From Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, ChangeWork, 2001
This is a list of characteristics of white supremacy culture which show up in our organizations. Culture is powerful precisely because it is so present and at the same time so very difficult to name or identify. The characteristics listed below are damaging because they are used as norms and standards without being pro-actively named or chosen by the group. They are damaging because they promote white supremacy thinking. They are damaging to both people of color and to white people. Organizations that are people of color led or a majority people of color can also demonstrate many damaging characteristics of white supremacy culture.
- little appreciation expressed among people for the work that others are doing; appreciation that is expressed usually directed to those who get most of the credit anyway
- more common is to point out either how the person or work is inadequate
- or even more common, to talk to others about the inadequacies of a person or their work without ever talking directly to them
- mistakes are seen as personal, i.e. they reflect badly on the person making them as opposed to being seen for what they are ó mistakes
- making a mistake is confused with being a mistake, doing wrong with being wrong
- little time, energy, or money put into reflection or identifying lessons learned that can improve practice, in other words little or no learning from mistakes
- tendency to identify whatís wrong; little ability to identify, name, and appreciate whatís right
antidotes: develop a culture of appreciation, where the organization takes time to make sure that peopleís work and efforts are appreciated; develop a learning organization, where it is expected that everyone will make mistakes and those mistakes offer opportunities for learning; create an environment where people can recognize that mistakes sometimes lead to positive results; separate the person from the mistake; when offering feedback, always speak to the things that went well before offering criticism; ask people to offer specific suggestions for how to do things differently when offering criticism
Sense of Urgency
- continued sense of urgency that makes it difficult to take time to be inclusive, encourage democratic and/or thoughtful decision-making, to think long-term, to consider consequences
- frequently results in sacrificing potential allies for quick or highly visible results, for example sacrificing interests of communities of color in order to win victories for white people (seen as default or norm community)
- reinforced by funding proposals which promise too much work for too little money and by funders who expect too much for too little
antidotes: realistic workplans; leadership which understands that things take longer than anyone expects; discuss and plan for what it means to set goals of inclusivity and diversity, particularly in terms of time; learn from past experience how long things take; write realistic funding proposals with realistic time frames; be clear about how you will make good decisions in an atmosphere of urgency
- the organizational structure is set up and much energy spent trying to prevent abuse and protect power as it exists rather than to facilitate the best out of each person or to clarify who has power and how they are expected to use it
- because of either/or thinking (see below), criticism of those with power is viewed as threatening and inappropriate (or rude)
- people respond to new or challenging ideas with defensiveness, making it very difficult to raise these ideas
- a lot of energy in the organization is spent trying to make sure that peopleís feelings arenít getting hurt or working around defensive people
- the defensiveness of people in power creates an oppressive culture
antidotes: understand that structure cannot in and of itself facilitate or prevent abuse; understand the link between defensiveness and fear (of losing power, losing face, losing comfort, losing privilege); work on your own defensiveness; name defensiveness as a problem when it is one; give people credit for being able to handle more than you think; discuss the ways in which defensiveness or resistance to new ideas gets in the way of the mission
Quantity Over Quality
- all resources of organization are directed toward producing measurable goals
- things that can be measured are more highly valued than things that cannot, for example numbers of people attending a meeting, newsletter circulation, money spent are valued more than quality of relationships, democratic decision-making, ability to constructively deal with conflict
- little or no value attached to process; if it can’t be measured, it has no value
- discomfort with emotion and feelings
- no understanding that when there is a conflict between content (the agenda of the meeting) and process (peopleís need to be heard or engaged), process will prevail (for example, you may get through the agenda, but if you haven’t paid attention to peopleís need to be heard, the decisions made at the meeting are undermined and/or disregarded)
antidotes: include process or quality goals in your planning; make sure your organization has a values statement which expresses the ways in which you want to do your work; make sure this is a living document and that people are using it in their day to day work; look for ways to measure process goals (for example if you have a goal of inclusivity, think about ways you can measure whether or not you have achieved that goal); learn to recognize those times when you need to get off the agenda in order to address peopleís underlying concerns
Worship of the Written Word
- if itís not in a memo, it doesn’t exist
- the organization does not take into account or value other ways in which information gets shared
- those with strong documentation and writing skills are more highly valued, even in organizations where ability to relate to others is key to the mission antidotes: take the time to analyze how people inside and outside the organization get and share information; figure out which things need to be written down and come up with alternative ways to document what is happening; work to recognize the contributions and skills that every person brings to the organization (for example, the ability to build relationships with those who are important to the organizationís mission)
- only one right way
- the belief there is one right way to do things and once people are introduced to the right way, they will see the light and adopt it
- when they do not adapt or change, then something is wrong with them (the other, those not changing), not with us (those who ëknowí the right way)
- similar to the missionary who does not see value in the culture of other communities, sees only value in their beliefs about what is good
antidotes: accept that there are many ways to get to the same goal; once the group has made a decision about which way will be taken, honor that decision and see what you and the organization will learn from taking that way, even and especially if it is not the way you would have chosen; work on developing the ability to notice when people do things differently and how those different ways might improve your approach; look for the tendency for a group or a person to keep pushing the same point over and over out of a belief that there is only one right way and then name it; when working with communities from a different culture than yours or your organizationís, be clear that you have some learning to do about the communitiesí ways of doing; never assume that you or your organization know whatís best for the community in isolation from meaningful relationships with that community
- decision-making is clear to those with power and unclear to those without it
- those with power think they are capable of making decisions for and in the interests of those without power
- those with power often don’t think it is important or necessary to understand the viewpoint or experience of those for whom they are making decisions
- those without power understand they do not have it and understand who does
- those without power do not really know how decisions get made and who makes what decisions, and yet they are completely familiar with the impact of those decisions on them
antidotes: make sure that everyone knows and understands who makes what decisions in the organization; make sure everyone knows and understands their level of responsibility and authority in the organization; include people who are affected by decisions in the decision-making
- things are either/or ó good/bad, right/wrong, with us/against us
- closely linked to perfectionism in making it difficult to learn from mistakes or accommodate conflict
- no sense that things can be both/and
- results in trying to simplify complex things, for example believing that poverty is simply a result of lack of education
- creates conflict and increases sense of urgency, as people are felt they have to make decisions to do either this or that, with no time or encouragement to consider alternatives, particularly those which may require more time or resources
antidotes: notice when people use ëeither/orí language and push to come up with more than two alternatives; notice when people are simplifying complex issues, particularly when the stakes seem high or an urgent decision needs to be made; slow it down and encourage people to do a deeper analysis; when people are faced with an urgent decision, take a break and give people some breathing room to think creatively; avoid making decisions under extreme pressure
- little, if any, value around sharing power
- power seen as limited, only so much to go around
- those with power feel threatened when anyone suggests changes in how things should be done in the organization, feel suggestions for change are a reflection on their leadership
- those with power don’t see themselves as hoarding power or as feeling threatened
- those with power assume they have the best interests of the organization at heart and assume those wanting change are ill-informed (stupid), emotional, inexperienced
antidotes: include power sharing in your organizationís values statement; discuss what good leadership looks like and make sure people understand that a good leader develops the power and skills of others; understand that change is inevitable and challenges to your leadership can be healthy and productive; make sure the organization is focused on the mission
Fear of Open Conflict
- people in power are scared of conflict and try to ignore it or run from it
- when someone raises an issue that causes discomfort, the response is to blame the person for raising the issue rather than to look at the issue which is actually causing the problem
- emphasis on being polite
- equating the raising of difficult issues with being impolite, rude, or out of line
antidotes: role play ways to handle conflict before conflict happens; distinguish between being polite and raising hard issues; don’t require those who raise hard issues to raise them in ëacceptableí ways, especially if you are using the ways in which issues are raised as an excuse not to address the issues being raised; once a conflict is resolved, take the opportunity to revisit it and see how it might have been handled differently
- little experience or comfort working as part of a team
- people in organization believe they are responsible for solving problems alone
- accountability, if any, goes up and down, not sideways to peers or to those the organization is set up to serve
- desire for individual recognition and credit
- leads to isolation
- competition more highly valued than cooperation and where cooperation is valued, little time or resources devoted to developing skills in how to cooperate
- creates a lack of accountability, as the organization values those who can get things done on their own without needing supervision or guidance antidotes: include teamwork as an important value in your values statement; make sure the organization is working towards shared goals and people understand how working together will improve performance; evaluate peopleís ability to work in a team as well as their ability to get the job done; make sure that credit is given to all those who participate in an effort, not just the leaders or most public person; make people accountable as a group rather than as individuals; create a culture where people bring problems to the group; use staff meetings as a place to solve problems, not just a place to report activities
- iím the only one
- connected to individualism, the belief that if something is going to get done right, ëIí have to do it
- little or no ability to delegate work to others
antidotes: evaluate people based on their ability to delegate to others; evaluate people based on their ability to work as part of a team to accomplish shared goals
Progress is Bigger, More
- observed in systems of accountability and ways we determine success
- progress is an organization which expands (adds staff, adds projects) or develops the ability to serve more people (regardless of how well they are serving them)
- gives no value, not even negative value, to its cost, for example, increased accountability to funders as the budget grows, ways in which those we serve may be exploited, excluded, or underserved as we focus on how many we are serving instead of quality of service or values created by the ways in which we serve
antidotes: create Seventh Generation thinking by asking how the actions of the group now will affect people seven generations from now; make sure that any cost/benefit analysis includes all the costs, not just the financial ones, for example the cost in morale, the cost in credibility, the cost in the use of resources; include process goals in your planning, for example make sure that your goals speak to how you want to do your work, not just what you want to do; ask those you work with and for to evaluate your performance
- the belief that there is such a thing as being objective
- the belief that emotions are inherently destructive, irrational, and should not play a role in decision-making or group process
- invalidating people who show emotion
- requiring people to think in a linear fashion and ignoring or invalidating those who think in other ways
- impatience with any thinking that does not appear ëlogicalí to those with power
antidotes: realize that everybody has a world view and that everybodyís world view affects the way they understand things; realize this means you too; push yourself to sit with discomfort when people are expressing themselves in ways which are not familiar to you; assume that everybody has a valid point and your job is to understand what that point is
Right to Comfort
- the belief that those with power have a right to emotional and psychological comfort (another aspect of valuing ëlogicí over emotion)
- scapegoating those who cause discomfort
- equating individual acts of unfairness against white people with systemic racism which daily targets people of color
antidotes: understand that discomfort is at the root of all growth and learning; welcome it as much as you can; deepen your political analysis of racism and oppression so you have a strong understanding of how your personal experience and feelings fit into a larger picture; don’t take everything personally
One of the purposes of listing characteristics of white supremacy culture is to point out how organizations which unconsciously use these characteristics as their norms and standards make it difficult, if not impossible, to open the door to other cultural norms and standards. As a result, many of our organizations, while saying we want to be multicultural, really only allow other people and cultures to come in if they adapt or conform to already existing cultural norms. Being able to identify and name the cultural norms and standards you want is a first step to making room for a truly multi-cultural organization.
- Maintain white leadership. Ensure that white people, even in institutions that serve primarily people of color, predominantly occupy your board leadership and executive management positions. This is going to require you to come up with some really excellent excuses to mask institutional racism.
- They have to be qualified…
- We can’t find qualified candidates…
- They need to meet the minimum qualifications…
- Team culture is important here…
- We just don’t know any people of color…
- We have good qualified white people that should be promoted…
- We asked [a black person] once and we never got any applications…
- Frame the issues & lead the strategies for people of color. Ensure that white people, even in institutions that serve primarily populations of color, predominantly frame the social issues and lead the strategies to impact social problems. Invest in mostly white non-profit leadership to receive the training and resources needed to pursue their strategies and ideas. Make value statements that minimize the strategies created by people directly affected by the issues and do not invest in their strategies.
- Limit partnerships with (and Feedback from) communities of color. Limit your investment in creating partnerships with communities of color to sending an occasional marketing email about your programs. People of color will request an opportunity for feedback on programs or service design, implementation, and evaluation. Limit this feedback to a survey and do not come back to share if that information was used in any way.
- Ignore complaints of bias and racism from workers and clients. Ignore micro aggressions and micro-inequities social workers of color experience by their white social work colleagues.
- Value credentials vs. the skills needed to serve diverse populations. Carefully select employment criteria and credentialing requirements and do not require demonstration of the knowledge and skills required to effectively serve a culturally and linguistically diverse service population. In addition, you can diversify your lowest paid workers that usually provide direct service to ensure you have some diversity in your staff.
- Do not involve people directly impacted. Do not involve people directly impacted into the planning, implementation, and evaluation of services at your organization. This will maintain a dependency on the services you provide and ensure that people of color don’t receive the training, resources, and opportunity to learn the skills to address social issues in their own communities.
- White wash the diversity language. Minimize the critique of institutional racism by expanding the definition of diversity to include other forms of diversity (i.e. gender, sexual orientation, occupation, background, socio-economic status, and geography.)
- Maintain the social dynamic of white non-profit affinity groups. Don’t participate in social initiatives predominately led by people of color. Focus on social events where you can share resources between other predominately white led organizations and increase your fundraising revenue (i.e. annual galas). When non-profit leadership staff recycle donations to each other, it will show strong community support for your organization.
- Exploit black clients in poverty. Exploit black clients and front line staff on marketing materials. Show the most disadvantaged heartbreaking stories of clients you served and how you helped them. Use this to raise money and have the appearance of a strong commitment and connection to communities of color. If every organization does this, the narrative will be communities of color could not do this without white people. This will also minimize the achievement of communities of color and organizations led by people of color who often show a more positive and empowering image.
- Cultural competency. Include Cultural Competency Training for your staff (there are many white people that provide this training) to have the appearance of wanting to address equity. Learn the language to have better conversations about race and equity, but do not create an action plan that would ensure equity and empowerment within your organization.
I realize that institutional racism may not be your goal or intention. You may not even be aware of the complexities of racism at your organization. I hope this post moves you from unintentional racism to intentional allyship.
Fakequity: We Can’t Train Our Way to Racial Equity
Erin is gone on a “work trip” and told me it’s time to write this blog post that I promised weeks ago. In true Heidi fashion, I need to start off my post with a disclaimer. I make my living as a racial equity consultant and most of my work comes from requests for trainings. So, it might not be in the best business interest to criticize the core service of my business, but here it is. I too am learning to undo the ways I uphold systemic racism and support white supremacy. Change, reflection, and applied learning are values I strive to model in my own journey towards racial justice. This is one of my “show what you’re learning, not what you already know” moments of living the Color Brave Space norms.
Training is NOT the destination
I now realize many mainstream organizations are approaching “training” as the destination for their racial equity work. This realization and discomfort are affirmed through employee surveys, where overwhelmingly the most common response to what their organization is doing to advance racial equity is training. Believing we can train our way to racial equity is fakequity.
There are two fundamental reasons training cannot be our destination. First, paraphrasing the Racial Equity Tools definition, racial equity is when race is no longer a predictor of outcomes. Training does not guarantee disparities by race will be eliminated. In the article, The Subtle Linguistics of Polite White Supremacy, the author defines the system we are trying to dismantle as one that protects white comfort, white control, and white confidentiality. Training also does not guarantee these systems of white supremacy will be undone or even disrupted. As our friend at Nonprofit AF writes, racial equity is about money and the ability for communities of color to have power and control over how money is spent to address racial injustice. Training does not guarantee money will go to communities of color to fight racial injustice. (Sidebar, I know you will continue to conduct training so please ensure you are hiring facilitators who are people of color. Hiring white facilitators because it makes mostly white participants feel more comfortable continues to center whiteness.)
The second reason training is not the destination is most organizations have staff who are starting at such varying and disproportionately low skill levels. Having participants at such varying skill levels makes conducting an effective workshop almost impossible. I use language learning as a parallel cognitive skill. Imagine you were trying to teach a Spanish class to participants who don’t know any Spanish, who know some Spanish, and a few who are fluent in Spanish. Then imagine the expectation was that after 8 or 9 hours of training everyone will be fluent. We are setting ourselves up fail. We are creating a false sense of progress that upholds the very system we are working to dismantle.
Relying mostly on training continues to give whiteness the benefit of the doubt
A predictable pattern of systemic racism is giving white people the benefit of the doubt while requiring people of color to show proof and evidence. This double standard plays out in who organizations hire and promote based on a perceived potential. It plays out in requiring people of color to prove or show evidence of racial discrimination before we are believed.
Relying mostly on training to achieve racial equity continues to uphold this double standard. People of color are required to know how to navigate white systems before we are deemed “qualified.” Yet through training at mainstream organizations, mostly white people are disproportionately invested in and seen as having the potential to learn strategies to achieve racial equity. Going back to the language analogy, we are trying to train people to speak Spanish in a few hours, when what we need right now are fluent Spanish speakers.
Moving beyond training, addressing racialized POWER
- Hire for Racial Equity Skills – Hire people already fluent in understanding systemic racism and strategies to achieve racial equity. This should be a required, not just a desired, qualification. At the very minimum, stop hiring people who don’t believe systemic racism exists.
- Promote based on Racial Equity Skills – Like hiring, racial equity skills should be viewed as a required qualification. This means developing and using job performance “metrics” reflective of this requirement, and of course having evaluators/supervisors with high racial equity skills as well.
- Design for Racial Equity – One of my favorite examples to share is the behavioral economics study that looked at different rates of organ donors in Europe. What the study found is the opt-in or opt-out form at the department of motor vehicles had the most influence over rates of donors. We currently have an opt-in approach to racial equity, when what we need to design are programs and process that default to racial equity. Erin wrote Luck Doesn’t Create Equity – Good Design Yields Better Results back in 2015, it is still one of my favorite blog posts.
- Put your Money Towards your Racial Equity Values – We need to do a better job of tracking where our money is going. Often people get uneasy when I tell them I consciously try to spend money at businesses owned by people of color (if you haven’t seen our open source POC business map, check it out). If I asked you, do you want almost exclusively to support white businesses, the answer is usually no. But if we are not consciously thinking about it, we probably are supporting mostly white businesses. That is what the default system is designed to do. Be transparent with your money, how much is supporting white businesses, white staff, white consultants and how much is truly being directed at poc businesses, poc staff, and poc consultants?
- Change Decision Making Tables – Decision making is connected to money and resources. Who sits at the final decision-making tables for how money is spent, invested, or how staff time is used? If these tables have been and continue to be disproportionately white this is systemic racism at work. If you continue to justify why and how these tables can’t be changed, this is paternalism upholding white supremacy.
What would you add to this list of ways we can work towards racial equity beyond training?
Making training more effective
I’m realistic, you’re still going to spend time and resources on training. I will also continue to train, as it does allow me to get my foot in the door of many organizations that would otherwise never have these conversations. Before you jump on the training bandwagon, check out this past blog posts on how to make racial equity training more effective. Here is a hint, all or mostly white groups discussing racial equity is a recipe for fakequity. We need to stop treating racial equity trainings like 8-hour degree courses, and start viewing them as continuing education opportunities. Here are my commitments. What are yours?
- I am committed to taking on more projects that help people change organizational practices and processes to address racialized power.
- I am committed to supporting organizations to find ways to have training be one, but not the only, strategy to work toward racial equity.
- I am committed to facilitating racial equity workshops among people of color, as we also have work to do and often this work doesn’t or can’t happen when whiteness is overwhelmingly present.
When you see me next, feel free to ask me how I am doing on my commitments.
Community Wealth Partners: The State of Diversity in the Nonprofit Sector
“With this post, we will examine data surrounding the current state of racial diversity in leadership, staff, and boards across organizations in the nonprofit sector. As the sector increasingly recognizes the need for talent diversity as a strategy to accelerate social change, Community Wealth Partners has conducted a scan of existing research to understand the factors leading to gaps in attracting/recruiting, hiring, retaining, and advancing people of color. The scan was conducted at the request of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which has launched a Social Sector Talent Pipelines Lab to tackle these factors with key partner organizations.
To solve complex problems, it is critical to understand the root causes of those problems. In the case of the growing and related issues of racial inequality and poverty, we must openly acknowledge that the problem exists, and then explore the factors at the root of that problem. Sadly, statistics from high school dropout to incarceration rates point to the reality that in America, racial discrimination is one of the most significant root causes of inequality in education, health, and wealth outcomes.
There is a growing belief across our sector that in order to increase racial equity and inclusion, we must look inside and pursue greater diversity among staff, leadership, and boards of nonprofits and foundations. In partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, we recently conducted research to understand the full picture of racial diversity in the nonprofit sector. Our research looked at the current state of diversity in the workforce, as well as specific trends in attraction, recruitment, retention, and advancement of people of color in the sector.
We started by seeking the most up-to-date numbers on the representation of people of color in nonprofits and foundations. Overall, we found that while people of color represent 30% of the American workforce, only 18% of non-profit staff and 22% of foundation staff is comprised of people of color. For foundations, this number significantly decreases when looking at leadership and board member positions. This gap in diversity across staff and leadership in the sector reflects a lack of diversity in perspectives and backgrounds that could help organizations better understand the market and adapt and innovate strategies.
To understand this gap, we next examined practices around attraction, recruitment, retention, and advancement of people of color in the nonprofit sector. Through this research, we identified implicit biases throughout critical points in the hiring process that explain why staff at organizations continues to be predominantly white. The fact is that organizations rely heavily on existing staff, who are predominantly white, to pass along job openings through their networks, which are often homogeneous. The result is that white staff members are generally spreading the word regarding job openings through a largely white network, creating a perpetual cycle of hiring on repeat. For those people of color that do submit resumes, controlled studies have found that subconscious biases exist, resulting in individuals with white-sounding names being 50% more likely to get an interview. For those people of color that do get an interview, controlled studies again have found bias where white interviewers recommend a black candidate significantly less often than a white candidate with the identical credentials.
In order to address these biases throughout the recruitment and hiring process, organizations should take stock of critical points in recruitment:
- Assess the diversity of applicants submitting resumes for various positions within the organization to determine if current recruitment outlets are attracting a racially diverse pool of applicants
- Examine the diversity of candidates selected for the interview process to assess whether there may be implicit biases in the resume screening process that limit the number of diverse candidates being considered for positions
- Examine the diversity of candidates that receive job offers to assess whether there are implicit biases in the interview process that limits the number of diverse candidates that are given job offers
Identifying the point(s) in the hiring process where an organization is failing to recruit or select diverse candidates is a critical first step to developing more inclusive strategies and processes, and in turn, better equipping the organization to accelerate social change.
The hiring process is just one of several points in the talent pipeline where nonprofits are failing to attract, retain, and advance people of color. In future blog posts, we will further explore our findings on the role that leadership commitment to diversity plays in attracting people of color, and factors that hinder the advancement of people of color to leadership positions.
NOTE: For consistency, the author used the same terms to describe race/identity as the cited research.
Discussion Questions (please leave comments below):
Which of the findings did you find surprising?
What strategies have you implemented to build and retain a diverse and inclusive team at your nonprofit? What worked? What has not worked?
What are the sector’s biggest challenges to making the talent pipeline more diverse?
Does the sector understand this issue fully? What further research is needed?
What can we learn from the corporate or government sectors’ efforts to diversify their talent?
Diversity in the Philanthropy Career Pipeline
Council on Foundations
Diversity in Nonprofit Hiring
Rainier Valley Corps: Three Strategies for Decolonizing Nonprofits from a Black Queer Feminist Organizer
“I’m critical of nonprofits, but only because I know we can do better. I began volunteering and working at nonprofits after becoming disenchanted by the Great Recession; politicized by gender studies courses; and inspired by former Pres. Barack Obama, whose life story introduced me to the term “community organizer.”
Obama made being a community organizer seem like one of the most meaningful jobs in the world. For the past eight years, I’ve been a part of nonprofits in the Southeast and the Pacific Northwest, often being employed as an organizer. Despite warnings of notoriously low nonprofit salaries, I entered this field for a chance to live out my Black queer feminist values.
Although I sometimes grow weary of nonprofits, I don’t regret my decision to work at them. This work has taught me important lessons about the world around me and about myself. The relationships I’ve established at nonprofits are priceless, and I feel like I’m better because of them.
At nonprofits, I’ve experienced the beauty of bringing community members together to achieve a common vision. I’ve also been a part of victorious organizing campaigns that convinced me that another world is possible, one where oppression has no place to flourish.
Some of my most cherished moments have been at nonprofits, but unfortunately, I’ve also felt dehumanized and devalued by them. They can be hostile workplaces for People of Color (POC) due to the impacts of the nonprofit industrial complex (NPIC).
The NPIC is a system of relationships between the State, the owning classes, foundations, and nonprofit and social justice organizations that results in the surveillance, control, derailment, and everyday management of political movements, according to INCITE! Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans people of Color* Against Violence.
The NPIC is designed to exploit POC while enriching the pockets of middle-class and wealthy white folks. According to Community Wealth Partners and the Annie Casey Foundation, only 18 percent of nonprofit employees are POC, which is proof of how entrenched in white supremacy the NPIC is.
This industrial complex dilutes grassroots POC movements by funding white-led nonprofits to solve social issues while starving POC organizations of resources. Black liberation movements of the 60s and 70s, such as the Black Panther Party, were severely weakened by the NPIC. It makes nonprofits extremely difficult to navigate for POC and other historically oppressed groups.
Feeling the effects of the NPIC made me question whether I could be in this field for the long haul. I worked at nonprofits where I thought my job was to create social change, but I was actually just a token hire expected to uphold the status quo.
At these organizations, my voice was silenced as a working-class Black queer non-binary woman, while middle-class, cisgender heterosexual white managers decided what our underserved constituents needed.
When advocating for better conditions for myself and co-workers of color, such as livable wages and mandatory anti-oppression training for staff, I’ve been penalized more often than not. It’s been tough to suffer these injustices at places that claim to adhere to social justice.
In the past, when I experienced harm at nonprofits, I questioned whether they were a necessity or an unnecessary evil. I’ve come to believe that despite their flaws, nonprofits play an essential role in our current society, especially ones led by POC and other groups on the margins.
Perhaps one day nonprofits won’t serve a purpose because everyone will have equitable access to what they need to thrive. However, this will require all systems of oppression to be eradicated, which isn’t bound to happen anytime soon. Thus, now isn’t the time to abandon nonprofits–now is the time to decolonize them.
To me, decolonizing nonprofits means transforming them from sites of isolation and trauma for POC employees into spaces where we can find healing and liberation.
Decolonizing nonprofits means decentering whiteness and honoring difference within our organizations. It means discovering how our ancestors took care of their communities before nonprofits existed and learning from their practices.
Lately, I’ve been thinking of concrete ways to decolonize nonprofits (both POC-led and white-led) for staff, board members, volunteers, and/or members. I’ve offered three strategies below to help us all begin decolonizing our practices. I hope they resonate with you, especially if you too are a nonprofit worker of color.
- Embrace a culture of abundance, not scarcity
Most of my nonprofit jobs have paid less than a living wage and provided few to no benefits. Many talented POC have had our labor exploited by nonprofits.
We’ve been brainwashed to believe that we don’t deserve comfortable lives since we work for the public good. I don’t believe this; even though nonprofits aren’t intended to create profit, the labor it takes to run them is real and deserves to be compensated as such.
Often nonprofits don’t pay well because they don’t know when their funding will dry up, which is a valid concern. However, this phenomenon can also be attributed to a culture of scarcity that persists at nonprofits where board and staff become complacent with not having enough resources. This ultimately hurts employees of color the most.
It may sound naive to advocate for a culture of abundance at nonprofits, but we must believe in our abilities to raise enough money to adequately honor our labor. We must also believe in our right to be justly compensated, especially when we’re POC, queer, trans, and/or disabled workers.
I’m optimistic yet realistic, so I realize that sometimes nonprofits simply can’t pay living wages due to lack of funding. Foundations and governments intentionally create barriers to funding, which is why POC-led organizations are chronically underfunded.
Most grantors want nonprofits to have 501(c)(3) status from the IRS, which requires a costly and lengthy application process. Once a nonprofit gets their 501(c)(3) status, it takes a lot of resources to maintain it that many small nonprofits simply don’t have.
Moreover, according to Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, only 25 percent of foundation grants go towards general operations, which is usually the part of a nonprofit’s budget that pays for staff salaries.
Rather than funding general operations that are essential to keeping a nonprofit’s doors open, foundations often require grant applicants to propose elaborate programs that align with their whitewashed theories of change. These applications require time and resources that most POC organizations are lacking. They constrain our programming and force us to meet unrealistic benchmarks.
Anti-racist nonprofits should demand that grantors move away from these types of white supremacist-informed grantmaking practices. When they can’t pay living wages, underfunded nonprofits can at least actively work towards this goal. One way to do this is by tapping into the abundance and strengths in their own communities by prioritizing grassroots fundraising.
- Less hierarchy, more collective decision-making
Nonprofit structures aren’t terribly different from corporate structures. Hierarchy exists on a nonprofit’s board and staff, and top-down decisions are often made that leave out staff and community members.
This is detrimental because executive directors (EDs) and board presidents typically don’t come from the historically oppressed communities they serve and may not understand their needs. Nonprofit staff not in leadership positions are more likely to hail from marginalized communities, and our opinions are just as valuable as our managers. We have the right to be a part of major decisions at our workplaces.
Strict hierarchies don’t make our nonprofits better. Having one or two central leaders make decisions for an entire community organization isn’t what equity or social justice looks like.
EDs and board presidents aren’t the only ones who should feel ownership of a nonprofit. For the past three years, I’ve studied worker-owned cooperatives because I admire how their model allows each worker one vote, and everyone’s vote carries the same weight. Worker-owners operate a cooperative as a collective.
Nonprofits have a lot to learn from co-ops and their collective decision-making processes. Worker co-ops, which have deep roots in communities of color, prove that democratic workplaces can be a functional thing.
One way that nonprofits can move towards collectivism is by bridging the gap between board and staff and allowing them to hear from each other on a regular basis. Staff besides the ED should be able to inform board decisions since we’re the most familiar with a nonprofit’s day-to-day operations.
If nonprofits feel like they can’t accomplish their work without hierarchy, their leadership should at least represent those who are most impacted by systemic oppression. Nonprofits can’t be at their most effective when they’re not led by communities who access their programs and services.
- Practice transformative justice/community accountability
When harm takes place, nonprofit employees, board members, volunteers, and members should be accountable to the community and to each other. It’s inevitable that harm will occur at nonprofits because interpersonal relationships are never perfect, no matter how hard we work at them.
During the era of #MeToo, we can’t ignore that emotional, physical, and sexual abuse occur at nonprofits. Even we “social justice warriors” are capable of causing harm, and we need to know how to hold our people accountable without engaging the State. POC especially can’t rely on the State to protect us when we’re being killed by the police in unprecedented numbers.
Decolonizing nonprofits means seeking accountability when violence happens within our organizations in ways that don’t engage our punitive justice system. It means people who experience violence within nonprofits are able to determine what justice looks like for themselves alongside trusted advocates and community members.
Furthermore, it means nonprofit workplaces believing and supporting survivors while simultaneously dismantling the oppressive systems that cause people to harm.
These acts fall under the umbrella of transformative justice/community accountability (TJ/CA), which is defined by Seattle-based queer and trans femme of color organizer Kiyomi Fujikawa as “community-based responses to violence that seek to address immediate needs for justice (e.g. safety, dignity, connection, self-determination, support, healing, accountability, etc) in ways that both address the survivor’s immediate needs (including addressing the behavior of an individual abusive person) and change the root causes of that harm and oppression and ultimately end violence.”
All nonprofits, not just anti-violence organizations, should be doing the work of ending interpersonal violence. It’s our duty to model what community-led justice looks like for the rest of the world. As INCITE! says, “the revolution starts at home,” meaning our movements can’t possibly change the world if we don’t address the harm happening in our own backyards first.
Despite my critiques of nonprofits, I’ll probably always be involved in them in some way. I’ve dedicated too much time, creativity, energy, and labor to them to give up now.
To keep myself motivated in this field, I follow the revolutionary work of Black women and trans and queer-led nonprofits, such as Sister Song Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective (Atlanta), Southerners On New Ground (Atlanta), SPARK Reproductive Justice Now (Atlanta), and Women With A Vision (New Orleans). I have so much to learn about how they thrive in spite of the NPIC, and I’m curious whether they have their own decolonization strategies.
Currently, I’m invested in decolonizing nonprofits in Seattle as a fellow at Rainier Valley Corps, a POC-led capacity building organization; the Operations Manager at Families Of Color Seattle, a WOC-led organization that connects parents of children color to parenting programs and resources; and a worker-owner at Carolyn Peruth Coaching & Consulting, a queer and non-binary POC-owned worker cooperative that, among other services, works with nonprofits to develop and implement anti-racist, intersectional feminist practices.
As you can probably tell, I’m unapologetically vocal about my desire to decolonize nonprofits, and I’m always looking for new comrades. Now that you’ve read my strategies, won’t you decolonize nonprofits with me?”
“As a former professor and current facilitator and consultant, I am in a position to give white people feedback on how their unintentional racism is manifesting itself. In this position, I have observed countless enactments of white fragility. One of the most common is outrage: “How dare you suggest that I could have said or done something racist?” Although these are unpleasant moments for me, they are also rather amusing. The reason I’m there in the first place is because I have been hired specifically to do that; I have been asked to help the members of the organization understand why their workplace continues to remain white, why they are having so much trouble recruiting people of color, and/or why the people of color they hire don’t stay. They want to know what they are doing that is unsupportive to people of color.
At this point in my career, I rarely encounter the kind of open hostility that I was met with in my early days as a facilitator. I attribute this change to the years of experience behind my pedagogy. Of course, I am also white, which makes other white people much more receptive to the message. I am often amazed at what I can say to groups of primarily white people. I can describe our culture as white supremacist and say things like, “All white people are invested in and collude with the system of racism,” without my fellow white people running from the room or reeling from trauma. Naturally, I don’t walk in and lead with those statements; I strategically guide people to a shared understanding of what I mean by those claims. Still, white people tend to be more receptive to my presentation as long as it remains abstract. The moment I name some racially problematic dynamic or action happening in the room in the moment — for example, “Sharon, may I give you some feedback? While I understand it wasn’t intentional, your response to Jason’s story invalidates his experience as a black man” — white fragility erupts. Sharon defensively explains that she was misunderstood and then angrily withdraws, while others run in to defend her by re-explaining “what she really meant.” The point of the feedback is now lost, and hours must be spent repairing this perceived breach. And, of course, no one appears concerned about Jason. Shaking my head, I think to myself, “You asked me here to help you see your racism, but by God, I’d better not actually help you see your racism.”
I was co-leading a community workshop. Because an employer had not sponsored it, the participants had all voluntarily signed up and paid a fee to attend. For this reason, we could assume that they were open and interested in the content. I was working with a small group of white participants when a woman I will call Eva stated that because she grew up in Germany, where she said there were no black people, she had learned nothing about race and held no racism. I pushed back on this claim by asking her to reflect on the messages she had received from her childhood about people who lived in Africa. Surely she was aware of Africa and had some impressions of the people there? Had she ever watched American films? If so, what impression did she get about African Americans? I also asked her to reflect on what she had absorbed from living in the U.S. for the last 23 years, whether she had any relationships with African Americans here, and if not, then why not.
A sense of white superiority and knowledge of racial power codes appear to develop as early as preschool.
We moved on, and I forgot about the interaction until Eva approached me after the workshop ended. She was furious and said that she had been deeply offended by our exchange and did not “feel seen.” “You made assumptions about me!” she said. I apologized and told her that I would never want her to feel unseen or invalidated. However, I also held to my challenge that growing up in Germany would not preclude her from absorbing problematic racial messages about black people. She countered by telling me that she had never even seen a black person “before the American soldiers came.” And when they did come, “all the German women thought them so beautiful that they wanted to connect with them.” This was her evidence that she held no racism. With an internal sigh of defeat, I gave up at that point and repeated my apology. We parted ways, but her anger was unabated.
A few months later, one of my co-facilitators contacted Eva to tell her about an upcoming workshop. Eva was apparently still angry. She replied that she would never again attend a workshop led by me. Notice that I did not tell Eva that she was racist or that her story was racist. But what I did do was challenge her self-image as someone exempt from racism. Paradoxically, Eva’s anger that I did not take her claims at face value surfaced within the context of a volunteer workshop on racism, which she ostensibly attended to deepen her understanding of racism.
Another example: I am coaching a small group of white employees on how racism manifests in their workplace. One member of the group, Karen, is upset about a request from Joan, her only colleague of color, to stop talking over her. Karen doesn’t understand what talking over Joan has to do with race; she is an extrovert and tends to talk over everyone. I try to explain how the impact is different when we interrupt across race because we bring our histories with us. While Karen sees herself as a unique individual, Joan sees Karen as a white individual. Being interrupted and talked over by white people is not a unique experience for Joan, nor is it separate from the larger cultural context. Karen exclaims, “Forget it! I can’t say anything right, so I am going to stop talking!”
The episode highlights Karen’s white fragility. She is unable to see herself in racial terms. When she is pressed to do so, she refuses to engage further, positioning herself as the one being treated unfairly. In the post–civil rights era, we have been taught that racists are mean people who intentionally dislike others because of their race; a racist is consciously prejudiced and intends to be hurtful. Because this definition requires conscious intent, it exempts virtually all white people and functions beautifully to obscure and protect racism as a system in which we are all implicated. This definition also ensures that any suggestion of racially problematic behavior will trigger moral outrage and defense.
One way that whites protect their positions when challenged on race is to invoke the discourse of self-defense.
The large body of research on children and race demonstrates that children start to construct their ideas about race very early. Remarkably, a sense of white superiority and knowledge of racial power codes appear to develop as early as preschool. Professor of communications Judith Martin describes white children’s upbringing:
As in other Western nations, white children born in the United States inherit the moral predicament of living in a white supremacist society. Raised to experience their racially based advantages as fair and normal, white children receive little if any instruction regarding the predicament they face, let alone any guidance in how to resolve it. Therefore, they experience or learn about racial tension without understanding euro-Americans’ historical responsibility for it and knowing virtually nothing about their contemporary roles in perpetuating it.
Despite its ubiquity, white superiority is also unnamed and denied by most whites. If we become adults who explicitly oppose racism, as do many, we often organize our identity around a denial of our racially based privileges that reinforce racist disadvantage for others. What is particularly problematic about this contradiction is that white people’s moral objection to racism increases their resistance to acknowledging complicity with it. In a white supremacist context, white identity largely rests on a foundation of (superficial) racial tolerance and acceptance. We whites who position ourselves as liberal often opt to protect what we perceive as our moral reputations, rather than recognize or change our participation in systems of inequity and domination.
One way that whites protect their positions when challenged on race is to invoke the discourse of self-defense. Through this discourse, whites characterize themselves as victimized, slammed, blamed, and attacked. Whites who describe the interactions this way are responding to the articulation of counternarratives alone; no physical violence has ever occurred in any interracial discussion or training that I am aware of. These self-defense claims work on multiple levels. They identify the speakers as morally superior while obscuring the true power of their social positions. The claims blame others with less social power for their discomfort and falsely describe that discomfort as dangerous. The self-defense approach also reinscribes racist imagery. By positioning themselves as the victim of anti-racist efforts, they cannot be the beneficiaries of whiteness. Claiming that it is they who have been unfairly treated — through a challenge to their position or an expectation that they listen to the perspectives and experiences of people of color — they can demand that more social resources (such as time and attention) be channeled in their direction to help them cope with this mistreatment.
When I consult with organizations that want me to help them recruit and retain a more diverse workforce, I am consistently warned that past efforts to address the lack of diversity have resulted in trauma for white employees. This is literally the term used to describe the impact of a brief and isolated workshop: trauma. This trauma has required years of avoiding the topic altogether, and although the business leaders feel they are ready to begin again, I am cautioned to proceed slowly and be careful. Of course, this white racial trauma in response to equity efforts has also ensured that the organization has remained overwhelmingly white.
Social power is not fixed; it is constantly challenged and needs to be maintained.
The language of violence that many whites use to describe anti-racist endeavors is not without significance, as it is another example of how white fragility distorts reality. By employing terms that connote physical abuse, whites tap into the classic story that people of color (particularly African Americans) are dangerous and violent. In so doing, whites distort the real direction of danger between whites and others. This history becomes profoundly minimized when whites claim they don’t feel safe or are under attack when they find themselves in the rare situation of merely talking about race with people of color. The use of this language of violence illustrates how fragile and ill-equipped most white people are to confront racial tensions and their subsequent projection of this tension onto people of color.
A cogent example of white fragility occurred during a workplace anti-racism training I co-facilitated with an interracial team. One of the white participants left the session and went back to her desk, upset at receiving (what appeared to the training team as) sensitive and diplomatic feedback on how some of her statements had affected several of the people of color in the room. At break, several other white participants approached me and my fellow trainers and reported that they had talked to the woman at her desk and that she was very upset that her statements had been challenged. (Of course, “challenged” was not how she phrased her concern. It was framed as her being “falsely accused” of having a racist impact.) Her friends wanted to alert us to the fact that she was in poor health and “might be having a heart attack.”
Upon questioning from us, they clarified that they meant this literally. These co-workers were sincere in their fear that the young woman might actually die as a result of the feedback. Of course, when news of the women’s potentially fatal condition reached the rest of the participant group, all attention was immediately focused back onto her and away from engagement with the impact she had on the people of color. As professor of social work Rich Vodde states, “If privilege is defined as a legitimization of one’s entitlement to resources, it can also be defined as permission to escape or avoid any challenges to this entitlement.”
White fragility keeps people of color in line and “in their place.”
Let me be clear: While the capacity for white people to sustain challenges to our racial positions is limited — and, in this way, fragile — the effects of our responses are not fragile at all; they are quite powerful, because they take advantage of historical and institutional power and control. We wield this power and control in whatever way is most useful in the moment to protect our positions. If we need to cry so that all the resources rush back to us and attention is diverted away from a discussion of our racism, then we will cry (a strategy most commonly employed by white middle-class women). If we need to take umbrage and respond with righteous outrage, then we will take umbrage. If we need to argue, minimize, explain, play devil’s advocate, pout, tune out, or withdraw to stop the challenge, then we will.
White fragility functions as a form of bullying: “I am going to make it so miserable for you to confront me — no matter how diplomatically you try to do so — that you will simply back off, give up, and never raise the issue again.” White fragility keeps people of color in line and “in their place.” In this way, it is a powerful form of white racial control. Social power is not fixed; it is constantly challenged and needs to be maintained.
In my workshops, I often ask people of color, “How often have you given white people feedback on our unaware yet inevitable racism? How often has that gone well for you?” Eye rolling, head shaking, and outright laughter follow, along with the consensus of rarely, if ever. I then ask, “What would it be like if you could simply give us feedback, have us graciously receive it, reflect, and work to change the behavior?” Recently, a man of color sighed and said, “It would be revolutionary.” I ask my fellow whites to consider the profundity of that response. It would be revolutionary if we could receive, reflect, and work to change the behavior. On the one hand, the man’s response points to how difficult and fragile we are. But on the other hand, it indicates how simple it can be to take responsibility for our racism. But we aren’t likely to get there if we are operating from the dominant worldview that only intentionally mean people can participate in racism.”
Research from Harvard University suggests that children as young as three years old, when exposed to racism and prejudice, tend to embrace and accept it, even though they might not understand the feelings. By age 5, white children are strongly biased towards whiteness. To counter this bias, experts recommend acknowledging and naming race and racism with children as early and as often as possible. Children’s books are one of the most effective and practical tools for initiating these critical conversations; and they can also be used to model what it means to resist and dismantle oppression.
Teaching Materials and Resources to teach Black Lives Matters
“In a moment of deep racial and political divides, when explicit racism frequents our news and our communities, white parents have concerns about how to raise white kids who are kind, compassionate and, importantly, not racist. The advice they most often receive is simple: talk more to your kids about race and racism. This is certainly important. But I have seen first-hand that it is not enough.
For two years, I studied 30 affluent, white families in a Midwestern community. My research shows that a crucially influential aspect of raising white kids in America is often overlooked: the social environments in which they grow up. White kids learn about race as a result of their own independent experiences — not just conversations. Their lived experience and their interactions with peers, teachers, neighbors, coaches, siblings and strangers matter greatly. The choices parents make about how to set up children’s lives influence their kids’ ideas about race and racism. The neighborhood they live in, the school they attend and the activities they participate in — sports leagues, religious organization, clubs, summer camps — set the parameters for how kids understand race. And this is true whether parents are consciously aware that these choices matter or not, and regardless of what parents explicitly say about race.
I interviewed 36 boys and girls between the ages of ten and 13. I observed them in their everyday lives. Approximately half of the kids in the study attended diverse schools, lived near black or Latino neighborhoods and participated in activities with children of color on a regular basis. The majority of these white kids were comfortable discussing race, conveyed complex ideas about racism and had applied experiences participating in social activism. As one 11-year-old white child growing up in this diverse context said, “I think [racism] is a way bigger problem than people realize. It’s nowhere near what it used to be… it’s just different and white people don’t realize it… people want to hide it.”
But the rest of the children in my study attended predominantly white schools, lived in almost entirely white neighborhoods and participated in activities with very few children of color. These white kids joked around about race with their friends, using the phrase “that’s racist” as an insult akin to “that’s stupid,” and had limited understandings about both contemporary and historical aspects of racism in America. This was true in families where parents spoke openly about race as well as in those where race was perceived as an unnecessary topic for family discussion. As one 11-year-old white child growing up in this context told me, “Racism was a problem when all those slaves were around and that like bus thing… like Eleanor Roosevelt, and how she went on the bus. And she was African American and sat on the white part… but after the 1920s and all that, things changed.”
In predominantly white contexts like this, parents often articulate the conundrum that Heather Johnson explored in her 2014 book, The American Dream and the Power of Wealth: Choosing Schools and Inheriting Inequality in the Land of Opportunity. They say that America is a meritocracy with equal opportunity yet then confer tremendous educational privileges to their own kids by opting for private, elite schooling and tutoring, expensive enrichment programs and so on. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2015, white students constituted the largest percent of students attending private Catholic, other religious, and non-sectarian private schools. I found that kids I interviewed who attended private schools attended whiter schools and perceived that they were smarter and more successful than their public-school peers. As such, these kids developed understandings of where they fit into the world. They told me that they knew they were special and more deserving than other kids.
But even in diverse racial contexts, parents’ actions do not always line up with what they say they believe. For instance, as Amanda Lewis and John Diamond show in their 2015 book Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools, although white parents often say they want diversity in their children’s lives, their actions demonstrate their desire to protect practices of segregation within diverse schools that offer advantages to their kids. Rather than finding ways to improve the experiences of all children at their school, white parents in Lewis and Diamond’s book use their material, cultural, social and symbolic resources to advocate for their own child through practices like ensuring their child is placed in upper-level courses with the best teachers. Though these privileged parents are not directly expressing racial animosity when they advocate in this way, they are, in effect, perpetuating inequality by hoarding opportunities for their own kids. I found in my research that these types of parent behaviors shape how children understand themselves, their position in the world and what they deserve.
How white children learn about racism in America does not only happen during the interactions they have at school, though. Everyday behaviors of white parents also matter: when to lock the car doors, what conversations to have at the dinner table, what books and magazines to have around the house, how to react to news headlines, who to invite over for summer cookouts, whether and how to answer questions posed by kids about race, who parents are friends with themselves, when to roll one’s eyes, what media to consume, how to respond to overtly racist remarks made by Grandpa at a family dinner and where to spend leisure time. (Restaurants, vacation destinations and community events can be deliberately and by-default mostly white — or purposefully not.)
These small actions send subtle yet powerful messages. Parents may not even be aware that they are conveying ideas about race through these behaviors, but children learn from them all the time. In this sense, when it comes to communicating with white children about racism, parents’ actions often speak louder than their words.
The conversations parents have with their white children about race and racism matter — it’s just that so does everything else parents do. Rather than focusing solely on what they say to kids about race, white parents should think more critically and carefully about how what they do on an everyday basis may actually reproduce the very racist ideas and forms of racial inequality that they say they seek to challenge.
VT: Lesson on Privilege
Good Sports: Four Ways Youth Sports Can Combat Racism
New research shows racism can be learned by children as young as 4. By preschool, children may have already internalized harmful racist attitudes. The good news is that exposure to different races at an early age can greatly reduce a child’s bias.
In a study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto, 4- to 6-year-old Chinese children were asked to use an app that challenged them to recognize black faces. After two sessions, researchers saw a reduction in their implicit bias.
The study has been embraced by doctors and researchers who see early involvement in sports as an effective tool for breaking down racism in kids. Dr. Angel Brutus, LPC, clinical and sport performance consultant at Synergistic Solutions LLC, is one of many professionals who believe youth sports can be a great way to promote inclusivity in children.
Inclusivity is just one benefit to playing sports — and those benefits don’t just stay on the playing field. Dr. Brutus points out that many of the lessons acquired in the athletic environment translate to academics. “Some of the skills learned in sport participation can also transfer for youth into the classroom setting,” she says.
Here are four ways researchers feel youth sports can reduce bias and promote diversity in children.
Expose Children to Diverse Authority Figures
According to the University of Toronto study, developing a personal relationship with one black individual was enough to help preschoolers rethink previously developed negative attitudes. That’s because coaches, teammates, and parents of teammates have a significant influence on our future selves…
Learn The Importance Of Teamwork And Relationships
“Increased exposure to and engagement with individuals of diverse backgrounds helps to humanize others, especially when each participant is tasked with pursuing individual and collective goals involving optimal sports outcomes,” says Dr. Brutus…
Provide New Frameworks For Thinking
…By interacting with a diverse group of individuals in youth sports, children are faced with the need to challenge previous harmful perceptions of other groups. This is especially beneficial for children that came from non-inclusive environments.
Teach Inclusivity to Adults and Parents
Children aren’t the only ones to benefit from an expanded network of authority figures gained through coaches and other parents on sporting teams. For parents, sports provide an opportunity to extend their own support networks.
Students Learn a Powerful Lesson about Privilege
Anti-Racism Tools and Exercises
No Platform for Fascism
Chrome plug-in to report racist youtube videos
Daring Discussions Toolkit
Toolkit to help facilitate intentional discussions between polarize people to break down barriers
Everyday Feminism: The Woke Black Person’s Guide to Talking About Oppression with Family
Real History of Kwanza
The Responsible Consumer: Social Justice Guides
The Responsible Consumer: Teacher Guides
Black Lives Matter: Healing Justice Toolkit
From Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, ChangeWork, 2001
Look Different: Bias Cleanse
- Interested in working on your own biases? With input from the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, we’ve created seven-day bias cleanses on race, gender and anti-LGBTQ bias that will provide you with daily tasks that will help you begin to change your associations.
Cultural Bridges to Justice: Training and Resource for Building Just Communities
Dismantling Racism: Analysis Tools