Discussing How to be Anti-Racist

Racism and white supremacy culture are destructive practices that were created by white people and must be addressed and dismantled by white people. These practices cause injustice in all aspects of our lives: income and wealth, housing and food access, educational opportunities, environmental safety, cultural erasure and exploitation, the criminal justice system, health care, our personal relationships, and more. Systemic racism   divides society and, along with other forms of oppression, hinders us from recognizing and celebrating each other’s humanity.

Although these hateful systems inform us, they don’t have to define us. Dismantling systemic racism requires a personal practice of working to be anti-racist and grounding ourselves in accountability both as individuals and communities. You, as a white identifying person, may feel uncomfortable defining yourself with negative terms—especially if you’ve chosen to call yourself a humanist over atheist or agnostic—but “anti-racist” is used to describe the process of  eagerly gaining and using the self-awareness, knowledge, and skills needed to take action against racial inequities. The National Museum of African American History & Culture explains how everyone has a role to play in anti-racism:

For white people, being antiracist evolves with their racial identity development. They must acknowledge and understand their privilege, work to change their internalized racism, and interrupt racism when they see it. For people of color, it means recognizing how race and racism have been internalized, and whether it has been applied to other people of color.

To help begin and continue your own anti-racism work, explore the ever-growing online lists of recommended books, podcasts, videos, articles, organizations, and activists. For example, bit.ly/ANTIRACISMRESOURCES (compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein in May 2020) and Racial Equity Tools’ Fundamentals. These tools help you explore different perspectives, learn from research, and build a more intersectional understanding of the advocacy happening and still needed. Remember, humanists are lifelong learners always striving to make sense of the world and improve it for all.

Also remember that you’re not alone and often community can help us more fully comprehend challenging ideas. We invite you to join other humanists on this journey during our Anti-Racist Discussions, held on selected weekday evenings from May 10 to June 8 (7-9pm ET). The American Humanist Association and the American Ethical Union are kicking off this new series with a focus on books and podcasts (shared below) that help us dive into uncomfortable histories and prepare for hopeful futures.

Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America by Jennifer Harvey
Dr. Jennifer Harvey is a writer, speaker, and professor of religion and ethics at Drake University whose work focuses on racial justice and white anti-racism. This book is for families and communities who want to equip their children to be active and able participants in a society that is becoming more racially diverse while remaining full of racial tensions. You can also listen to an interview with the author on NPR and watch a “Talks at Google” interview.

How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith
The Germans have put a lot of thought into what they call “Vergangenheitsbewältigung,” or “coming to terms with the past,” that is, with the Nazi past. This book has to do with America’s record of dealing with its own past of enslaving human beings, while preaching “all are created equal.” How has that been remembered, and how does that affect our thinking today about racial issues? We can’t ignore or try to erase our history, no matter how difficult it is to face.

How to Be an Antiracist” podcast episode with Ibram X. Kendi and Brené Brown
What does it mean to be anti-racist? How can we recognize racist ideas and behaviors in society and ourselves? Racism intersects with class and culture and geography and even changes the way we see and value ourselves. Kendi weaves a combination of ethics, history, law, and science with his own personal story of awakening to antiracism. Students are welcome to also read the book and explore the workbook.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
Isabel Wilkerson tells the stories of Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, George Starling, and Robert Pershing Foster. It weaves the personal and social together to explain the great migration of African Americans out of the southern United States from 1915 to 1970. This winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction uses biography, statistics, and historical analysis to shed light on race, community, and the struggle of a multicultural society to flourish.

All are welcome, but this program is primarily intended to educate and support white folks who are new in their anti-racism journey. The facilitators—Jone Johnson Lewis, Anne Klaeysen, Hugh Taft-Morales, and Louise Jett—are all white-identifying Ethical Culture Leaders or Emerging Leaders who have led discussions, talks, workshops, and the writing of resolutions on racism, privilege, and inequality over the years. It is important that as we make this journey together we don’t ask BIPOC folks to educate or labor for us, we must do this work for ourselves and create a framework of understanding upon which we can later build in nuance and contact with BIPOC leaders who can help us better understand their varied experiences. We’re planning to learn from this pilot series to be able to run more sessions with various anti-racism materials and collaborate with other experienced facilitators to help individuals and local groups prepare for future trainings.

Participants will learn about, and discuss, inequality and bias so that we can strengthen our anti-racism self-reflections and advocacy, and take steps towards becoming more inclusive and equitable communities. Each session is $25. If you are able, we also encourage donations  to support other students for whom the fee is a financial hardship. The fee enables us to compensate our facilitators, staff, and organizers for their work developing and promoting the series. Students in need may request a scholarship by emailing education@americanhumanist.org for a coupon code.