Anti-Racism 101: Getting It Right

On the first day of my very first "Creating Change" experience, I met so many great people in the queer community! It is just a welcoming space! I especially enjoyed the prayer song that was presented from the First Nations council members to start the day.

I chose to go to the "Start with the Fundamentals Anti-Racism Day-Long Institute" intended for beginner white anti-racist activists. Even though I have been doing activist work for years, I thought it would be good to get back to the basics. I really, really liked the perspective that was taken during the Institute! The facilitators were activists for queer and disabled individuals and they were really great! They set ground rules and goals for the session at the very beginning. They made sure that everyone had as much access to the session as possible whether that meant through sight, hearing or any other form of comfort or need. Sometimes we tend to forget challenges around accessibility.

We focused on white power, privilege and supremacy. Our goals were to recognize and understand it and how to use it and challenge it. Some members of the groups had real wake-up calls because it is very hard to recognize something that you benefit from on a daily basis. White privilege and marginalization are results of white supremacy, and white supremacy isn't just the KKK.

Racism isn't just open and direct bigotry, it is privilege plus power. You can choose how to use white privilege, but you cannot choose whether you have it or not. Regardless of individual intent and agency, we systematically benefit from white privilege. It is hard to face this at times because we don't want to feel guilty. It is important to know that it isn't bad that we have access, it is bad that others have less access.

Overall we outlined five foundations of anti-racist work:

1) White people have white privilege and move through the world with it.

2) When we hold racial justice at the center of our activism, we must consider the intersections with other oppressions/activisms.

3) Being queer, or otherwise marginalized, doesn't exempt us from white privilege and white supremacy.

4) Don't do this work from a place of guilt, but from a place of intent and activism toward social justice and liberation.

5) White privilege and white supremacy is incredibly damaging to white people, too.

Although, at first, it seemed odd and almost humorous that the anti-racist sessions were setup in segregated spaces, after the sessions began, it made sense because the space seemed very safe. This session helped me reiterate, as well as learn, new ways of recognizing and challenging white privilege and white supremacy. I especially benefited from examining the intersections that we must realize occur across activist work and fighting the common assumption that you understand someone else's marginalization because of your own.

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  • harry834

    Seriously, I want to know this definition, as you see it Joe.

  • invalid-0

    Hillary’s Scarlett O’Hara Act
    Why some of us aren’t falling for it.
    By Melissa Harris-Lacewell
    Updated: 6:56 PM ET Feb 7, 2008
    Feb. 8, 2008–There’s been a lot of talk about women and their choices since Super Tuesday, when African American women overwhelmingly voted for Sen. Barack Obama, while white women picked Sen. Hillary Clinton. Some pundits automatically concluded that “race trumped gender” among black women. I hate this analysis because it relegates black women to junior-partner status in political struggles. It is not that simple. A lot of people have tried to gently explain the divide, so I’m just going to put this out there: Sister voters have a beef with white women like Clinton that is both racial and gendered. It is not about choosing race; it is about rejecting Hillary’s Scarlett O’Hara act.

    Black women voters are rejecting Hillary Clinton because her ascendance is not a liberating symbol. Her tears are not moving. Her voice does not resonate. Throughout history, privileged white women, attached at the hip to their husband’s power and influence, have been complicit in black women’s oppression. Many African American women are simply refusing to play Mammy to Hillary.

    The loyal Mammy figure, who toiled in the homes of white people, nursing their babies and cleaning and cooking their food, is the most enduring and dishonest representation of black women. She is a uniquely American icon who first emerged as our young country was trying to put itself back together after the Civil War. The romanticism about this period is a bizarre historical anomaly that underscores America’s deep racism: The defeated traitors of the Confederacy have been allowed to reinterpret the war’s battles, fly the flag of secession over state houses, and raise monuments to those who fought to tear down the country. Southern white secessionists were given the power to rewrite history even as America’s newest citizens were relegated to forced agricultural peonage, grinding urban poverty and new forms segregation and racial terror.

    Mammy was a central figure in this mythmaking and she was perfect for the role. The Mammy myth allowed Americans in the North and South to ignore the brutality of slavery by claiming that black women were tied to white families through genuine bonds of affection. Mammy justified past enslavement and continuing oppression.

    Privileged, Southern white women were central in creating and propagating the Mammy myth. In 1923, the United Daughters of the Confederacy were nearly successful in lobbying Congress to erect a statue on federal land to honor “the memory of the faithful colored mammies of the South.” The desire to memorialize Mammy reveals how Southern white women reveled in the subordinate role of their darker peers. These black women were vulnerable to the sexual and labor exploitation of slaveholders and household employers. These women masked their true thoughts and personalities in order to gain a modicum of security for themselves and their families. The Mammy monument was meant to display black women as the faithful, feisty, loyal servants of white domesticity.

    In the face of the Mammy myth, real black women spoke for themselves against the monument. It was substantial, sustained, opposition from organized African American women and the black press that killed the Mammy monument proposal.

    Media have cast the choice in the current election as a simple binary between race and gender. But those who claim that black women are ignoring gender issues by voting for Barack just don’t get it. Hillary cannot have black women’s allegiance for free. Black women will not be relegated to the status of supportive Mammy, easing the way for privileged white women to enter the halls of power.

    Black feminist politics is not simple identity politics. It is not about letting brothers handle the race stuff or about letting white women dominate the gender stuff. The black women’s fight is on all fronts. Sisters resist the ways that black male leaders try to silence women’s issues and squash women’s leadership. At the same time, black women challenge white women who want to claim black women’s allegiance without acknowledging the realities of racism. They will not be drawn into any simple allegiance that refuses to account their full humanity and citizenship.

    Black women want out of the war. Black women need health insurance. Black women need decent schools for their children. Black women need a strong economy that creates jobs. Black women need help caring for their aging parents. Black women want a Democratic win in the fall. Sisters chose Barack on Tuesday because they believe he can deliver these things and that is much more empowering than just having a woman in the White House.

    Melissa Harris-Lacewell is is associate professor of politics and African American studies at Princeton University.


  • invalid-0

    Reading racism into every aspect of life has created a culture of victims unwilling to empower themselves and take personal responsibility for their actions. Hypocrisy reigns when special rights like affirmative action lower personal expectations and actually creates inequality. We are all Americans and have the same rights. How we choose to practice and perceive them is our own struggle. Seeing racism only as coming from whites has sanctioned a socially accepted double standard that even white folks accept (White Guilt). It’s went so far that the race card is played to the point of stupidity every time things don’t go the way a member of a so-called minority group thinks they should. Now everyone is so oversensitive that things are blown way out of proportion, unless your white in which case you are expected to take it. If a white supremacist was running for president the media and society would tear him apart (yep even the majority of white folks would). But Obama, whose spiritual advisor and pastor has black supremacist leanings and a publically admitted admiration of anti-Semites like Louis Farrakhan, gets a free pass and no scrutiny. Now that’s hypocrisy. By holding seminars on “white privilege” and such you are only promoting racism. Sad but true.

  • invalid-0

    The “race card” huh? Congratulations, you just missed the whole point of working against white privilege and white supremacy. I’m so sorry that the reality of everyday life for people of color and other marginalized folks is raining on your parade. Awwww, so sad… my heart breaks thinking of how difficult every moment of your life must be, such an inconvenience to have to think about UNEARNED privileges. Someday you will see that many other people are working towards JUSTICE that benefits you too. So maybe next time, you’ll have the decency to listen before spouting off this idiocy.

  • harry834

    "fighting the common assumption that you understand someone else's marginalization because of your own."

    Julie T, thank you. THIS is the reason why we need to keep learning of different people's struggles. Because it isn't the same, and minorities have every right to be offended when we majorities think we understand.

    I like to think only the person experiencing the injustice can truly understand, and the best we can do, the best we should do, is try to understand from our vantage point.

    As a priveldged outsider, we will always be limited in our understanding, but we must still try, everyday, to alleviate this limitation.

    I do think we priviledged folk can, over time, replace our ignorance with knowledge, but it takes discipline, study, and seeing the world with open eyes.

  • harry834

    I am 100% non-white. South Asian. But I consider myself a neophyte in understanding racial injustice.

    So the lack of white skin hasn't necessarily taught me. So we all have a duty to learn.

  • invalid-0

    we also need to talk about sexism. I just read this excellent essay by Robin Morgan and she mentioned several examples of the ways Americans excuse instances of sexism, while a racist comparison would result in street riots.

    Warning: Ms. Morgan is pro Hillary.

  • invalid-0

    I was at work and we looked out the window. My co-workers family had come to dine-in. Standing next to this girl that I find some sexual tension between, she says “Look auntie, see that beautiful white dog outside, isn’t she so sweet and intelligent!” “Can we take her home with us?” Then I said in the presence of the part Indian girl and her family “There was a gorgeous multi-colored dog here the other day. She was really beautiful.” To which I wish I would have added to clarify that she was black and brown spotted not any white color to her, and that I also too would have like to take her home.

    But alas I end-up seeming like an objective idiot who doesn’t see white as a color.
    The goal of activists is to bring on this non-objective perspective. That we see white a color as much as brown. That gay and straight are both about love and sex. We shouldn’t treat each other differently because of our looks or our personalities.

  • invalid-0

    Thanks for everyone’s comments thus far. I do want to say one thing at this point, that I do not believe that racism is a “white” thing, but it is just as important to recognize that there is racism, classism, sexism, ageism, and every other kind of -ism inside and outside of your own self-identified communities and inside and outside of communities which are routinely and systematically oppressed. I do not think that it is a mistake to learn about white supremacy. But, I am not saying that a session on white supremacy will teach someone everything they need to know to change -isms nor is any session the end of activism, only the beginning. The conference also held sessions regarding other supremacy issues, unfortunately, I can only be in one place at a time. There will be many more times where I will commit myself to learning about such issues, including, but not limited to, next year’s Creating Change conference in Denver. Hope to see you all there!