This is the first of a three-part series on “Undoing Anti-Black racism.”
Recently, I wrote a piece which focused on the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth and its historical significance. One of the major themes I highlighted was the importance of every individual taking responsibility in dismantling anti-Black racism. Every American should know the contributions that people of African descent have made and learn more about the rich legacy of Black triumph and excellence.
The Black experience did not begin and end with slavery. Africa is called the “Motherland” because it is the cradle of human civilization. “Wonders of the World” such as the Great Sphinx of Giza or University of Timbuktu- one of the earliest educational institutions- originated in Africa, but this innovation and educational ingenuity is often overlooked or obscured in world history narratives.
Unfortunately, there is a similar canon in American history. The United States struggles with a long legacy of white supremacy, racial violence against Black people, and embedded structural racism which make it difficult to undo hundreds of years of oppression and disenfranchisement. As a result, there is much work to be done in order to address the lasting social, economic, and political vestiges of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in the Americas.
The following are five things that each person can do to promote anti-Black racism and bring about transformative change:
1. Create a personal reading list and learning development plan.
There is a saying: “If it is to be, it begins with me.” Do a self-assessment of what you know about Black history and culture, anti-racism and the legacy of slavery in American society. Make a commitment to learn about Black people, history, and culture through adult schools, online courses, or reading groups. One of the first things you can do is to create a personal reading list and learning development plan that further enhances your knowledge of African-American history and culture.
In addition to highlighting key books and articles to read, make sure to add podcasts and films which enhance your knowledge of African-American history and culture. There are several collections which include opportunities to learn more such as:
NYU Office of Global Inclusion Anti-Racism Education, Resources and Programs Page: https://www.nyu.edu/life/global-inclusion-and-diversity/anti-racism.html
Mahogany Bookstore- Race and Culture: https://www.mahoganybooks.com/race-culture/
Schomburg Center Black Liberation Reading List: https://www.nypl.org/blog/2020/06/09/schomburg-center-black-liberation-reading-list
While COVID-19 has limited our in-person visits, there are a number of virtual cultural sites to visit, support, and learn from including:
The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. It was established by the US Congress in 2003, following decades of efforts to promote and highlight the contributions of African-Americans. To date, the Museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts and nearly 100,000 individuals have become members.
The NMAAHC is a public institution open to all, where anyone is welcome to participate, collaborate, and learn more about African American history and culture. In the words of Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director, “there are few things as powerful and as important as a people, as a nation that is steeped in its history.”
EJI was founded by NYU Professor Bryan Stevenson, a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer and bestselling author of Just Mercy, to end mass incarceration, excessive punishment, and racial inequality. EJI is home to both the National Memorial for Peace and Justice which commemorates the documented lynching of more than 4,400 African American men, women, and children who were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950. In addition, the Legacy Museum uses interactive media, sculpture, videography, and exhibits to immerse visitors in the the domestic slave trade, racial terrorism, Jim Crow South, and the world’s largest prison system. It is located on the site of a former warehouse in Alabama where Black people were enslaved and auctioned.
2. Commit to support Black-owned businesses
During the Reconstruction era, a number of African Americans sought to create institutional change by developing schools, places of worship and businesses. Unfortunately, many of these businesses lacked the necessary financial support that was needed. In addition to limited capital, racial violence was a major challenge.
During the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 over 200 Black people were killed, “Black Wall Street” was destroyed with nearly 35 blocks completely destroyed and an estimated $2 million dollars of property loss (which is the equivalent of $50 million now). There were no prosecutions or charges ever brought. The 2003 case of Alexander v. the State of Oklahoma, in which plaintiffs tracing their roots to the Greenwood area knows as “Black Wall Street” sued the state for $20 million. It was dismissed and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case presented by Harvard Law Professor Charles J. Ogletree that sought reparations for the surviving families.
Maggie Anderson’s book, Our Black Year tells the story of her family’s quest to support Black businesses and keep their dollars invested in the Black community in the same way that other cultural and ethnic groups do. More recently, Beyoncé created the Black Parade this past Juneteenth, as a resource to highlight Black owned businesses.
To learn more about supporting Black owned businesses, visit the following links:
3. Donate to causes which support education and development of African-American communities.
There are a wealth of community organizations and groups which are dedicated to the uplift and further development of the Black community. A few which are doing work which has a significant national impact are:
UNCF is one the nation’s largest and most effective educational organizations. It was founded in 1944 to help more African-American students attend and graduate from college. Because of this advocacy, the number of students of color attending college has doubled. UNCF has a number of flexible plans available to show your financial support. Donate today.
Jackie Robinson Foundation is a national organization, which gives scholarships to highly motivated students of color for higher education while preserving the legacy of Baseball Hall of Fame member, Jackie Robinson. Join them in promoting equal opportunity & humanitarianism through scholarships, mentoring & leadership training while also supporting the Jackie Robinson Museum. Show your commitment by going to their website and contributing to their transformational cause.
The mission of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH®) is to promote, research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about Black life, history and culture to the global community. Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the founder of ASALH, was the second African American to earn a PhD at Harvard University in 1912. Recognizing the lack of information on the accomplishments of Blacks, Dr. Woodson founded ASALH in 1915. Visit their website to learn more and support ASAPH in their important mission.
4. Be Self-Reflective
Research shows us that even the most well-meaning people have bias. Bias can be implicit or explicit. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we all have some sort of bias. Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald’s book Blindspot highlights the importance of coming to terms with bias and ways to move forward.
One way to evaluate bias is to take time and ask yourself the following questions:
What is the difference between individual bias and structural inequality? What role do I play in dismantling bias and inequality?
How does power and privilege determine access and opportunity? What opportunities have I personally had access to because of my social networks?
What part do culture and history play in the formation of our individual and collective identities? How has my identity/identities been a factor in my access to opportunity?
Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, was founded in 1991 to prevent the growth of hate. They publish Teaching Tolerance magazine and produce a number of award-winning films. Although their materials are meant for educators, the website has a wealth of materials which can be helpful to anyone for creating plans and interrogating questions like the ones above in order to be more self-reflective about bias, racism and social justice.
5. Assess what you can do to encourage others to more inclusive
Who is in your sphere of influence?
In college, one of the most insightful essays I read was an article by Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” McIntosh explains how we are often blind to the ways we are privileged in comparison to others. She says,
“As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something which puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.
I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious.”
McIntosh also highlights the social capital that comes along with whiteness. She says, “White privilege is like an invisible, weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.” Unfortunately, contemporary America is challenged both by structural racism as well as the cultural embeddedness of white privilege.
To view Peggy McIntosh’s full article and learn more about the work of the SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) project, visit https://www.nationalseedproject.org/about-us/white-privilege for more information about their personal, organizational, and societal change work dedicated to social justice.
Ultimately, I hope this article not only has given you five ways to think about what you can actively do to combat anti-Black racism, but also gives you pause to question yourself and your actions regularly:
How am I advancing the leadership and capacity of Black colleagues and the larger Black community?
What am I personally doing in order to bring about equality and transformative change within my sphere of influence?
Let us start with ourselves first and commit to what we can personally do. That is the charge– and that is the call to action for each of us.