Learning to be Antiracist

When I was writing exclusively about LGBT issues within the church, many people new to the topic would ask me what they could do to help LGBT people. The first response of many straight people new to understanding LGBT experience was feelings of helplessness, and a desperation to do something.

My answer was always the same. There are 4 preliminary steps, I told them, to standing in solidarity with LGBT people: 1. learn, read, and listen as much as you can. 2. Get to know LGBT people personally 3. Be in the process of learning and engaging for the long haul — don’t opt out once you feel like you’ve learned “enough.” 4. Let it fuck up your life –let it disrupt your privilege, worldview, and theology.

It is now time for me, as a white person, to follow my own advice.

As I write this, protests against white supremacy, racism, and police brutality are ripping through the world. Many white people, myself included, are wondering what we can do to stand in solidarity with black lives. This article is about my own personal commitments to being antiracist, and is an invitation to other white people to join me. After years of giving advice to straight people who want to be better allies, it’s now my turn to learn to be a better ally to the black community.

An important note: these steps are merely a starting point. I don’t know how to be antiracist, so I’m transposing the tools I’ve learned from my own minority experience to help me get started. That’s not to assume, however, that gay experience and the black experience are the same. I don’t know how similar they are, but I must not assume that what works for LGBT allies will also work for black allies. Keep in mind that these tools are merely a starting point.

Read, learn, and listen as much as I can

While my first impulse is to do something to combat racism, perhaps I should put the brakes on that impulse, and instead realize the depths of my ignorance. The first step for me, therefore, is to shut up and listen. I know from watching straight allies that if I act without education, I will inevitable bungle my whole response, and end up wounding black people in the process. The first step, for me, is to do some white homework.

Here’s what this looks like for me personally:

  1. I will read lots of books by people of color, and authors who study racism. I’ve personally stocked up on lots of books, and I will be working through them to gain a better understanding. Here are a few books I’m planning on reading, and please feel free to add more suggestions in the comments below:
    1. I Am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin
    2. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
    3. Race Matters by Cornel West
    4. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    5. White Rage by Carol Anderson
    6. Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
    7. How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
    8. Beloved by Toni Morrison
    9. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  2. I will listen to podcasts and youtube channels by black creators. My personal favorite black youtube channels are Kat Blaque and For Harriet. Please feel free to suggest other channels and podcasts in the comments below.
  3. I will be open to correction: an education without being corrected isn’t an education. I have many blindspots, and I need to practice humility. So when I come across a concept that is new to me, or when a black person calls me out specifically over a blindspot I have, I must not retreat into defensiveness. I must be open to correction, and that includes correction of any points in this article itself.
  4. I will have black people on my podcast Sacred Tension who are willing to talk to me and my audience about their experience, and the problems of racism.
  5. I must remember that educating white people is hard, thankless, brutal work for black educators and creators. Therefore, I must pay the content creators who are trying to educate me. If they have Patreon accounts or a donation button on their site, I will not forget to pay them for their labor.

Get to know black people and listen to them

I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t have many friends who are black. I’m resolving to learn how to make friends with people who don’t look like me. While this process of only being friends with white people is unconscious on my part, that doesn’t make it any less destructive or racist in effect in the long term.

Do I know how to do this? I really don’t. I’m a baby antiracist. But I’m committed to learning.

Be in it for the long haul

It’s so tempting, as people of privilege, to opt out of a topic once we feel we have sufficiently learned about it. I’m committing to resisting that impulse. Being antiracist, like being anti-homophobia or anti-transphobia, is a lifelong process. I’m not committing the next week, month, or year to learning how to be antiracist, but my entire lifetime.

Black people don’t have the privilege of opting out of this issue. The injustices against them are ever present. The very least I can do is refuse to opt out as well.

Let it fuck up your life

Being antiracist will disrupt my privilege, shake up my worldview, and interfere with my comfort. That is good. If I don’t get upset, confused, or uncomfortable, I’m doing it wrong. I’ve lived my whole life veiled from acknowledging the realities of racism. Waking up to it is unpleasant. I have a moral obligation to lean into that discomfort. I can breathe, relax, and let myself experience it. There is no other way to learn, and I can be ok with not feeling ok.

So, from one white person to another, I hope you join me in this process. These 4 steps are hard, but they are also the very least we can do to stand against racism.

What do you think? Leave a comment below, or write me an email.

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6 thoughts on “Learning to be Antiracist

  1. Some more book suggestions:

    So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

    Pretty much anything here: https://robindiangelo.com/publications. D’Angelo isn’t Black, but she’s done the work and is white writing to white people so it has a different focus and purpose.

    Also, check out NPR’s Code Switch podcast and Franchesca Ramsey’s YouTube channel.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing your intentions and approach to doing this work! I’ve also come to the realization that because my current work is public-policy adjacent and I’m in a masters program in public administration, doing my own anti-racism work is not just essential, it is imperative. Since you’re on the ‘gram, check out @sonyareneetaylor and @leesareneehall. Sonya Renee Taylor’s daily video updates are the highlight of my mornings. I’m currently listening to her book The Body is Not an Apology, and it is perspective-shifting. Leesa Renee Hall’s approach is for people who identify as highly sensitive introverts. That’s Not How That Works is a fun and very informative podcast. I’m very much looking forward to hearing from your future guests!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good article! I think the “in it for the long haul” element of it is something that throws a lot of people. I know that in my own journey, as a white male wanting to overcome my own sexism and racism, I had to go through several cycles of “oh yay, I’ve had this insight and learned and now I’m BETTER!” followed eventually by “oh apparently I still have a lot father to go, and I didn’t realize it.” Embracing that second step is so hard the first few times…. it took me some experience to get to the point where I realized I will always be returning to that second step. It doesn’t mean I failed or did anything wrong; it means I’m continuing to make life-long progress.

    Liked by 1 person

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