On August 10, Chicago Beyond hosted the second session of our antiracism series titled, “So, You Want to Be Antiracist. Now What?” During the hourlong conversation, Chicago Beyond Founder & CEO Liz Dozier, Professor and author Ibram X. Kendi, and Chicago Public Schools’ Chief Equity Officer Dr. Maurice Swinney, we dove into the obstacles that stand in the way of being truly antiracist in thought and in practice—and what we can do about it.
Although 76% of Americans now agree that racism against Black people is widespread and systemic, it is not enough to simply acknowledge that it exists: we must persistently adopt an antiracist attitude and embed that sentiment in our daily lives.
As Professor Kendi pointed out, the history of the phrase, “I’m not racist,” has been commonly used by slaveholders, segregationists, and white nationalists to preserve the status quo of their day. Those individuals, whether directly or indirectly engaging with Black people, were advocating or upholding a racist system. Therefore, this sentiment, “I’m not racist,” represents the heartbeat of racism itself: denial.
Professor Kendi leaves us with these three keys to being antiracist:
In order to be antiracist, we cannot do just one of the steps above, we must embody all of them, and the spirit of antiracism should reflect in our everyday actions.
From the lens of three educators, our speakers dug into the deeply rooted racism that exists in the American education system. They drew on examples of how school resources are inequitably distributed to unfair metrics like standardized testing—most of these policies and practices were created to preserve, and in some cases exacerbate, racial inequality. And for all the ways that our schools measure academic success, as Maurice Swinney says, we must ask ourselves: “When students fail, whose fault is it? Where does that fault lie? Who has to take responsibility?”
For our speakers, taking an antiracist approach in our school system means:
The key takeaway: becoming antiracist is a journey. In order to be antiracist, we have to choose not to accept things the way they’ve come to be, and seek out new thoughts, new mental models, and new stories about our reality. This could mean ditching old subscriptions for the new, restructuring the language or metrics we use, or picking up new books. But it’s through these actions that we become antiracist–by continuously challenging our own individual biases and perspectives in order to fight alongside each other in pursuit of a more equitable society.