Relationships

On Becoming Anti-Racist

George Floyd

The recent tragedies — Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Christian Cooper — have been devastating and consuming. So, what can we do next? How do we strive to be more conscious and try to combat racism? I’m not an expert in any way, but I’d love to talk together about five first steps we can take….

1. Making the goal to become anti-racist.

In the words of Angela Davis, “it is not enough to be not racist, you must actively be anti-racist.” We have to actively recognize our privilege and confront racism, as well as learning and listening as much as we can. It’s not enough to just be neutral and live your life; we have to actually do the work.

One of the first steps is to realize that even people with the best intentions can be racist in some ways. We all have unconscious biases — views we’ve absorbed from society and may not even realize we hold — and we need to recognize these before we can do the work of dismantling them. “It’s not: either you’re racist or you’re not. It’s to what degree are you prejudiced, against whom, and why?” says Padma Lakshmi. “To be socially conscious, we must unlearn toxic attitudes and behavior that have been passed down to us over generations in our communities or even in our families. We all need to question our biases, educate ourselves and commit to bettering ourselves.”

“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an antiracist,” says writer Ijeoma Oluo. “Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”

2. Reading books.

As a white person, I’ve been trying to educate myself. Books that have helped so far are White Fragility and Between the World and Me. Next up: How to Be an Anti-Racist. Do you have others you’ve found helpful? (I like this illustrated list, as well.)

3. Listening, watching and learning.

Aside from books, I’ve been grateful to learn from the people behind the Instagram accounts Conscious Kid and Rachel Elizabeth Cargle. I also found the This American Life podcast episode Three Miles really eye-opening, as well as the HBO documentary Student Athlete. Next up: 13th on Netflix. I’m simply trying to read/watch/listen as much as I can, in as many ways as I can, because, as they say, you don’t know what you don’t know.

4. Recognizing systemic (or institutional) racism.

Lastly, this might be obvious, but it’s important to keep front of mind: this is bigger than individual racism — there’s, of course, major systemic racism. It’s not just about people making offensive jokes, there’s an entire system in place that keeps people of color out of power and from accruing wealth — for example, redlining, the school to prison pipeline, housing discrimination, the wealth gap, healthcare discrimination, mass incarceration, police brutality, and much more. I’m looking forward to watching this series to keep learning.

5. Donating.

To help support organizations doing good work, many people have asked where to donate. Here are some great places: NAACP, Black Mamas Matter, Equal Justice Initiative and Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Please leave other recommendations in the comments, if you have them.

Please let me know what you’re reading, doing, thinking… I’d love to know. Thank you so much for talking about this with me. xo

P.S. Raising race conscious children and 18 children’s books with character of color.

(Photo by Christine T. Nguyen/Minnesota Public Radio.)

  1. Donna says...

    Thanks for sharing, Joanna! It has been a heavy couple of weeks. I watched 13th earlier this week and it wrecked me. I cried a lot; so incredibly well done. Highly recommend watching The Innocence Files on Netflix. It sheds light on the personal stories of 8 wrongly convicted men and how The Innocent Project works tirelessly to get them out of prison. It looks at the misuse of forensic evidence, the lengths prosecutors and district attorneys will go to secure a conviction, the inherent racism in the criminal justice system, etc. I watched it when it first came out in April and I can’t stop thinking about it. So heartbreaking yet hopeful. I learned a lot.

  2. MLM says...

    Thank you very much for your article and information. I am definitely interested in reading a number of these resources so I can better understand. I am horrified and sickened by the murders of unarmed black men taking place. Knowing personally many very honorable police officers, I have a difficult time knowing what to do to make things better, knowing that there are bad people in the world and that, regardless of race relations, there are those who will still do bad things.
    What I am trying to understand is “reverse discrimination”. I know that many people disagree that it even exists; however, I believe that is a matter of perspective.
    Please explain to me why I should not be frustrated in these situations:
    1. I am a white female. I came from a lower income family in a large city and lived in a school district with a large percentage of Hispanic and Black students. My mother was a secretary. My stepfather was abusive. I worked very hard to do well in school so I could rise above this environment (meaning poverty and abuse). Due to hard work, I was fortunate to be able to go to college. I worked hard and went to a professional school (with a high percentage of minority students) on 100% loans. While at the school I started a host program for people seeking acceptance to the school. This was intended to ease the financial burden of travel expenses for the interview process and to help applicants get to know other students in the school. I suggested that if we were limited in the number of applicants we could host, the selection should be based on financial need or ranking based on admissions criteria. Unfortunately, the administration only wanted this opportunity to be given to minority students, regardless of financial need or rank of application.
    Additionally, at this school there were multiple opportunities for internships, etc, ONLY given to minority students. White students were not given any options. I specifically desired a particular internship but was refused participation because I was white.
    2. I instilled a strong work ethic in my children. My son was a 4.0 student in high school, taking honors classes. He was a very good athlete and participated in leadership positions. There was a very large scholarship available. The decision came down to 2 students: my son vs a girl in his class (both white, so not really race related but still an example of discrimination). I was told that he did not receive the scholarship because (due to my profession) it was assumed that I made more than her parents (though I make half of the typical salary in my profession and I know they are wealthy). My daughter, however, has lost opportunities for scholarships because she was not a minority student, even though she was well qualified.
    While I realize that for generations various ethnic groups have been and still are being discriminated against. However, why should I or any other person be refused opportunities based on race? How is this not the same? Why should I pay the penalty my ancestors should have paid?

    • Jessica says...

      Because, as you say, our ancestors did not pay the penalty, and these programs are designed to move in the right direction and finally elevate minorities or people of color to having the level of opportunity we have had for centuries. You have articulated these examples of lost (or prohibited) opportunities well, but should also stop and recognize the countless times that doors were opened to you and your children, whether you were aware or not, because of your race. Or, because you weren’t a different race. Your son was given opportunities to develop his athleticism, likely by coaches and others cheering him on (you, too). He was also given leadership opportunities. Sure, he worked hard and earned them, but there were also other forces at play. You may have been refused an internship but your odds of finding success elsewhere would be much higher than those of a minority. You’ve provided these examples, but us white people do not experience anywhere near the same level of oppression on an everyday basis.

    • Elle says...

      Hi @MLM,

      Thanks for putting your questions out to the community because I think a lot of people have these feelings, but don’t voice them in environments where they might get a different perspective.

      The White race has been positioned as the default race in the United States (and many other countries). What this means is that White people only recognize that something is about race when the race in question is not White. It’s a little like when people notice other people’s accents, but don’t think they themselves speak with an accent. Of course we all speak with an accent and we are all effected by our race for better or worse. So you will recognize examples of times when race came up in a way that hindered you or your family, but not all the times when it helped you. That is the lens through which we White people get to see the world. If you were to look at every single interaction or experience in your life or your children’s lives from a different lens, you would see that in almost every single experience, being White has added an advantage. There is a huge amount of data from scientific studies to back this up. When identical job applications are sent out with White sounding names or Black sounding names, the applicants with White sounding names are more likely to get a call back. Loans have been given more readily to White applicants with worse credit than to Black applicants with better credit. This means that Black applicants are less likely to have access to the better school districts, which holds them back. Black people are sentenced more harshly than White people for the same crimes. There are a million compounding elements that effect Black people and not White people. Of course having White privilege doesn’t mean that you’ve led an easy life, that you had enough money, safety, food, access to education, or even a roof over your head. It just means that the color of your skin didn’t add an extra layer of difficulty to your life. The reason the type of programs you mentioned exist is to try to balance the inequity.

      It is not just a matter of our ancestors not having paid the penalty, it is that we White people are still benefiting from being White. Even if it doesn’t feel like it to everyone, the facts clearly show that we are benefiting. As you said, you worked very hard and rose above the situation you were born into. Once a White person rises out of poverty, there is the possibility to move beyond the hardship. I’m not saying it is easy and that the effects of an abusive childhood in poverty would not still there. I am saying that It is not possible for Black people to work hard enough to rise out of racism. The wealthiest, most educated, Black people in the highest positions in their fields still face discrimination and racism every day.

      The reason reverse-racism doesn’t exist is because racism requires the backing of institutional power. There are of course people who don’t define racism that way, but that’s because words are generally defined by the people in power. Discrimination against Black people is part of a larger system that supports that discrimination. When a Black person is harmed or discriminated against they are less likely to get justice because all of the systems of this country were originally built around protecting White lives and freedoms and not Black lives and freedoms. Even as we work to make changes to those systems, they remain hugely inequitable.

      It is certainly hard to rectify feelings about police brutality when you know lots of officers who have been nothing but good to you. The problem is that our police departments still protect the officers who harm Black people. There is a culture against reporting on other officers when they do harm, and the little justice that Black people have seen has only been through their constant efforts for accountability. So just as all White people are responsible for dismantling the systems of White supremacy, all police officers are responsible for dismantling the system that allows their fellow officers to do harm. Remaining silent is doing harm. It is not enough to not be racist, we must be anti-racist.

      I would also point out that we don’t always get to know every side of a person. For every woman who has come forward to say that a man has abused her, there have been people willing to defend the abuser’s character. It is not that every one of those people are okay with abuse, often it is that they did not see that side of the person. They were not abused by them and cannot fathom that the abuser acted so differently to others. I know that people I engaged with growing up without incident (who I would have thought of as nice people) treated my friends very differently because my friends were people of color. I only found this out years later when my friends felt comfortable confiding in me about their experiences.

    • Ana D says...

      Read “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo. Your story is personal but your opinion is not unique – it was socialized into you as part of the ideological underpinnings of systemic racism in the United States. She breaks it down for us by page 18.

      I’m a white person. I’m also the daughter of a Cuban refugee. I thought for years I was “not white”, and thought many of the things that you shared. And in doing so, I was silencing and oppressing my Black colleagues, friends, and neighbors.

      Read the book. I beg of you. Just the first three chapters. Keep the receipt. If you aren’t absolutely gobsmacked at how she explains water to us fish (aka white culture to people with white privilege), take it back. I bet you $1,000 worth of internet comments that you’ll keep that book.

  3. Brooke says...

    I hope you can highlight Campaign Zero, Use of Force, and 8 Can’t wait, Collaborative work to help us all contact mayors for the 8 guidelines that lower police brutality by 72%. I was already so moved to see it and then President Obama and Lupita Nyongo both recommended them today.

  4. Suzanne says...

    Yes, please!

    • Suzanne says...

      Oops, meant to reply to a comment further down the page.

  5. Emma Brett says...

    A while ago, I think it was last year, I read a post here about a beautiful apartment filled with plants, it was probably one of the apartment tours. At the very end of the post was a photo of the owner, a black man. I was surprised when I saw his photo, and it made me think about why I was surprised and I realised that it’s because we don’t see representations of black men associated with positive things like loving plants, such an ordinary thing.

    I wanted to post a comment about this at the time, as I thought it was important but I didn’t. I didn’t because I was worried that my comment would be taken the wrong way, because I didn’t feel confident talking about race in America, as a white middle class woman living in England. Now I regret that I wasn’t brave enough, those are exactly the sorts of conversations that we should be having, perhaps particularly white middle class women.

    I guess I’m trying to say that we all need to be talking about this stuff, all the time. Maybe especially white middle class women like me.

    • Sasha L says...

      We can’t do better unless we see it, right? Good for you for seeing it, and sharing. This is such a big part of the work we need to be doing.

    • Nora says...

      I remember that article and my exact same reaction! Thank you!

  6. L says...

    I don’t know if this will be read, but I wanted to add that there are experts on this field. While folks don’t treat the examination of race with the same regard that they treat scientists, mathematicians and public health experts community leaders, social scientists, professors of black studies and ethnic studies have been studying and writing about this for over a century (duBois, for example). I think it would be beneficial to turn to these folks and when possible to compensate them for their labor and expertise. — an ethnic studies professor

    • Ana D says...

      Read, and appreciated! Brilliantly said and very true. Thank you L.

  7. Because I also believe that action is critical right now, I wanted to create a way for us to learn and discuss this topic together. I am suggesting reading the book, “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” by black female author Reni Eddo-Lodge. I propose we read this book together during the month of June and then discuss it at the end of the month, as it is so important to be having these difficult conversations right now.

    If you’d like to participate, please sign up here:
    http://www.asshewrote.com/black-lives-matter/

  8. Rachel says...

    I learned so much from the Seeing White podcast: https://www.sceneonradio.org/seeing-white/

    It’s a 14-part series, and as a white person, I highly recommend it to other white people to learn more about the history of whiteness. It’s thoughtful, historical, informative, and definitely taught me things I didn’t know about our country’s history.

  9. Noëlla says...

    VOTE. This is one of the most powerful ways to take anti-racist Action. Vote for people who actively exhibit anti-racist behaviors and actions. Vote for POC, women, minorities. Vote not only in the national election, but also in your local elections. VOTE.

  10. Laura says...

    One thing I’ve been thinking in the back of my mind has been “so how long will the outrage last this time?”

    As a nation we are very good at being outraged in bursts but maintaining accountability in the “betweens” is harder to see.

    I’m wondering if the CoJ team could make this type of content a regular column? Or even make a monthly challenge or something that keeps anti-racist work as part of the day-to-day conversation in this community.

    • Jessica says...

      I love this idea!!

    • Sasha L says...

      Yes.

    • Suzanne says...

      Yes, please!

    • Eleanor says...

      Yes!

  11. Gretchen says...

    Raredevice and Manel PDX are matching donations when you donate today to
    @blackvisionscollective
    @mnfreedomfund or
    @reclaimtheblock.

  12. Katherine says...

    This is important.

  13. Kara says...

    Just thank you for this excellent round-up of resources.

  14. Alexia says...

    Hi Joanna! Thank you for talking about this. Quick somewhat related heads up, for some reason the Google ads on your site are displaying stuff paid for by Trump’s PAC. I completely understand needing ads considering the state of the economy at the moment but is it possible to block these ads—there may be an option to broadly block political ads?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Yes we are on it! Thank you!

    • Meg says...

      Is this a political blog, cupofjo.com? I didn’t know that and others likely didn’t either. If you’re going to only be looking through one political lens you should state it.

    • Karen says...

      One doesn’t have to be a democrat , nor to oppose the republican party, in order to find the actions and words of Trump unacceptable.

    • Sasha L says...

      Meg, it’s very apparent that this is a blog that supports black lives, LGBTQ lives, is feminist, progressive and most certainly not pro Trump. There’s nothing we do in our lives that’s not political.

    • Ana D says...

      Sasha L: x100,000. Thank you.

  15. Martha says...

    Thank you for this post, Joanna
    I’ve been trying to manage my anger and sorrow, and find the resources and conversation here very helpful. One thing that I’ve done and would encourage others to do – I’ve written my public library asking for increased accessibility to the books listed here. Our public library is fantastic, and has made many more e-books and audiobooks available during the self-quarantine period, but the wait list for “Me and White Supremacy” is 20 weeks!
    It’s great to buy books, but I think it’s so important to make these valuable titles available to everyone now. Libraries are a tool for social justice! I’m encouraged by how many people are yearning to understand our nation’s racist legacy and change our future. I understand it will require more than just reading books, but educating ourselves is a necessary step, and free access to these important books benefits the community.
    This ties into another thing I feel is so essential going forward – Speak Up!

    • YES, I’ve done the same! I’ve had so much free access to good reads over the years but right now the waitlists for these types of books is loooong.

      We are broke af right now but I purchased one of the books I want to read that isn’t available at our local library and have contacted them about donating it afterward. It’s a small thing we can do, I guess.

    • GAR says...

      What a great suggestion! Six month wait list now for “White Fragility” and “How to be an Antiracist” for me. Just emailed by public library.

    • India C Wells says...

      If your local library partners with Hoopla, you can borrow a digital copy of “Me and White Supremacy” with no waitlist: https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/12638622

      Over 1,600 public library systems use Hoopla. I just heard about it this weekend and it works great!

    • Kristie says...

      Just want to jump in here with a note about looooog digital library loan lists, it is important to note that many libraries are struggling to retain staff and are ceasing print material buying to fund digital purchases of books and databases. Digital copies of books are acquired through the purchase of a license. They are more expensive than print books. Libraries make it a mission to offer balanced collections and the funds are being strained by topics that meet the needs of everyone. Currently, my library (who does a great job) is getting killed with requests for books about how to cook, topics to use in homeschooling kids, basic survival, books about the virus, crafts and hobbies (and every other skill everyone is trying to work on while sheltering-in-place). They are doing their best.

    • Sasha L says...

      Just a shout out to the wonderful work libraries and librarians do.
      Yesterday I got a notification that Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed came in for me (yay! Couldn’t stop reading last night), and I messaged my library to see if they could pick out a few more books for me. I run a tiny home based preschool and I utilize borrowing books a lot but haven’t been able to since March. I asked for five picture books that feature people of color. They sent six. All beautiful books. Bless our libraries, especially right now.

  16. Krista says...

    1. I learned about the research of Dr. Phyllis Katz when reading Nurtureshock. Saying ‘all are equal’ or any other type of colorblind message, EVEN WHEN SURROUNDING CHILDREN WITH DIVERSITY, creates a vacuum of understanding that leads to an inherent ‘in-group favoritism’ (the group I belong to is best). Explicit discussions about race must be spoken to our children from an early age. I highly recommend looking into Dr. Katz’s research, especially if you are raising white children.

    Here’s an excerpt from the chapter ‘Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race’:
    https://www.newsweek.com/even-babies-discriminate-nurtureshock-excerpt-79233

    2. When my daughters who are black were younger, there were countless times they would be coloring with friends/classmates who were white and hear messages like “Brown is an ugly color” or “Brown is gross”. Obviously, kids will have preferences to different colors, but the same things were not mentioned about the peach (or other lighter flesh tone crayons) crayons, even though the peach crayon was one of the least favorites to color with.

    • Katha says...

      On the coloring: my daughters do color/paint humans in every color but they still refer to the beige/light peach crayon as “skincolor” (hautfarben in German) which has always bothered be.
      I do tell them but I guess it’s just one of those things one says without noticing the implied message.
      There is a project that sells a set of 12 crayons in different colors/shades that is called “Hautfarben-Buntstifte” (skin color crayons) https://www.hautfarben-buntstifte.de
      So the next time they a looking for their “skincolor” crayon I’ll just hand them these. I don’t know if they ship to the US or elsewhere though.

    • Marisa says...

      Hi Krista,
      I am a painter, and last weekend I painted from an African American model for the first time during a Zoom painting workshop. I can’t tell you how inspiring it was for me as a painter as there were so many beautiful combinations of hues. Hoping you’ll share this with your daughters!

    • Ana D says...

      Hi Marisa,

      Yes, Krista’s daughters could benefit from hearing that someone found beauty in their skin. But the key problem isn’t getting them to believe they’re beautiful. It’s we white parents who need to change A.) what we teach our white children about race, racism, skin, and beauty through word and deed and B.) our countries’ systems of structural racism that reinforce white supremacist ideologies.

  17. When I was in my young teen years, I remember reading a book, Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin. It was a eye opener for me, since I grew up in a all white neighborhood, and went to a all white school. I encourage anyone that has not read it to do so.
    As I got older, more people moved out from Detroit, MI, to Pontiac, MI. I started attending a church, which it was called a Kingdom Hall. My husband and I attended it because it was in the territory where we lived at the time. We were the minority! It was attended by all blacks. We made such good friends there! Black families are very warm and loving people. I remember one member always taking my hand in hers and padding it and saying, “There is my sweet white baby”. I will never forget how good I felt!

    • Isha says...

      Sorry, this was meant to be a reply to another comment about sending children to schools that aren’t considered “the best”

  18. Johannah says...

    I think it is also important to talk specifically about Anti-Black Racism right now, and how to fight it.
    For readers in Canada (and anywhere else!) I would suggest Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard. https://fernwoodpublishing.ca/book/policing-black-lives
    She does an excellent job on showing the history and present day Anti-Black Racism that is alive and well in Canada. So often Canadians like to point their fingers at the south and say that racism doesn’t happen here. Maynard’s book is a crucial read, and she quickly debunks the myth of “Canada the good.”

    • Oh lordy, there are a lot of problems here at home for us Canadians :)

      For any fellow Canadians who are tempted to thing we’re any better up here, pls check out “An Inconvenient Indian” by Thomas King or “21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality” by Bob Joseph. There are a ton of other non-fiction and fiction books by First Nations authors as well. It is a very long road toward reconciliation and decolonization up here in Canada. After all, our country was also built by whit settlers on stolen land, at the expense of coloured bodies and we are in no way exempt from this very important conversation.

    • Deb Morgan says...

      Just ordered the book. Thanks for the recommendation.

    • Ally says...

      Another Canadian chiming here- I totally agree with your comment Johannah and great book suggestions! Another resource I found helpful was the Netflix documentary “Something in the Water” which highlights the environmental racism in Nova Scotia that indigenous and black communities face- another way that racism is institutionalized in our country.

  19. Michelle Soucie says...

    A piece of a Facebook post I wrote this week. My two cents about a small actionable change we can all make that I believe is an important way that anyone can begin to enact a change.

    “In the aftermath of events this month culminating in George Floyd’s death, many are upset and contemplating how they might enact a change. My ask is very small. It could be all you do or just the very beginning, but here it is. Consider no longer using the term “big black guy.” I suspect just “big guy” will be enough to communicate your point.

    The idea of black masculinity being dangerous IS dangerous and needs to stop. I realize few people use the term with malintent, but each time that term is uttered it plants an ominous image in the subconscious.

    Let’s all explore our own biases without guilt or fear but in the spirit of genuine intent to improve the landscape. Any further suggestions welcomed.”

  20. I’m part of a campaign to create an elected civilian oversight board for the police in nyc: https://www.stoppoliceviolencenyc.org/
    If anyone is interested in getting involved let me know! I’d recommend everyone get involved in police reform locally until policing as we know it can be abolished. Stay safe everyone <3

    • anna says...

      Thanks Rachel. I’m a Virginian and have been scouring the internet for campaigns such as this one you linked. This is important.

    • Brooke says...

      Rachel this is it. I hope many of us can learn to take TANGIBLE action about how cities and counties are impacted by structural racism.

      I’m learning so much about how we can be part of speaking up, voting, and intervening so police force can truly decline especially against black people and people of color.

      This project “Use of Force” has been recommended by a number of black activists and it is so informative to read. And follow their recommendations!
      http://useofforceproject.org/

  21. Jenny says...

    I just listened to this 12 minute interview on NPR and would love to hear other’s thoughts on it. It’s a different narrative than the one we typically hear, which I think makes it an important addition to any discussion on this topic. If anyone is interested:

    https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5385701

  22. Mik says...

    Racism has no color, ethnicity and/or gender boundaries…the proverbial knife cuts both ways.

    • Geena says...

      Um…false. Racism is built upon oppression.
      i have absolutely no idea who black and poc have oppressed.

    • Laura says...

      One thing I’ve been thinking in the back of my mind has been “so how long will the outrage last this time?”

      As a nation we are very good at being outraged in bursts but maintaining accountability in the “betweens” is harder to see.

      I’m wondering if the CoJ team could make this type of content a regular column? Or even make a monthly challenge or something that keeps anti-racist work as part of the day-to-day conversation in this community.

    • Aya says...

      There is a difference between personal prejudices and institutionalized racism. There is no such thing as “reverse racism.”

    • Heather says...

      Nope. Racism is the combination of prejudice and power. People can hold prejudices about other races, but unless they have systemic or institutional power to act on those prejudices, it’s not racism.

      I highly recommend the workbook “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla Saad. It’s a free resource, but we should always pay people of color for their labor when we can.

      https://www.meandwhitesupremacybook.com/

    • Beda says...

      Geena,
      Lumping black people with all other “poc” is pretty problematic in itself. (While there is certainly racism against Asians and other poc, the issues they face are not quite the same as those of black Americans). And while I am certainly no white supremecist — I stand with George Floyd, I believe African Americans should receive reparations for slavery, I think the USA is VERY unfair to its minority groups, especially black people –but to claim that ONLY whites have ever oppressed other racial groups is simply untrue and shows a lack of knowledge/understanding of history or even current world affairs.

      Virtually every race and ethnic group on earth has, at least in some period in its history, committed acts of violence and/or oppression toward other groups, not to mention intra-race oppression of women, gays, people with disabilities, etc. Glorifying or romanticizing other races as non-oppressive, egalitarian and non-violent societies, is not going to help our current situation because it isn’t the truth and we can not rebuild our nation on the foundation of lies.

      Racisim and colonialism are indeed awful, but to act as though other races (Asian, Middle Eastern, indigineous Polynesian, etc.) were all living in peaceful harmony and without violence, oppression or conflict before the white man came is an egregious falsehood. A few examples:

      *The CURRENT exploitation of South Asian and Southeast Asian workers in the Gulf States (i.e. Arabs exploiting other racial/ethnic groups and having them work in near-slave conditions)
      https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/12/18/south-asia-protect-migrant-workers-gulf-countries

      * The Nanking Massacre/Rape of Nanking — the mass murder and rape of thousands of Chinese civilians by Japanese soldiers in 1937

      * Native American inter-tribal warfare before European arrival — Was the European treatment of Native Americans deplorable? No doubt. But was it any worse than the brutality of the Iroquois towards various other tribes? Not really.

      * Africans complicity in the slave trade (i.e. some African ethnic groups selling other groups to white slavers for profit). Famous African American author and historian Zora Neale Hurston wrote about this phenomenon in her book “Barracoon: The Story of the Last Slave”. In fact, some think this is why this particular book of hers was not nearly as popular as her others. It showed a more complicated history than most people wanted to acknowldge, where the heroes and villians were not simply identified by the color of their skin.

      Do I think the police murdered George Floyd and should be held to account? Absolutely. Ahmaud Arbery? He was also murdered and racism was almost certainly the reason for his death. Police brutality and harrassment of Black Americans needs to stop. The justice system is not fair to POC, and especially to black folks.

      That said, oversimplifying and trying to rewrite history (i.e. your comment “I have absolutely no idea who black people and POC have oppressed”) shows (possibly willful) ignorance.

    • Cat says...

      Replying to Beda —

      Sure, throughout history groups of people have done horrible things to one another. “Look at all the other groups of people who have done terrible things, whites aren’t the only baddies” is NO excuse for us in the United States to look the other way. I don’t think that’s what you’re suggesting, but this line of reasoning is so often trotted out in justifying continued institutional racism in the US. We shouldn’t get a pass just because of Nanking, or warfare between indigenous groups, or Africans complicit in the slave trade. “Other groups do it” is an excuse to let racism continue in THIS American society we are responsible for. We need to do better.

      My interpretation of Geena’s comment (“i have absolutely no idea who black and poc have oppressed.”) is that it was referring to “America” after European settlement, and the modern-day United States, the legal and cultural and institutional structures of which are currently under debate. Pretty hard to argue that black and POC have been the oppressors rather than the oppressed under this definition.

    • Beda says...

      Replying to Cat —

      I agree that the fact that other racial and ethnic groups have/ARE committing oppression against other groups does NOT excuse the behavior of white people in the USA. Black Americans are not treated fairly, point blank. Racism against POC (especially black people) is rampant. Agreed.

      However, I think you twisted Geena’s words. She mentioned nothing about the US. She said that blacks and POC (presumably all over the world and throughout history) have never oppressed anyone, which is patently false, even in the US. This sort of oversimplified thinking is not helpful. Racism/atrocities by non-whites isn’t all just confined to history, even — it’s not all Nanking and the slave trade. How about the Indian caste system? How about South Asian workers in Dubai being paid near-slave wages? One problem with asserting “POC” have never oppressed anyone is that it does seek to alientate whites, like it or not. You cannot try and fight oppression by using oversimplified generalizations and outright lies. To really become an anti-racist (and more broadly an “anti-oppressor”) you need to try to be as clear-headed as possible and not twist facts to make a more dramatic argument.

      This is one reason why I have problem with the “poc” label in general. Because outside of the North America and parts of Europe this is essentially meaningless. I heard Marie Kondo referred to recently as a “poc” like she was some kind of an oppressed minority — she is a Japanese women living in Japan, which is 99% populated by other Japanese people! Asians are (probably; these statistics are hard to come by) the most populous racial group on earth! White people are NOT the default. This kind of thinking itself is racist.

      Anyway, I don’t think the US justice system to get a pass. I don’t think white Americans should get a pass. I think black Americans have every right to be furious. But we cannot resort to outright lies. Do we want to be just like the Trumpers but on the left? No. We need to be better, think harder, be more honest, and tell the truth, even when it hurts.

  23. Molly says...

    Thank you so much for sharing your suggestions. I’ll be watching 13 this weekend and I ordered two of the books you recommended. We white privileged have to do better to stop racism. Education, action and compassion is how I will begin to support citizens of color in this country. I stand for you and I take a knee for you.

  24. Caitlin says...

    Thank you for this post, and thanks to the community here for all these thoughtful comments. I’m late to really sitting with this, but I’m trying to listen and learn and do better.

    One action we’re planning to take (which I got from an interview with the founder of Brownicity) is to not only fill my and my kids’ bookshelves with books by and about POC, and about unlearning racism, but to also buy a second copy and donate them to our local library to help diversity their collection. I thought that was such a smart idea.

  25. Courtney says...

    Thank you for this post. I am a long-time CoJ reader and think it is crucial to be talking about this. I really commend you for making space for this conversation and using your voice to get some great resources to so many. <3

  26. Sal says...

    Thanks COJ for dedicating space to this. I wanted to add something that is often helpful to hear for folks feeling ready to get activated:

    The work of abolition and antiracism is not new. There are organizers in your community/state/area who have likely been doing this work for a long time. Give them your money. Sign up for their email lists or follow them on FB. When they make an ask, show up.

    And if you are a well-off white person, ask yourself: what is stopping me from donating (X) percentage of my income to people actively working to undo white supremacist systems? What is stopping me from learning and using any and all alternatives to calling the cops?

  27. Kathleen says...

    What will the next Cup of Jo book club choice be? Stamped by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds? Let’s begin with the foundation of America. Our racism is insidious.

  28. I finished Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson not too long ago. Parts were difficult to digest but it was a very important read.

    • Corrie says...

      Just Mercy is so good! I just finished listening to the audiobook. He does an amazing job of exposing how our “justice” system systematically fails people of color. Police brutality is just the first step of a process that treats people of color as less than human and unequally. I would highly recommend this book to everybody – especially to those who have little exposure to the US criminal justice system. It also provides context as to how law enforcement has been used to police and suppress people of color from the beginning in the US.

  29. Caitlin says...

    I haven’t read through the comments, so perhaps this has already been mentioned, but Integrated Schools is an amazing resource that encourages parents to send their kids to their local schools that are typically global majority schools, and helps them do so without taking over the PTA or going in as a white savior, or demanding additional resources. Their podcast is wonderful and I highly recommend. Also the Seeing White podcast by Scene On Radio (I think) is also really great.

    • Kristina says...

      I absolutely agree. I have quite a few wealthy friends who like to say they are about racial justice while sending their kids to private schools to avoid the issues they are so invested in posting about on social media. I’m a teacher at a public school and I have seen first hand (and experienced myself) that getting to really know lots of kinds of people is the quickest way to building bridges between disparate communities.

  30. Thuy says...

    A simple start: subscribe to the Better Allies newsletter for five ally actions every week. https://betterallies.com/

  31. O says...

    while I think it’s tempting to jump to action, to resources, to that old standby, “but what tangible steps can I take to make this better?”, I think part of the challenge white people need to take is sitting with all of the pain, confusion, anger, discomfort, history, and current events — owning it, without trying to ameliorate the shame or guilt that might be felt – to connect to the kind of deep deep pain that can’t be undone with a book, website, or TedTalk. We miss the point if we spring straight into action, and risk reducing something as important as anti-racism into a checklist

    • Rachel says...

      I think this comment is so valuable. It’s easy for me to read a book, listen to a podcast, or join a march. It’s much more difficult to sit and examine my own biases and patterns of thoughts and behaviors.

    • cathyMA says...

      beautiful and comforting when the feelings are so overwhelming.

    • Agnes says...

      Thank you. That is why I have been silent as a white person until now. All I can do is cry and tell my black friends how sorry I am, and that I love them. Anything else doesn’t feel ok to me right now. My words will never be enough. I am just so so sorry.

    • Claire says...

      One book that I’m planning to order is “White Supremacy and Me” that includes a lot of journal and self-reflection prompts that she urges white people ot do so that we do actually grapple with our own complicity.

    • Brooke says...

      O, I deeply resonate with your point. This feels like a really easy point for a lot of white people to read a book and then say I did the work or I thought about this. While we don’t want to use immediate actions to skip doing the long hard inner work, but there are tangible actions that are urgently needed to support black safety in life now, *while* white people do the inner work. Changing structural racism isn’t just a personal development project, it’s a participation in active undoing of oppression. Many black activists are saying that white people are so late to the game , they don’t have time for white people to be transformed, they need white people to put our actions, money and votes in where we can now. But hopefully yes instead of it being avoidant atonement, white saviorship or performative, it can be a following the leadership of black activists, and in companionship to a long term commitment to understanding and listening and feeling grief and suffering caused by white supremacy . Hopefully we can hold and pursue both of these and not avoid either.

  32. Karin says...

    While it is n’t an “action oriented” book, “the Warmth of Other Suns,” a history of the black migration from the South from the 1910s-1970s, gave this white woman new insights into the deep roots of racial inequality in this country, such as Jim Crow laws, redlining and sunset laws. It also brings home the depth of what blacks in the south had to endure and still do – the vulnerability of being black when any white person could end your life at any moment with absolutely no consequences. Heartbreaking and educational,,

    • Alene says...

      I agree. Eye opening. And well worth reading.

  33. Chris says...

    Read “Black Rednecks & White Liberals” and/or “Disparity vs Discrimination” -both by Dr Thomas Sowell

    • Jenny says...

      I’ve just been introduced to Thomas Sowell and plan to read more of his work. From what I’ve read so far, it seems like he cuts right to the heart of the issues in a way few others seem to be doing.

  34. Liz says...

    I have to say over the last couple of days I been thinking about the word abolitionist and how “active” that word is. Anti-racist seems passive to me, but and abolitionist is someone who takes action. Moving forward, as a white woman, that is how I plan to identify myself.

    • Isha says...

      I am not black so I’d love to hear black folks’ take on this but I love this idea!

  35. Jessica says...

    Thank you for this post. I am putting together a reading list for my own kids, that I would then offer to my middle school students. I would love suggestions for the 10-14 age range to help them be an ally and anti racist.

    • Sarah says...

      There are tons of lists on IG: @theconsciouskid @diversespines @hereweread @whitegirllearning

    • Try @booksfordiversity as well as the Project Lit Initiative for YA lit

    • Caitlin says...

      The ig account @diversereads is also a really great resource!

  36. I think it’s important just to be nice to people, regardless of color. I don’t expect to be treated differently because of my color, and I don’t want that, but color alone shouldn’t be a reason to disrespect someone or hurt them.

    • Samantha says...

      It is so much bigger than this. If you are white, whether you expect to or not, you *are* treated differently because of your color. When is the last time you saw a white man be physically held down *with a knee to his neck* by a cop? Or shot onsite while on a jog? Black people are literally being killed, often by the exact people who are supposed to protect them, *solely because they are black*. White people are not. We are so far beyond being nice, and so far beyond pretending like color doesn’t matter.

    • Isha says...

      Rose, please read point 4 of Caroline’s post again. It’s not about individual acts of kindness or unkindness. Our country is built on a foundation of systemic oppression and smiling at your black neighbor doesn’t fix that. Being nice to people is the bare minimum and we need you (and everyone else) to step up and do more.

    • Heather says...

      There’s a great resource from Layla Saad called “Me and White Supremacy” that is hugely eye opening about why being “nice” and not “seeing color” are really not enough. It is hugely eye opening.

      https://www.meandwhitesupremacybook.com/

  37. Vee says...

    Talk to your children about race and blackness and whiteness! We need kids to learn EARLY ON. There’s a book called Raising White Kids that is supposed to be excellent.

    Matt McGorry on Instagram is an awesome ally and consistently shares book recommendations, etc.

    Please share Unpacking the Knapsack of White Privilege by Peggy McIntosh. It’s a real eye opener and was the first of our reading in my women’s studies courses in 2008.

  38. Clare says...

    THANK YOU FOR POSTING! So important.

  39. Jacqueline says...

    I realized something recently that seems so obvious. It was after Ahmaud Arbery was killed. I was so angry, I had anger in my body that needed to come out. It’s like I was carbonated. I didn’t know what to do. What can I do? I wondered. How can I stop this? How can I solve this? How could I even begin? And that’s when I realized I was going about this wrong. I don’t need to know how to solve this kind of injustice because there are a lot of really smart people out there dedicating their lives to doing just that. I found some of them, read what they said, and followed their advice on how to help. I am not the person who is going to change this, I am a cog in the wheel of change. That shift in thinking freed me to act. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with “what can I do,” I found someone who knows what to do and I did that. I am not going to be a leader in this and that is good. I am absolutely a follower. That is good.