Fight Racism, Part 2: Becoming Antiracist
Authentic Antiracist Action Starts With You.
BECOMING ANTIRACIST: Many people around the country and around the world are feeling a renewed sense of hope that making much-needed societal changes to fight racism may be possible. People are protesting, showing support of the Black Lives Matter movement, speaking out about social injustice, taking antiracist action, and feeling very motivated to be a part of the solution.
This is a great thing. It also needs to be said that true, meaningful change will require us to go much deeper than saying nice things or taking superficial action. True change will require all Americans — and specifically, White Americans — to take this fight on as their own. In order for lasting, systemic change to happen, White Americans need to take on the emotional burden of racism, break the silence of complicity, refuse to accept the status quo, and shine the light of inquiry into all the spaces that racism hides and festers. It is vital for White people to do this work because…. going to say it… White people are actually the problem. Not all White people, but enough White people are collectively involved in systemic racist policies and institutions to make these systems very difficult for people of color to change from the outside in.
This is an inside job. White people need to be looking around themselves (and inside themselves) to see what's causing so much harm to others and take meaningful antiracist action to change what they can change. This sounds simple, but in reality, it's much harder to do.
Well-meaning white people are often eager to leap into action for the antiracist but do so without first having done the foundational personal growth work that allows them to genuinely understand racism, and be confident activists in pursuit of change. Instead, White people often feel intense feelings of guilt and for the abuse that people of color experience, shame for their own White privilege, and intense feelings of anxiety about doing or saying “the wrong thing.” While these feelings are all understandable, not knowing how to work through them and get past them can stop a White person from being the effective agent-of-change that the world so desperately needs.
Before meaningful change and social activism are possible, there needs to be a growth process of self-awareness and healing. This is hard to do, and there are not many sign-posts to guide you in this work. Most White families never talk about race, much less provide their children with a roadmap to develop a healthy, White racial identity. As such, White Americans struggle to cope with the emotional reality of racism and injustice. Defensiveness, silence, denial, tone-deaf “action,” and / or paralysis can ensue.
(Healthy) White Racial Identity Development
The good news is that while White culture does not generally speak of such things openly, there actually is a map. In the '90s psychologist and researcher Janet Helms built on the work of William Cross (racial identity development in people of color) and Derald W Sue (Counseling the Culturally Diverse) to develop a White racial identity development model that outlines the process through which White people can shift away from color-blindness and denial, work through paralyzing shame and guilt, take responsibility for understanding racism, and then use their authentic awareness to be part of the meaningful solution.
Until White people do this necessary personal growth work, it is difficult for them to be reliable partners in the fight against racism. However, the internal work of growing in their own racial identity and awareness lays the foundation for authentic anti-racist action that is motivated by a genuine desire for positive change, and a sense that the problem of racism is their problem too. In that emotional space, White Americans can shift away from being (even unconsciously) part of the problem, and into being part of the solution.
The Antiracist Personal Growth Process
In that spirit, on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast, I'm diving into Helm's White racial identity development model, and having an honest conversation about what the stages are really like. (Because I have lived them all!) We'll talk about what the work involves, the obstacles and opportunities in each stage of development, and resources to support you in your anti-racist development. Specifically, we'll address:
- Why “color-blindness” happens, and why something so prevalent (and seemingly well-intentioned) is so destructive.
- Why White people often feel so much guilt and shame when confronting race, and how to not let those feelings stop you from moving forward.
- How to avoid the mental and emotional pitfalls that can derail the anti-racist growth process.
- Why anti-racist action stemming from anxiety about “being a good White person” can be more harmful than helpful.
- How to dig into the realities of racism, the impact of racial discrimination, and the fact of White privilege in a constructive way that facilitates growth and healing.
- How White parents can raise anti-racist children.
In addition to all of the above, in this episode, I mention a number of resources that have been personally helpful to me in my own journey of anti-racist growth. These are just a tiny drop in the bucket; a big part of the work of stage five is to read / watch / listen / attend / learn from anything and everything that adds another piece to the ever-evolving puzzle of your own understanding and empathy. A few resources mentioned in the podcast (know there are MANY more):
- White racial identity development model (Helms)
- Multi-cultural models of racial identity development
- Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
- Our Living Languages: Royal BC Museum
- Guns, Germs and Steel
- Oak Alley
- This American Life: Our Town (Parts 1 and 2)
- White Fragility
- The Other Slavery
- How to Be an Antiracist
- The History of White People
Antiracist Resources For Kids (Toddlers to Tweens!):
- A is for Activist
- What White Children Need to Know About Race
- When We Were Alone
- Lovevery Children's Books
- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
- Harriet (PG-13)
All the best,
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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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