Are you an anti-racist? If not, let’s talk about it

After writing on race for over a decade as well as spending the last five years as executive director of an anti-racism organization, I have a few thoughts on how we could be tackling our race problem. The problem, though, is that dismantling the system of racism requires action—because change is a verb…and most white people aren’t ready for that level of engagement. To actively create change is to walk into the unknown and human nature—being what it is—well, people fear change. Especially the type of change that requires giving up something. Or creating seismic and uncomfortable shifts. 

Despite millions of white folks waking up since 2016, it’s become clear that the change that many white people want is a return to the status quo. Where racism hides in the shadows and was well known to Black and Brown folks but mostly hidden from white people with some exceptions.

People want to return to the niceness and politeness that hide our true intentions and keeps people in their places, as the system designed it. The “niceness” of whiteness is the backbone of inequity and participating in that system is to be complicit. 

Which is why, as we head into the 2020 election season, we need to sit down and be honest with ourselves. It’s easy enough to stick to the “anyone but Trump” line, but is anyone but Trump really progress? 

Given that we here in the United States are living with an illiterate, ignorant, and hateful leader, the desire for a quick fix is understandable. I mean, it would be nice to have a leader who isn’t an international embarrassment and who doesn’t regularly practice cruelty beyond words. The truth though is that as we enter this 2020 cycle, we are also standing on the cusp of real change. 

While the last several years have unearthed the truth of how deeply embedded racism is in our country, that unearthing has opened the doors for knowledge as many have tried to get a better understanding of how this moment came to be. In 2020, we can take this newfound knowledge and look at candidates with a deeper and broader understanding of the system and decide on a new type of leadership, a leadership that brings in the voices of the marginalized and ushers in candidates who don’t shy away from naming the long-ignored ills that plague this country.

As Ibram X. Kendi states in his latest book, “How To Be An Antiracist,” one is either a racist or an anti-racist; it is not enough to be against racism. To simply be against racism and to love and accept all people is simply passive racism. An anti-racist supports anti-racist policy through their actions. Which begs the question, what are your anti-racist actions? 

Over the years, I have asked that question and the most common response is that people are reading, learning and perhaps engaging in online spaces and—during the heyday of Black Lives Matter protests—perhaps attending a protest. 

Those are great things and honestly, they are necessary steps to move toward becoming an anti-racist. But you have to do more, because how are any of those actions creating change for Black, Brown and Indigenous people? How does your reading about systemic oppression create material change in Black, Brown and Indigenous spaces? How does your reading lead to policies that benefit Black, Brown and Indigenous people? Reading and talking online are gateways to newer ways of being but they are merely the first step, not the final destination. 

Furthermore, because of the intentional design of our communities in the United States, most of us live in racially segregated spaces which creates racial silos, or for white folks (and especially problematic), silos of whiteness. Thus, unless one is intentionally being an anti-racist through action, it means that even with the least racist of thoughts in your head, you have created a racial silo that benefits no one other than yourself—and means that you are centering whiteness. This is not anti-racism work, though it may seem like it. 

No, moving into 2020 requires shifting to examine our actions and thoughts and hold them up against an anti-racist framework. It means moving beyond simple binaries, and asking ourselves: Are we upholding white supremacy or are we dismantling it? If you find yourself drawn to the nice, articulate candidates, examine it. Assuming you have some level of class privilege and resources to spare, are you supporting the work of Black, Brown and Indigenous people? While the national reparations discussion is ongoing, in many communities across the country, people are starting their own community-based reparations work. Projects such as the Boston Ujima Project. Are you supporting online fundraisers for Black, Brown and Indigenous people. Frankly, if you are a regular reader of this space are you a monthly patron or have you ever given? While there are very real costs to running this site and paying our writers and back-end help, we also use our funds to support women of color in Maine as needed. 

There are a plethora of ways to offer support and to actively be an anti-racist in 2020. I would encourage you to think about what you can do and what you will commit to as we move forward. We need all hands on deck and it is simply not enough to be against racism anymore (and honestly, it never was). 


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Photo by Mario Purisic on Unsplash

Calling All White People, Part 39: Maybe civility should die

Calling All White People, Part 39

(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)

By An Average White Guy

TODAY’S EPISODE: Civility’s just another way of saying: “Whoa there, let’s not change too much now.”  

[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

We sure do like us some civility, don’t we—and by “we” I mostly mean white folks in America.

When one party is openly contrarian, hypocritical and obstructionist (*ahem* Republicans) and one party is self-destructive, often tentative and lacks sufficient unity of purpose (*ahem* Democrats) and they draw battle lines over right-wing vs. moderate actions in the legislature (let’s not kid ourselves that much in the way of actual liberal activity is going on—that’s just a myth that conservatives peddle) and they end up casting dispersions and pointing fingers across the aisle, people call for more civility. Never mind that the Republicans are openly refusing to do anything more “liberal” than “slightly less bad than Nazism” these days and are openly endorsing flat-out criminal behavior while protecting the most awful president of 20th and 21st centuries, if not ever. Never mind that the problem isn’t whether people are being nice but an insistence on making America the 1700s or 1800s again. Never mind any kind of logic. If we were just more “civil” (i.e. if the white men got together in smoky back rooms like the old days and hammered out the best way to screw over most citizens while appearing to endorse progress) everything would be fine.

People for some reason worry that “civility is dead.”

Well, screw civility.

I mean, I’m not saying there is no place for civil discourse and civil behavior. Of course there is, even in the halls of government. But civility won’t save us, and an emphasis on civility will literally kill us. It will kill the non-white people first most likely (and we’ll get to that in a moment), but if we make civility the goal, we’re all doomed except the rich people with underground bunkers stocked up for the next several decades.

Now, personally, I’m not just in favor of less emphasis on civility. If I’m to be honest, I dream of something more along the lines of the French Revolution in terms of uprooting the current corrupt and toxic system, complete with guillotines.

I understand that many of you might balk at taking to the streets and beheading enough of the aristocracy that rich and powerful people start behaving better if only to keep their necks intact. I get it. But at the same time, don’t pretend that you want actual change if you’re worried about civility.

Recently, a Black man was handcuffed and detained by police for eating on the BART commuter train line in California. Many have said he should have been more civil, since he was breaking the law. Never mind that doesn’t seem to be any clear indication that eating on the train or the platform is a crime. The real issue is that police decided to harass a Black guy for a minor infraction that they could have just ignored or simply said, “Hey, FYI, it’s against the law to eat on the BART platform. For sanitary reasons, please don’t do that in the future.” I mean, at the toll booth I pretty regularly pass through on many weekday mornings, a state cop is often posted up there looking to pull people over. But does he bother with those of us (like me) who are routinely traveling through the area at 10 to 15 miles above the speed limit or so? No. He doesn’t. Because it’s not worth the effort. Just like giving a man crap for eating a sandwich isn’t, unless you’re a white cop wanting to put a Black man in his so-called “place.”

The only reason to argue that Steve Foster might reasonably be admonished to have been more civil is the fact that police have killed unarmed Black people for less and too much boldness might get him extrajudicially murdered. But the fact is that not being civil to the cops (and he could have been way more uncivil) is perfectly valid here.

People who harp on how we need to be more civil, especially calling upon more civility from people of color in Congress who call out racism or people of color in the streets who call out harassment or people of color who won’t stop mentioning the wealth gap between white and Black people or the massive incarcerations of Black people for no good reason or whatever else are generally white people who don’t want things to change too much.

Oh, they might want to see racism curbed and violence against non-white people toned down. But they don’t really want actual change. They want everyone to speak in pleasant tones and change things *just enough* to look like progress but not enough to actually cause any inconvenience or discomfort.

Change is often uncomfortable. Change is often scary. Change is often inconvenient. It can also be messy. But when things are as screwed up right now as they are in terms of human rights violations against refugees and immigrants; massive racism against Black, Indigenous and other people of color; violence (literally and legislatively) toward women; demonization of Muslims, LGBTQ+ people; and more—well, I think it’s time to speak up, not be civil.

A civil tongue is not what it needed if one is going to be heard above the cacophony of right-wing cruelty, especially given the silence of most moderates and plenty of so-called liberals, too.

No, civility is just another way of saying, “Please don’t rock the boat too much.” Even if we don’t go so far as guillotines and riots in the streets, we definitely need to worry less about people’s feelings and more about speaking truth and demanding change—loudly and sometimes rudely.


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Calling All White People, Part 38: Ripping off the masks

Calling All White People, Part 38

(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)

By An Average White Guy

TODAY’S EPISODE: In this season of wearing costumes, let’s start aiming to be real  

[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Now, some of you maybe are planning to put on masks today or tonight—maybe you already have for some pre-Halloween costume parties or whatnot. Maybe you’re not dressing up but you’ll be helping your kids fit their masks to their faces. Maybe costumes still aren’t picked out yet and you still need to get a mask (and more) in a last-minute frenzy at the local Halloween store.

Maybe it’s also time—as we do that thing where we take on roles for a few hours to celebrate—maybe it’s time to dedicate yourself to playing fewer roles and being real.

We are in what for many people is an unprecedented (for them personally at least) period of overt racism promoted from on high (the White House and elsewhere) and unfettered cruelty (abandoning the protection of refugees, locking kids in cages and taking them away from their parents and so much more). Many of us weren’t alive for things like the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II. Many of us weren’t alive or were tiny children during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement. Even for those people who hate racism and were alive for such things, seeing them return now with literal Nazis marching with torches and police protection and anti-fascists being criticized for punching Nazis is jarring.

Welcome to the horror show. If you didn’t get it before, get it now: The United States was literally built on racism, with slavery a key part of the economy and many founding fathers defending slavery as part of the natural order. The dehumanization of Black and Indigenous people as savages or subhumans has been part and parcel of the American makeup and all its institutions were created with that in mind somewhere, somehow. The educational system has relentlessly hidden this part of history and the media has often been reluctant to highlight it. And so with all that in place, it’s easy for people to be racist, overtly or casually. It’s easy not to challenge things and to accept, on some level, the notion that people who aren’t white deserve less or pose a threat to you and your white kin and peers.

You personally may not feel that way. You might dream of a country were race isn’t a deciding factor in one’s humanity and worth. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t wearing a mask now—that perhaps you’ve been wearing one all along.

Maybe you aren’t racist. Or at least you’re mostly not racist. And that’s not bad. It’s certainly better than being racist. More people like that in this country would be a better thing. It would be progress. But it doesn’t change things when a good chunk of the country is pretty comfortable with racism.

If your kid really, really wants to be an “Indian” for Halloween or dress as Disney’s Pocahontas, will you say “no” and explain why? If they want to dress as a favorite Black celebrity but they aren’t Black and think they should paint their face brown or use literally black blackface, will you put a stop to it? If your kids are grown and in college putting on blackface or whatnot, will you check them? If you have friends dressed as “Mexicans” with sombreros and bushy fake mustaches, will you challenge them on it?

When Halloween has passed and Thanksgiving and Christmas family dinners occur, will you refute your relatives when they spout racist feelings or theories? Will you take the chance to educate and to deflate ignorance, or will you keep on that mask of politeness?

In day-to-day life, will you keep wearing that mask and being as “not-racist” as you personally can while also letting racism grow around you? Will you keep that mask on so that you don’t lose out on your own opportunities because giving up white privilege is too scary and you just want to continue to quietly be as not-racist as you can?

Movements and change don’t happen in silence. They don’t happen when people are quiet. If what the world sees is a mask that says you are OK with the way the world is, then the world will keep spinning on in a horrible direction.

Or maybe it isn’t a mask.

Maybe it’s your real face. Maybe you don’t care enough. Maybe trying to be not-racist is more important to you than actually being an anti-racist.

It’s never too late though. If you’re wearing a mask but you know you can do more, you can take it off now. If the apathy isn’t a mask but your true self, you can turn that around—not put on a mask of anti-racism but get a social and philosophical face-lift.

The face of America is racism; the equality for all idea was always a mask. So, while we are ripping away our masks of quiet civility, let’s rip that one off as well.


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.