“I never should have made it through twelve years of schooling before entering a university, without ever hearing the important news that most anthropologists reject the concept of biological races.” – Robert Wald Sussman
Make no mistakes, I believe we must talk about race and racism, but we much change how we talk about race and racism.
I steer clear of using the terms anti-racist or racist in my work. I don’t believe they are wrong. However, I have experienced that for many, these words are unclear, unquantifiable, traumatizing, and halt a crucial conversation about a much broader issue and a more profound work—a work of dismantling the construct of race and racism and other systems of inequality.
To explain my position, let’s look at the construct of race.
- Race is a false classification of people that is not based on any actual or accurate biological or scientific truth.
- The concept of race was created as a classification of human beings to give white people power and legitimize the dominance of white people over non-white people.
- Racialization is the act of being “raced” or seen as someone belonging to a particular race.
- Racism believes that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another.
Racism is participation in the construct of race: period, full stop. If we continue to participate in the classification of human beings and agree to uphold the construct of race and racism, we practice racism.
If actively working to oppress certain people based on their “race classification” is a 10,000 on the Richter scale, practicing the racializing of individuals may fall at 10; however, it is still on the scale. Therefore, until we free ourselves from the construct of race, we will continue to, on some level, operate in racism.
Practicing the construct of race and working to dismantle the system of racism is like welcoming something with one hand and pushing it away with the other. Racism is a system created to uphold inequality, and so the broader issue is dismantling systems that sustain inequality and building systems that support and maintain Social Equality. We must understand and acknowledge our participation in the system as our act of dismantling it. Doing this is not just anti-racism work; this is the work of creating systematic equality. First, we must address race and its origins, and then we must see how we have internalized and practice this way of being.
When we make social issues binary, we create a social split of right and wrong, and we place ourselves on the side that we think is right and those in opposition with us on the side of wrong. In doing this, we uphold ideas of supremacy and social division, and we carry the very behavior we are seeking to dismantle into our efforts to create change. We sully the work and uphold the systems we are working to dismantle. However, when we look at these issues as a gradient spectrum, we will notice the behavior we see and how harmful it is, and then we search ourselves to find where we fall on the scope of that issue. This inner work of justice is equally important to the outer work of advocacy and allyship. And it is how we create systems and practices that align and are in integrity with the values of equality and justice for all.
If we do not acknowledge our participation in the practices of systems inequality like racism, sexism, ableism, classism, educationism, etc., we will continue to duplicate methods of inequality with other dimensions of diversity.
We must address the genuine effects of these constructions of inequality without upholding them. That work requires us to take responsibility for our thoughts, emotions, and our actions. It requires us to purge all we have internalized from these systems, model this work with integrity with our efforts, and inspire others to follow.
Am I saying we should not use the term anti-racist? Not at all. I am simply bringing our attention to the desired outcome and asking, is there another way? Are we doing our best to inform, inspire and unite humanity in embracing true justice and equality?