Eliminating racism seems impossible. It’s as if we are trying to play Monopoly on a board without ‘Go.’
For Ibrim X. Kendi, historian, college professor, anti-racist activist and author of “How to Be an Anti-Racist,” eliminating racism starts with changing policy rather than people.
“Racial inequality is a problem of bad policy, not bad people,” he wrote.
Members of the Facebook Group Rantoul Reformed viewed a recent online discussion featuring the author.
Kendi defines racism as the assumption that one people group is superior to another. Anti-racism, on the other hand, is the assumption that all people groups, regardless of their differences, are equal.
Instead of thinking in terms of being racist or non-racist, Kendi said we should be asking ourselves if the policies we support are racist or anti-racist. It is a shift from the passive “being” to the active “supporting.”
He rejects the commonly held definition of racism that says only people with power — in the U.S. that’s White people — can be racist. That implies that people of color are powerless, he said.
“I don’t want us to forget that we [people of color] have power. We have limited power, we don’t have as much power, but we have power,” Kendi said.
He named Harriet Tubman and John Lewis as examples of people of color who used whatever power they had to accomplish much.
The Rantoul Reformed viewers considered how Kendi’s ideas will affect their local anti-racist efforts.
Melina Thompson: As an educator, the most poignant takeaway for me was when Dr. Kendi said that we have to teach our children of color that there is nothing wrong with them because they are Black, and just as importantly, teach White children that there is nothing right with them just because they are White. I think that for the most part educators actively work to instill in children of color that their skin color doesn’t make them less, but I think that we forget that an important part of being an anti-racist is instilling in children who are White that their skin color doesn’t make them better.
MarQues Reed: (My take-away was) the part where he talks about how we have all been taught the mantra that ‘hard work will pay off.’ I internalized this way of thinking. I will work on educating people (our children) that this is not the truth. We need to educate all within the Black community that there are systemic barriers for Black people that make this not true.
Melina Thompson: As a (person of color), I am guilty of automatically considering myself an anti-racist defender of Black rights. However, Dr. Kendi’s message really struck a chord in me that through internalized racism and societal programming even people of color must be cautious to make sure that we are not supporting racist policy. This requires a constant vigilance and willingness to pick apart our own beliefs lest we fall victim to unexamined stereotypes and uninformed policies that seem harmless on the surface, but are based on racist ideology.
Tracy Williams: Racism can be dismantled, but it is going to take hard, persistent work. We have to organize and be involved and watchful in all the areas of (Rantoul). We are trying to dismantle and destroy a system that has provided privilege and unjust upwards mobility for White people. A system that has attempted to dehumanize and oppress people of color. In Rantoul there are 136 town positions. Of those 136 positions eight are filled with Black people (some of the eight people are biracial). None of the positions are held by Latinos. This should be an eye-opener for every person in Rantoul. Something is hugely wrong. In the school system the same is reflected. There are no administrators of color and very few teachers. The City schools will not even acknowledge that Black lives matter. We have our work cut out for us. We have to keep calling out the injustices and demanding change. We have to become educated in racism and in the workings of the systems. We have to get (people of color) and allies in positions of power to help make changes within the system.
Debra Rawlings: I think Kendi’s approach may make it easier for White people to participate in discussions about race because the focus is on policy rather than personality. We White people tend to be reluctant to discuss race. One reason is the fear of being accused of being racist and being linked with some of the most shameful acts in this country’s history. On the other hand, focusing on policy is no guarantee that discussion won’t be difficult and uncomfortable. Racism is a difficult and uncomfortable topic.
Debra Rawlings is a resident of Rantoul.