Colleague: “Did I offend you?” / Me: “No, you didn’t. You disclosed you needed to tell me your connection to why #blacklivesmatters is important to you, you didn’t try to use your story to deflect from my experiences or the systemic realities” / Colleague: “I’m never sure. It’s so hard.” / Me: “I know. Thanks for not giving up on trying.” / Colleague: “So here is what I’m thinking of doing next at work. I’d love your thoughts but feel free to tell me to buzz off…” We laugh easily…a little past awkward, still in messy…
The #blacklivesmatter rallying cry to bring down the structures and cultures that uphold systemic anti-black racism continues. Many who may previously have stood by are paying attention and many more, individuals, organizations and communities are asking: how can I/we become anti-racist? What does my anti-racist action look like?
There are news and reports that continue to bring daily discouragement. There is also equally daily evidence of our collective progress—even our current messy and awkward conversations, where black, indigenous and people of colour are serving side-eye/roll-eye/righteous exasperation to those classified as white who are expressing shock and surprise at the issues—is progress. We must stay here and white friends, please keep moving beyond the book clubs and further into messy and taking personal and systemic actions for change (read this op-ed: When black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs). Acting from unconscious bias and continued ignorance is no longer an excuse or acceptable. I would much rather take conscious messy (inter)actions with you for the sake of progress, as long as you are committed and not making excuses. If you’ve braved a conversation like the one above, you are not alone. These conversations are needed and happening all over the world at new levels of consciousness and depth in relationships, organizations, boardrooms, communities and mammoth institutions. So please, keep leaning into messy. No more excuses.
Let’s talk about the excuses. To resist the uncomfortable and messy is to stay entrenched and remain complicit and in denial. I have been in too many conversations where this denial has been on display in the guise of the facts surrounding systemic racism being debated and offensive arguments like black-on-black crime/violence being evoked to justify keeping racist systems in place. An argument like black-on-black crime is inherently racist thinking, because it reinforces the image of black peoples as violent, denies the persistent systemic and global racial issues that contribute to black poverty, crime and wars, or the simple fact that in-group crime happens among all races. Crime and violence is a human issue, not a racial issue.
Let’s be clear, the historical and current facts confirming the depth of anti-black racism is overwhelming (see below quick links as a mere and not even representative sample). At this point in history, denial is wilful blindness (term borrowed from book of the same title), a psychological defense born out of fear of change and the loss of unearned privileges. It is a continued poison threatening to erase the progress being made. There can be no place for it. So please, keep leaning into messy to grow in being anti-racist in your thoughts, actions and interactions with black peoples. And be prepared to deal with our continued black activism and outrage too (consider how you might react to 400+years of generational oppression). We will need to work through that if we are to get to a new social contract that we must all now design for a socially just and equal future. I can’t get enough of Kimberly Jones’ passionate breakdown of these issues in a monopoly analogy of economics in America in 6.5minutes. Please watch it…all the way to the end…
One more provocation as we navigate this anti-racist era. Anti-racism is a good starting place to move from bystander to taking a zero-tolerance stand. And it is exhausting. Because this current collective framing of anti-racism, is a stand against racism and it’s a fight. It is a stand against historical, institutional and monumental systems put in place for the world to work, by design, to uphold white privilege and dominance. Many of the structures that uphold these systems of racism have been exposed and it is only a matter of time till they completely topple, rotting as they are from the inside, because a system founded on dehumanizing people can only breed rot and eventual death. Systems designed to oppress the majority world (black, indigenous and people of colour), while they have been sustained for hundreds of years, cannot last forever as the dynamics of our world continue to change. Times up. It’s been a long time coming and many have been making “good trouble” for generations as the recent passing of John Lewis has reminded us (listen to his last words here). This is our time in the world to take the baton and make our contributions to ending racial and social oppressions of all kinds. Marchers will keep marching, activists will keep arising, changemakers will keep being awakened, leaders will lead the changes needed in every sector and more bridge builders will keep building. We need all of us to ensure the systemic social, economic, moral, political and legal changes required to level our global playing fields. So please also consider, in your anti-racist work, how are you leaning into messy and what are you standing for?
I am here, standing in the mess with you, for the progress of our shared humanity.