Living as an antiracist takes courage

To the Editor:

Hi, my name is Katie and I am an antiracist.

Or, at least I am striving to be an antiracist. Moment by moment.

Why moment by moment? Well, because “antiracist” is not a simple identifier that you slap on a bumper sticker or print on a T-shirt. Instead, fully embracing antiracism is an ongoing commitment that takes real work.

When one makes a commitment to anything — a person, a job, a national movement — we all have days when we shine and days when we falter. My commitment to antiracism is no different.

The terms “antiracist” and “antiracism” are new to many, and new can be scary. People tend to favor the status quo and buck against change. Of course, terms like “commitment” and “work” can also cause people to run for the hills!

Nevertheless, as a member of this community and your neighbor, I hope you will read on to understand what antiracism means to me and my family.

I am sure we have all heard someone declare at one point or another “I am not racist!” Few people would think of themselves as racist or want others to view them as racist. But, if you aren’t racist, then what are you?

Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to Be an Antiracist,” argues that there is no neutrality: You are either racist or antiracist. I agree.

He writes, “One either allows racial inequalities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequalities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.”

When people exclaim “I am not racist!” they may be recognizing that they themselves do not use racial slurs, or that they do not actively discriminate against people based on race or ethnicity. But, what we allow to happen in our homes, our neighborhoods, and our community matters. Silence and inaction speak volumes and have real impact.

Living as an antiracist takes courage. I fully recognize that, as a white, married woman with a stable job living in suburbia, it is easier for me than most to muster that courage. I am not taking enormous risks.

Still, being antiracist is an ongoing challenge because it requires speaking up, even when it may be uncomfortable. It requires examining and bringing to light our own implicit biases and racist thoughts.

No one from any culture, race, or ethnicity is immune from or free of racist thought; several peer-reviewed studies from major universities have found that people from all backgrounds demonstrate implicit biases (attitudes or stereotypes towards others, sometimes subconscious). Sometimes, taking a good, hard look at ourselves really takes the most courage.

Here’s the good news, though: Racism is not a fixed characteristic in any person. Anyone can make conscious choices to be antiracist. Becoming antiracist also does not require perfection.

It is OK to have a racist thought — it is your response to the thought that matters. Do you identify and challenge the racist thought? That is antiracism at work.

Our actions matter, too. Not just how we speak to and treat others, but what we allow to happen. It’s also not just about how we approach individuals, but how we design and implement larger policies.

My family and I have been practicing antiracism in these ways, although we make and will continue to make mistakes, since this is an ongoing practice:

— Recognizing and appreciating the value of different races, ethnicities, religions, and identities. Antiracism is not about being colorblind. Quite the opposite. In order to recognize inequities, and to try to change hundreds of years of inequitable policies and practices, we absolutely must recognize and understand the social construct of race;

— Acknowledging the existence of white privilege, and understanding how white privilege affects people of color. There are a lot of misconceptions about the term “white privilege” so let’s be clear — this term refers only to privileges afforded to white people based solely on the color of their skin.

It has nothing to do with economic status (whether someone grew up in poverty, middle-class, or otherwise). White privilege has nothing to do with one’s ZIP code or the neighborhood in which they were raised. It also has nothing to do with one’s level of education. White privilege is the recognition that people continue to be treated differently based on the color of their skin, and the undeniable proof that fair-skinned people continue to receive advantages;

— Speaking out against racism. This takes many different forms. For us, it typically looks like speaking up when a relative, friend, or acquaintance says or does something racist, but it also includes things like showing support at demonstrations or identifying inaccurate information and correcting misconceptions;

— Actively teaching our children about race and inequities. “Racism,” “discrimination,” and “segregation” are all part of my eldest daughter’s vocabulary — she will be entering kindergarten this fall. We openly discuss race issues, gender issues, equity, and justice by using age-appropriate resources and sound pedagogical methods.

We read the detailed stories of people who have fought for justice in big and small ways — Ida B. Wells, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Sylvia Mendez, Maya Angelou, and Malala Yousafzai, to name a few; and

— Educating ourselves. I belong to an Antiracist Book Club. I listen to podcasts. I read all I can. This is a never-ending journey to understand others and ourselves.

There are so many wonderful people in our community who are also on this journey. “Antiracism” does not have to be and shouldn’t be an intimidating term. Antiracism means openly talking about race and inequities in our society.

In a way, it’s freeing — it opens up opportunities to talk about race rather than sweep our thoughts and questions under the rug. It also offers the opportunity to initiate real, meaningful change in our community, nation, and world.

Katie Fahrenkopf


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