Moving from “not racist” to antiracist

I just finished reading How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. While I keep track of my reading in monthly blogs, I knew I had to write a blog specifically about this book, to capture my reflections and to highlight some key thoughts. First, I highly recommend that every American read this book.

As I read, I highlighted so many key lines that resonated. I want to share a few here, along with my thoughts. I hope these give you something to think about as well.

What’s the problem with being “not racist”? It is a claim that signifies neutrality. “I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.” But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” It is “antiracist.” What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an antiracist.

This is both the introduction and the summary of the book, all rolled into one quote. So often in life, I have seem [mostly White] people get offended when they think someone is calling them a racist. No one wants to be publicly shamed, and no one I know thinks of themselves as a racist. However, when we look deeper, we all have biases and we have all committed microaggressions. I know that I have made mistakes, and I know that I have considered myself “not a racist” for as long as I was aware that the term felt like a “bad” label to have. However, I have not been a true antiracist, as Kendi outlines throughout the book. I am taking this as a personal call to greater action within my spheres of influence: education and city and state government.

A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups. An antiracist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between racial groups. By policy, I mean written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people. There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups.

Over the last four years, I have become more involved in causes that are meaningful to me. I have advocated on key legislation and called for policy changes that mattered to me. I have emailed my state and federal senators and representatives so many times that I am on all of their mailing lists now. I have met with state leaders in a legislative action day, to advocate for more school funding and state bills that would positively impact education. I have written my legislative leaders and expressed my concerns about upcoming votes, encouraging them to vote no to problematic bills. I am proud of those actions, but there is so much more to do. In education, and in government, we have many racist policies. There are policies we have lived with for so long we can’t even fathom a different way of doing certain things. But now is the time to examine all of our policies. In my work as an educational leader, I am going to be more intentional about examining our policies, and the decisions we make, with a lens on racist or antiracist outcomes.

To be antiracist is to reject cultural standards and level cultural difference.

Kendi write about segregationists and assimilationists, both of whom get it wrong. Segregationists believe that anyone outside of the norm (read: White and male in America) cannot reach the highest cultural standards. Assimilationists believe that those outside of the cultural norm can work hard to reach the standards set by the “norm”. Antiracists recognize that there are cultural differences that make us unique AND equal.

… [public schools are taught by an] 80% White teaching force, which often has however unconsciously, lower expectations for non-White students. When Black and White teachers look at the same Black students, White teachers are about 40% less likely to believe the student will finish high school. Low-income Black students who have at least one Black teacher in elementary school are 29% less likely to drop out of school, 39% less likely among very low-income Black boys.

We need to do better. The hiring practices in education must change. For the last decade I have read research about the inequities in women in top educational leadership positions, despite the fact that women make up the majority of the teaching profession. Black men and Black women make up even less of the top educational leadership positions, and fewer of the teaching profession overall. Our students deserve to see themselves in our ranks. When we sit in a room, whether it’s for professional development or a staff meeting, we should be talking about who is not in the room and what we can do to change that. In some cases, how we post jobs, recruit candidates, screen applicants, and interview need to change. In other cases, we need to build mentoring programs and support those within our system.

The most effective demonstrations (like the most effective educational efforts) help people find the antiracist power within. The antiracist power within is the ability to view my own racism in the mirror of my past and present, view my own antiracism in the mirror of my future, view my own racial groups as equal to other racial groups view the world of racial inequity as abnormal, view my own power to resist and overtake racist power and policy.

As I continue to learn and grow, I am taking more time to look within. So much of antiracism work needs to happen on a personal level first. I must acknowledge my privilege, the unearned advantages I was born with because of the color of my skin and the economic earning power of my parents. Then I must reflect on my own mistakes, past, present, and future, because I know that growing requires stumbles and falls along the way. Finally, I need to harness that knowledge and awareness in order to impact the power and policies that have set up racist structures.

Additional resources I have found helpful in my journey:

  • Brene Brown interviewed Ibram X. Kendi, the author of How to Be an Antiracist, on her podcast. It’s a powerful conversation!
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander – I read this book in 2016 and wrote about it here. It’s an eye-opening look at our country’s history and why our criminal justice system needs to change.
  • Rachel Cargle’s Public Address on Revolution – I found this Black researcher and leader on Instagram. I appreciate her honesty and the clear steps she outlines for us, especially White Americans, to do moving forward.
  • #ShareTheMicNow – This was an incredible initiative on Instagram, where 50 White women with large platforms turned over their Insta accounts to 50 Black women for the day (earlier last week). Not only did I find some amazing new leaders to follow, but I learned a lot. Each of the Black women used the day to share the projects, passions, and purposes of their lives, while educating us on what it’s like to be a Black woman in America right now. We need to get out of our echo chambers and I find it’s important for me to make sure I am seeing diversity in my social media feeds.
  • Books on my to-be-read list next:
    • I‘m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Make for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
    • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin Diangelo
    • Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi


About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
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2 Responses to Moving from “not racist” to antiracist

  1. Pingback: June 2020 Reading Update | Reflections on Leadership and Learning

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