February 13, 2018

You say you aren't a racist but...

I am finding a way to respond to white people who tell me, "I'm not a racist but..."  I am preparing myself to ask them, "Oh? How are you engaging in anti-racism work then?"

Even the most sincere racial justice workers among us who are white realize that we have an unhealed dose of racially implicit bias that we need to address.

I've started thinking about what a true commitment to being anti-racist and doing racial justice work would look like.  In some ways, this list and its general sequence of items reflects my own journey--where I started and what challenges I was invited into.

Ideally, this list wouldn't be a list at all.  It would be an image of a central circle with many spokes coming off of it, like a bike wheel.* Each item on each spoke would have as much weight or importance as every other one.  At least, in theory.  In my own journey, though, what I give weight to has changed, depending on my growing edge, where I fail the most often, etc.

  • It must be everyday. Every day. 
  • It must be a conscious choice.
  • It must be more than belief, attitude, words, or self-education.
  • It must be demonstrated and made visible to others at some point. It is at times public--outer work--as well as private, inner work.
  • It often occurs in connection with others who are also working for racial justice. 
  • It will demonstrate a consistency of involvement with a variety of people of color and indigenous people over time.
  • It will likely build on previous anti-racist actions. If we only go to vigils and marches, or only write letters to elected officials, or only study the history of racism; and if we aren't building new relationships or developing new skills or taking additional risks, we may have become complacent in our anti-racism work. 
  • It must decenter white comfort and decenter white-led groups. It must center the lived experiences of indigenous people and people of color; it must center groups led by indigenous people and people of color.
  • It must align with the wishes of a community, group, or organization that has a majority of indigenous people and/or people of color in its leadership.
  • It will likely challenge the norms and explicitly stated values of white-led or white-majority groups that we are participating in, especially if the group is committed to engaging in anti-racism work. 


*The image is from an online slideshow.

  1. Film I Am Not A Racist, Am I? (I haven't seen it yet.)
  2. White supremacist culture (a PDF)
  3. Annual White Privilege Conference
  4. Facing Race conference (every other year)
  5. Materials from World Trust

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