Unless you are truly living in a monolithic environment, your inbox is probably flooded with invitations to join virtual book clubs, watch parties, webinars, and open-ended discussions on race, power, gender, and privilege. In this watershed moment, we have tightly grasped the fact that these conversations need to be more open and accessible – particularly if we want to move the needle beyond our immediate circles of influence. While this lesson was an important one to learn, if we are not intentionally discerning the purpose, goals, and leaders of these opportunities, the antiracism education field will become a free-for-all, where whiteness and patriarchy continue to profit off of the pain of people of color and women.
If you consider yourself an ally, before you start that podcast, book club, watch party or discussion group, I implore you to ask yourself the following questions.
Is my desire to create a new experience, as opposed to joining an existing one, grounded in an unwillingness to share power and collaborate with people of color and/or women leaders?
People of color and women have literally been engaged in antiracism work for hundreds of years. From oral history, to formal research, to community based advocacy work, to legal, educational, health, economic, political, environmental, immigration, housing and judicial reform – their isn’t an aspect of American history that hasn’t been demonstrably influenced by people of color and women. This work continues today. Do you know these stories? Do you know what people of color and people of color-led organizations are doing this work in your community? Have you sought opportunities to partner with them in their work? How has collaborating with women and people of color-led organizations influenced your understanding of antiracism work? If you can’t answer these questions, you haven’t done your homework. If you have not personally consumed the antiracism work of people of color and women and chosen to use it as a foundational component of the experience you want to create, you have perpetuated harm to the very communities you call yourself an ally for, through the acceptance of colonized antiracism work rooted in white revisionist history. If white people can only learn antiracism in siloed experiences, centered in whiteness, that ignore the contributions and ongoing work of people of color and women, we are doomed.
Is my desire to create a new experience, as opposed to joining an existing one, grounded in an unwillingness to learn from people of color and/or women leaders who have already been faithfully engaged in this work?
Check your biases and assess your humility – do you truly believe you have something to learn from Black leaders? Asians? Natives? Latinos? Women? If you do not find Black/Asian/Natives/Latinos/Women qualified to teach you, who are you looking to for antiracism education? Why do you deem them more qualified than women and people of color?
This does not mean you cannot utilize works such as The Color of Law. It does mean that if you are eager to use White Like Me but unwilling to engage texts such as When They Call You a Terrorist you need to re-examine your source materials. And yes, the same is true for films and documentaries directed and produced by non-people of color. If white people can only learn antiracism from other white people, and specifically white men, we are doomed.
READ: Healing America of Its Sickness Through Truth and Conciliation
Is my desire to create a new experience, as opposed to joining an existing one, grounded in an unwillingness to compensate people of color and/or women leaders at the same rate I would compensate a white leader?
Often, there is an expectation that people of color and women should contribute to antiracism work for free and/or at an unreasonably low compensation rate. If you have done your homework, understand this expectation for the injustice that it is – people of color and women should be well compensated for leading antiracism education.
Why do I think the experience I want to create is distinct from other available opportunities?
There is no need to create confusion in an already complex conversation by unnecessarily duplicating efforts. If you cannot readily explain why your experience is distinct from other previously existing opportunities, you are not ready to start. Go back to the drawing board as many times as you need to, as there are many angles of this conversation that have yet to be brought to the table. Take the time to do your research and find your niche before diffusing existing efforts and jumping into the conversation as a self-proclaimed antiracism educator.
Would the communities I am educating about authentically perceive me to be as qualified to teach about antiracism as I think I am?
It is human nature to overestimate your effectiveness. While you may perceive yourself as qualified to teach antiracism work, you should ask people of color and women community leaders who are actively and effectively engaged in antiracism work to get their opinion on your preparedness to educate others on this topic. Be cognizant of power differentials and confirmation bias – ask those who truly have the freedom to be honest with you. When they give you their answer, believe them and commit to the follow up, especially if the suggestion is for you to do some more learning before leading.
Do I have the capacity, resources, and passion to engage in this work for the long term and offer this experience, even when it is no longer a trending topic?
You do not do anyone any favors by hosting a six-month antiracism study that falls by the wayside as soon as America decides it no longer wants to deal with this topic. If your interest in antiracism work is solely dependent upon headlines and what is trending, you are not ready to be an antiracism educator. Antiracism educators remain engaged with people who are frustrated, weary and ignorant. Antiracism educators understand the necessity of community in order to survive. Antiracism educators understand strategic collaboration is a key aspect of sustainability. Antiracism educators understand this journey lasts a lifetime.
COVID-19 has changed life as we know it in more ways than one. In privileged circles perhaps one of the more jarring revelations is that we now understand and accept that the learning, growth, and community we once relegated to face-to-face contact can be simulated online. As we rush to engage this new medium, may we remember to be intentional, reflective, and discerning in how we engage antiracism education.