American political activist Angela Davis wrote: ‘in a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist’. In the simplest of terms, anti-racism refers to actions which actively oppose racism in any of its forms. This guide explains what anti-racism is and suggests a number of ways for you to play your part in the fight against racism.
What is anti-racism?
Anti-racism is a commitment to identify, challenge and change systems and behaviours that allow racism to continue. It differs from non-racism because it is rooted in active, conscious effort, rather than passive disapproval. In fact, anti-racism acknowledges the fact that no one (even regardless of race) is perfectly ‘non-racist’ - it would be impossible to be while we still grow up and live in a world where racism exists in many forms - but it gives us the tools to work both on ourselves and on society.
Can you be anti-racist if you are white?
Yes, of course! Everyone has a role to play in opposing racism, including, and especially, white people. The work of opposing racism shouldn't be left to non-white people. One of the many reasons that racism has been allowed to continue for so long is that white people have often responded to individual acts of racism with genuine sympathy, but without taking action to reform the systems which perpetuate racism. Historian Howard Zinn writes: ‘to be neutral, to be passive in a situation, is to collaborate with whatever is going on’.
How to be anti-racist
If someone is explaining their experiences of racism to you, it’s important to actively listen. People sometimes have a knee-jerk reaction to hearing about occurrences of racism. They might find them hard to believe because they have never experienced anything similar themselves. They might find it painful to admit that racism still exists in such a widespread manner, or they might even feel ashamed to recognise something as racism, or to hear something being described as racist.
Minimising someone’s experience of racism doesn’t make it less painful for them, and it can shut down the conversation. Instead, make sure you listen to these stories with empathy.
Educate yourself about racism
Being anti-racist requires you to educate yourself about racism so that you can identify it when it occurs. It means understanding that racism can be subtle and systemic, as well as overt.
Try to do as much work yourself as you can. You might have friends who are very informed about this and can help you, but always make sure that they are ready to talk about it. Discussing racism can be painful and exhausting, immensely more so for people who experience it personally, so don't rely on anyone to be your personal race relations expert. There are lots of amazing resources out there already, and we’ve compiled some anti-racist resource lists (number I and number II) with some recommendations to start with.
Fight racism at the level that you are able to
When reading about how widespread systemic racism is, it’s possible to feel like racism is too big of a problem for you to individually impact. Remember that no one is asking you to be the next Martin Luther King Jr! Much like the struggle against climate change, with anti-racism, individual actions add up to a collective impact. You can do things like: signing petitions, donating to causes, attending a protest, asking your teacher to talk about books by non-white authors, or refusing to take part in events if you feel that they aren’t inclusive.
Challenge racism in your personal life
Studies have shown that every time you leave a smaller incidence of racism unchallenged, your tolerance for racism increases. In other words, racism is encouraged when it is not challenged.
You might have friends or family members who make racist remarks, believe stereotypes about people of different races, or don’t understand the necessity of the Black Lives Matter movement, for example. It might feel easier to ignore these comments, but challenging them or sparking discussions is a powerful way to combat racism.
Anti-racism is a marathon, not a sprint. Attending a one-off anti-racism protest, or posting anti-racist resources on social media when the cultural spotlight is on racism is helpful: it is a great way for movements to gain momentum and spread awareness to large groups of people. However, fighting against racism requires consistency even in moments when people are talking about it less. Anti-racism is built on the recognition that there is always more to learn, for everyone.