Being Anti-Racist is Not Optional

Dealing with a pandemic like COVID-19 presents a set of challenges. Add on to that — the American Psychological Association says we are living through another pandemic as well — a racism pandemic — and its epicenter might just be the United States. 

As with the novel Coronavirus, we have to intentionally work to end up on the other side.

When the Black Lives Matter Movement originated in July of 2013, some people thought, “Finally people will start talking about the systematic racism in our country.” While the conversation has been initiated and has yielded meaningful progress, not everyone is woke. In fact, we’re still facing the struggles of performative allyship, especially in the workplace. More than ever, companies are sharing their pledges to “do better,” but not many are providing insight into a concrete plan for how they’ll actually ignite change. 

Widespread acknowledgment of racism and the pledge to do better is more action than we’ve seen in years. But by not making the active effort to become anti-racist, and therefore holding ourselves accountable to these pledges, this cycle of activism and “allyship” will continue with no significant change. Bonin Bough laid out the repercussions of false promises companies face in this article that I encourage you to read. As Bough says, “the reality is that change starts at home,” referring to home, in this instance, as an organization. 

We cannot tackle racism, in its entirety, at once; therefore, I suggest we focus on holding businesses accountable to their pledges by enacting anti-racist behavior in the workplace. 

What is Anti-Racism?

According to NAC International Perspectives: Woman and Global Solidarity through ACLRC, anti-racism is defined as the active process of “identifying and eliminating racism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies, practices, and attitudes, so that power is redistributed and shared equitably.”

Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk About Race, once tweeted, “the beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism.” Instead, she shares that “anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself.” In other words, anti-racism doesn’t happen spontaneously, and it’s not only meant for the workplace or classroom but within our thoughts and biases as well. 

When someone identifies themselves as non-racist, they’re often talking about their interpersonal racism. This racism occurs between individuals as “public expressions of racism, often involving slurs, biases, or hateful words or actions.” So, if someone doesn’t engage in these expressions, they believe themselves to be a non-racist. But, this is only one form of racism. Other forms include institutional and structural, which make up the overarching system of racial bias across institutions and society. These forms, which can be read about in depth here, must actively be taught and worked through as people often perpetuate racism in unconscious ways that provide privilege and entitlement to some, but not to all. 

For some of us, anti-racism involves not only changing interpersonal racism but also acknowledging and understanding our privilege and interrupting all forms of racism. For others, anti-racism involves challenging legacy systems and interrupting forms of racism towards other racial groups. 

Why We Need To Be Anti-Racist in a Professional Setting

For so long, it’s been taboo to talk about race in a professional setting. But we must ask ourselves why. Why do we not hold companies responsible for addressing the structural and social mechanics of their own organizations? By ignoring or brushing race to the side, there are people within organizations who feel secluded. We need not to just “include” underrepresented populations, but instead have their presence feel second nature. 

It is the responsibility of all leaders and employees to learn how to respect, listen, and actively include their diverse colleagues. When you are given opportunities because of your privilege, speak up. Someone who practices anti-racism is someone who works to become aware of their own racism and the racism of others and understand how this privilege affects those who are oppressed. 

This article has great resources for those looking to dive into confronting racism at work. Take an implicit bias test on race to see your starting point. You may be surprised by how much racism has been ingrained in your decision-making processes. Then, educate yourself by examining historical roots of racism. Listen to the stories of people of color about their experiences. There are many amazing resources, like those found in this document, for continued anti-racism work. 

We can always do better — all of us. Just like with anything in life, anti-racism isn’t something we can “check off” and become masters of. It takes constant education and practice. Going back to Ijeoma Oluo, she tweeted recently, “I am happy people are reading my book. Truly, I am. But if you read my book and think ‘oh – now I understand racism!’, you have a lot more books to read.” 

As Angela Y. Davis said, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” By not being actively anti-racist, you are choosing to live with your privlege and continue supporting a society that oppresses those around you.