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What can students do to encourage antiracism?
“Antiracism” is a term which in recent years has gained popularity and has helped illustrate and outline how individuals can actively work towards combating racism rather than simply being opposed to it. The Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 have again brought the public’s attention to the racial inequalities present in our society. These inequalities are not new, but we sometimes tend to become comfortable with everyday inequalities, sometimes making excuses for not combating everyday racism in our world. The conversation has moved beyond whether there is racism--we know there is--and now the Black Lives Matter movement is pushing us to ask ourselves not whether we are racist or not racist, but if we are actively being antiracist. The distinction between “antiracist” and “non-racist” is an important one.
Differentiating “Antiracist” and “Non-Racist”
In The Racial Healing Handbook, Singh describes what it means to be an antiracist. Singh states that the term antiracist refers to someone who is “actively seeking not only to raise their consciousness about race and racism, but also to take action when they see racial power inequities in everyday life.” Being an antiracist requires being aware and opposing racist actions and the inequalities they create including becoming proactive and correcting these injustices in their communities.
Being nonracist means that someone can recognize racism and have beliefs against racism. However, being non-racist implies that an individual does not correct such racist actions that the individual opposes (Singh). A non-racist is passive while an antiracist is active. This difference between a non-racist and antiracist is important because it means that it is not enough to simply acknowledge that racism exists, but there is a call to action. We are called to be proactive in combating racism by being antiracists or what Singh refers to as upstanders rather than being reactive nonracists or bystanders. This means that being an antiracist is more than just simply shaking our heads when we encounter racism in our lives or “liking” a social media post because it calls out racism. Being an antiracist requires work.
In response to this realization on whether someone is an upstander or a bystander, one may wonder what it looks like to be an antiracist. Simply put, being an antiracist means that an individual actively combats racism in their daily lives (“Being Antiracist”). The different kinds of racism that antiracists can actively oppose are individual, interpersonal, institutional, and structural racism.
Individual racism refers to the actions, beliefs, and attitudes of those who support or sustain racism in ways that are known and unbeknownst to individuals. Some examples of this are given by the National Museum of African American History and Culture and include believing that White people are superior, telling or laughing at a racist joke, or not hiring a person of color because “something doesn’t feel right” about the individual (“Being Antiracist”).
Interpersonal racism is racism that occurs in instances involving at least two individuals. This particular instance of discrimination can be in the form of slurs, biases, hateful speech or action, or any other public expressions of racism (“Being Antiracist”). This might include calling someone the N-word or implying that they belong to a certain socioeconomic group because of their ethnicity.
These incidents of racism occur within organizations. This type of discrimination is demonstrated in the form of unfair policies (“Being Antiracist”). Institutional policies which favor white individuals never mention a particular group of people based on race but are intended to create advantages (“Being Antiracist”). An example of this type of racism is a school system where students of color are more frequently distributed into overcrowded classrooms and schools are underfunded and preventing them from accessing higher-resourced schools.
Structural racism is the system of bias based on race that reaches across institutions and society. These systems privilege white people and result in disadvantages for people of color (“Being Antiracist”). An example of structural racism would be stereotypes of people of color as criminals or hired help in mainstream movies and media.
New Generation, New Change
In recent years, youth have become increasingly involved in addressing social problems. For example, Malala, Greta Thunberg, and David Hogg became activists and are creating change in society in the U.S. and on a global scale. The rise in youth activism means that young people can make a difference -- we matter.
Jessica Taft, an associate professor of Latin American and Latino Studies at UC Santa Cruz, and the author of Rebel Girls and The Kids Are in Charge: Activism and Power in Peru's Movement of Working Children, noted in an interview that, "Around the world, we are seeing children and youth engage as social, political, and economic actors, demonstrating their capacity to help make social change… Adults make a lot of assumptions about children and what they're capable of, and those assumptions are often quite false.” (McNulty). This gives me hope that today’s students can make differences today with long-lasting effects. We have been asked to take care of the world around us, take care of each other, and maintain a diverse, inclusive, and evolving world. To me, this means that we as a students are tasked with making a difference. We can challenge racism daily and live an antiracist life so that we can create and foster a more inclusive and just world..
Today, students have access to resources such as the internet and social media to expand their movements and collect more members for their causes that youth have never had before. With these resources, students can share petition links, advise safe protesting, create templates for messaging political leaders, list bail funds, share videos, and share information to inspire others to join different causes (Rim). We have examples of young people leading lives of consequence. Kinsale Hueston, 20 years old, is such a person. Hueston has been able to highlight marginalized voices mostly through art (Kamenetz et al.). With the covid-19 pandemic and the growing use of social media, Heuston utilized social media to raise awareness of the Navajo Nation’s issues (Kamenetz et al.). Previous to the Covid-19 pandemic, Heuston became involved at the local level by participating in the protest movements addressing the missing and murdered indigenous women and at the Dakota Access Pipeline (Kamenetz et al.). However, with the pandemic and fewer opportunities to meet in person and at school, Heuston utilized social media and has been able to raise awareness of these issues online (Kamenetz et al.). Heuston accurately demonstrates how students, who sometimes feel powerless, can utilize social media, the internet, and their voices to raise awareness about issues and bring about change on both local and federal levels.
What can we (as students) do now?
We have a call to action as students to be proactive or to be an upstander rather than a bystander. On an individual level, students can reflect on their own experiences and how they can be antiracists. Students can become more informed about the world and the privileges that they might have been afforded because of their background. However, that’s only the first step. We have to not only acknowledge that we live in a society that privileges some over others, but we must actively work to not perpetuate such inequalities. What does this mean? Perhaps it means that we examine what businesses we support financially or don’t support because we don’t believe that they have antiracist practices or policies. Perhaps this means that we expand our reading lists to include different perspectives that we would not have considered. Perhaps this means that we lobby our local library to include more children’s books that reflect our diverse society. Currently, there are more children’s books about animals than there are about children of color (Stechyson).
Being young doesn’t hinder one’s ability to make changes, especially in an age where social media and the internet are easily accessible. In fact, we have a greater voice than sometimes we want to acknowledge. We have a voice and a skillset to make change happen. We can begin by informing our families and communities about how to become antiracist. We can write to our local congressperson, senator, or governor to support or negate bills or legislation that can affect communities. Further, students can publicly protest.
Some youth believe that it may be challenging to fight racism and discrimination, but this is not the case. Students can have a tremendous impact. Students can take action now. This is our time to not be complacent but to be antiracists in what we do every day.
If only we're brave enough to see it
If only we're brave enough to be it.
Kamenetz, Anya, et al. “‘I’m Willing to Fight for America’: 5 Student Activists on Protesting for Change.” NPR.org, 19 June 2020, www.npr.org/2020/06/19/880224955/i-m-willing-to-fight-for-america-5-student-activists-on-protesting-for-change.
McNulty, Jennifer. “Youth Activism Is on the Rise around the Globe, and Adults Should Pay Attention, Says Author.” UC Santa Cruz News, 2019, news.ucsc.edu/2019/09/taft-youth.html.
Singh, Anneliese A. The Racial Healing Handbook: Practical Activities to Help You Challenge Privilege, Confront Systemic Racism & Engage in Collective Healing. Oakland, Ca, New Harbinger Publications, Inc, 2019.
Rim, Christopher. “How Student Activism Shaped the Black Lives Matter Movement.” Forbes, 4 June 2020, www.forbes.com/sites/christopherrim/2020/06/04/how-student-activism-shaped-the-black-lives-matter-movement/?sh=719b35754414.
“Being Antiracist.” National Museum of African American History and Culture, Oct. 2019, nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race/topics/being-antiracist.
Stechyson, Natalie. “Kids Books Still Have a Lack-Of-Diversity Problem, Powerful Image Shows.” HuffPost Canada, HuffPost Canada, 21 June 2019, www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/diversity-kids-books-statistics_ca_5d0bb0f8e4b0859fc3db38c3.