Three Ways to Fight Racism in 2014

Put this on your list of new year’s resolutions.

I like the ColorlinesRacial Justice Bucket List for 2014.” The activists and organizers included provide a good mix of the concrete/practical and more abstract/idealistic steps we should take toward achieving true racial justice. It’s obviously not an exhaustive list, as you’d need books upon books upon books in order to properly lay out a comprehensive plan for eliminating racism in the United States. Put frankly, this shit is complicated. But having goals helps, even if their only real achievement is keeping you sane in the midst of the chaos. I have a few things I’m working toward this year:

1. Reclaiming the definition of “racism.”

Twenty fourteen will be the year this is made clear to everyone: racism is not simply personal prejudice/bigotry that only manifests in the form of being unkind to someone on the basis of their skin color or calling them a derogatory name. Racism is a system of oppression, one that creates a society of first- and second-class citizens by denying rights and access to resources to non-white people. Racism is a system of power created by and maintained through public policy.

Racist rhetoric or action is anything that reinforces/upholds that system. So until the day comes when the US government enacts laws aimed specifically and purposefully at ensuring that white people are shut out of education/healthcare/jobs/housing and shuttled into prison and poverty, I don’t want to hear any more about the growing discrimination against white Americans. It is nonexistent. Additionally, I will be more conscious about not using softer, ambiguous phrases when referring to racism. There is no more “race relations” or “conversations about race” or “racial issues/discrimination.” There is racism. We have to name it before we face it.

2. Putting respectability politics on the shelf where they belong.

I saw entirely too much of this in 2013. At the ugliest times, the politics of respectability–the idea that individuals can defeat systems of oppression by modifying their behavior and/or presentation to be more “acceptable” or “deserving”–reared its head and diverted our attention from real people’s pain and suffering.

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