A photo of a BLM protest.
News + Advocacy

Unlearning Racism: We Have Work to Do

Talking about racism and addressing racial injustice can be a difficult topic to navigate, especially if you’re White and relatively new to learning about how entrenched it is within American society. Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPoC) have been telling us about this for a very long time; that racism is individually and institutionally pervasive. And it kills.

The amount of emotional labour undertaken by communities directly impacted by racial injustice; that lays bare both the historic and lived experience that racism inflicts, should galvanize us all to create actionable social change. We must respect the work they’re doing and not take up space with the contention that “not all White people [are racist]” as a defense of ourselves or a balm to our own discomfort at tackling these issues. While it’s demonstrably true that there are plenty of anti-racist White people; all of us — and I mean every single one of us — are immune from being racism’s recipient or target.

A graphic link to a post on Transatlantic Notes called; Unlearning Racism: We Have Work to Do

Similarly, if you respond to seeing anything connected to Black Lives Matter (BLM) with “All Lives Matter”, you’re choosing to overlook the issues being discussed or attended to. It’s a common usurpation used by die-hard racists who want to derail any work being done that may create a cultural shift towards equity in the United States (and other countries around the globe). Even if you yourself are not racist and mean it as an inclusive, encouraging stance; don’t fall for its seemingly innocuous/cute/all-loving viewpoint. It’s a fake platitude that does nothing to address what BIPoC are asking us to be aware of. If you want to make the point that there should be liberated equality between all cultures and races; but recognize there’s much work to be done to ensure this is where we’re heading; then say so. Explicitly.

If you’re not yet comfortable with being unequivocally anti-racist and feel more at ease saying “All Lives Matter” or “Not All White People” as a show of support — which it isn’t — it’s best to remain silent and continue learning until you are.

The United States has almost always had a racial undercaste — a group defined wholly or largely by race that is permanently locked out of mainstream, White society by law, custom, and practice. The reasons and justifications change over time, as each new caste system reflects and adapts to changes in the social, political, and economic context. | The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – Michelle Alexander

Black-on-Black crime is often used as a reason to hold back support or detract from the movement to end police brutality. I’ve seen far too many counter arguments cite it as an indication that BLM supporters are focusing on the wrong issue — classic whataboutism. While there’s no denying Black-on-Black crime exists and needs to be addressed; for the most part, community programs with local initiatives and resources are doing the work to tackle this issue. The fact that statistics for similar White-on-White crime has rates at much the same level is often left our of the conversation. At best, this type of deflection is counterproductive; at worst it’s perpetuating racist troupes — you can also care about more than one societal concern at a time. A notable difference between Black-on-Black violent crime and unlawful police action, for example, is one of these tends to go unpunished — if you’ve been paying attention, you already know which one that is.

Black Americans are three times more likely to be killed by the police than a White person and 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed during these confrontations. Only 1% of police killings between the years of 2013 and 2019 resulted in the officer/s involved being charged with a crime.

This disparity is such that in eight US cities — including Reno, Nevada; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Scottsdale, Arizona — the rate at which police killed black men was higher than the US murder rate. And from a criminal justice perspective, there appears to be little connection between police killings and violent crime. Some cities with high rates of violent crime have fewer police killings than those with higher violent crime rates, a situation that can make police killings feel wanton and baseless. | Vox

Police brutality, of course, isn’t solely experienced by BlPoC; White people can be victims too, but this type of institutionalized aggression disproportionately impacts non-White people. All of it highlights the need for swift structural change; nobody should be dying or experiencing trauma at the hands of those who are meant to “protect and serve”. Any counter argument used as an excuse to do nothing has its roots in preserving the status quo. When hearing something like this you have to ask yourself who benefits from this standpoint and why they don’t want it to be disrupted.

we have work to do photo 1
Black Lives Matter march for George Floyd – photo via Life Matters/Pexels

I’ve been encouraged to see more people I personally know becoming increasingly engaged and supportive when it comes to unpicking the structural threads of White supremacy that stitch this country together — police brutality being one particular strand — but this engagement comes with responsibilities. It is our duty to amplify the voices of BIPoC by putting their words and calls to action before our feelings. Be cognizant of the fact that the Black, Indigenous and People of Colour who share information about racism are the ones on the forefront of being affected by it. It can be a deeply traumatic and exhausting experience to repeatedly try to educate so many well-meaning White people. If there is a way you can donate money to them for the education they provide; do it. If there is a way you can sign a petition and bring it to the attention of your friends; do it. If there is a documentary to watch, book to read, BIPoC business to support or march to join; do it. There is no perfect way for us to engage; we will get uncomfortable, we will get corrected and have to examine our own biases, but being open to learning and working for racial justice is worth it.

Ask any Mexican, any Puerto Rican, any black man, any poor person—ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice, or any concept of it. It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have. | No Name in the Street – James Baldwin

So how do you start the work if you don’t know where to look for the information you need? Here are some things that have helped me …

*This list is by no means comprehensive, but is aimed at providing a starter for those who may be new to educating themselves about racial injustice – also don’t forget to check out the links included throughout this article.

Read:

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

Support Black-owned bookstores, list here

Follow:

S. Lee Merritt, Esq, civil rights lawyer and founder of the Merritt Law Firm, LLC (leemerrittesq)

Tarana J Burke, founder of the Me Too movement, civil rights activist, senior director of Girls For Gender Equality (taranajaneen)

Kimberly Latrice Jones, activist, author, screenwriter, director (kimberlylatricejones)

Rachel Cargle, public academic, writer and lecturer (rachel.cargle)

The Conscious Kid, parenting and educational resource through a critical race lens (theconsciouskid)

Support:

NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund (LDF), a premier legal organization fighting for racial justice

The Sentencing Project, a key organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system

Know Your Rights Camp, an organization started by Colin Kaepernick seeking to advance the liberations and well-being of Black and Brown communities through education, empowerment and mobilization

ACLU’s Racial Justice Program

Watch:

13TH – a Netflix critically-acclaimed documentary exploring the history of racial inequality in the USA (directed by Ava DuVernay)

When They See Us – a Netflix drama-docuseries about the ‘Exonerated Five’ — a group of five Black and Latino teens wrongfully convicted of the rape of a woman in Central Park, NY – directed by Ava DuVernay

16 Shots – a Showtime documentary looking at the shooting death of Laquan MacDonald by Chicago police

I Am Not Your Negroe – a Netflix documentary about the life and writings of James Baldwin

Whose Streets? – a documentary available on Netflix, YouTube, Vudu, Amazon Prime and iTunes about the Black Lives Matter protests after the police shooting death of Michael Brown

If there are any other great resources you want to share, please leave a comment!

22 thoughts on “Unlearning Racism: We Have Work to Do”

  1. This is so important. Thanks for giving the info, I’ve got a lot to learn here and the stuff you’ve listed is really helpful 👍🏻🙌🏻

    Like

  2. Thank you for continuing to speak about #BlackLivesMatter and for continuing to speak out on the injustices that black people continue to face and on the police brutality. It is every single persons responsibility to learn as much as they can so we can become a better society that’s growing to build a better future for the next generation so they don’t have to go through what us current black people are going through.

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    1. I 100% agree with you — we’ve all got the responsibility to learn and be better and I want to show other White people that there is so much more to being an ally than being well-meaningly misinformed and thinking that’s enough. Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for listing so many great resources. It’s such an important matter and I think we all have a lot to learn – it’s our responsibility to become better informed. Lisa

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  4. Thanks for keeping the conversation going, and for providing us with some links. I still haven’t seen 13th so I might do that tonight.

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  5. Thank you for sharing so many amazing resources and sharing this great post. You raised so many excellent points about how as white people we can say or do the wrong thing even if it’s not meant with any ill intention. It’s all of our responsibilities to try and make ourselves better informed x

    Sophie

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  6. We have SO much work still to do – and it breaks my heart that in the 21st Century this is the state of things.

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    1. 100%! Too many people think it’s no longer an issue and it’s a historical problem. There is so much work to be done but it’s good to see more people (that I’ve come across, at least) who want to change things. Thanks so much for reading!

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  7. Thank you for creating such an insightful piece. I’m not black, but I’m hispanic, so this all hits home. Although I haven’t experienced racism myself (because of my skin color), I have witnessed a lot of my own people + family members be victims to racism. It’s heartbreaking. I definitely think it’s so important to inform ourselves + learn how to be better.

    Also, great resources! I’m going to catch some of these documentaries on Netflix.

    Much love always,
    GABBY

    Like

    1. You’re definitely right that it’s so important to inform ourselves as racism in all its forms are as pervasive today as they have always been. I hope you do get a chance to watch the Netflix documentaries, they’re eye-opening. Thanks so much for reading!

      Like

  8. I enjoyed reading this post because you covered a few issues that are difficult for people to discuss. I appreciate you writing about this topic and bring help bring awareness to others. Change needs to happen.

    Like

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