5 Things Everyone Can Do To Heal America's RacismJuly 11, 2016
I feel compelled and qualified to to say something to my (vegan) network about the growing unrest over the continual police shootings of black men. You may not know that it was my interest, research, and work, since adolescence, in anti-racism and social justice activism along with my degree in American Studies (history through the lens of race, class, gender, and sexuality), that eventually led me to go vegan.
As people with the practiced ability to change our habits for a cause, we vegans have a role to play in the trajectory of civil rights and race relations everywhere. But while there's been a spike in outrage, sadness, and demand for change with all the recent shootings, I also see that people have no any idea of what to actually do, besides hashtag #blacklivesmatter and pressure political leaders for something, unsure of what.
Anything we ask of the government will surely be metered, imperfect, and lengthy to institute. So like every other historical social justice movement, change must occur by conscious individuals modifying their own behavior—sacrificing time for education, gatherings, brainstorming, discussion and debate, implementing change, embodying change, influencing others. Legislation and policy follow the people, not vice versa.
While our community leaders and local governments improve their policies, protocols, use-of-force training, and whatever else might one day create more equality in the public sphere, we can work on our hearts and minds, laying the foundation for a widespread, fundamental, permanent shift toward justice for all.
PLEASE NOTE: By no means is the following a comprehensive list of solutions to heal America's racism, but a start for people who want to help, but don't know where to begin. And by no means am I claiming to speak on behalf of any community, but rather from my experience and learnings as an anti-racism activist. And finally, by no means am I focusing on black history because I think any one else's history is less important, but since the current events have specifically to do with police racism and black men, I focused on resources about African American history.
5 THINGS EVERYONE CAN DO TO HEAL AMERICA'S RACISM
1. ACKNOWLEDGE THE GAP
Admit, at least to yourself, that you probably don't know too much about the experience of people of color—unless you have, over great lengths of time, repeatedly put yourself in environments where you are the racial minority, away from the watchful eye of white society. Admission is the first step to recovery.
2. READ & WATCH
Educate yourself on African American history. If you don't intentionally seek out the history of all peoples of color, in fact, you can not possibly know American history at all, nor the real context and implications of race today. To get you started, these are just a few of my most beloved, mind-blowing, life-changing resources that cover a great span of time.
• The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
• Race Rebels: Culture Politics, and the Black Working Class by Robin D.G. Kelley
• Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; Narrative of Sojourner Truth; The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader: Ida B. Wells
• Watch documentation of anti-racism activist Jane Elliot's "Blue-Eyed Brown-Eyed" workshops—they are some of the most powerful demonstrations of the insidious nature of racism on both the "superior" and oppressed sides. See what happens when she discriminates against a group of people based on eye color, lowers her expectations of them, and breaks their confidence as they live down to those expectations:
• How Racist Are You? Part I (11 min)
• The Angry Eye (51 min)
Purchase the "Blue-Eyed" documentary on Jane Elliot for diversity training purposes here.
Because of the intersections of race and class, our schools have become largely segregated once again. We have to integrate ourselves if we want our generation and the next to be brothers and sisters. If you or your kids have extracurriculars, hobbies, or after school activities, for example, try doing them in a neighborhood you wouldn't normally venture to—not once or twice like you're on some exoticized safari, but for extended periods of time—to build relationships, friendships, networks, and communities. If this sounds scary to you, the problem of racism and its effect on your life should be appearing clearer. See #1 again.
4. STOP SUGAR-COATING
Stop telling kids that "everyone is equal" and start explaining America's history of inequality, what's going on in the news, and—outrightly and clearly—why racism is sick and wrong. Teach your kids to identify and stand in solidarity with just causes, collectives, ideas, and people.
5. CHOOSE YOUR ACTIVISM THOUGHTFULLY
Don't toss around trendy hashtags nor assume you know what any community needs or wants, or what is good for them. Some of the most useless activism I've seen happens when outsiders come into a neighborhood and start offering services that have nothing to do with the real needs of the community. Listen, read, and find out what the many different voices in the community are saying, and only then become a soldier for what you find fair and just.
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