“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” – Ijoema Oluo
Have you ever noticed the emotions the words racism, power and privilege evoke in people?
How is it that three words can arouse such intense feelings, putting leaders and community members at odds and friends and family on the defensive?
Why? The use of these words usually indicates there is a victim, and as a result, a responsible party. Feelings such as blame, judgment, anger, shame, guilt and worry soon color the situation as members of each camp retreat to their perspective corners, ready to defend or vindicate themselves.
This week, in honor of Black History Month, I will be sitting down with author Natasha Hampton as we unpack the dynamic of racism, power and privilege. Get ready to learn why we often treat this topic as a family secret.
What is Racism?
Racism is the assumption that one race is inherently superior to another. Within this assumption is inferred the right of that race to dominate over the other. Although most people may state that they no longer consciously believe this assumption, we still find ourselves faced with situations and behavior that indicate otherwise.
While we may prefer to sidestep the topic of racism, avoiding the conversation does not diminish the level of distress. We can not deny that conversations that focus on ethnicity, bias and race often lead to feelings of anger, discomfort, frustration or defensiveness.
The question is why?
We think that the face of racism is someone cruel, a bully out to inflict physical and emotional pain. The face of racism is not our kind neighbors, friends and colleagues. It most definitely is not us!
What we know is North America has a long history of racism and oppression. As a result, racism is a legacy we inherited, and it has become interwoven into the fabric of society. Racism, power and privilege are covertly present in all levels of our institutions. In other words, we are all shaped by this system.
What we must admit is that the face of racism has changed. The cruel behaviors that once created the face we recognized have changed because of legislation. While behavior may change through policy, legislation and goodwill, conditioning is not. For the next level of change to occur, we must examine our hearts and explore our beliefs. Only then will we understand the covert and subtle new face of racism, power and privilege.
The Internalized Impact of Racism
What is true, though, is that we all walk with some internalized impact of racism. Whether what we have internalized has us see ourselves as superior or inferior, it colors the lens through which we see the world and our interaction with one another.
When we begin to see issues related to racism, power and privilege as a byproduct of our history, we will be able to challenge the assumptions and conditioning we inherited from our past. Remember, to be an anti-racist society, we must be willing to take a hard look at ourselves and take responsibility for where we hold bias, judgement, prejudice and our beliefs about race.
Avoiding the topic of race further perpetuates racism and the abuse of power and privilege. Therefore, the examination of race, power, privilege and bias is crucial for effective leadership. To effect change, we must ask ourselves HOW not IF we have been affected by our history? To create a respectful and inclusive culture, we must be curious about our difference and invite respectful dialogue.
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