What Does Anti-Racism Look Like in 2021? Hint: It's Not Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion” is now the resounding string of words carefully woven into staff meetings within corporate, non-profit, and government workplaces as the movement towards anti-racism continues. And while the phrase “diversity, equity, and inclusion” sounds like progress, it is not progress on its own. It’s time we move away from these carefully chosen words that only serve to centralize racial justice for the sake of candidates winning elections and a false sense of social cohesion. As activists have been saying for some time, we need to stop simply using the phrase “diversity, equity, and inclusion” and start recognizing that it’s time to dismantle white supremacy and to bring down cis-heteronormative patriarchal social structures.

As the worldwide coronavirus pandemic raged in 2020, our country was forced to simultaneously grapple with years of systemic violence against the Black community. Black activists organized and people flooded the streets in protests of the horrific deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many more people who were wrongfully murdered. “Black Lives Matter” was chanted from the streets as police brutally subdued protesters. The fear among activists was about whether this was just performative activism by some or if we might see real change in 2021?

Once the protests dwindled, institutional leaders from both sides of the political aisle quickly jumped at the chance to quell the rightful anger of activists and began forcing the watering down of anti-racism work. Politicians, community leaders, and even our allies attempted to stifle the calls for anti-racism initiatives. Former president Barack Obama famously told activists that phrases like “defund the police” were too divisive and that they should seek out more cohesive branding. When the Democrats did not sweep the November elections as they hoped, instead of blaming white supremacist institutions, they chose to scapegoat people in their own party and publicly blamed progressives.

During the 2020 primaries, the party championed Joe Biden as the candidate that was going to bring the two parties together. When Biden won the election many saw it as a reflection of the country’s need for a centrist democrat to “peacefully” lead. That said, the election of Joe Biden as a means to unite the country has thus far failed. One indicator of this is the Capitol insurrection by radical right wing white supremacists on January 6th.

While Black Lives Matter activists were beaten on the streets in the summer of 2020 for crying out against the violent police brutality of unjustly stolen Black lives, we saw radical right insurrectionists—fueled by white supremacist dogma and conspiracy theories—storm the Capitol less than a year later with little law enforcement preparation or resistance… The hypocrisy of these events is not shocking, it is actually symptomatic of the systemic racism in our current institutions. The insurrection attempt happened regardless of the “unifying” force of the election of Joe Biden. These stormed the capitol with the intent of abducting, assaulting, and mutilating our legislators, their staffers, and anyone who got into their way. The event shocked centrists, but not racial justice activists. Activists knew how horrific these white supremacists groups are and how empowered they were by our institutional leader’s indifference to them.

We need to leave diversity, equity, and inclusion back in 2020 and in 2021 we need to pursue dismantling white supremacy. Dismantling white supremacy systemically, socially, and politically is the only way to achieve equality for all. From the pieces of an old racist system we will grow a new system that treats everyone fairly, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion, or lack of religion. We need to reflect on how we can dismantle white supremacy in our lives, our relationships, and our work. When we research and educate ourselves on how to further racial justice, we need to follow racial justice writers and activists that discuss on how to dismantle white supremacy for the sake of liberation. We need to put down the books that call for moderate social justice for the sake of cohesion. Most importantly we need to support and follow the activism that champions the dismantling of white supremacy for the sake of liberation, not merely calling for the moderation of racial justice for the sake of social cohesion.

The indifference to racial justice for the sake of social cohesion is a farce. The centrists tried, and in the most horrific way found that the only way to quell racial violence is to dismantle white supremacy institutions that fuel their raging flames, not just electing a symbolic “unifier” trying to find the moderate middle. It is time we continue headfirst in this anti-racism journey. To run back to the center will only push our country backwards. The time for progressive racial justice is now. As we begin 2021 it is imperative that we resist the urge to run back to the center.