What exactly does it mean to be antiracist?
Racism in Canada is systemic and deeply embedded. According to the Angus Reid Institute, one-in-five Canadians (21%) say that they feel like they are treated as an outsider in Canada. This proportion is 17% among Caucasians, 30% among Indigenous respondents, and 29% among other visible minorities. Race also has a significant impact on social stratification in Canada, from employment, to housing, to education.
The activism of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and dialogue on police brutality in 2020 after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, has brought the conversation on racial inequity into new spheres. Many people are wondering how to appropriately engage with these conversations and how to become a better ally. For white Canadians in particular, who may be encountering these conversations on racism for the first time, learning how to be a better ally, without centering their own feelings in their advocacy work, and without being burdensome to colleagues of colour, can seem confusing and daunting.
One of the best ways to tackle racism in your everyday life is through anti-racist practice. What does that mean and what does it look like when applied? Let’s break it down:
“Not being racist” versus “being antiracist”
There is often a belief that simply “not being racist” is sufficient to combat racism. However, as we can see in the ongoing struggles for racial equality in Canada and internationally, this approach has been ineffective. Viewing racism as a distant societal issue that needs intervention from larger powers (government, policy-makers, etc.), as opposed to a systemic problem that needs to be tackled in all of our everyday lives, removes individual responsibility to combat racism and distances each of us from the problem.
In “How to be Antiracist,” scholar Ibram X. Kendi defines an anti-racist as: “One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an anti-racist idea.” Moving from “I’m not racist” to “I am anti racist” requires an action mindset and a commitment to change. It asks people to engage critically with their own biases. As Kendi explains: “the only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it — and then dismantle it.” Becoming antiracist requires a shift in perspective to understanding that we all play a role in systemic oppression, even if we didn’t personally create the system of white supremacy, we may passively benefit or suffer under it. And we simultaneously have the power to change these conditions through our choices and actions. Anti-racist work is not only in the grand gestures of protests and media coverage, it needs to be in the small everyday choices of our workplaces, our families, and our communities.
To quote Vox, “antiracism isn’t comfortable, just like racism isn’t comfortable for black people and people of color.” However consistent, committed everyday anti racist action will continue to dismantle white supremacy more effectively than simply claiming to not be racist, and leaving the conversation to die from inaction.
Quick tips for starting your antiracist journey
- Listen more than you speak. Take your cues from activist leaders in the communities affected, and work to create space for their voices to be heard.
- Stay away from posting performative emotional posts on social media. Not only is it likely not resulting in any actual change, but it can also be re-traumatizing for people of colour to constantly see more reminders of racism on their timeline. Instead, take the steps and choose the small actions that will make a concrete impact – even if you don’t get public recognition or credit for them.
- Do not center your own feelings as a white person when discussing issues of racial violence.
- Being an “ally” is a title that is earned. Give your time, talent, and treasure to black-led organizations and activism.
- Do your research and always continue to center the voices and causes of black, indigenous, and people of colour.
Remember that antiracism is ultimately about doing. It is about taking on the battle against racism and inequality as your own, even if you will not ever be personally impacted by racial oppression. Good luck on starting your journey towards antiracist allyship!
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