The “I’m Not Racist” Handbook

How you can make changes in your every day life to contribute to the fight for equity and justice for people of color

As a white woman, I have said my fair share of stupid, racist, and micro aggressive shit. I have learned to do better in more recent years, and work on undoing the conditioning I’ve received. But I continue to learn and will never be perfect.

I see a lot of bigots and racists in the media, but I like to think that a large group of Americans are just ignorant and haven’t been taught better. I’ve come up with a list of seemingly small but meaningful things we must stop, that have a negative ripple affect on people of color, adding to the toxic, unjust, inequitable culture and government we have created.

White people tend to be the culprits of these insensitive yet strangely culturally acceptable comments and actions, but this is for anyone open to growth and change. In any of these instances I invite you to think, how would I feel if the roles were reversed? We must tap into empathy to make these changes. (Note: In the text below, “black” can usually be substituted for Latinx or any other person of color)

Instead of saying “I don’t see color” say “I appreciate differences and want equity for all.” By stating one does not see color, one is completely disregarding the experience, history, and every day struggles of a person of color. Color must be seen in order for systematic change to happen. We have to talk about race, we have to talk about skin color.

Instead of touching a person’s (usually a black women’s) hair, or asking to touch it, just don’t. People of color are not our play things, and although their hair may be different from what we’re used to, it generally makes people very uncomfortable.

Don’t say the N-word, ever. If you are not black, you have not “earned the right” to say the N-word, even if it’s in a rap song. If you’re still confused, check out this article.

Instead of starting your sentence with “This might sound racist but…” pause to think. If it sounds racist, it probably is, even if you’re “not racist.”

Catch toxic thoughts and question them. In a podcast about implicit bias, I learned that the easiest why to catch implicit bias is to simply recognize and question it. I also read recently, “Your first thought that goes through your mind is what you’ve been conditioned to think. What you think next defines who you are.” We have to break the toxic conditioning we’ve received.

Actions speak louder than words. If you see yourself as “not racist,” or better yet, antiracist, how are you showing up in the world? How are you treating people of color? How can you support POC? Show up by frequenting POC-owned businesses, volunteering for a social justice organization, attending rallies/protests, and speaking up for POC in your work place. Here is a search engine to find black-owned businesses, and here is a black-owned restaurant directory for Portland, OR.

Instead of saying “I’m not a political person” I invite you to pay attention. If your mental health allows it, keep up to date on current events/news, read books, articles, and listen to podcasts. Check out 17 Book on Race Every White Person Needs to Read and 24 Books for Anti-Racist Teachers. Follow social justice groups on social media (below). You don’t have to drown in it, but the least you can do is pay attention. White privilege is what allows us to not be a “political person;” people of color have to deal with injustice and racism every day. When we sit back and become passive, it makes room for white supremacy and fascism. The racist policy makers don’t want us to pay attention, so we must.

Instead of thinking your vote doesn’t matter, please vote. There’s not much fluff to put around that one; we have to vote out racist policy. Fill out your whole ballot, vote any opportunity you get. Some may say our Democracy is broken, but that doesn’t mean we should just give up. You can also vote with your dollar, i.e. boycotting businesses that are financially backing or otherwise supporting ICE and concentration camps at the boarder (i.e. Amazon). Call your senator to make your voice heard, or if you are phone-shy, try Resist Bot or text Resist to 50409.

Instead of asking your black friend, or just wondering, google it. The internet is at our fingertips and we should use it. Learn new words and phrases, and find articles about race-related topics written by people of color. It’s not your black friend’s job to educate you, or to speak on behalf of all black people.

Instead of staying quiet and keeping the peace, speak up at work. You don’t have to call someone out in the middle of a meeting, but you could talk to them later (also known as “calling in”). Or if the thought of confronting someone about a racist comment gives you a stomachache, or fear for your job, go to HR. Expressing a concern is better than keeping quiet. We have to hold others accountable, and use our white privilege for good.

Be ready for criticism and open to change. You will probably have moments where you feel defensive, where you’re told your efforts aren’t good enough by POC or other “woke” folks. Try to see it from the other person’s perspective, and stay committed to your devotion to growth. Never discredit someone’s feelings or experience. It’s okay to be told you’re wrong; there will be bumps in the road. Learn from it, and keep going.

This is just the tip of the ice burg on antiracism. It’s no longer enough to be merely “not racist,” we must be antiracist.

“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 ‘anti-racist.’”

How to be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi

There is much work to be done by all of us, and it won’t ever be “done.” We must continue, every day, to do better, to strive for a more equitable America. If you don’t know where to start, here are some ideas:

  • Follow people/groups on social media that post about social/racial justice (Black Lives Matter, Occupy Ice, Race Talks PDX, Adopt an Inmate, YWCA, etc).
  • Join the Nasty Women Get Shit Done PDX group on Facebook for direct actions you can take, as well as event info.
  • Intake as much knowledge and information as you’re able to handle- read, listen, watch.
  • Learn Black and Latinx history and integrate these Black History Flash Cards into your education.
  • Look for workshops and local events on antiracism and racial justice, or find free videos or TedTalks on Youtube.
  • Choose/support a black author, speaker, teacher, business owner, etc, whenever possible. We must learn about race/racism/race politics from the people affected, and support POC to dismantle the system that was built against them.
  • Listen to your gut feeling and speak up when you witness racism.

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

Start with one step, and keep going. Change starts with one.

Please note: The opinions and observations in this article are my own. Feel free to start a conversation in the comments section below. I am open to growth and learning.

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