What does it mean to say”I am anti-racist” ? Questions from a former student

I have done most of my teaching since the onset of social media. There are several implications of this, but one of the most significant is that I still get to have a relationship with many of my students after they graduate and I am no longer ever in a position to give them a grade for anything. For the students who choose to “friend” or “follow” me, I love this way of maintaining connection.

Last week I got a message from a former student via Facebook. She asked if she could ask me a question. When I responded in the affirmative, she said she had been thinking about the term “anti-racist” and she said it had made her wonder if the use of the term would be or could be counter productive. One of her concerns was that the use of the term “anti” signals intolerance and that the use of the term would be divisive. Her other major concern was that the use of the term sounds like the end goal has been achieved and would, in essence, give people a pass on continually exploring their implicit biases and more subtle ways that we are shaped by racist ideology.

I thought these were great questions. I love it when my students (current or former) ask questions that make me think. Here is part of my response to her: “I would say that saying ‘I am anti-racist’ is acknowledgement of a journey, not a destination. And saying ‘I am anti-racist’ is more active and action oriented than being ‘not a racist’…meaning, in the first scenario someone is taking responsibility for their actions and is intentionally aware of racist structures in our country. While in the second scenario people could honestly say they are not racist in the sense that they may not be actively individually engaging in racist behavior. However, they are not antiracist because they are still complicit in benefitting from the broader systemic and structural racism.”

I also shared some resources with her that I had found helpful: What it means to be anti-racist: https://www.vox.com/2020/6/3/21278245/antiracist-racism-race-books-resources-antiracism and the Talking About Race resources from the National Museum of African American History and Culture https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race and specifically the Being Antiracist link from the museum: https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race/topics/being-antiracist

2 thoughts on “What does it mean to say”I am anti-racist” ? Questions from a former student

  1. I love that you are forever teaching your students (and your friends like me!) It is especially helpful in this climate to know that there are anti-racist white people who are willing to field questions and provide resources when black people like me don’t have the capacity to do so. Thank you, Sabrina!

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