Racism is everywhere these days, figuratively and literally. Between a racist virus, a racist depression and several public murders of Black people, systemic oppression has been impossible to ignore.
Writing for the LA Times, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar described racism in America as dust in the air. “It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.”
Liz Dozier, Founder of Chicago Beyond, likens it to “when you pull a loose thread on a sweater and before you know it half the sweater is gone — that’s the moment we are in right now,” she says.
In Chicago, unmasking the breadth of systemic racism shouldn’t come as a shock. When I talked to eight city business and thought leaders in January, it was cited as the top challenge facing the city over the next decade. Though they came from a variety of industries and backgrounds, seven of the eight specifically called out systemic racism and racial inequality as the biggest issues Chicago needs to address in the 2020s.
The good news? The city has a vast network of organizations already doing the work of dismantling our dangerously biased systems. The great news? While racism and systemic oppression is very complex, we’ve made it quite simple for you to take positive, immediate action.
Below is a long but not comprehensive list of what you can do personally, at your company and in your state at large to be antiracist.
First, a quick precursor on the term antiracism. In his best-selling book How to Be An Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi classifies racist as a descriptor, not a pejorative. Unlike the term bigot, saying someone or something is racist does not imply hatred; it simply means a policy, practice or ponderance supports the discrimination and marginalization of a minority group.
“The good news is that racist and antiracist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next,” he writes. “Those people who are striving to be antiracist are the people who are admitting their racism. What that means is what people should be looking for, and valuing, is the person who is no longer in denial about their addiction.”
As Kendi explained to Dax Shephard on a recent episode of Armchair Expert, “when you are truly striving to become antiracist it’s almost like you are trying to overcome an addiction, you’re always taking it a day at a time. You never become an anti-racist. You know that every moment, every day, you have to think about your actions.”
Ready to get to work?
What You Can Do as an Individual
Complete the internal work. Before you move into action mode, take time to acknowledge your privilege — your experiences with race and bias — and educate yourself. That’s where the real change will come from. “People are trying to dismantle racism from the top down, but readers: you can dismantle it from the bottom up. Start with educating yourselves, your children and your family. It is critical work,” Dozier says, adding “it looks different for white and non-white people, but believe me, [it’s] everyone’s problem.” If you haven’t already heard, do not go to the Black people in your life and ask them to educate you. Do the work and research yourself. Here’s a selection of 20 books by Black writers that will help you better understand the structure and history that help perpetuate racism in America.