Lucretia Berry • October 31, 2023
“You should say what you are for, not what you are against!” he said, forcing his unsolicited advice regarding my use of the word, ‘anti-racism.’
I respected his desire to help, but thought to myself, ‘I am FOR anti-racism.’
But I get it. Over the last few years, the word ‘anti-racism,’ like ‘woke’ has been weaponized and weighted down by unscrupulous political strategizing, fence-straddling leaders, and a general fear of change. As is the fallacy of crafting a straw-man to attack and annihilate, ‘anti-racism’ has been added to the long list of tough, touchy topics to avoid. 🙄
As such, people struggle with the word antiracism and refuse to learn anything about it. They don’t fully understand the concept of anti-racism and mistake it for being against individuals or people racialized as White, rather than against the system and structures that perpetuate racial inequity. Perhaps, they are concerned that associating with anti-racism could lead to being labeled overly political, radical, or confrontational. For people who don’t understand it, anti-racism can feel like a polarizing term, perceived as aligned with certain political movements or agendas, and resist it due to political or ideological differences.
But for me, ‘anti-racism,’ the word and the practice, stands like a monument marking my liberation. As a doctoral student (1997), I had the unique opportunity to enroll in an experimental course, called Anti-racism Education. This course was a safe space for me to bravely learn about, and fundamentally understand race and racism, and their historical and present day impact. No other course or academic experience had afforded me this much clarity.
During the anti-racism education course, I remember experiencing so many ah-ha moments as I learned about the beliefs, practices, and policies that shaped our nation’s racial system. I began to understand that the racial inequity which had come to be accepted as normal was actually, intentionally and strategically designed and implemented. Recognizing how race operates significantly different from culture, ethnicity, and nationality brought great insight. And with this clarity came the capacity to imagine and hope for a better way forward.
Before anti-racism education, I perceived people racialized as White to be the sole problem. After anti-racism education, I understood that the root of this social dis-ease is that we’ve all been racialized. Learning honest history about race/ism grew me exponentially. I remembered feeling a spark of joy as I designed my first anti-racism lesson plan. It was on representation and identity formation. I became excited about using education to help people grow their capacity to dismantle race/ism. I was empowered!
Anti-racism is a term used to describe active and intentional opposition to racism, discrimination, and racial prejudice. It goes beyond simply stating, “I’m not racist.” Instead, anti-racism involves actively working to challenge and dismantle systemic and institutional racism, as well as personal biases and prejudices. Anti-racism requires individuals to take a proactive stance in advocating for racial equity and justice, recognizing the historical and ongoing injustices faced by marginalized racial groups, and actively working to address these issues.
In Teaching for Justice & Belonging – A Journey for Educators & Parents, Dr. Glass and I describe anti-racism as “the antithesis to racism, … the anti-venom to racism’s envenomation.” (p. 28.)
We go on to profess,
“Anti-racism is a lifelong process of actively identifying, and opposing racial prejudice and systemic racism. Structured around conscious efforts and deliberate actions, anti-racism cultivates equitable opportunities for all people on an individual and systemic level. Because it requires us to actively dismantle structures, systems, and practices that reduce social injustices, anti-racism is essential to cultivating justice and belonging.” (p.28)Dr. Glass & Dr. Berry
For me, anti-racism, the word and practice, resonate liberation, elevation, and joy! A few years ago, when I noticed that ‘anti-racism’ was becoming a bad word, I changed the name of the high school elective that I design and teach from ‘Understanding Race/ism’ to ‘Anti-Race/ism 101.’ I want my students to associate the principles and practices of anti-racism with growth, liberation, and joy, instead of trepidation.
Understanding and practicing anti-racism is crucial for addressing racial inequalities and fostering a more inclusive and equitable society. While people may struggle with the term, the principles of anti-racism are based on the idea that everyone has a role to play in dismantling racism and promoting equity, and that such efforts benefit society as a whole. Through anti-racism, we are empowered!
Teaching for Justice & Belonging – A Journey for Educators & Parents by Dr. Tehia Starker Glass and Dr. Lucretia Carter Berry (2022)
What is Anti-Racism and Why Does It Matter? Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre (ACLRC)
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