August 15, 2020
I joined a weekly webinar on Friday that continues weekly over the next month. The purpose is to explore what it means to be anti-racist. When I received my preliminary confirmation, I was informed 452 people had registered for the webinar. There were 315 who initially logged on, and if I understood the stats the site provided, there were 167 who actively made responses to the poll questions. When it started, the chatroom lit up wondering why you could not see any of the participants. The answer given was this was a webinar, not a zoom call or chat. I am still learning this technology.
The event was led by Warren Chalklen, PhD. He had grown up in South Africa during Apartheid as a white boy with a Black sister (during strict segregation). This drove him to explore anti-racism for his degree and he now teaches on racial equality. One of his opening statements was that anti-racism is my life. I often get it wrong and I often do not do enough, but I am trying. He challenged us to live in the Zone of Proximal Development, or that uncomfortable and painful space between what you know and what you do not know.
I heard a consistent refrain. To practice anti-racism, you need to learn a new language. We might tell someone my Black (or Mexican or Asian) friend is coming over tonight but rarely will we say my white friend. For most of us, whiteness is assumed unless specified. Chalklen reconfirmed three other definitions I have heard elsewhere concerning racism. To merely declare that I am not a racist is to be apathetic toward the effect of racism. I then define the beliefs and behaviors that frame the world as “race-neutral.” To be non-racist suggests I have done the work to understand about racism. It also implies there is an endpoint to doing this work. To be anti-racist is to ask conscientiously, frequently, and consistently how you can make equitable choices daily. This requires action to dismantle racism.
THOUGHTS: One of the difficulties Melissa and I have faced as we explore anti-racism is the action steps. We are both problem solvers and while our search has raised many questions, it has not offered solutions. I found it interesting that two different people, one Black and the other white, have addressed this with a simple answer, “anything.” Like Chalklen, I will get it wrong and I will not do enough, but I will be starting the necessary work. The work seems different to me this time. This is not “Black work” or “white cooperation,” this is work acknowledging the damaging effect of systemic racism on our country. It is time to roll up our sleeves. Change is coming and it starts with you.