What is an Antiracist?

I’ve been sensitive to issues of race for all of my life that I can remember. When I was growing up, a close family member would often make racist jokes and comments, and even as a kid it felt “off” to me. In adulthood, I’ve continued to talk about issues related to racial injustice, often sharing with great emotion the inequality I see in our nation and world.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism
by Robin Diangelo

The first sentence is the crux of my struggle with feeling pride in being an American. Our nation prides itself on the ideas of liberty and justice for all. But in reality, at its very foundation, that freedom was only granted to a select few.

In the introduction of her book, White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo shares that she’s writing for us “white progressives who so often – despite our conscious intentions – make life so difficult for people of color.” It pained me to read those words and her next, “I believe that white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color.” Dr. DiAngelo asserts that white progressives have a sense that they (I should say “we” since this hits home for me) have “arrived” and already “get it” and therefore don’t feel an urgency to actually do the work in ongoing learning, continuing to build relationships and pursuing antiracist work and action.

To be honest, I didn’t really understand the word antiracist, or it’s fuller meaning before reading How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Last month, at the suggestion of a close friend, I joined a local church’s Zoom bookclub to read and discuss this book.

This book pushes readers to move beyond awareness… into the action of working to build an equitable and just society. In it, Dr. Kendi shares personal stories of his own journey and youthful errors in thinking – calling himself out for racist behaviors and attitudes. He brilliantly begins most chapters with words and definitions before digging deeper into their meaning and impact. This is critical since we all assign different meaning to some words (like feminist, evangelical, Christian, liberal, conservative, etc.) He defines a few key words at the beginning of chapter 1:

Racist: One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.

Antiracist: One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.

I’m still processing the things I learned in this book and in discussion with my breakout group and my friend who invited me. But the biggest take-away for me by far is that all the knowledge in the world will only get me so far if I’m not taking action to pursue antiracist policies and action. My feelings about racial inequality and social media posts are pretty meaningless unless I’m willing to take this next step of action.

I think a lot of white people feel overwhelmed by the racism our collective eyes have begun to see (or see more clearly and urgently) after the death of George Floyd. I’ve heard friends and people I’m close to ask things like, “Are we supposed to say Black or African American?” or “Why didn’t I see this before?!”

I won’t pretend to know everything about how we should talk or behave in this time, but I’m reminded of the lyrics/title of a Derek Webb song from a few years ago, “I was wrong. I’m sorry. And I love you.” Admitting where we’ve missed the mark, whether or not it was intentional, is a good first step. A continued willingness to learn – to truly attempt to understand the different America that many of our BIPOC (Black or Indigenous people of color) friends are experiencing will take humility. We’ll have to fight the desire to explain or defend ourselves (this one is especially hard for me.)

All that learning and discussion is good and helpful, but in order to be truly be antiracist, we’ll actually have to take action in seeking a more equitable America for our beloved friends and family of color. America will only ever be great when what we say we value is truly valued for ALL of us. I’ve been thinking a lot about what those actions will be for me… and to be honest, this site is one small step toward that. I’m also looking at ways to affect public policy in my city and state – writing to and calling local and state officials. I hope you’ll consider joining me in important antiracist work in your own communities.