Strategies to Confront Racism


Howard Zinn from the film #ReGENERATION reflecting upon social activism
(less than a year before he passed away)

Table of Contents

15 Tips for Confronting Racism and White Privilege
Barriers to Discussing Racism and White Privilege
Anti-harassment Strategies
Organizational Anti-racism
Duality of Inclusiveness
For Kids
Institutional Change
Anti-Racism Tools and Exercises

15 Tips for Confronting Racism and White Privilege


Sub Table of Contents

  1. Education is an ongoing process
  2. Believe marginalized people’s experiences
  3. Decentering Whiteness and Challenging White Fragility
  4. Avoid shaming
  5. Learn when to “call out” or “call in”
  6. Use assertive communication
  7. Ask questions and identify bridges
  8. Model vulnerability
  9. Understand Logical Fallacies
  10. Defend important social justice concepts
  11. Understand and challenge all fractal levels
  12. Don’t just be non-racist, be anti-racist
  13. Understand how to be a good ally
  14. Know your own limits, practice self-care and build alliances
  15. Heal your self

1. Education is an on-going process

“It’s (racism) not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.” Scott Woods

Education in the following areas should be an on-going part of your

  • All forms of racism and white privilege
    • Counter narratives
  • Your own role in racist systems
    • Your own biases (consciously and unconsciously)
    • How your own perspective/communication affects people of color
    • Your complicity/complacency with racism systems
      • Racism Complicity
        • Consciously or unconsciously support, contribute, benefit from racism or racist systems
      • Racism Complacency
        • Support racism and racist systems by not challenging it
  • Strategies, resources and organizations working on dismantling racism

Broadly: 100 Ways White People Can Make Life Less Frustrating For People of Color


Spend time researching all forms of racism and white privilege, your own role in these systems, your own biases, and how your own perspective and forms of communication affects people of color.  Attempt to understand anti-racism concepts such as white fragilitytone policing, purity politics, non-racist vs anti-racist, good/bad binary, microaggressions, cultural appropriation, etc.  Spend time learning about effective ways to confront racism, common excuses, perspectives and anti-racism detours for racism, and how to offer constructive feedback.   And study persuasion techniques such as morally reframe, cognitive dissonance, and backfire effect.  And if applicable check out organzational and children anti-racism techniques.

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2. Believe marginalized people’s experiences

  • Your experiences
    • Are not the only experiences the world experience
  • Hold space for multiple narratives, views, perspectives
    • “And” instead of “But”
    • Historiography
    • Sometimes people don’t know what they don’t know
      • Approach with humility, not ego

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  • In many ways the US is more racially segregated than ever
    • Around 75% of white people don’t have any non-white friends
    • US schools are more segregated today than they were in 1968
    • The world white people experience or taught about
      • often doesn’t match up with the world people of color experience
    • Believe people of color even if it contradicts your beliefs
      • “When White Friends Don’t Believe What Blacks Experiences, They’re Not Friends” Mary C. Curtis – Triblive

  • Make an effort to bring diversity
    • In your and your family’s life
  • Don’t ever Whitesplain!!!
    • Paternalistic assumption people of color don’t know enough to accurately articulate their experience
    • Its not just harmlessly discussing racism, but implicitly acting on racist ideas that say that people of color are ignorant and wrong, even about their own experiences.
    • “Result of the power white people hold as part of the dominant culture in the US…That’s why there’s no equivalent like “blacksplaining.” When a Black person talks about race with a white person, they don’t have the same institutional power as a white person who belongs to the dominant culture.” Maisha Z. Johnson, Everyday Feminist

  • Don’t ever say, “Not all white people…”
    • When we write about things that white people do, we use the generic phrase “white people” as a catchall (see also: wypipo). We use it to represent the type of collective whiteness that unites white people even when y’all aren’t all on the same page or following the same agenda or falling into the same category. It’s that “general you” versus “specific you” type of thing. We know “not all white people.” We know that there are a great many of you who don’t exemplify any of the behaviors that we talk about, and we are proud of you. OK, we aren’t necessarily proud of you or handing out awards for people being decent human beings, but we shouldn’t have to, much in the same way we shouldn’t have to specifically say “not all white people” every single time we write a story illustrating something ignorant, racist or otherwise damaging that white people have done. It is implied.” Monique Judge, ‘Not All White People’: A Definitive Disclaimer

Alley Henny

Brene Brown: 3 Ps

Further Readings

Everyday Feminism: Why White People Shouldn’t Impose Their Feelings Into Conversations on Race

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3. Decentering Whiteness and Challenging White Fragility

“Rather than focusing on the lived experiences and traumas of People of Color when talking about racism, the focus is placed on the host of emotions that white people go through when confronted with racism. Rather than focusing on how People of Color feel on an everyday basis from having to deal with racist institutions, interpersonal relationships, and ideologies, the focus goes to white people just beginning to confront how they benefit from racism on many levels.” Jennifer Loubriel, Everyday Feminism

  • Don’t let white fragility and white comfort
    • Stop you or others from talking about race
    • White fragility is when white people feel uncomfortable talking about race and often retreat.   You may feel this while confronting racism or you may cause this to the people you are comfronting.  A common reaction to this is to retreat from the conservation or to water down the conservation.  Its important to fight this urge and to continue having these important conservations as much as possible even if it doesn’t end well.  Its better to make a situation awkward than to not confront a racist action.  An awkward situation is not anywhere near as bad than living with racism.
  • White fragility/white confront
    • White people feeling uncomfortable talking about racism or white privilege
      • Often felt when being confronted
    • Common reactions
      • Retreat from conservation
      • Water down conservation
      • Get defensive
      • Act like a victim
      • Dominate conservation
    • Remember
      • Impact trumps intent
    • Its important to fight these urges
      • Stay in the conservation
      • Listen more than talk
      • Explore what beliefs are behind these reactions
        • Binary belief about racism
        • Believe your experiences are same as others
        • Defensive about your privilege
    • Awkward situations not as bad as living w/ racism


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Tips to De-centering Whiteness

  • Believe people of color’s experience as is
    • Don’t whitesplain
  • Amply people of color’s voices
    • Instead of co-opting or blocking them
  • Learn to be okay with discomfort around racism and white privilege
    • Spend time recognizing and understanding your reactions
  • Pause before responding, reacting
    • Ask yourself if you centering this issue or experience around your comfort
  • Find white only anti-racism spaces to process white internalizations
    • Don’t force people of color to process these emotions with you
      • White guilt, white tears, white fragility, etc.
  • Educate other white people on white centering
    • White people, stuck in white centering, listen best from other centered white people

Further Readings

Dr. Robin DiAngelo: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism

Yes Magazine: Dear White People, Stop Making Racism All About You

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4. Avoid shaming

  • Focus on the action or idea, not the person
  • For example:
    • “What you said was racist because it re-enforces racist stereotypes…”
      • instead of saying “You’re racist for saying that” 
      • Attacking people is dehumanizing
    • Allows people to feel they have power to change actions
      • rather than becoming reactionary to being shamed for who they are
      • Easier for people to change behaviors than to themselves
      • People are more inclined to change when its just a behavior
    • Focus on the particular action or statement
      • Avoid saying things like “You always . . .” or “You keep on . . .” and give a specific incident or example


Jay Smooth: How To Tell Someone They Sound Racist

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5. Learn when to “call out” or “call in”

Sometimes its important to “call out” in the open when many people could benefit from this lesson on racism. But most people, when “called out”, often become reactionary or withdrawn, and may be too distracted to understand the lesson. When you’re main purpose is to change someone’s behavior its often better to “call in” that person to a private conservation online, or even better in person. A behavior is often more likely to change for the longtern, when its done from a place of compassion, instead of shame.

  • Call out
    • Sometimes its important to “call out” when it could be a teachable moment for others
      • Holds people, particularly those who have privilege over others, accountable for oppressive actions
        • Staying silent about injustice is to be complicit in oppression
      • Important that marginalized folks are allowed to do this
    • Most people, when “called out” will become reactionary and won’t learn anything
  • Call in
    • “Call in” that person to a private conservation online, or in person
    • Best when main purpose is to change someone’s behavior
      • Works best with people who are socially anxious, new to social justice activism, or very sensitive
    • Behavior is more likely to change for long-term when done from place of compassion
      • Instead of shame and making someone feel lesser than you
      • Less insulting

“I picture ‘calling in’ as a practice of pulling folks back in who have strayed from us. It means extending to ourselves the reality that we will and do fuck up, we stray, and there will always be a chance for us to return. Calling in as a practice of loving each other enough to allow each other to make mistakes, a practice of loving ourselves enough to know that what we’re trying to do here is a radical unlearning of everything we have been configured to believe is normal.” Ngọc Loan Trần

Loretta J. Ross: Speaking Up Without Tearing Down

It’s a moment most educators will recognize: A student has said something biased or promoted a stereotype. There’s a ripple through the classroom, but the speaker hasn’t noticed. Students look to you expectantly, and you know the statement can’t go unaddressed.

Most teachers look for opportunities to build a human rights culture and to counter hatred, bigotry, fear-mongering and intolerance. One way to do this, when students make a mistake, is to call them in rather than calling them out. Doing so prepares them for civic engagement by encouraging a sense of hope and possibility.

Guiding Instead of Dragging

In conversations and debates about social justice issues, insisting someone take responsibility when they say or do something hurtful—regardless of their intent—is a common way to protect vulnerable communities and individuals. It’s often necessary, but not every correction allows both parties to move forward. Calling out happens when we point out a mistake, not to address or rectify the damage, but instead to publicly shame the offender. In calling out, a person or group uses tactics like humiliation, shunning, scapegoating or gossip to dominate others.

In our society, call-outs have become a way of life. They are generally done publicly, either in person or online. Extreme calling out is when a person or a group expresses their disagreement cruelly, sometimes grandstanding. Fearing they may be considered politically backward if they don’t prove their “wokeness” on trending social justice issues, witnesses to the conflict may pile on while bystanders silently withdraw.

Calling in is a technique that does allow all parties to move forward. It’s a concept created by human-rights practitioners to challenge the toxicity of call-out culture. Calling in is speaking up without tearing down. A call-in can happen publicly or privately, but its key feature is that it’s done with love. Instead of shaming someone who’s made a mistake, we can patiently ask questions to explore what was going on and why the speaker chose their harmful language.

Call-ins are agreements between people who work together to consciously help each other expand their perspectives. They encourage us to recognize our requirements for growth, to admit our mistakes and to commit to doing better. Calling in cannot minimize harm and trauma already inflicted, but it can get to the root of why the injury occurred, and it can stop it from happening again.

Calling in is not for everyone or every circumstance. It’s not fair, for example, to insist that people hurt by cruel or careless language or actions be responsible for the personal growth of those who have injured them; calling in should not demand involuntary emotional labor.

Calling in is also not a useful response to those who intentionally violate standards of civil conversation. When powerful people use bigotry, fear and lies to attack others, calling out can be a valuable tool, either for the individuals they seek to oppress or for bystanders who choose to interrupt the encounter. When people knowingly use stereotypes or dehumanizing metaphors to describe human beings, their actions victimize targets and potentially set them up for violence. Calling out may be the best response to those who refuse to accept responsibility for the harm they encourage or who pretend they are only innocently using their right to free speech.

But, if call-ins can occur without demanding undue emotional labor or allowing space for hateful behavior, this approach offers a way forward that increases the potential for learning—particularly in activist and academic spaces. This practice works especially well when allies call one another in or when leaders, such as teachers, use it to model speaking up without losing the opportunity for learning. By teaching our students how to call one another in, we’re providing them the tools and skills they need to gather up those who share their privileges, to offer patience and grace when they can, and to facilitate growth—so others won’t have to.

It’s not fair to insist that people hurt by cruel or careless language or actions be responsible for the personal growth of those who have injured them.

Why Classrooms Are Made for Calling In

Teaching calling-in practices means teaching students techniques to avoid escalating conflicts and to relate to each other in affirming ways. When we teach call-in skills, we create what we need for ourselves and our students: brave spaces in which everyone understands that people make mistakes, that people come from diverse cultures and languages that may use words differently, and that people should not be punished for not knowing the right words to say. When we call students out instead of building a call-in culture in the classroom, we contribute to increasingly toxic and polarized conversations. And we make learning less inviting.

In class discussions, for example, the concept of privilege frequently becomes a source of call-outs, since privilege isn’t always apparent to those who have it. But educators can build space for a culture that relies on calling classmates in instead of publicly shaming them.

How to Start a Call-in Conversation

“I need to stop you there because something you just said is not accurate.”

“I’m having a reaction to that comment. Let’s go back for a minute.”

“Do you think you would say that if someone from that group was with us in the room?”

“There’s some history behind that expression you just used that you might not know about.”

“In this class, we hold each other accountable. So we need to talk about why that joke isn’t funny.”

In a classroom with a call-in culture, for example, a white student denying white privilege by pointing out how hard his parents worked is regarded first as a classmate who’s not understanding, not as a member of a privileged class refusing to acknowledge his advantages. The student’s statement offers an opportunity for peers to teach one another, for example, by asking if he has ever had the experience of being stopped by the police for no reason while walking down the street. This question—a form of calling in—encourages the student to rethink his position. It highlights the experience of the student rather than labeling him with an identity he’s not open to. Most importantly, it helps clarify a key misunderstanding by helping show the student that privilege doesn’t necessarily mean a lavish lifestyle, and that privilege and hard work aren’t mutually exclusive.

Calling in is not a guarantee that everyone will joyfully work together. It is simply the extension of grace, the opportunity to grow and to share learning and responsibility for each other.

Building a Call-In Culture

Calling someone in effectively requires preparation. The first step for educators is a self-assessment to prepare ourselves for effective engagements. This inventory might include writing and practicing some sentence starters, taking stock of which students tend to trigger or irritate us, and checking in with ourselves daily to assess the status of our emotional bandwidth.

While class discussions offer ample opportunities for calling students in, the technique shouldn’t just be reactive. There are many ways that educators can create a space where calling in is the norm, where students feel comfortable calling one another in and where they don’t shut down when they themselves are called in by their peers.

Practice Calling In

When someone is called in, they may still have the same reactions as if they were called out. They may feel panicked, ashamed, combative, upset or attacked. But letting students practice calling their peers in—and being called in—helps them see that mistakes can be an opportunity to learn something new and get a fresh perspective. When we let students practice calling in, we teach them how to distinguish between people who are intentionally hurtful and those who are trying to figure out how to understand or talk about differences.

One effective exercise I’ve used is “Human Rights in the Headlines.” Students bring copies of their local newspaper to class and are asked to select a story about something they believe is unfair. There will inevitably be differences of opinion about whatever is said, and these provide the opportunity for students to practice their call-in techniques. For example, questions such as, “I don’t think I understand what you’re saying, so can we talk some more?” or “Can we stop and explore what is happening now?” allow the asker to seek clarification and calm tensions.

Discuss Call-out Culture

One way to help students distinguish calling in from calling out is to ask what call-out culture looks like for them. You can also ask them to list and define specialized terms commonly used to justify call-outs like “trigger” or “microaggression.” Take time to discuss these terms. For example, you can explain that—despite how the word is casually used today—being “triggered” means being trapped in the memory of a past trauma, not just feeling uncomfortable. Ask students to consider the difference between aggressive behavior and a microaggression—both in terms of intent and impact. Explain that, if no one calls in an offender about a microaggression, they only have their own intentions to rely on going forward and will likely offend others. Talking about call-out culture before anyone is called in or out can help students understand why calling in is part of your classroom expectations.

You can continue this conversation by asking students to compare the effects of call-outs and call-ins. Calling out is intended to shame, encouraging others to exclude the person called out without any discussion of details that may shed light on what the conflict may actually be. Calling people out shuts down listening and escalates the conflict. Calling in prevents differences in understanding from escalating into conflict. It means exploring the underlying issues precipitating a situation. Given the difference in results, you may ask students to contemplate why so many people choose to participate in call-out culture.

Look for Curricular Spaces for Calling In White Students

In my college courses on white supremacy, I teach a concept called “appropriate whiteness” to discuss new forms of knowledge and history and to explore different ways whiteness may be lived. Appropriate whiteness occurs when white people can be proud of themselves and their ethnic backgrounds without falling into the trap of white supremacy (for example, neglecting a history of enslavement and oppression to pretend the Confederate flag is simply about heritage).

Calling in helps to dismantle a culture of white guilt and shame and helps transform fear into positive actions that center on the white community calling each other in. Helping white students talk about their race and explore their implicit biases aids them in learning how to complicate the concept of identity. It lets them practice participating in honest conversations without falling back on white fragility—or avoiding the topic of race altogether.

Learning about the ways in which they are privileged doesn’t need to be an exercise in guilt and shame for students. Learning to call one another in—and to respond to being called in with a sincere desire to do and be better—can help students feel good about committing themselves to a more just world and gives them another tool to build it.


Aja Barber

“if you don’t belong to the marginalized group who invented it.⁣

Call out culture started on Twitter with black and brown people. And no one called it “call out culture” until white people decided it needed a name so they can write hundreds of essays about how they don’t liiiiiiike it. And like so many things in this world it has been co opted for white consumption and use. Not much you can do about that. ⁣

But what I can say is that it’s not up to white people to decide its effectiveness or whether it has a place in our society. While I’ve seen a post about it today, I have seen seen MANY posts about it recently in the ethical and environment community and it’s got my hackles up. You’re literally taking a tool you didn’t invent … and something black and brown people have used to raise attention to the things which harm us and deciding that you get to decide whether or not we get to use it. Do you understand how messed up that looks?⁣

Did anyone ever get free by asking oppressive powers for permission? No. Does anyone call it “call out culture” when we put a company on blast for doing something unethical and they change their ways? Um no. We don’t. We call it getting shit done. So perhaps be careful with weighing in on actions that weren’t invented for you or by you. One tenant of white supremacy is believing that your opinion is necessary on all things. But maybe it isn’t. ⁣

Have I been called out before? OF COURSE I HAVE. It feels uncomfortable. But I lived. And so will you. I think the root of these critiques come from the fact that white people are so used to being comfortable. That’s why the conversation on race goes so badly if white people aren’t doing anti racism work. Because it is uncomfortable. Any slight discomfort feels like oppression to white folks. It isn’t. Discomfort causes change. The future has a lot of discomfort in it if we want big change. There’s a lot of hard truths that many have to own in order for us to have a truly ethical future. But owning that won’t kill you. It will probably make you a better person” Aja Barber

Karla Thomas: Mad About Call-out Culture?: Stop Centering White Cultural Norms & Feelings

A few days ago, my Facebook timeline was abuzz with an Op-ed from the NY Times by Loretta Ross entitled; I’m a Black Feminist. I Think Call-Out Culture Is Toxic.” I scrolled passed it on several occasions, knowing that I had to be in a darn near saintly frame of mind to handle that kind of Uncle Tom foolery. I saw clearly what the NY Times was trying to do with that title. They were purposely masquerading the errant Black voice to help assuage the ruffled feathers of well-intentioned white liberals. I wanted no part of that dog and pony shit show. But everywhere I looked, so-called white-allies were sharing this piece and I finally bit the bullet and allowed myself to subsume the emotionally caustic irritant. Within record speed, it managed to exceed my tolerance for white folk pandering.

I vehemently reject the idea that call-out culture is toxic; it is one tool, in the tool box aiding in the fight of all forms of oppression. It is not only necessary, but extremely beneficial to the masses when executed skillfully. The fact that Ms. Ross is focused almost primarily on the impact of the call-out to the person making the transgression is the crack that undermines her entire argument but yet, it is so basely American in its pattern of thought. When a cop shoots an unarmed Black Man, the majority of the news cast that day, will focus on the cop’s previously pristine record, or the fact that he is a family man or the awards he has been given for his many years of service; anything to stop us from focusing on the dead Black man. Unless of course, they are compelled to mention that he had a joint in his pocket or a prior arrest record. We need to cease this culture of protecting white feelings and reputations even when they are the clear antagonists.

It is false to assume that the Call-out Cavalier’s, (I just coined the term,) primary focus is reforming the aggressor. We have all seen how this plays out as if they are reading a script from Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility”. No amount of hiding that “Your actions were racist” pill, in a spoon full of sugar, ever works to make that medicine go down, if the person is not truly ready to listen. The assailant is often way too caught up in their emotions, defensiveness and myopic definition of racism, so regardless of the approach, you are not able to get them to admit any level of wrong doing.

The most critical reason for a call-out is actually centered on the victim. Interrupting racially offensive behavior, (or any other –ism,) in the same forum or elevated forum and at the same volume as the aggression was made, is paramount to ensuring that anyone from the oppressed group in ear or eye shot knows that those transgressions were seen and will not go unaddressed. When you wait to “call someone in” privately, the people who were impacted by the statement or action have no real way of knowing that there were others in the room that found it problematic and who were willing to stand up against such behavior. Letting the offended party know that someone has their back is of utmost importance, otherwise the secondary hurt of thinking no one cares sets in shortly after the blow of the initial offense.

Education is also a key goal of a call-out, but it is not necessarily about enlightening the offender. The offense is now primarily a chalk board for the call-out champion to write on. Any third party watching whose emotions are not immediately embroiled in the issue, stands an excellent chance of learning from the missteps of another if the call-out champion clearly outlines not only how the action or statement was racist, but the racist impact and the unjust systems and policies that produce the racist stereotype just exclaimed.

Again, not focusing on the white aggressor, I’m just going to go ahead and admit that venting is cathartic, PERIOD. As a Black, immigrant, lesbian, I refuse to internalize and swallow all the dog whistle transgressions I encounter on a weekly basis. I will not pocket those jabs to my soul in the hopes that I get the opportunity to hug it out with the offender at a more opportune moment. Nope, that is not my way or the way of my people. Bottling up feelings or only communicating them when it’s convenient, polite and socially acceptable is a norm to white culture and some Asian cultures. I invite you to consider for a moment that white culture is not the gold standard.

In my home country of Trinidad or in an number of Black and Brown communities, if someone steps out of line, most people are likely to handle it immediately, on the spot and with little regard to who is watching and what opinions they may form. Carrying that hurt around and waiting to address it, further oppresses the victim.

Addressing the issue immediately allows me to lay the burden of the incident back at the feet of the aggressor and walk away freely, knowing that I have said my piece. I release the negative energy created by the offender, and move on. I am free.

Ms. Ross over-simplifies so much in her diatribe as if she does not she think the reader capable of grasping nuanced situations. The example for her not telling off the women of the Ku Klux Klan after they called her a “well-spoken colored girl” and asked her to sing a negro spiritual is most certainly not because she “wouldn’t let her hurt feeling sabotage her larger agenda.” Rather, it is because she wanted to get off that darn mountain top alive! It’s about politics of location, literally and figuratively! If there is one thing Black folks figure out really quickly on this earth, it is how to survive in a world not exactly built to accommodate them. I’m pretty sure “don’t piss off the KKK in the middle of a deserted forest” is lesson #1 in “how to not to be the Black person that dies in the first scene of a horror movie.” It’s not exactly like she tried to “call in” the KKK ladies in, right?

There are a few things that Ms. Ross gets right. She points out that, “we’re a polarized country, divided by white supremacy, patriarchy, racism against immigrants and increasingly vitriolic ways to disrespect one another.” But I’m sorry, (not Sorry), when a person’s “disrespect” takes the form of devaluing the life, freedom and human decency to already marginalized groups, that person loses the right to a call-in. That person, simply doesn’t get any of my energy caring about their hurt feelings and defensiveness. That is in effect saying that there are “very fine people on both sides” and we just need to find a way to play in the sand box nicely. NOPE! Someone is going to have sand in their proverbial eye and my momma is not even going to spank me for it. You cannot ask the oppressed to play nicely with their oppressors. It’s like asking a slave to try not to escape to freedom because his master will be inconvenienced financially. HELL TO THE NO!

And while I fully agree that we can “work together to ascertain harm and achieve justice without seeing anyone as disposable,” I have to stop way short of the point where she goes on to equate a social media call out of the BBQ Becky’s of the world for example, to “violating their human rights or right to due process.” I thought I must have misread that line as it was such an offensive exaggeration, especially in a conversation where Black and Brown human rights and lives are violated consistently and systemically.

Ms. Ross goes on to argue that, “call-outs make people fearful of being targeted. People avoid meaningful conversations when hyper vigilant perfectionists point out apparent mistakes.” Again this centers the hurt white feelings and ignores the reality that white America has been systematically avoiding conversations of race for centuries. America jumped from slavery, to Black Codes, to Jim Crow, to the War on Black Men (aka The War on Drugs) and mass incarceration over a near 380-year period. Then suddenly in a 20-year span, they want to decree colorblindness as good and declared that we are in a “Post Racial America,” let bygones be bygones, let’s not talk about it too much, the past is the past, THE END. It is critical here to realize, that when an aggressor makes a transgression then is called out, and the rebuttal is, “well you could have told me in a nicer manner” or “it’s rude to call someone racist,” there is a clear and purposeful choice to avoid the message that points out their racism and to focus on the messenger. That is avoiding the key issue at hand. That is tone policing. That is gas lighting oneself to believe that the fault lies elsewhere. That trick is as old as the day, and in that op-ed, they even celebrated a sister for towing the crooked party line for them.

In the spirit of the phrase, “calling-in is simply a call-out done with love,” I would lovingly like to call everyone to the fight against all forms of oppression and not quibble about how the fight is approached. The task at hand is colossal, there is room for multiple approaches.

Let’s welcome everyone to show up as they are in this fight; with their rage, with their humor, with a well-timed meme, with their academic facts laid succinctly at the feet of the offending party, with their tears and with their frustration. And yes, if the spirit so moves them, on any given day, with grace and love, but that is not owed to an oppressor, so don’t expect it as the standard, because that is not a realistic or fair request.

When we choose this path we stop centering whiteness and stop putting the onus on marginalized communities to play the respectability politics charade, hence recognizing the validity of every culture at the table.

Anisa Purbasari Horton: How to confront bias without alienating people

Not too long ago, I was chatting with someone about what I thought would be a uncontentious discussion about my early childhood in Indonesia. Shortly after, it turned into a conversation about colonialism and Dutch occupation. This person had a Dutch family member who was born and spent his childhood in colonial Indonesia. Then she said something that made me pause. “You know, I always got the sense that the relationship between the Dutch and the Indonesians were very harmonious.”

Without getting into Indonesian colonial history, let’s just say that statement ignores the numerous massacres and atrocities that took place during Dutch colonial rule. So it’s a pretty offensive thing to say, especially to a person of Indonesian descent. Still, in that moment, my aversion to conflict kicked in, and I quickly replied, “I think it was a very complicated relationship,” before changing the subject. Looking back, I regretted my response.

Confronting bias is a tricky thing. Had I responded with pointing out her ignorance, I know that she would have been defensive (and it would have ruined any future interaction I have with her). On the other hand, by ignoring the problematic nature of that statement (or glossing over it, as I did), I was letting her unconscious bias go unchecked. And those harmless statements and comments pile up to create the many forms of structural discrimination that we see today.

Why shaming doesn’t work

We might live in an age of moral outrage and virtue signaling, but plenty of research shows that calling someone racist, homophobic, sexist, or any other label does nothing to change people’s beliefs. This is because naming, shaming, or blaming people will “automatically put them in the defensive,” says Alexis McGill Johnson, the cofounder and executive director of Perception Institute–an institution that aims to turn research on race, gender, ethnic, and other identities to solutions that reduce bias and discrimination. “It creates the fight-or-flight mode.” In any situation, confronting bias requires you to start from a place “where most people are fair,” Johnson tells Fast Company, but that they haven’t been taught how to approach things in an inclusive way.

This is not surprising, but like many other people of color, I often struggle with calling out bias when I’m on the receiving end of it. The delicate dance between making my point and doing it in a way that doesn’t offend or put the other person on the defensive is extremely difficult to execute. And then I also have issues with the idea that I had to be the one who thought about it in the first place. After all, it shouldn’t be the job of minorities and marginalized communities to educate others about their blind spots, especially when they face enough additional emotional labor in their day-to-day lives.

But as I realized with that interaction, there are times when the opportunity cost of not confronting bias is too great. And as Johnson tells Fast Company, there are techniques I could have adopted that make these kinds of awkward and conversations less painful (and more productive) for everyone.

Confronting bias at work

According to Johnson, in most instances, people make biased statements at an unconscious level. When that happens in the workplace, it’s important to understand, first and foremost, the kind of culture that you’re dealing with. Is it the kind of workplace where people are comfortable calling out each other’s biases in a respectful way? Because if it’s not, then the responsibility is up to company leaders to create that kind of environment, Johnson stresses.

Calling out a coworker and a manager definitely carry different risks, but Johnson says that you can employ the same technique. The most important thing is to evaluate the nature of your relationship with that person, and what you hope your ultimate goal to be. Say you are in a meeting and someone mentions that a particular woman is aggressive, and you feel like that person isn’t aware that their comments are rooted in gender stereotypes. The appropriate way to respond to that is “with specificity.” Ask them, “What do you think makes her aggressive? What did she say specifically that made you say that?” This will force the person who made the comment to give specific examples and think beyond stereotypes.

Johnson gives a personal example. As a black woman, a common comment she often receives is, “Oh, you’re so articulate.” She says, “Often what I’ve said to people, even if they’re clients, is, I’m not sure if you know the history of the word articulate. I know you mean that as a compliment, and I certainly hope that after years of training at Princeton and Yale, I can construct sentences together. But when you use that statement, there’s an assumption [that comes with it]. I’d love to share that with you.” Johnson goes on to say that when you’re approaching everything from a learning perspective, rather than an intent to shame, people are more likely to listen and be respectful.

Johnson acknowledges that it can be hard to do when you’re “managing up,” but good managers understand that emotional and psychological safety are two key components to productivity in the workplace. The key is to “describe the bias without attacking the person,” Johnson says, and with the mind-set that bias is a “human condition, rather than a personal flaw.”

Confronting bias with friends and family

Engaging in difficult conversation with family and friends also requires you to think about the nature of your relationship, and what you want to accomplish by calling out their bias. With family and friends, it’s likely that you have common ground on many issues, even when you disagree with each other. That way, when you start the dialogue, “you’re coming from a place of shared values,” says Johnson. The idea is to see the “biased statement as an opportunity to build a bridge, rather than to break it.” This requires asking them questions around why and how they came to the position they did, which creates opportunities for them to provide context and history. The important thing, Johnson says, is not to lecture them.

She also cautions trying to fight facts with facts–which many people have a strong urge to do when it comes to debating charged issues. “Facts don’t have the power, particularly when things are incredibly charged, around, say, issues of race,” Johnson says. Lennon Flowers, the founder of an organization that hosts dinners for people who have experienced significant loss, previously told Fast Company, “We shy away from our feelings–we want to stick with academic arguments and have the long set of bullet points that’s going to be what we use to sway the other person to think they’re wrong. No humans make decisions that way. We think we rationalize our way into decisions, but when you get into it, we make gut responses.”

Ultimately, Johnson believes that talking about bias and discrimination requires a commitment from both parties to provide a safe space for conversation. Both parties need to adopt the “failing fast” mind-set, Johnson says, because in these conversations, mistakes are inevitable. To move forward, we need to learn to have to “reset conversations so that people aren’t worried about being perceived as biased, but are instead focused on growing where the challenges might be.”

Johnson goes on to say, “It’s the kind of mind-set and skill building and competency training that we need to do more of, as opposed to, ‘Oh my gosh, Aunt Martha said something crazy, let’s all ignore it.’ That’s not really helpful.”

Further Reading on Calling Out/In

Downfalls of Facebook

  • UC Berkeley and University of Chicago Study
    • 300 subjects read, watched video of, or listened to arguments about such hot-button topics
      • Afterward, subjects were interviewed about their reactions to the opinions with which they disagreed
    • There’s a distinct difference between those who watched/listened to someone speak and those who read the identical words as text
    • Those who had listened or watched someone say the words
      • were less likely to dismiss the speaker as uninformed or heartless
        • than they were if they were just reading the words
  • Better Mediums
    • Research shows best way to argue is talking in person
    • If you’re arguing over social media and can’t seem to be heard
      • make a coffee date or pick up the phone

Further Readings

INC: You Should Never, Ever Argue With Anyone on Facebook, According to Science

Franchesca Ramsey: Getting Called Out, How to Apologize

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Brooke Anderson: 10 Tips on Receiving Critical Feedback: A Guide for Activists

Are you an activist or organizer working against systems of oppression in your community? Have you ever received feedback — gentle or not — that you were bringing the same behaviors into social movement spaces that you thought you were there to fight? Did you react with disbelief or defensiveness? Spiral into shame or self-doubt? Disengage and disappear from the work? Or were you able to learn from the feedback, repair harm, and recommit to a lifetime of shifting your practices to better align your values and actions?

The late revolutionary Grace Lee Boggs asked us to consider “What time is it on the clock of the world?” Today we find ourselves in a moment of devastating ecological collapse, unprecedented and racialized concentration of wealth and power, staggering state violence against communities of color, a rapid resurgence of fascist formations, and incisive attacks on our most basic rights and democratic institutions. We also see a groundswell of powerful popular resistance. People are filling the streets by the millions and, for some, asking for the first time in their lives: “What is my role in all this?”

We know mobilizations alone are not enough. We must build mass movements led by frontline communities, but also united fronts that align our struggles across race, class, gender, homeland, and more. What that practically means is that we’ll spend thousands of hours organizing tenant associations, unions, land trusts, cooperatives, and coalitions with people whose lived experiences may be very different than our own.

While we may be working to unlearn the toxic behaviors of dominant culture (e.g. ableism or transphobia), we may still unintentionally bring old patterns to bear on our efforts to build the new, causing harm and hurting. When this happens, giving and receiving critical feedback can be difficult. Few of us have been taught to do it well. However, creating a movement culture in which feedback is expected, encouraged, and well-taken helps us build the deep trust and accountability essential to effective movement building.

I originally wrote this guide as a white woman who was preparing to join women of color to give feedback to some of our dearest male comrades about how patriarchy was showing up in our shared political project. I was nervous about it. Multiple times per day I thought: “Never mind, it’s not worth the awkwardness.” Having been socialized to put men’s needs above my own, I default to conflict avoidance. But then I remember that every ounce of respect I now enjoy as woman was hard-won by women and gender non-conforming folks before me, and that I owe the next generation that same struggle.

I’ve also made mistakes. Lots of them. As a white person in multiracial movements, I’ve brought racism into organizations I’ve loved in ways that I’m not proud of and which have had real impact on people I cared deeply for. I’m grateful for mentors who stepped to me with honest observations that helped me align my actions with my values. They invested in my development toward the person I yearned to be but was (and am) not yet.

It is from these experiences — both giving and receiving feedback — that I offer these 10 tips on receiving feedback well. To the extent to which this is useful, credit goes to others — mostly women of color — who took time to help me come correct when I was not. Thank you. Any shortcomings are my own.

10 Tips on Receiving Critical Feedback:

1. Take a deep breath. When we hear critique, we often believe our self-worth is at stake, triggering feelings of powerlessness. We spin out, making it harder to take in and learn from feedback. Re-connecting to our breath and feeling into our body helps us regulate ourselves and remain rooted in who we are as we absorb painful information. As you breathe, feel your feet on the ground and your history and loved ones at your back.

2. Trust that feedback is an offering, not an attack. Though your body may at first respond as if it were being attacked (flushed, heart palpitations, sweat), feedback is not an attack. Feedback is an offering and a gift. The person we’ve hurt could have stopped working with us without explanation or talked behind our back. Instead they’re investing their time in giving us important information to help us better align the person we want to be with how we’re actually showing up in the world.

3. Remember that your self-worth is not on trial. We’re born into a culture poisoned by racism, capitalism, patriarchy, etc. When we live on the privileged side of any of those systems, we internalize superiority so deeply it can be hard for us to see. We will make mistakes. When we do, we don’t fall out of worthiness or belonging. We do, however, get good data on how to be the person we want to be more of the time. For example, as a white person, I can never fully unlearn white supremacy. All I can do is to get up every day and fight it harder, smarter, and with more loving fierceness than I did the day before. Some days I show up in that fight better than others. When I make mistakes, I’m responsible for repairing harm, but my self-worth is not on trial.

4. Let go of your attachment to being one of the “good ones.” The world is not divided into “good” and “bad” men (or white people). The myth of “good ones” perpetuates the false idea that some of us have achieved a mythical “ally” status, to be certified by our friends on the frontlines of systemic oppressions. When we get hard feedback, we often default to either (a) Defensiveness: “But I’m one of the ‘good ones.’ I can’t have done anything wrong!” or (b) Fear: “I’ll lose my reputation as an ally.” We worry we’ll jeopardize relationships and communities we care about. That anxiety is real, especially in today’s online call out culture. However, if we’re able to let go of being “one of the good ones,” we open ourselves to understanding how we’ve impacted others and in doing so we actually strengthen our relationships.

5. Listen, ask questions, and take notes.

Listen: We often listen with a filter for defending, rebutting, critiquing, offering counter examples, or fixing. Instead, listen for understanding. When your mind wanders, re-focus your attention. Don’t interrupt. Hold eye contact. Notice what your body language may be communicating.

● Ask clarifying questions: ie. “Are you open to telling me more about the impact that had on you?” or “Would you be willing to share some examples to help me better understand?”

Take notes: Strong emotions hinder our ability to remember details. Take notes if appropriate (if you’re not sure, ask!) during or after the conversation.

6. Ask yourself “If this were true, what would it mean?” You may not agree that your behavior was problematic. Since disbelief is a common way our brain tries to protect our egos, try to momentarily suspend disbelief. Ask yourself, “If any part of this were true, what would it mean? What harm might I have caused? What apologies or repair might be in order?” You still may not agree with the feedback, but search for truth and lessons within it.

7. Save your critiques of how the feedback was brought. We often criticize how feedback was communicated — i.e. wrong time, place, volume, or tone. We say: “They should have _____!” Instead, I ask myself: “What is this reaction preventing me from feeling?” See if you can put these critiques aside and listen for what the feedback actually is. For instance, as women we are taught to ignore our own needs, such that by the time things have gotten so bad that we finally speak up, we’ve been holding back weeks or years of hurt, anger, and resentment. We are also socialized to feel responsible for care-taking people who’ve hurt us. If you’re a cis man receiving feedback from a woman or gender-nonconforming person, ask yourself, “Why do I believe she/they should be responsible for bringing feedback to me in a way that protects me from experiencing negative emotions?” Days later, once you’ve had a chance to process the feedback, acknowledge the harm, and take responsibility, then ask yourself whether you still need to critique the way in which the feedback was brought to you. Maybe you do. Maybe you don’t.

8. Process elsewhere first. The person giving you feedback has likely already done a lot of emotional (and other) labor to prepare for this conversation. Though you may want to immediately discuss it with them, they’re likely already exhausted. When I feel anxious to process with someone who has shared feedback with me, I ask myself what is behind that urgency: “Am I hoping to convince them that I am not at fault? Or that they’ll reassure me I’m still a good person?” Wait until you can come motivated more by curiosity than a need to convince. Practice sitting in discomfort. For men who were socialized to disproportionately rely on women for emotional support, now is a good time to switch that up and lean on other men. If you need to talk, start with people other than the most impacted. You can return later to the person you’ve hurt to ask if they’d be willing to talk and under what circumstances.

9. Offer a clear apology. It’s hard to process feedback immediately. It’s ok to say “Wow, I’m grateful for, but also overwhelmed by this feedback. Thank you for bringing it to me. I’m sad to think that I’ve done something to hurt you. I need some time to process what you’ve shared. I’d like to check back in with you tomorrow / next week to see if you’d be open to talking. Would that be ok?” When you are ready to offer an apology, here are a few do’s and don’ts:


● Re-state in unequivocal terms what was problematic about your behavior.

● Name the impact you understand that it had on the other person.

● Share what work you plan to do to shift your behavior in the future.


● Apologize for how someone feels. Saying “I’m sorry you’re upset” does not take accountability for your actions. Instead say: “I’m sorry I did X that had Y impact on you.”

● Beat yourself up (i.e. “I can’t do anything right”). We often use self-flagellating language to indirectly ask for reassurance that we’re not a bad person. In doing so, we ask the person we’ve harmed to do more emotional labor. Doing this also re-centers the conversation on your needs, not theirs.

10. Commit to a lifelong of shifting behaviors. We may feel like disappearing from the work entirely (“Fine, I’ll just do my own thing!”). This evades accountability. Instead, we must re-dedicate ourselves to doing the work in authentic relationship with, and accountability to, frontline communities. Doing so will involve giving up some of the power, recognition, and shine we’ve become accustomed to. It may also mean moving slower (as Adrienne Maree Brown says, “at the speed of trust”). This is our test. Can we shed our shame and grow our sense of belonging by building authentic relationships? Can we replace our ego with humility and patience? We may also hunger to be seen for our efforts to change. That recognition is neither our right nor our real objective. Instead, we should ask ourselves:

● What is at the root of my patterns? What is my work to shift those patterns?

● How can I seek more feedback? Can I ask five trusted people: “I’ve gotten feedback that I ____. I’m curious if you’ve witnessed that from me? Please be honest. If you experience me doing this, I’d be grateful if you’d tell me.”

● How can I dedicate time to learning about power, privilege, and oppression without placing the burden of that education on oppressed peoples?

● How am I cultivating authentic relationships across difference that are grounded in honesty, consent, and accountability?

● What is my personal stake in dismantling oppression, including those systems meant to benefit me? How does this understanding strengthen my work toward our collective liberation?

● What systems do I need to hold me accountable to the changes I want to make? Daily reflections? Therapy? Check-ins with accountability buddy?

A few final thoughts:

You may still disagree with the feedback offered to you. That’s ok. We sometimes get feedback that is just plain wrong, or motivated by something other than genuine interest in our personal growth or collective liberation. That happens. However, we strengthen our practice by first looking for the truth and lessons in it and then building authentic relationships with people who share our values, are invested in our growth, and who themselves have cultivated a practice of soliciting and integrating direct feedback.

Shifting our individual behaviors and how we show up with integrity in movement spaces is necessary work, but it must be in service — not instead — of the hard, messy, imperfect work of dismantling systems of oppression.

This is by no means a comprehensive guide. I wrote this for internal use over a year ago, but was recently asked to share it more publicly to support collective conversations on how we can up our capacity for growing from feedback.

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6. Use assertive communication

“Assertive communication is the ability to express positive and negative ideas and feelings in an open, honest and direct way. It recognises our rights whilst still respecting the rights of others. It allows us to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions without judging or blaming other people. And it allows us to constructively confront and find a mutually satisfying solution where conflict exists.” Impact Factory

Don’t just say, “that was racist!”.  Sometimes when you’re not being heard and a line desperately needs to be established, being loud and crude is effective.  But often people are more likely to hear you when you’re respectful and offer specifics and alternatives.  For example say, “I feel you meant well (only say that if its true), but what you said can be perceived as racist because it re-enforces negative stereotypes. In the future could you say this instead to get your point across…”  Try to articulate the other position accurately back to show you’re listening and not just preparing a reflex respond before your finished reading.  When appropriate try to validate their feelings and/or perspective, acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion and try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews.  And in the case of supporters of a populist leader like Trump, try to prove you are not a made up enemy.

Don’t just say, “that’s racist!”   Instead

  • Be Respectful
    • Active listening
      • Try to articulate the other position accurately back to show you’re listening
    • When appropriate
      • Try to validate their feelings and/or perspective
      • Acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion
      • Try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews
    • When possible use “I” and “we” statements
      • Shows that you are speaking for yourself and avoiding general assumptions
      • “I felt…”or “When I heard you say . . . I had this reaction”
      • Using ‘we’ suggests this is an issue you and others are working on too
    • For example:
      • “I feel you meant well (only say that if its true) when you said this…but your missing other perspectives…
  • Be Specific
    • For example:
      • “I feel you meant well when you said this…but it can be perceived as racist because it re-enforces negative stereotypes”
      • No one expects perfect “I” statements but its important to show that you are speaking for yourself instead of general assumptions. Talk in the first person–“I felt…” or “When I heard you say . . . I had this reaction”
  • Provide Alternatives
    • Instead of making someone feel trapped and shamed provide alternative behaviors
      • Shows that person you’re not attacking them but helping them find a better way
    • Wherever possible, make specific suggestions for alternative approaches
      • Questions like “Have you considered . . .” or “What would happen if we tried . . .” open up possibilities
    • For example:
      • “I feel you meant well when you said this…but what you said can be perceived as racist because it re-enforces negative stereotypes. In the future could you say this instead to get your point across…”

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7. Ask questions and identify bridges

Try not to assume whats behind a racist statement or idea and ask why they came to this conclusion. When possible identity “bridges” or any common ground (beliefs, thoughts, actions, concerns, etc) to avoid polarization and increase the chances of being heard.

  • Try not to assume what’s behind a racist statement/idea
    • Ask why they came to this conclusion
  • When possible identity “bridges” or any common ground to increase being heard
    • Common bridges: beliefs, actions, concerns, values
    • Reminds the person that ultimately you’re on the same side
  • Acknowledge that you’ve gotten stuck or had a similar problems
    • Talk about how you saw your way out or what you learned
  • Populists leaders label anyone standing up to them as enemy of the people
    • Try to prove you are not a made up enemy

“before you try to convince them that they are being racist or, worse, ignorant by believing in Trump — you should ask yourself: Will this help show them that I am not their enemy? Because what can really win them over is not to prove that you are right. It is to show that you care. Only then will they believe what you say.” Andrés Miguel Rondón

Morally Reframed

  • Crafting persuasive arguments that appeal to the values of the other side
    1. Recognize that the other side has different values
    2. Understand what those values well enough to be able to understand the moral perspective of the other side
    3. Use those values as part of the argument
  • For example
    1. If other side values
      • Patriotism
        • Talk about how anti-racism work is patriotic
      • Christianity
        • Talk about the social justice lessons of Jesus
      • Law and Order
        • Talk about how police reform could increase safety and respect for police
      • Fiscal Conservative/Economy
        • Talk about the impact of our criminal justice system our economy

Further Readings

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8. Model Vulnerability, Not Data

  • When stuck go deep
    • Model emotionally vulnerability
    • Be human first
    • Encourages other side to become vulnerable too
  • Don’t overload someone with data
    • Hard to prove objectiveness of data
    • Share something intimidate
      • “I used to believe this, then this happened..”
      • “The reason I care for this is because it hurts someone I care for deeply…”
    • Then invite them to share
      • “How did you come to this decision?”
      • “How does this effect the people you care about?”
  • Energy is contagious
    • Decide what energy you want to bring in the conservation before engaging
  • Remember “waking up” is painful
    • Disconnection from people, networks, comfort, beliefs, culture, etc.

Social Good Now: Why Facts Don’t Convince People (and what you can do about it)

Life Hacker: The Importance of Empathy

“During a conversation, especially a heated on, most people formulate their response before the other person even finishes their statement.  This form of communication is more verbal combat than an exchange of ideas or opinions.  Avoid this reflex by slowing down.  Rather than rushing to reply, take a moment to consider the other person’s statement.  Ask follow up questions to better understand what the speaker intended.  Try to understand their emotional state and the deeper motivations behind their statement.  What life experiences led them to their current worldview?  Remember you don’t need to share someone’s opnion to understand it and acknowledge it.   And listening will help inform and expand your own opinion.”

The Power of Vulnerability – Brene Brown

Further Readings

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9. Understand Logical Fallacies

Why Debates Turn into Arguments

Common Logical Fallacies

  • Strawman Fallacy
  • Outlier Story
  • Personal Attack

Karla Cook: 15 Common Logical Fallacies and How to Spot Them

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Source: Roman V. Yampolskiy

Rational Wiki: Gish Gallop

The Gish Gallop is the fallacious debate tactic of drowning your opponent in a flood of individually-weak arguments in order to prevent rebuttal of the whole argument collection without great effort. The Gish Gallop is a conveyor belt-fed version of the on the spot fallacy, as it’s unreasonable for anyone to have a well-composed answer immediately available to every argument present in the Gallop. The Gish Gallop is named after creationist Duane Gish, who often abused it.

The Alt-Right Playbook: Introduction

Full Alt- Right PlayBook Here

Big Think: How to disagree well: 7 of the best and worst ways to argue


10. Defend important social justice concepts

  • There’s always been concerted effort to demonize anti-racism
    • Labeling efforts as
      • Criminals, communists, anti-white, anti-constitutionals, thought control, counter productive, too sensitive, snowflakes, etc.
  • Often fuels white backlashes against progressive anti-racism
    • From all political isles
    • For example white progressives want Democrats to drop civil rights efforts from their platform to win white racist worker votes
  • Two recent labels: “Political Correctness”, “Identity Politics”
    • PC: exaggerated label created by conservatives to discredit anti-racism
      • And to separate academia from working class
    • Identity Politics is a label used by conservatives to demonize social justice efforts as divisive and tribal
  • Anti-racism/social justice/civil rights concepts and efforts
    • Are important enough to fight against demonizing/exaggerated labels



Dangers of Compromise


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Time: There’s Nothing Virtuous About Finding Common Ground

“What is halfway between moral and immoral?

The search for the middle is rooted in conflict avoidance and denial. For many Americans it is painful to understand that there are citizens of our community who are deeply racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic. Certainly, they reason, this current moment is somehow a complicated misunderstanding. Perhaps there is some way to look at this–a view from the middle–that would allow us to communicate and realize that our national identity is the tie that will bind us comfortably, and with a bow. The headlines that lament a “divided” America suggest that the fact that we can’t all get along is more significant than the issues over which we are sparring…

As Americans, we are at a crossroads. We have to decide what is central to our identity: Is the importance of our performance of national unity more significant than our core values? Is it more meaningful that we understand why some of us support the separation of children from their parents, or is it more crucial that we support the reunification of these families? Is it more essential that we comprehend the motives of white nationalists, or is it more urgent that we prevent them from terrorizing communities of color and those who oppose racism? Should we agree to disagree about the murder and dismemberment of a journalist? Should we celebrate our tolerance and civility as we stanch the wounds of the world and the climate with a poultice of national unity?” Tayari Jones – Time

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11. Understand and challenge all fractal levels

  • Inner work
    • Views, beliefs, prejudices, implicit racism, internalized oppression/privilege, etc.
  • Interpersonal
    • Way you and others interact and communicate, microaggression, anti-PC, explicit racism, etc.
  • Organizational
    • Work, social groups, school, church, etc.
  • Systemic
    • Laws, housing discrimination, racial disparities, segregation, etc.

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11. Don’t just be non-racist, be anti-racist

“There’s a big difference between the passive work of simply not being racist and the active work of dismantling systems of oppression that is being anti-racist.” Jenn Jackson – Bitch Media

Effective Allyship by Jenn Jackson

  • Non-racist
    • Subtle practices for whites to let themselves off the hook for complicity in racism
    • In non racist view, racism is not a system but an inherent quality within an individual
      • Proof of which comes when they publicly espouse racist views or use racist language
      • By classifying Trump “racist”, well-to-do liberals are able to deem themselves “non-racists”
    • Belief that avoiding being openly racist is enough
  • Anti-racist
    • Actively disrupting white supremacy in all fractal levels of your life
      • Personally, Interpersonal, organizational, systemic
      • Intentionally divesting from systems of white supremacy
    • Donating/supporting organizations that are fighting to dismantle white supremacy
      • BLM, BYP100, Color of Change, Chicago Community Bond Fund, Safety Pin Box,etc
    • Anti-Racism Hierarchy

The main lesson most whites absorbed from the Civil Rights Movement, wasn’t that they have a personal responsibility to fight systemic racism but rather, that they have a responsibility to maintain a public appearance of being ‘non-racist’ even as racism pervades their lives…the problem, for many whites, isn’t white racism or dominance, the problem is a failed public performance of being ‘non-racist.” Crystal Fleming


MoveOn and Ibram X. Kendi: 5 steps we can take to be antiracist.

“Your Black Friend” Animated Short Film by Ben Passmore, Alex Krokus & Krystal Downs on why its important for white people to do more confronting

Further Readings

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13. Understand how to be a good ally


Allies aren’t passive or neutral!!!

Being an ally isn’t a status but an ongoing action

  • Listen and Educate
    • Listen more than speaking
    • Don’t overpower marginalized voices when organizing
  • Believe marginalized people’s experiences
    • Research online before asking to be educated
      • Its not anybody’s responsibility to tutor you on social issues
    • Listening and educating should be an on-going experience
  • When Confronted
    • Don’t make things about you
    • Don’t take things personal
      • Its about your impact, not your intent
    • Take feedback with humility not ego
  • Challenge
    • Use your privilege to confront/educate about racism and white privilege everywhere
    • Speak up! Confront other white people about their racism andwhite privilege
      • White people with racial issues often listen better to other white people
    • Uplift marginalized voices
      • Retweet, repost, feature, hire them
  • Support
    • Volunteer with social justice organizations
    • Financially support social justice efforts and community programs
    • Advocate all levels of government
    • Civil disobedience


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How to Be a Good Ally – Identity, Privilege, Resistance | Ahsante the Artist

Franchesca Ramsey: 5 Tips For Being An Ally


Further Readings


“Here’s some hard facts and this is for the white ladies particularly. If you do not fall above or around the poverty line and you continue to regularly consume the work of marginalized people particularly women of color without payment, you are continuing to aid in #oppression. @sonyareneetaylor brought up the case of Zora Neal Hurston who died penniless despite having her work regularly consumed and cited today. Henrietta Lacks family never received a penny from her cells which have benefitted the entire world including you and me. Billie Holiday also died penniless despite her work also being consumed far and wide today. I’m sure if you give it some thought you can think of ten other examples of black women and non binary folks who’s work is consumed by everyone (especially higher education) but did not live to see the profits which educational systems within #whitesupremacy are enjoying.

Here’s some hard facts. 2.4% of my Instagram following are Patrons of my work. And I also notice that when I talk about tipping it’s the same Patrons who also tip. The same people pay while the vast majority of you don’t and it is NOT okay when I receive 10+ messages a day asking me for time and resources and telling me how valuable and important my work is to them and how they need the authenticity my page brings (while knowing full well that my page is unsponsored and that’s something many of you enjoy). Another hard fact, the times when my Patreon has grown the fastest is when I have experienced white inflicted trauma in a very public ways. The two times I have made my page private folks have popped out of the woodwork to suddenly pay for resources they were enjoying for free all along. It made me feel like I had to be publicly harmed by whiteness in order for folks to pay for my work. So if you only pay when you see a black person experiencing trauma you also need to think hard about that as well.” Aja Barber

Unfriending Racist

  • Unfriending racists friends:
    • Doesn’t change systems or complicity that support racism
    • Won’t help your friends see how their thinking is harmful
    • Won’t allow your friends to see other white people disagree
    • Renders you silent from their dialogues

“Unfriending racists in your friend list is the online equivalent to turning a blind eye to suffering of Brown and Black people. You can’t afford to do that any longer.” Just Jasmine



Further Readings

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14. Know your own limits, practice self-care and build alliances

  • Learn ways to calm yourself down and process what your feeling
    • Try not to respond until your calm and not emotionally reactive
    • Recognize your triggers
    • Don’t announce when you’re taking a break!!!
      • Not everyone can take a break
  • Have a few good memes on hand when you hit your limit
    • For example when dealing with a white person who expresses how exhausting it is to hear about racism all the time post this meme
    • image18
  • Build alliances
    • Among your friends, family, co-workers, etc.
    • Create a plan to confront racism
      • Who talks best with who?
      • Whose good at what role?
        • Great for family holidays


“I think it was Brene Brown who told a story about a village where all the women washed clothes together down by the river. When they all got washing machines, there was a sudden outbreak of depression and no one could figure out why.

It wasn’t the washing machines in and of themselves. It was the absence of time spent doing things together. It was the absence of community.

Friends, we’ve gotten so independent.

We’re “fine” we tell ourselves even when in reality we’re depressed, we’re overwhelmed, we’re lonely, and we’re hurting. “We’re fine, we’re just too busy right now” we say when days, weeks, months, and years go by without connecting with friends. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine. It’s so easy to say even when it’s not true.

We’ve become so isolated and it’s hard to know how to get back. It’s so hard to know how to even begin to build the kind of relationships our hearts need. And I think In our current culture, it’s just not as organic as it once was. It’s more work now.

Because you know, we have our own washing machines. We don’t depend on each other to do laundry, or cook dinner, or raise babies anymore. We don’t really depend on each other for much of anything if we’re being honest.

In Brene Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness, she says that being lonely affects the length of our life expectancy similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. I don’t say that to freak anyone out, but to let you know that the longing for connection is LEGIT. I think we’ve treated friendship like a luxury for far too long; friendship isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

We don’t want it. We kind of need it.

Be independent. Be proud of it. But be an independent woman who realizes the value and the importance of opening the door to other good women.

You can do it alone, but you don’t have to. Islands are only fun for so long.

There is true magic when women come together and hold hands and share ideas and share stories and struggles and endless bowls of salsa. You use your gifts, and I’ll use mine, and then we’ll invite that girl over there who brings a completely different set of skills to the table we are building, and we’ll watch together as something miraculous unfolds.” Sister, I am with you.

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15. Heal Yourself

  • Start with yourself
    • Recognize and understand you’re triggers
    • Do your own healing
    • Mend yourself before confronting

Source for Photo on Left: the.mirror

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Barriers to Discussing Racism and White Privilege

(Page Coming Soon)

Anti-harassment Strategies


7 Things Everyone can do to Counter Harassment

  1. Take a Bystander Intervention Workshop
  • Bystander Intervention workshops:
    • Teach people intervention strategies
      • The Four Ds of Bystander Intervention
        • Direct – step in, directly, to intervene – “Are you okay?”, “This is inappropriate”
        • Distraction – Distract the harasser or situation to allow the victim to escape or reassess – “Look at that shit over there!” “can you believe the game tonight!”
        • Delegate – Talk to someone with presumably more social power than you about it. This can be a bouncer or a bartender — or could just be a crowd of friendly looking people to have on your side. You can talk about strategy together and thus figure out the best way to disrupt possible danger — together.
        • Delay – check in with the victim of the incident after it has occurred to see if you can do anything to help them – “Hey, are you okay? Can I do anything?”
      • Offer lines to say to both the aggressor and targeted victims
      • Gives a chance to practice these interventions so you feel more confident when it does happen for real
    • Resources for Bystander Intervention
      • The Four Ds of Bystander Intervention: How To Make The World A Better Place
      • HollaBack!: Bystander Training Webinars and Resources
      • Troll Busters
        • Online pest control for women writers experiencing harassing trolls
      • A DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity
      • SPLC: Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry
      • American Civil Liberties Union: Feel Like You’re at Risk?
        • Excellent compilation of resources for various groups that are at greater risk post-election – protestors, LGBTQ, immigrant, Muslim, journalist
      • 10 Ways to Stay #SafeFromHate: Things You Can Do Right Now
      • NYTimes: How to Help if Someone is Being Harassed\
  1. Take anti-racism workshops
  • Local:
  • National: Undoing Racism: The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond
  1. Take an anti-bullying workshop for school, workplace and/or cyber bullying
  • Stand up to Bullying, Not in our Town,
  1. Record police harassment
  • “The law in 38 states plainly allows citizens to record police, as long as you don’t physically interfere with their work. Police might still unfairly harass you, detain you, or confiscate your camera. They might even arrest you for some catchall misdemeanor such as obstruction of justice or disorderly conduct. But you will not be charged for illegally recording police.” Steve Silverman – Flex Your Rights
    • Flex Your Rights: 7 Rules for Recording Police, ACLU: Know Your Rights: Photographers
  1. Report harassment incidents to Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)
  1. Encourage men to take responsibility for ending sexual and gender harassment
  • Organizations that focus on men ending harassment
    • A Call to Men, Men Stopping Violence, Men Can Stop Rape
  • Resources to share
    • Buzzfeed: If You’ve Done Any Of These Things, It Counts As Harassment
    • The Guardian: List of Things to Do to Treat Women Better
  1. Support organizations that focus on ending harassment
  • Stop Street Harassment
  • Southern Poverty Law Center
  • National Sexual violence Resource Center
  • Holla Back
  • Meet Us on the Street (International Week of Action)

AFSC: Do’s and Don’ts for Bystander Intervention


  • Do make your presence as a witness known
    • If possible, make eye contact with the person being harassed and ask them if they want support.
    • Move yourself near the person being harassed. If possible and you feel you can risk doing so, create distance or a barrier between the person being harassed and the attacker.
    • If it’s safe to do so, and the person being harassed consents—film or record the incident.
  • Do take cues from the individual being harassed
    • Is the person engaging with the harasser or not? You can make suggestions, “Would you like to walk with me over here? Move to another train car? For him to leave you alone?,” and then follow their lead.
    • Notice if the person being harassed is resisting in their own way, and honor that. (Especially white folks, don’t police tone of the person being harassed).
    • Follow up with the individual being harassed after the incident is over, see if they need anything else.
  • Do keep both of you safe
    • Assess your surroundings—are there others nearby you can pull in to support? Working in a team is a good idea.
    • Can you and the person being harassed move to a safer space/place?


  • Don’t call the police
    • For many communities experiencing harassment right now (including Arab and Muslim communities, Black people, queer and trans folks, and immigrants) the police can cause a greater danger for the person being harassed.
  • Don’t escalate the situation
    • The goal is to get the person being harassed to safety, not to incite further violence from the attacker.
  • Don’t do nothing
    • Silence is dangerous—it communicates approval and leaves the victim high and dry. If you find yourself too nervous or afraid to speak out, move closer to the person being harassed to communicate your support with your body.

Confront People Asserting White Authority over Public Spaces

#OaklandBBQ Memes

  • Proliferation of smart phones has increased racism being recorded in public spaces
    • Racist harassment to unwarranted police calling
      • “They shouldn’t be there”, “Speak English”, “I have every right to”
  • Belief white people are custodians of public space
    • Confront people of color with racism and police
    • Belief public space belongs exclusively to whites not new
      • Has been inflicting trauma on people of color for a long time now
        • Jim Crow, Red Lining, Lynching, Systemic Racism, etc
      • “The visibility of people of color in public is tolerated only so long as it doesn’t disturb the comfort of the dominant group” Laila Lalami – Nation

Barnard Center for Research on Women: Don’t be a Bystander: 6 Tips for Responding to Racist Attacks

Buzzfeed News: What You Should Do If You See Islamophobia Harassment


image65Artist: Marie-Shirine Yener –

image66 image67



Southern Poverty Legal Center: Ten Days After: Harassment and Intimidation in the Aftermath of the Election

“In the ten days following the election, there were almost 900 reports of harassment and intimidation from across the nation. Many harassers invoked Trump’s name during assaults, making it clear that the outbreak of hate stemmed in large part from his electoral success.

People have experienced harassment at school, at work, at home, on the street, in public transportation, in their cars, in grocery stores and other places of business, and in their houses of worship. They most often have received messages of hate and intolerance through graffiti and verbal harassment, although a small number also have reported violent physical interactions. Some incidents were directed at the Trump campaign or his supporters.

Of course, hate crimes and lower-level incidents of racial or ethnically charged harassment have long been common in the United States. But the targets of post-election hate incidents report that they are experiencing something quite new.

“I have experienced discrimination in my life, but never in such a public and unashamed manner,” an Asian-American woman reported after a man told her to “go home” as she left an Oakland train station. Likewise, a black resident whose apartment was vandalized with the phrase “911 nigger” reported that he had “never witnessed anything like this.” A Los Angeles woman, who encountered a man who told her he was “Gonna beat [her] pussy,” stated that she was in this neighborhood “all the time and never experienced this type of language before.” Not far away in Sunnyvale, California, a transgender person reported being targeted with homophobic slurs at a bar where “I’ve been a regular customer for 3 years — never had any issues.”

Both the harassment since the election and the energy on the radical right are the predictable results of the campaign that Trump waged for the presidency — a campaign marked by incendiary racial statements, the stoking of white racial resentment, and attacks on so-called “political correctness.”

Read more about the types of post election harassment described in SPLC’s report.

In addition to the forms of harassment the SPLC report describes there are other forms of harassment that occur in this country ever day listed below.

ACLU: One Woman Who Knew Her Rights Forced Border Patrol Off a Greyhound Bus

“On June 7, Tiana Smalls, whose Facebook profile describes her as owner of Fire Flower Beauty Company, was riding a Greyhound bus from Bakersfield, California to Las Vegas, Nevada. As the bus approached an agricultural checkpoint at the Nevada state line, Ms. Smalls said the driver made an unusual announcement: “We are being boarded by Border Patrol. Please be prepared to show your documentation upon request.”

Ms. Smalls immediately reacted. According to a description she posted on Facebook, she stood up and loudly said, “This is a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. You don’t have to show them *shit*!!!” She then used Google Translate to repeat her message in Spanish, reassuring the Spanish-speaking woman sitting beside her and probably countless other fellow passengers.

Border Patrol agents boarded the bus and started to ask the passengers for their “documentation.” Ms. Smalls stood up again and shouted, “You have NO RIGHT to ask me for anything! This is harassment and racial profiling! We are not within 100 miles of a border so [these agents] have no legal right or jurisdiction here!”

Ms. Smalls’ simple and courageous act of resistance was enough. The Border Patrol agents, realizing that they would face an uphill battle, immediately retreated, telling the driver to continue on.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials claim sweeping authority to operate in the interior of the United States. Their basis for doing so is a federal statute that purports to allow CBP officers to undertake certain enforcement activities without a warrant “within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States.” A federal regulation adopted in 1953 inexplicably defines a “reasonable distance” as up to 100 air miles from any external boundary of the United States — an area that sweeps up nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population (200 million people), nine of our 10 largest cities, and several entire states (including Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Jersey). And still CBP cheats its way to more interior encroachment, for example, by claiming that the Great Lakes shared with Canada are “functional equivalents of the border” so that all of Michigan and Chicago are in its reach.

Tell Greyhound to stop letting Border Patrol violate its passengers’ rights

CBP often overlooks basic civics in making this power grab, however. No act of Congress can authorize a violation of the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land.

In general, the Fourth Amendment allows law enforcement to enter business areas that are open to the public. In nonpublic areas, however, law enforcement officers must have a warrant, consent, or “exigent circumstances” for their entry to be constitutional. Because you need a ticket to board a Greyhound bus, these are nonpublic areas. In a recent letter to Greyhound’s general counsel, the ACLU explained that Greyhound is not obligated to consent to the Border Patrol’s warrantless and unjustified raids on its buses.

Since Trump took office, CBP activity far from our actual borders has increased significantly. ACLU affiliates in Washington, California, Arizona, Michigan, New York, Vermont, and Florida have reported multiple incidents involving Border Patrol agents boarding Greyhound buses without a warrant or consent, and terrorizing passengers by demanding their papers. These reports indicate that Border Patrol agents routinely engage in racial and ethnic profiling, singling people out for the color of their skin or accents.

We live in dark times. Many people want to stand up for their own rights and the rights of others, but feel unsure about how. Ms. Smalls’ experience, like that of two brave women in Montana last month, teaches us that sometimes knowing one’s rights and speaking out with confidence delivers truth to abusive power.

Understandably, many people feel intimidated in the presence of law enforcement officials, including federal immigration agents. Here are some effective ways to stand up for what’s right.

Know your rights. Familiarize yourself with your rights when encountering immigration officials and other law enforcement. And then teach your friends and family what you’ve learned, so they know their rights too!

Practice. Find a friend and role play with each other, taking turns acting out the “bad cop” role. It may sound silly, but practicing what you would say out loud in a safe environment can help you feel more empowered when confronting law enforcement officials who are abusing their authority and violating your constitutional rights.

Consider recording encounters. The First Amendment protects the right to record and monitor law enforcement officials engaged in the public discharge of their official duties as long as you don’t interfere with the law enforcement activity itself during your recording. You can use your cell phone’s camera or download an app designed especially for this purpose, like the ACLU of Texas’s new “MigraCam.”

Be safe. Ms. Smalls’ behavior is a great example of how a little resistance can go a long way. Never lie to federal officers. Be careful not to physically interfere with or otherwise obstruct law enforcement officers because doing so may lead to your arrest. If you are questioned, remember you can always exercise your right to remain silent.

Tell us if you’ve witnessed Border Patrol or CBP officials violating constitutional rights. We want to know. You can contact the ACLU’s Border Litigation Project here.

We can all learn from Ms. Smalls’ fierce shot of courage. As she noted in her now-viral Facebook post, federal immigration officers “EXPECT people to be afraid of them and just comply.” But we can resist, for ourselves and for others who need us to have their backs.

The Nation: The Social Shaming of Racists Is Working

Now, when white people assert private authority over public space, there’s a cost.

“Some years ago, while we were getting ready to move out of state, my husband and I held a garage sale. We’d advertised it in our community newspaper and on flyers around the neighborhood and had a huge turnout as a result. Dozens of bargain hunters milled about, asking about this or that item. “Cuanto quiere usted por el sofá?” an older gentleman asked me, pointing to our old green couch. I quoted him a price, adding, “Es un sofá cama.” Hearing our exchange, a white woman turned around and yelled, “Speak English! You’re in America.” “Hey—” I said, but she walked away in a huff, got into her car, and drove off.

I’ve been thinking about that moment, and the fiery anger behind it, as I hear about incident after incident in which white people lash out at people of color in public spaces. There’s the white lawyer who berated the workers at a Manhattan deli for speaking Spanish—insisting that “I pay for their welfare. I pay for their ability to be here. The least they can do is speak English”—and then threatened to report them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. There’s the white student who reported a black student for taking a nap in the common room of their dorm at Yale, saying, “I have every right to call the police—you cannot sleep in that room.” And there’s the white mother who called the police about two Native American students taking part in a campus tour at Colorado State University, telling the dispatcher that “they are not, definitely not, a part of the tour.”

The language in these complaints—“I pay,” “I have every right,” “they are definitely not”—is quite illuminating. It indicates a belief on the part of these white people that they are the custodians of public space and can enlist the police to enforce its boundaries. The offenses committed by people of color are arbitrary and nearly limitless: waiting too long at a Starbucks in Philadelphia, having a barbecue on Lake Merritt in Oakland, playing a leisurely game of golf at a club in Pennsylvania, checking out of an Airbnb in Rialto, California. And once police officers get there, anything can happen, ranging from an arrest on charges of trespassing to the installation of a police perimeter and the arrival of a police helicopter.

To be sure, the belief that public space belongs exclusively to white people is not new, and this redlining has been inflicting trauma on people of color for a long time now. Whether it’s on the street, in a café, or at an airport, the visibility of people of color in public is tolerated only so long as it does not disturb the comfort of the dominant group. But the ubiquitous presence of smartphones with cameras has helped to document such incidents, and social media have brought them to national attention. That’s a useful development: The assertion of private authority over public space now comes with a social cost.

That is what happened to Aaron Schlossberg, the Manhattan lawyer who threatened to call ICE on the Spanish-speaking food workers and customers in New York. His law practice soon plummeted in customer ratings; he was hounded by reporters seeking comment; and his corporate landlord terminated his business lease. Protesters even brought a mariachi band to perform outside his apartment building. The public shaming that followed his rant could have a salutary effect: Maybe, just maybe, racists will think twice before making frivolous reports or issuing threats.

Few people have come to Schlossberg’s defense, yet there are some who say that the popular outcry against him is “unnerving” and constitutes harassment by modern mobs who demand nothing less than “conformity of thought.” Online mobs are scary, no doubt about that. But Schlossberg’s rant doesn’t amount to a civilized difference of opinion; it’s racism, pure and simple, followed by threats.

Schlossberg’s assertion of authority over public space is, of course, protected from government interference by the First Amendment. But that right doesn’t protect him from the social consequences of his speech, including disruption and discomfort. Those protesting Schlossberg’s actions are, in fact, exercising their own free-speech rights to object to his racism and nativism. The simple truth is that if racist behavior is insulated from social shaming, it will likely continue and multiply until it becomes accepted. What happens when a majority of Americans hold views like Schlossberg’s?

The history of this country is replete with examples of how public space was regulated to ensure that one racial group was made comfortable at the expense of others. This is why it’s important to speak out, and speak out now. Allies can help to stop the harassment, or at least deflect it. In the cell-phone footage of Schlossberg’s rant, for example, an Asian man can be seen interposing himself between the lawyer and one of the Spanish-speaking women he’s verbally abusing. In the Philadelphia Starbucks incident, an older white man repeatedly challenged police officers about why they were arresting the two black men when they’d done nothing wrong.

At the garage sale that day, after the woman took off in a huff, I turned to my husband in disbelief. “Did you just hear what that lady said?” I asked him. This question, I now realize, was an attempt at documenting the moment by having a witness for it. It was my first intimation that people’s relationship to public space is political, and that some of us move through it under surveillance by others. “I heard,” my husband replied, and then told me of many similar experiences he’d had as a Cuban American here in Los Angeles.

But public space belongs to everyone. If racists don’t like hearing Spanish being spoken in a deli, or having Native American teens on a campus tour, or seeing black folks going on about their lives, they should just stay home.”



As a general disclaimer; I know that I view the world with a lens of privilege. It took me some time to learn and acknowledge my privileges, especially during periods of my life when it felt as though I had zero privileges. Therefore, I cannot pretend to know what it is like to be a person of color in our country, but from my perspective as a survivor of domestic violence the way the media, the general public, and miscellaneous pockets of people treat our black community members looks eerily similar to an abusive relationship.

Some Social Context and Framework about Domestic Violence.

There is a common misconception that an abusive person has an anger management problem. In reality, a batterer knows precisely when to turn on and off their rage. Typically, in an abusive relationship, the abuser is seeking power and control. The batterer is alpha and does not want to share his (or her) power. The abuser seeks to have their way irrespective of those around them, assuming that their way is “best,” “right,” or simply most convenient for them. Ironically, many people who emotionally abuse do so because they themselves are scared of being controlled. (Source)

Gaslighting as a form of control

Gaslighting is a sophisticated manipulation tactic which certain types of personalities use to create doubt in the minds of others. The term “gaslighting” comes from “Gas Light” a 1938 play by the British dramatist Patrick Hamilton. The play depicts a manipulative husband who tries to make the wife he wishes to get rid of think she is losing her mind by making subtle changes in her environment, including slowly and steadily dimming the flame on a gas lamp. The play (and its film adaptations) gave rise to the term gaslighting with the meaning “a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented to the victim with the intent of making him/her doubt his/her own memory and perception”. (source)

Effective gaslighting is accomplished in several ways. One method of gaslighting is when an abuser asserts something with such intensity of conviction that his partner begins to doubt her perspective. (Side note — I will be using he/she pronouns interchangeably. Domestic violence happens fairly equally to both genders regardless of he/she, she/he he/he or she/she) Using a mask of confidence, assertiveness, and fake compassion the abuser will convince his prey to believe that she has it all wrong. This will cause the abused party to doubt herself and eventually believe the abuser’s version of past events. Another method of gaslighting is achieved when an abuser brings up historical facts that are mostly accurate but contain minute, hard-to-prove distortions and uses them to “prove” the correctness of his position . Gaslighting is particularly effective when coupled with other tactics such as shaming and guilting, which aid in convincing the abused party to doubt her judgment and back down.

Blocking and diverting are gaslighting techniques with which the abuser changes the conversation from the subject matter to questioning the victim’s thoughts and controlling the conversation. Gaslighting examples of this include:

  • “I’m not going through that again.”
  • “Where did you get a crazy idea like that?”
  • “Quit bitching.”
  • “You’re hurting me on purpose.”

Changing the subject (or Countering) is a gaslighting technique where an abuser will vehemently call into question a victim’s memory in spite of the victim having remembered things correctly.The gaslighter may divert the topic by asking another question, or making a statement usually directed at the abused’s thoughts.

  • “You imagine things — that never happened!”
  • “No, you’re wrong, you didn’t remember right.”
  • “Is that another crazy idea you got from your (family member/friend)?”
  • “Think about when you didn’t remember things correctly last time.”
  • “You thought that last time and you were wrong.”

Trivializing and Minimizing are other ways of gaslighting. It involves making the victim believe his or her thoughts or needs are not important, such as:

  • “You’re going to let something like that come between us?”
  • “Why are you so sensitive?”
  • “You don’t need to get angry over a little thing like that!”
  • “I was just joking around, why are you taking things so seriously?”

Denial, avoidance, and forgetting can also be forms of gaslighting. In this technique, the abuser pretends to forget things that have occurred; the abuser may also deny things like promises that have been made that are important to the victim. By refusing to acknowledge the abused party’s feelings and thoughts, the gaslighter causes the abused to doubt him or herself. An abuser might say,

  • “What are you talking about?”
  • “I don’t have to take this.”
  • “You’re making that up.”
  • “You’re lying, I never said that.”
  • “I don’t know what you’re talking about; you’re changing the subject.”

Twisting and reframing happens when the gaslighter confidently and subtly twists and reframes what was said or done, causing one to second-guess his or herself — especially when paired with fake compassion, making the abused party feel as though she is For example;

  • “I didn’t say that, I said _____”
  • “I didn’t beat you up Johnny, I just gave you a smack around the head.”
  • “If you remember correctly, I was trying to help you.”

(sources- here and here)

Social Context and Historical Framework about Racial Inequality

The United States of America would not exist if it were not for the twin crimes of the genocidal dispossession of Native Americans, and the kidnapping and enslavement of millions of Africans. Our nation was built on the back of white supremacy and black oppression. This is an essential and undeniable truth that is often suppressed, blurred over, and distorted.

Slavery fueled the foundation and rise of not just capitalism, but the United States. The argument that capitalism was dependent on slavery is, of course, not new. In 1944, Eric Williams, in Capitalism and Slavery, argued this point. In 1968, the historian Lorenzo Greene wrote that slavery “formed the basis of the economic life of New England: about it revolved, and on it depended, most of her other industries.”

Banks capitalized the slave trade and insurance companies underwrote it. Covering slave voyages helped start Rhode Island’s insurance industry, while in Connecticut, some of the first policies written by Aetna were on slave lives. In turn, profits made from loans and insurance policies were plowed into other northern businesses. Fathers who “made their fortunes outfitting ships for distant voyages” left their money to sons who “built factories, chartered banks, incorporated canal and railroad enterprises, invested in government securities, and speculated in new financial instruments” and donated to build libraries, lecture halls, universities and botanical gardens. (Source)

A new form of slavery

The 13th amendment is often thought to have abolished slavery and one might think that with a statement as clear as the below, that would have been the case:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Unfortunately White supremacy merely took on a new form after the civil war (1865).This new framework for slavery lead to the incarceration of black men who were arrested by Southern sheriffs on the flimsiest of charges and sold as slave labor. Black codes and pig laws were used as a framework to justify the criminality of black men.

Black codes laws that allowed African Americans some rights, such as legalized marriage, ownership of property, and limited access to the courts, but denied them the rights to testify against whites, to serve on juries or in state militias, vote, or start a job without the approval of the previous employer. Meanwhile, pig laws were created to penalized poor Black Americans for crimes such as stealing a farm animal, or vagrancy statutes that made it a crime to be unemployed. These misdemeanors and trivial offenses were treated as felonies, with harsh sentences and fines. The Pig Laws stayed on the books for decades, and were expanded with even more discriminatory laws once the Jim Crow era began.

Enabled by Jim Crow Laws, Black people were refused the subsidies that white people received to buy houses, and even when Blacks had the money they were prevented, either by unspoken agreements, government policy, or straight-up violence by white mobs and/or vigilantes (usually assisted by the police), from buying homes in “white” neighborhoods.

Criminalization of Black Americans through Colorblindness

Black codes, the precursor to segregationist Jim Crow, operated as both a shield and a sword, while new rights (ie the right to marry) were granted laws were enacted that undercut these protections. For example, vagrancy laws allowed a blacks person to be arrested for the “crime” of unemployment. Yet, these very same laws made it difficult for a black person to become, or stay employed. Licensing requirements were imposed for most jobs — court approval and fees become mandatory to become a mechanic, artisan or shopkeeper. Laws criminalized gun possession, voting, desertion and assembly after sunset. (Source)

The 1964 Civil Rights Act along with the 1965 Voting Rights Act officially made America colorblind — at least on paper. These new bills ushered in the beginning of the war on drugs, which was a direct attempt to further emphasize the criminality of black people, a historical throwback to the black code and pig laws.

Direct evidence of this can be seen in the diary of one of Nixon’s top assistants. In 1969 H.R. Haldeman’s damningly wrote in his diary that “[President Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”

Former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman states:

“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black [people], but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities; We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” (source)

While President Nixon initiated the war on drugs; President Ronald Reagan escalated it during the 1980s. President Reagan followed in President Nixon’s faux colorblind footsteps though the council of a top aide Lee Atwater who said the following in a 1981 interview.

Atwater: You start out in 1954 by saying, “N****, n****, n****.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N*****, n****.”

The war on drugs was, and arguably still is,viewed as a strategic decision by the ruling class to keep inner-city black youth in desolate hyper-segregated neighborhoods which lack jobs. (source)

Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow expands;

The drug war has been brutal — complete with SWAT teams, tanks, bazookas, grenade launchers, and sweeps of entire neighborhoods — but those who live in white communities have little clue to the devastation wrought. This war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies consistently show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. In fact, some studies indicate that white youth are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youth. Any notion that drug use among African Americans is more severe or dangerous is belied by the data. White youth, for example, have about three times the number of drug-related visits to the emergency room as their African American counterparts.

Federal sentencing only compounded the disparity between white and black communities. Rules for the possession and sale of cocaine distinguish between powder cocaine (which tends to be more expensive and is usually solid in wealthy, white neighborhoods) and crack cocaine (which is usually sold in predominantly black, low-income neighborhoods). A person sentenced for possession with intent to distribute a given amount of crack cocaine receives the same sentence as someone who possessed one hundred times as much powder cocaine. The disparity in sentencing for use of what is essentially the same drug is obvious and smacks of racial prejudice.

Racial minorities are more likely than white Americans to be arrested.Once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted. Once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. African-American males are 2.5 times more likely than Hispanic males and six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males. If current trends continue, one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as can one of every six Latino males. Only one in every seventeen white males can expect to go to prison.

African Americans make up 57% of the people in state prisons for drug offenses. In the United States, white Americans use drugs more than black Americans, but black Americans are arrested over three times more often than white Americans for drug possession. Black Americans also receive 20% longer prison sentences than white Americans who commit similar crimes. (source)

John A. Powell, legal scholar, stated “The slick thing about whiteness is that you can reap the benefits of a racist society without personally being racist.

The Parallel between White Supremacy and Domestic Violence

Applying this logic to our institutionalized white supremacy and race relations. White America has been gaslighting black Americans since our country was founded. The same convoluted structures of power and control manifested through gaslighting abuse tactics are being used regularly against our black friends and family.

Blocking and diverting — When we gaslight our African Americans we often do so by trying to change the subject and instead of discussing the matter at hand.

  • “Uggghhh. I am so sick of talking about slavery”
  • “When will they stop playing the race card”
  • “Don’t they know that racism is dead” *insert Morgan Freeman Meme*
  • “Why can’t I say All Lives Matter or White Lives Matter — that is proof that BlackLivesMatter is racist”

Changing the subject (or countering) — When we gaslight Black Americans we often refuse to acknowledge their personal experiences that they are sharing with us.

  • “But what about Black Privilege?”
  • “Affirmative action is really hurting white people”
  • “Why do African Americans all have this victim mindset? Obama, Oprah and Denzel made it” *insert viral video featuring a black person discussing how all black people have a victim mindset*
  • “But what about the white people who have been shot, I guess they better get a refund on white privilege”

Trivializing and minimizing — instead of addressing the issues of racial inequality we try to pretend that racism doesn’t exist anymore.

  • “How dare you complain about racial inequality, don’t you know that millions of white people died in the civil war to make slaves free”
  • “If black lives matter, why don’t you do something about black-on-black crime”
  • “Slavery is ancient history, you have the same rights as everyone else”

Denial, avoidance, and forgetting can also be forms of gaslighting. In this technique, the abuser pretends to forget things that have really occurred; the abuser may also deny things like promises that have been made that are important to the victim. By refusing to acknowledge your feelings and thoughts, the gaslighter causes one to doubt him or herself more and more. An abuser might say,

  • “You know that Africans were the ones that SOLD slaves right?”
  • “Black Wallstreet?? Never heard of it”
  • “I refuse to listen. BLM is a hate group”

Twisting and reframing — An unfortunate amount of times, when Black Leaders discuss their struggles with oppression and inequality

  • “If black lives matter then why are they burning down their own city.”
  • “It is not that hard to just follow orders. Black men wouldn’t get shot by police if they just listened to orders”
  • “They are just anti-cop. Look here at this video of a BLM leader shouting ‘fry em like bacon“
  • “Who cares if that guy wore a monkey suit and threw bananas at the protesters, why do we have to be so politically correct. Stop perpetuating victim mindset”

It is the battered, not the batterer who loses emotional control

As previously mentioned, there is a funny misconception, that abusers do not know how to control their anger and fly out of control when they get mad. However, as previously mentioned, the abuser is always in control. \ The batterer wants the battered to lose emotional control because when that happens the batterer is able to control the conversation.

Let’s think about how the media and white supremacist attitudes perpetuates the parallel misconception of the angry black man or the loud black woman. You are damn right they are angry. They have every right to be. White America is the batterer in this situation. Beginning with physical violence that is now manifested in psychological violence.

Gaslighting does not require deliberate plotting. Gaslighting only requires a belief that it is acceptable to overwrite another person’s reality.

It is time to stop the mind games and start listening.

We have to stop pretending that white america is the victim, white people have had the control and power in this country since it’s inception. We are not the victims now, and we never have been. It is easy to take our privileges for granted and when we have to learn to share privilege it is easy to start seeing that as oppression, but it is not. We must learn to acknowledge this.

We must learn to listen and accept personal experiences that our friends of color are describing to us — their feelings are important. We must be careful not to discount, dismiss, or discredit their personal experiences

When it comes to dismantling systemic racism and institutionalized white supremacy we need to pay attention to the requests our friends of color are making — we need to let them lead this conversation and echo their concerns.

Vox: America’s long, rich history of pretending systemic racism doesn’t exist

White-on-black violence is everywhere recently, but also nowhere.

On the one hand, white nationalist groups have been marching publicly; seemingly every month brings a new report of a police shooting of an unarmed black man; and white terrorists like the Charleston church shooter are armed and emboldened. Just last week, cellphone footage was released of the 2015 traffic stop that led to the arrest of Sandra Bland, a black woman who died by apparent suicide in custody, triggering widespread Black Lives Matter protests. The release of the video, by the Dallas news station WFAA, raises questions about if police are withholding video evidence of Bland’s arrest.

Yet what should be a clear picture of violence always looks blurry. Faced with incidents of state and private white-on-black violence, various forces scramble to invert the narrative: President Trump notoriously responded to a violent and deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 by claiming that “there is blame on both sides.” The FBI apparently decided that antifa groups in California were the dangerous ones, and seemed more focused on whether they were interfering with Klan members’ rights than on investigating the Klan itself.

Locally, when police across the country are accused of illegal violence against a black suspect, we are fed subtle and unsubtle narratives about how the victim’s behavior caused the attack against them. Most recently, after Michael Rosfeld was found not guilty after killing Antwon Rose in East Pittsburgh, Rosfeld’s defense predictably smeared the reputation of the 17-year-old honors student with zero criminal record, characterizing him as dangerous and threatening. Rosfeld supporters put up a billboard labeling a picture of Rosfeld with the words “Police Officer” and of Rose with the words “Criminal,” demanding that protesters “Get Over It.”

These inversions blame the victim. They also make us question what we know. White violence, so central to our nation’s history, has continually been made invisible in this way. Defenders of white supremacy have repressed reports of it consistently and skillfully with time-worn tactics: They assert the culpability of the victim and reasonableness of the attacker, and they back that up by intimidating victims or witnesses who give evidence of white violence. When they fail to silence them, they publicly question their motives, competence, or sanity.

This cocktail of abuse, denial, and blaming the victim is often remarkably effective. Today, we call it “gaslighting.”

Gaslighting of those who call out racial injustice goes back to our nation’s roots

Efforts to hide white violence have been most aggressive when white dominance has been least secure.

During the last decades of slavery, anti-slavery reformers revealed that slave owners used horrifying violence against enslaved men, women, and children. Enslaved people who escaped like Frederick Douglass spread stories of torture and murder through a growing network of black and white Northern sympathizers. Gradually, these accounts made many Americans uncomfortable with the morality of slavery.

Slavery supporters insisted that slavery was more consensual than coercive, and that slaves (with a few dangerous exceptions, who had to be controlled) were happy with their lives. They came down hard on anyone who spread stories of their violence. In extreme cases, slavery apologists threatened or even killed them. Black anti-slavery writer David Walker died under mysterious circumstances in 1830. White anti-slavery editor Elijah Lovejoy was shot and killed by a pro-slavery mob in Illinois in 1837.

But methods more subtle than direct violence could shut down stories just as well. Defenders of slavery called escaped slaves liars and con artists, and slavery opponents fools, suggesting that people gained money and power by spreading their false and sensational claims to the ignorant.

South Carolina Sen. Robert Y. Hayne, in an 1830 debate with Daniel Webster, condemned slavery opponents for “shedding weak tears over sufferings which had existence in their very sickly imaginations.” Seven years later, John C. Calhoun famously claimed on the Senate floor that slavery was a “positive good,” calling its opponents “this fanatical portion of society” who were dangerously influencing “the ignorant, the weak, the young, and the thoughtless.” While opposition to slavery grew over time, this relentless discrediting always made it possible for Northerners to choose to deny, even in the face of the testimony of survivors and other witnesses, that slavery was a violent, coercive institution.

After the Civil War, Southern whites again used gruesome and relentless violence to bring newly hopeful freedpeople under their control. Some of the worst was committed by the Ku Klux Klan from 1868 to 1871. These Southern whites — who wanted people to believe that their return to mastery in the South was simply the outcome of their natural superiority — used familiar tactics to hide this violence. They lied about their actions. They regularly denied the very existence of the Klan. They called freedpeople who testified to their violence superstitious, ignorant, dishonest, and unreliable. They called whites who exposed their violence power-hungry carpetbaggers. They smeared Northerners sympathetic to reports of violence as dupes and effeminate.

But violent whites during Reconstruction left such a trail of corpses that total denial was unconvincing. So, while mocking and explaining away victims’ claims, they simultaneously justified white-on-black violence, suggesting that certain freedpeople were so dangerous that they brought it upon themselves, and that Northern whites would do the same if faced with a substantial number of free black neighbors. This worked: Despite massive evidence, many Northern whites never acknowledged the very existence of the Klan.

The KKK, fittingly, came to call themselves “the invisible empire.”

These gaslighting tactics have popped up whenever white racial control has been most in question. In 1894, responding to an international anti-lynching movement, Texas Gov. Jim Hogg denied and justified lynching in the same breath, saying that “ignorant people” took rumors seriously while, in fact, “the negro of the South is the least abused, the most liked, and gets along better and happier than the negro in Europe … the north, or elsewhere. … The upright, honorable ones thrive. The vicious, savage ones do not.”

Technology altered civil rights tactics. But gaslighters stuck to the script.

During the civil rights movement in the 1960s, denial of both public and private white-on-black violence was made more difficult by television cameras, and by people like brutal Birmingham, Alabama, Police Chief Bull Connor, who bragged about his department’s treatment of protesters. Black Americans demanded police protection from white hate groups, and called for reform and accountability in police use of violence against black people.

Still, white supremacists stuck to the script. Defenders of white supremacy denied violence outright when possible and worked to limit information about it: In 1971, when a well-respected black firefighter in Pittsburgh witnessed a group of white police officers pursue and beat a black teenager with mental disabilities and tried to intervene, they threatened to arrest him too, unless he walked away.

Urban police everywhere in the ’70s fought the development of systems like civilian review boards that might gather such evidence in more systematic and credible ways, which they dismissed as the “unfair abuse and undeserved criticism” brought against them by private citizens. Meanwhile, defenders of police violence against black people predictably argued that victims’ actions invited, even required, violence: Civil rights workers attacked by the Klan were stigmatized as communists who hated the American way of life; black youth attacked by police were labeled dangerous gang members.

Gaslighting works so well because it does not need to give a coherent account of the world: it only needs to keep introducing enough doubt and confusion that people find it hard to look directly at the oppressions around them.

Each generation is shocked at America’s skill at making white violence disappear. When many people today refuse to recognize evidence of police brutality, when it seems impossible to convince people of the dangerous rise of white nationalist groups, when individuals who name and condemn white violence are dismissed as liars and frauds, this is another round in a long and often ugly relationship.

Everyday Feminism: Gaslighting Is a Common Victim-Blaming Abuse Tactic – Here Are 4 Ways to Recognize It in Your Life

“For almost my entire life, I felt as though I couldn’t trust my own memory. If something happened that upset me, hurt me, or angered me, my reaction was often met with some variation of “That didn’t happen! I never said that! You’re overreacting!” I would think to myself, “Am I making this up, am I creating this hurt, am I fabricating this anger?” Parents and partners alike would deny my experiences, washing away painful memories as if I had simply painted them for my own amusement. 

I started to think that maybe I really was “too sensitive,” that I really was overreacting, being unfair, blaming others for something that was happening inside of me. And that’s a confusing, frustrating, and even dangerous place to be. Because after years of being told that your memory is not reliable, you begin to depend on what others say truly happened. Nearly every time I felt angry or hurt, it was the person angering or hurting me that I believed had the “real” knowledge of what had transpired. 

And even in the moments when I began to believe myself, I’d feel a pulling in my brain: “You’re hurt—no, you’re just imagining things” or “You’re angry—no, you’re just too sensitive.” This tension nearly pulled me apart. But one day, I pushed back.

I had gotten into a huge argument with a family member. As per usual, this family member entered my home making homophobic comments as hellos, which then escalated to a full-blown argument. It was me against Fox News and her mouth, and it ended with both of us leaving angry – and me spending Christmas with someone else’s family.

When this argument ended, I was told I was the instigator (even though I remembered simply reacting); I was told I was the one who was being hurtful (even though I remembered being hurt the moment the conversation began). Suddenly the world shifted, and again what I remembered seemed to be only in my own head.  But I caught it this time. So I stood my ground – and eventually, those who told me I was the instigator admitted I had actually been the victim.

Later that night, when I called my partner to vent about what had happened (and to let them know I would be spending Christmas at their place), they stopped me mid-conversation and asked: “Do you know what gaslighting is?”

And that changed everything.

Wait—So What Is Gaslighting?

In short, gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse “in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.”

Essentially, gaslighting is a tactic used to destabilize your understanding of reality, making you constantly doubt your own experiences. Most of the time, this tactic is used to further uneven power balances with abusive partners, making you second guess yourself when you feel as if you are being abused or attacked.

Even if a relationship seems otherwise non-abusive, gaslighting is emotional and mental violence. This process in and of itself is toxic and unhealthy, regardless of whether there are other abusive behaviors taking place within the relationship.

Furthermore, gaslighting is commonly used to discredit the lived experiences of mentally ill and neurodivergent folks, which is both abusive and ableist. In my own personal experience, it’s been used to make me feel as though all of my anger was rooted in my mania, and that all of my reactions to people doing me harm were overreactions.

For example, the most pervasive form of gaslighting I’ve experienced in my home is the “blame everything on the ‘mental illness’” approach. It’s as if because I experience mania, I can never be justifiably angry; or because I experience depression, I can never be sad or hurt about something outside of myself; or because I am neurodivergent, that mine is always the last account to be taken seriously.

This means, for instance, that if I ever got angry or upset about the fact that members of my family habitually called me by homophobic and ableist slurs, making me unwilling to spend my time with them, I was simply having a manic break and that all of my anger was me “exploding” and being manic.  Or if I was uncomfortable spending time with friends or family members that didn’t respect my boundaries or identities, I was simply “letting my anxiety get the best of me” – and, again, when I got angry about the fact that this was happening, it was blamed on my mania.

The thing about gaslighting is that it’s an especially terrifying tactic because it makes the victim feel as if they cannot trust their own mind, that their memories and experiences are not valid or trustworthy, that their reactions are illogical and irrational. For people who already have a fluid perception of reality, this can make you feel as if nothing you take in is real or can be trusted. And this mistrust in yourself also makes it extremely difficult to identify when you are the victim of gaslighting.

So, How Can I Tell If I’m Experiencing Gaslighting?

One of my biggest motivations for writing this piece is that I had gone my entire life being gaslit by parents and partners alike. It had gotten to the point that I questioned the validity of all my responses to violence, questioned whether or not I was capable of knowing when I was being abused or not, and had begun to think that maybe every instance of abuse I’d experienced really was all in my head. 

But then I was told about gaslighting – and everything started to zoom into perspective for the first time in a very long time. So, how can you tell if this is happening to you? Here are some questions that you can ask yourself.

1. Do You Question the Validity of Your Memories and Experiences?

Gaslighting puts you in a position where you don’t trust what you remember or what you experience.  Thus, one of the biggest red flags that you’re experiencing gaslighting is that you’re quick to question or outright dismiss your memory of a situation. If you are in an involuntary habit of second guessing things that you remember, especially memories that involve abuse or hurt, you have most likely been put in a position where you have been conditioned to second guess yourself.

2. Are There People in Your Life Who Actively Discredit Your Memories and Experiences?

Gaslighting is the process of others conditioning you into distrusting your own sense of reality. There are many phrases that you may hear over and over that have led to you distrusting yourself, such as:

“You’re too sensitive.”

“You never remember things correctly.”

“How would you know? Your memory is awful.”

“You’re always making something out of nothing.”

“You weren’t right about this last time.”

“You can’t even remember [where you put your keys/where you parked the car/what you had for breakfast]. Why should I trust your memory of this?”

“You don’t even know what abuse is.” (Or “You have never seen real abuse.”)

If people in your life are using phrases like these ones to convince you that you’re wrong about what you remember and how you feel, you may be experiencing gaslighting.

3. When You Call Someone Out on Hurtful or Abusive Behavior, Are They Quick to Dismiss Both You and the Situation?

Another way of belittling someone’s experiences and memories is to outright dismiss claims of hurt or abuse. This includes diverting the conversation, ignoring what you’re saying, and refusing to engage in a conversation about things that have hurt you. Some red flag phrases for this dismissive behavior are:

“Why do you always have to bring this up?”

“I’m not dealing with this nonsense right now.”

“I [worked all day/am tired/have more important things to deal with] and don’t have time for this shit.”

“You’re ruining my night.”

“Shut up. Nothing happened.”

In fact, words aren’t the only way to dismiss someone. Scoffing, eye rolling, smirking, laughing, and removing themselves from the room and the conversation are other ways that people can show disregard for your feelings and needs.

4. When You Try and Bring Up Hurtful or Abusive Behavior, Do They Immediately Turn It Around and Play the Victim?

Another way to manipulate someone into thinking that they’re not experiencing harm or abuse is to constantly turn the conversation towards the abuser, making it seem like you are doing harm by even bringing up what’s hurting you. If someone in your life cannot (or will not) let you speak to your experiences, and instead insists on turning it into a conversation about themselves, the conversation is not a healthy one. Some red flag phrases for this tactic are:

“You always make me out to be the bad guy.”

“Constantly bringing stuff like this up makes me feel bad/is hurtful to me.”

“I’m actually the one hurting.”

“You don’t know what abuse is. Saying that I’m abusive is hurtful to me.”

“Pretending I’m hurtful/abusive makes you the bully.”

If these phrases are a constant in your life, if you feel like you’ve been conditioned into mistrusting your own memories and experiences, you have most likely been the victim of gaslighting.

So, What Can I Do?

Now that you understand what gaslighting is and maybe identify with it, it’s time to think about how you can work through and change the situation. But how?

1. Recognize It

The most important, and sometimes hardest, part of dealing with gaslighting is realizing that it’s happening. If you start to think that you’re experiencing this, go over the warning signs. Make sure you know what the red flags are. And when you’re put into situations where your experiences are dismissed or belittled, start looking for these warning signs.

Take note of the people in your life that make you feel this way. When you try to bring up feelings of hurt or anger, see if you can take note of particular phrases or behavioral patterns that could indicate that you are being gaslit. If you start to realize that these phrases and red flags are present in your life, take note of who is saying them, and take note of how often they are being said.

Abuse is a pattern. And once you know how the pattern presents itself, it becomes easier to spot. Once you begin to become aware of this pattern you can start to build up your self-trust again.

2. Trust Yourself

This is much easier said than done. When you’re a victim of emotional and mental abuse, it’s extremely difficult to put the pieces back together and relearn (or begin to learn) how to trust your own mind.  What can be the most helpful is to constantly remind yourself that these things are being done to manipulate you. Once you’ve spotted the red flags and the patterns, hold onto them. Remind yourself that this is an abuse tactic, and that will help you realize that your inability to trust yourself is not an objective truth.

Actively affirm your memories and experiences. When you’re being told that you “never remember anything right,” for instance, intentionally remind yourself that this isn’t true.  Positive self-affirmations are critical when learning to trust yourself again. When you are experiencing gaslighting, try to think things along the lines of “I am capable of knowing what I saw/heard/felt,” “This is only being done to hurt me,” and “My feelings are valid.”

3. Push Back

Pushing back is something that isn’t always possible for people. Many people are in situations where they’re financially dependent on their abuser, are minors living with abusive parents, or are at risk for increased abuse and physical violence if they push back. However, if you’re in a situation where you feel like pushing back is an option, go for it. Call that person out on it.  Let that person know that they’re actively dismissing claims you know to be true. Letting them know that you’re sticking to your guns and standing by what you remember causes the abuser to begin to lose power. 

Some quick come backs to push back with include “Ignoring what’s hurting me is abusive,” “Dismissing my feelings won’t make me forget that you’ve hurt me,” and “I know you’re trying to manipulate me, but I stand by what I said/felt/heard/saw.”These types of phrases bring attention to the patterns and behaviors that those who are gaslighting you don’t want you to see. And hearing yourself validate your own feelings and experiences will also help you really learn to trust yourself again.”

PT: 11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic used to gain power. And it works too well.

Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. For example, in the movie Gaslight (1944), a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind.

People who gaslight typically use the following techniques:

1. They tell blatant lies.

You know it’s an outright lie. Yet they are telling you this lie with a straight face. Why are they so blatant? Because they’re setting up a precedent. Once they tell you a huge lie, you’re not sure if anything they say is true. Keeping you unsteady and off-kilter is the goal.

2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof. 

You know they said they would do something; you know you heard it. But they out and out deny it. It makes you start questioning your reality—maybe they never said that thing. And the more they do this, the more you question your reality and start accepting theirs.

3. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition. 

They know how important your kids are to you, and they know how important your identity is to you. So those may be one of the first things they attack. If you have kids, they tell you that you should not have had those children. They will tell you’d be a worthy person if only you didn’t have a long list of negative traits. They attack the foundation of your being.

4. They wear you down over time.

This is one of the insidious things about gaslighting—it is done gradually, over time. A lie here, a lie there, a snide comment every so often…and then it starts ramping up. Even the brightest, most self-aware people can be sucked into gaslighting—it is that effective. It’s the “frog in the frying pan” analogy: The heat is turned up slowly, so the frog never realizes what’s happening to it.

5. Their actions do not match their words.

When dealing with a person or entity that gaslights, look at what they are doing rather than what they are saying. What they are saying means nothing; it is just talk. What they are doing is the issue.

6. They throw in positive reinforcement to confuse you. 

This person or entity that is cutting you down, telling you that you don’t have value, is now praising you for something you did. This adds an additional sense of uneasiness. You think, “Well maybe they aren’t so bad.” Yes, they are. This is a calculated attempt to keep you off-kilter—and again, to question your reality. Also look at what you were praised for; it is probably something that served the gaslighter.

7. They know confusion weakens people. 

Gaslighters know that people like having a sense of stability and normalcy. Their goal is to uproot this and make you constantly question everything. And humans’ natural tendency is to look to the person or entity that will help you feel more stable—and that happens to be the gaslighter.

8. They project.

They are a drug user or a cheater, yet they are constantly accusing you of that. This is done so often that you start trying to defend yourself, and are distracted from the gaslighter’s own behavior.

9. They try to align people against you.

Gaslighters are masters at manipulating and finding the people they know will stand by them no matter what—and they use these people against you. They will make comments such as, “This person knows that you’re not right,” or “This person knows you’re useless too.” Keep in mind it does not mean that these people actually said these things. A gaslighter is a constant liar. When the gaslighter uses this tactic it makes you feel like you don’t know who to trust or turn to—and that leads you right back to the gaslighter. And that’s exactly what they want: Isolation gives them more control.

10. They tell you or others that you are crazy.

This is one of the most effective tools of the gaslighter, because it’s dismissive. The gaslighter knows if they question your sanity, people will not believe you when you tell them the gaslighter is abusive or out-of-control. It’s a master technique.

11. They tell you everyone else is a liar.

By telling you that everyone else (your family, the media) is a liar, it again makes you question your reality. You’ve never known someone with the audacity to do this, so they must be telling the truth, right? No. It’s a manipulation technique. It makes people turn to the gaslighter for the “correct” information—which isn’t correct information at all.

Organizational Anti-racism

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Medium: The Evolution of an Accidental Meme

“The problem with the graphic has to do with where the initial inequity is located. In the graphic, some people need more support to see over the fence because they are shorter, an issue inherent to the people themselves. That’s fine if we’re talking about height, but if this is supposed to be a metaphor for other inequities, it becomes problematic. For instance, if we return to the school funding example, this image implies that students in low-income Communities of Color and other marginalized communities need more resources in their schools because they are inherently less academically capable. They (or their families, or their communities) are metaphorically “shorter” and need more support. But that is not why the so-called “achievement gap” exists. As many have argued, it should actually be termed the “opportunity gap” because the problem is not in the abilities of students, but in the disparate opportunities they are afforded. It is rooted in a history of oppression, from colonization and slavery to “separate but equal” and redlining. It is sustained by systemic racism and the country’s ever-growing economic inequality.“

This metaphor is actually a great example of deficit thinking — an ideology that blames victims of oppression for their own situation. As with this image, deficit thinking makes systemic forms of racism and oppression invisible…How would we make these root causes more visible?… this would require making clear that the reason some people have more difficulty seeing than others is not because of their height, but because of the context around them.” Paul Kuttner


  • Gatekeeping
    • A person or institution that controls access to something or someone
    • Often historically privilege white people or white institutions control access to equity in resources and representation for historically marginalized people/communities
    • Based on unequal power relationships
  • Equity in access to resources, funding and opportunity
    • White organizations often hear about opportunities and resources first
      • These information is often shared through white networks before communities of color
    • Share resources equitably and intentionally in diverse networks

“We guard the gate—overtly or unconsciously influencing the workplace climate, using our networks to increase diversity or maintain the status quo, and persuading or discouraging leadership regarding equity and inclusion efforts.” Mary Pender Greene, Sandra Bernabei, Lisa V. Blitz, New Social Worker

White Savior Organizing

“What this is about is agency…— the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them (Teju Cole). The idea that, before we do anything else, the best and most important work that we can do is to listen to marginalized people, give them a platform from which they can reach a wider audience, and use our platforms to help amplify their voices. This is the real work that we should be doing. Anything else — any other way of “freeing” women of color — is at best condescending and colonialist and at worst downright harmful and dangerous.” Anne Theriault – HuffPost

  • White Savior Organizing Complaints to Watch Out For
    • “Why won’t they just come to the table. They never show up. They don’t want to be helped!”
    • “We just want to help you/your people/those people/the at-risk/minorities…”
    • “They just don’t want/won’t to do the work…”
    • “They just don’t understand. We have to teach them all about how to…x,y,z”
  • Tokenism in Community Organizing
    • Selecting a person of color on panel, board, collective to represent/speak for the entire black community
    • Making the person of color the “go to” person for questions about the black/brown community
    • Thinking that one person of color’s opinion is enough to understand the entire community of color
      • and no further outreach or representation is needed

“You see, a lot of the folks I know don’t want a seat at someone else’s table. The very table that is built on assumptions that the marginalized must be taught, can’t organize themselves, and need only buy into pre-made models. Na, no thanks. We want our own table *and not the kiddie table, thanks…we’d like our own autonomy. Our own sovereignty (which Merriam-Webster defines as freedom of external control). We don’t just want to be heard on the fringes of your agendas. We don’t just want to be heard when something we say complements your agenda. We have had our own ideas on how things should be in our communities since the beginning of time” Toi Scott – Decolonizing Yoga

Korbett Mosesly: 10 Ways to Practice Institutional Racism at your Non-profit Organization

  • Maintain white leadership
    • Ensure that white people, even in institutions that serve primarily people of color, predominantly occupy your board leadership and executive management positions
  • Frame the issues & lead the strategies for people of color
    • Invest in mostly white non-profit leadership to receive the training and resources needed to pursue their strategies/ideas
  • Limit partnerships/feedback with communities of color
    • Limit partnerships and feedback with communities of color to an occasional marketing email and survey
      • do not come back to share if that information was used in any way
  • Ignore complaints of bias/racism from workers and clients
    • Ignore micro aggressions and micro-inequities workers of color experience by their white work colleagues
  • Value credentials vs. the skills needed to serve diverse populations
    • When hiring do not require demonstration of the knowledge/skills required to effectively serve a culturally diverse service population
    • Only diversify your lowest paid workers to ensure you have some diversity in your staff
  • Do not involve people directly impacted
    • Do not involve people directly impacted into the planning, implementation, and evaluation of services
    • Maintain a dependency on the services you provide
      • Ensure people of color don’t receive ability to address social issues in their own communities
  • White wash the diversity language
    • Minimize critique of institutional racism by expanding definition of diversity to other forms of diversity
      • e. gender, sexual orientation, occupation, background, socio-economic status, and geography
  • Maintain the social dynamic of white non-profit affinity groups
    • Don’t participate in social initiatives predominately led by people of color
      • Focus on social events where you can share resources between other predominately white led organizations and increase your fundraising revenue (i.e. annual galas)
  • Exploit black clients in poverty.
    • Exploit black clients and front line staff on marketing materials
      • Show the most disadvantaged heartbreaking stories of clients you served and how you helped them
      • Use this to raise money and have the appearance of a strong commitment and connection to communities of color
      • Use the narrative will be communities of color could not do this without white people.
    • Minimize the achievement of communities of color and orgs led by people of color
  • Cultural competency
    • Learn the language to have better conversations about race and equity
      • But don’t create an action plan that would ensure equity/empowerment within your organization

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Decolonizing Nonprofit Industrial Complex (NPIC)

  • Nonprofit Industrial Complex (NPIC)
    • System of relationships between State, owning classes, foundations, nonprofits and social justice orgs
      • that results in the surveillance, control, derailment, and everyday management of political movements
    • Designed to exploit POC while enriching the pockets of middle-class and wealthy white folks
    • Dilutes grassroots POC movements by funding/supporting white-led nonprofits over POC orgs directly involved
    • Silences POC voices while allowing white managers to decide what underserved POC communities need
  • Decolonizing nonprofits means
    • Transforming from sites of isolation and trauma for POC employees into spaces to find healing and liberation
    • Decentering whiteness and honoring difference within organizations
  • 3 Decolonizing Strategies
    1. Embrace a culture of abundance, not scarcity
      • Make it a priority to adequately fund staff and benefits
    2. Less hierarchy, more collective decision-making
      • Directors and board presidents typically don’t come from oppressed communities they serve and may not understand their needs
      • Nonprofit staff not in leadership positions are more likely to hail from marginalized communities,
    3. Practice transformative justice/community accountability
      • Seeking accountability when violence happens within our orgs in ways that don’t engage our punitive justice system
      • Nonprofit workplaces must believe/support survivors while dismantling oppressive systems causing harm

Source: Rainier Valley Corps: Three Strategies for Decolonizing Nonprofits from a Black Queer Feminist Organizer

Lack of Diversity in Non-Profit Sector

  • To increase racial equity and inclusion
    • Must pursue greater diversity among staff, leadership, and boards
  • People of color represent
    • 30% of the American workforce
    • 18% of non-profit staff
    • 22% of foundation staff
  • Implicit biases throughout hiring process
    • Explains why staff is predominantly white
  • To address these biases assess if there’s any racial biases limiting diversity in:
  1. Applications/recruitment outlets
  2. Candidates selected for interviews
  3. Interview process and job offers

Source: Community Wealth Partners: The State of Diversity in the Nonprofit Sector

Dismantling Racism: Analysis Tools

Effective Problem Solving


Living in an urgent culture and facing urgent problems in our communities, one of the challenges we face is how often we give into the pattern of moving from awareness to action without taking the necessary steps that help us to be more effective and successful in reaching our vision and goals. This diagram illustrates the steps that we need to take if we are going to be thoughtful, deliberate, strategic, and collaborative in crafting a shared vision and goals. Awareness of the problem leads to intentional time devoted to building relationships with and among communities most affected by the problem. Those people and communities then engage in information gathering and analysis in order to build a shared understanding of the problem, including an ability to distinguish between root causes and symptoms. The next stage is collaborative visioning, goal setting, and planning followed by deliberate and thoughtful action. Action is followed by ongoing reflection and evaluation so that we learn from our mistakes and build on our successes. The stages are not necessarily as clearly defined as they are shown in the diagram; for example relationship and community building can be integrated into every stage. They do inform how we think about moving forward; for example, our action will be more effective if we have taken time to gather information, analyze our situation, vision, and plan together. We also need to make sure and take time to reflect on how we’re doing, what we’re learning, and how our experience with relationship-building, visioning, goal setting, planning, and action has informed and deepened our understanding of how to move forward.



Organizations who make a commitment to race equity move through somewhat predictable stages, illustrated in the accompanying diagram.

Familiar Dysfunction
Many organizations start their equity commitment with an already established identity as white-led, predominantly white, or operating out of a dominant white culture ideology. The organization might be operating as an all white organization, as an organization with token participation by POC who are expected to “fit in” to existing white dominant culture, or as a multicultural organization that appreciates diversity without challenging racist and/or dominant white culture practices and ideology. In this stage, all people in the organization are operating in a state of what could be called “familiar dysfunction.” Essentially, everyone in the organization has adjusted to the way the organization centers white dominant culture norms at the expense of everyone and particularly POC in the organization and/or Communities of Color served by the organization. Often (if not always), POC in the organization and those being served are experiencing levels of trauma as a result of racism and internalized racism in the larger society and in the organization. Many white people in the organization are unaware of the level of trauma POC are experiencing or if aware, are taking responsibility individually, often by separating themselves from other white people in order to position themselves as the “good” white person. People across the organization tend towards a “fixing” stance, meaning that individuals and the organization as a whole is on a mission to “fix” others, often in the name of empowerment. While individuals in the organization may be very satisfied to very dissatisfied, people have generally accepted the status quo as inevitable and have learned to function within it.

Explicit Commitment to Race Equity
As the organization begins to state an explicit commitment to race equity, equilibrium begins to shift. As people in the organization begin to develop a shared language and framework for understanding racism as race prejudice + social and institutional power, the familiar dysfunction begins to unravel. People of Color often begin to hold renewed hope that the organization might become more responsive to their strengths, needs, and wisdom; white people often begin to question what once seemed certain, particularly when it comes to their assumed power in the organization. As POC’s expectations for the organization begin to rise, particularly as a framework for racism begins to be clarified, they may assume that white people know what to do and are nonetheless choosing to perpetuate racist attitudes and behaviors. As white people sense that the framework requires some change in attitudes and behaviors, they may become either hypersensitive or hyperdefensive, particularly as they sense the expectation that they should behave and believe differently while not knowing exactly what to do.

Culture Shift
This is the beginning of a culture shift in the organization. POC often read white people’s ignorance as intentional; they may also equate race equity with the need for white people to change, which can diminish their sense of power and agency. As a result, they may feel high levels of frustration and/or hopelessness. White people often become so unsettled by no longer having power to define the organizational “norms” that they begin to take every challenge by others, whether from a white person or a POC, as very personal and begin to try to prove they are one of the “good” white people, either by disassociating from other white people, intellectualizing the process, criticizing the process, or seeking approval from individual POC. People in the organization begin to “flip the script;” the organization engages in either/or thinking that positions POC as inherently good and white people as inherently bad. At this stage, the organization tends to blame individuals for doing things “wrong” and there is little ability to hold complexity or appreciate oneself or others. This flipping of the script into either/or thinking can increase the sense of traumatization on the parts of both POC and white people, as expectations for needed and desired change are not met.

Not Knowing
This leads to the stage of “not knowing,” a place where many experience frustration and/or fear. Many if not most people want the process to offer clarity and quick fixes; when the process does not, both POC and white people give into the tendency to identify people and actions as “right” or “wrong.” Some people in the organization move into positions of high righteousness, believing that race equity is based in “one right way” of doing things; energy goes into identifying who or what is “right” and who or what is “wrong.” People can feel very unsettled because this righteous judgment can either lead to significant self-doubt and/or a desire for the organization to address personal ego needs. At the same time, in the middle of this “not knowing,” relationships may begin to subtly shift as some individuals within the organization work to negotiate conflict with heightened personal awareness and increased accountability to the mission. In addition, the organization as a whole begins to recognize ways in which racism is tending to reproduce itself and attempts are being made to address those.

Relational Trust
At this point, the organization acknowledges that culture shift is messy and chaotic and focuses on efforts to build relational trust and a culture of appreciation to help move people and the organization through the chaos. People start to identify their individual and collective power to make change or shift the organization without focusing or depending on others to change. People continue to identify useful and/or effective ways to disagree, looking for the value in different perspectives while assuming positive intent. Caucuses provide support for people to work through challenges related to equity work. People begin to sharpen their skills for holding each other accountable with a sense of possibility rather than judgment. Both POC and white people are working to bring intention and impact closer together out of a mutual respect for the hard personal work involved in a race equity commitment.

OR … In cases where the organization is unable to hold the chaos of not knowing, it reverts to familiar dysfunction, often solidifying old patterns of power and privilege. The rationales for reverting to dysfunctional white supremacy patterns include a need for clarity (which is essentially an admission that those with power in the organization are too disturbed by changing power dynamics), urgency related to the organization’s mission (“we don’t have time for this,” “we can’t afford to be distracted,”), the need to produce measurable results for funders, among others. Some people may leave or threaten to leave the organization. While the reasons are often different, both POC and white people can become advocates for reverting to familiar dysfunction.

Equity Goals Clarified
At this stage, the organization is ready to identify and name specific and explicit race equity goals at the cultural, institutional and personal levels. Naming these goals now rather than earlier, before the culture shift and “not knowing” stages, allows these goals to address the nuance and complexities inherent in race equity work. Naming these goals now also means the groundwork has been laid for everyone to understand the integral interconnection between institutional, cultural, and personal work.

​Equity Practice
Once goals have been clarified, the organization leans into the equity work with an appreciation for complexity, ongoing learning and reflection. The organization works to establish a culture that provides support and accountability, one that presumes good intent while continually improving on the effort to bring intent and impact closer together through improved communication and mutual respect. The organization understands race equity as an ongoing practice rather than a specific destination. People have learned how to offer appreciation, disagree, make mistakes, call into account, reflect and revise. People have also learned to identify their individual bottom lines and know when and how to stand their ground while remaining accountable to the organization’s vision and mission.

Race Equity Stages 2 

This graphic illustration of the stages of racial equity are designed and offered by Shorlette Ammons, who works with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, a collaboration of NC State University, NC A&T University, and NC Cooperative Extension. Big thanks to Shorlette for this beautiful graphic. For best viewing, download here.

Picture Picture

How a Movement is Built

Movements for social change emerge when:

  • Individuals refuse to act outwardly in contradiction to something they know to be true inwardly.
  • Groups emerge when these individuals find each other, begin to build community, and spread the word.
  • Collective action happens when the group begins to translate individual problems into public organizing issues that address the root cause of the issue.

​Our work within organizations must be approached as movement building work. Organizers, working to create organizational change with a movement mentality, can:

  • remember that resistance is only the place where things begin,
  • know that opposition merely validates the idea that change must come,
  • find sources of countervailing power outside of the organizational structure,
  • nurture that power,
  • work together to translate individual problems into broader organizing issues,
  • create alternative rewards to sustain energy for working toward your vision,
  • work from a power, rather than a victim, analysis.

Barriers  and  Bridges Brinciples

These principles were developed by Grassroots Leadership’s (Charlotte, NC) Barriers and Bridges program, a precursor and contributor to the Dismantling Racism process for which this workbook is designed. These principles speak to the assumptions and values that ground dismantling racism work. 

  1. We need an analysis of how oppression works. This is not simply about reducing prejudice. This is about radically changing the way we do things, about redistributing power.
  2. There is a difference between appreciating diversity and recognizing oppression and abuse of power.
  3. To build multi-cultural organizations, we have to build cross- cultural relationships one-on-one.
  4. In order to do that, we have to be willing to do personal work, learn more about who we are, and change.
  5. On the other hand, we can’t build multi-cultural organizations alone; we have to build a strong team of people committed to the same goal.
  6. We must be open to doing things differently, sometimes radically so, than we’ve done them in the past. We may have to redefine the very things we thought were basic.
  7. We need to learn that points of resistance, both within ourselves and as exhibited by others, are the sources of greatest learning. We must recognize discomfort as a signal for learning rather than an excuse for withdrawal or defensiveness.
  8. We need to acknowledge that we get out of this process what we put in. We must be open to learning even if it is not packaged in ways that we expect or in ways with which we feel comfortable. We must be actively engaged in the learning process.
  9. In this work we must learn to seek to understand before turning to judgment. At the same time, we can expect, and we deserve, appropriate, loving, and just behavior.
  10. Change is often experienced by those in power as moving too quickly and by those with less power as moving too slowly. Change does not need to be slow, but often is.

Fakequity: Color Brave Space — How to run a better equity focused meeting

“Racial equity work should make us all think and challenge us to think and accept new information. Racial equity work is also about changing systems and centering the experiences and voices of people and communities of color. The Color Brave Space format when used correctly creates a different norms which allows this to happen more easily and readily.


To help you understand the elements/principles we will go a little more in-depth into a few of them.

Put Relationships First – Work to build community and trust with an awareness of power dynamics.

This is about trust building, connecting on a personal level, and helping us humanize each other, especially during conversations that are deeply personal, uncomfortable, and fraught with racialized mistrust. We also remind people trust is built over time so the meeting or training you are in is only the start and people should do the harder work of connecting outside of the meeting as well.

Keep Focused on Our Common Goal – We care deeply about [insert your mission], especially those who are directly impacted by racism. [This line can be your mission instead of filling in the blank.]

Heidi almost always emphasizes this principle, because this is why we are all here. You can personalize it to your organization’s mission or goal. It is important for everyone, even the facilitator to know that you are all there in pursuit of a common goal. When sharing it remind people we are all on the same team. Racial equity work is about reaching the common goal, not a ‘gotcha’ or ‘you’re a bad person’ sort of thing, it is about the work and getting to a common equitable outcomes.

Notice Power Dynamics in the Room – Be aware of how you use your privilege: From taking up too much emotional and airtime space, or disengaging.

We emphasize this one because power shows up in many different ways that people may not be conscious of. There are the obvious forms of power, who talks a lot, who uses their title, or when Erin facilitates she say “I am standing in the front of the room and speaking, I have a lot of power in this moment.” Power isn’t always bad, but it needs to be acknowledged and kept in check.

Some of the ways power shows up that are less obvious are things like who disengages or focuses all of the attention on them when things get uncomfortable. This person is the one who maybe keeps leaving the room to take a call, or picks up their phone and plays with it during the middle of the meeting, or argues or tells long personal stories to defend their ways of thinking. These are forms of using power which doesn’t advance the group agenda.

The best example of an unrecognized power is most of the time in dominant society (white) spaces, we are literally using ‘academic English’ as the tool or language of power. So if English is your first and primary language you will be able to participate quicker, more comfortably, and with deeper nuance. As an example, we have the Color Brave Space translated into Spanish. Erin once had a native Spanish speaker in an otherwise all English speaking room, read the Color Brave Space in Spanish. English only speakers looked uncomfortable because all of a sudden couldn’t understand what was happening though the written English translation was provided. It was a great reminder about the power of language.

Create Spaces for Multiple Truths and Norms – Speak your truth, and seek understanding of truths that differ from yours, with awareness of power dynamics.

A couple weeks ago, Erin signed me (Heidi) up for a meditation class. I’m not sure what she was trying to tell me, but I went despite knowing that I had a preconceived opinion that I don’t really like to meditate. But since Erin signed me up, I tried to stay open. Honestly, it was a struggle. But I am glad I went. I appreciated the instructor shared a Buddhist perspective about working hard to be in a “middle place.” Our brains are wired to be constantly judging (you’ve probably already decided if you like this blog piece or not, I guess if you’re still reading, you must like it), but the key is to use our conscious mind to not just fall directly into your immediate judgement and stay open to the ‘middle place.’ As a side note, I am still not sold on meditating, but willing to stay open to working on the practice. Erin’s note to Heidi: meditation like racial equity work takes practice, if you try meditation again you might resist it less, or we can try to meditate during happy hour.

When Erin facilitates she often reminds people that this shows up when people want to pit policies against people’s lived experiences. Sometimes when things get heated a person with formal power/authority may dismiss another person’s story by saying “Well, the policy says this so that couldn’t have happened,” or “I need evidence…” We need to consciously create space to allow people to share different perspectives and work to figure out the systems creating the discrepancies.

Be Kind and Brave – Remember relationships first, and work to be explicit with your language about race, class, gender, immigration, etc.

One of the greatest disservices we have done to conversations about systemic racism is use coded and ambiguous language like ‘diversity, culture, inclusion, or equity.’

Be clear in your language — when you say equity are you talking about racial equity or gender equity? This vague language actually prevents us from having an effective conversation. So let’s work to be specific with our language, and ask for clarification from others when we hear them use terms like diversity, culture, or equity. Along with being kind and brave, remember we need to build relationships for the long haul so use your language in ways that builds bridges.

Practice Examining Racially Biased Systems and Processes – Individual actions are important, and systems are what are left after all the people in this room leave.

Most of these processes and systems in place are ones we’ve inherited. They existed before us, and will continue to exist after we are all gone if we don’t examine and redesign them. It is important to remember we need to work at a systems level, so while the work may feel personal it isn’t about you it is about undoing institutional and systemic racism.

Look for Learning – Show what you’re learning, not what you already know. Avoid playing devil’s advocate, the devil has enough advocates.

Educators call this having a growth mindset. We all continue to have to continue to learn about dismantling racist systems. The best way to create a learning community is to show what we are learning, not what we already know. Heidi asks people explicitly not to play devil’s advocate; this is a use of power to control the conversation. If you really are thinking of an unpopular idea that you should be able to say what is on your mind, while also being open to others sharing counter-narratives. If you want to play devil’s advocate or argue, the meeting/training isn’t the place to do it, doing so is hoarding power. Instead, take Heidi out for a beer, but no PBR, just the good stuff. Erin will warn you though if you try to play devil’s advocate with Heidi you are likely to lose, she’s good I have yet to win an argument, unless it is about something like food.


Harvard Business Review: How Black Women Describe Navigating Race and Gender in the Workplace

“A few years ago I started attending classes for my part-time MBA. What I noticed almost immediately was that my experience in the classroom largely mirrored my experience of close to a decade in corporate America: I’m consistently one of very few black women and black people in the room.

In September, Ellen McGirt published an article in Fortune exploring why there are zero African-American women running Fortune 500 companies. This lack of female leadership is important to explore, but what are the experiences of black women in the workplace before they make it to the c-suite? I wanted to find out how other black women navigate the intertwined barriers at the intersection of race and gender.

Over the course of a year I worked with Professor Elizabeth Morrison, Vice Dean of Faculty at NYU, to interview 10 women of color in order to understand the challenges they face in the workplace, how they cope with those challenges, and how those coping mechanisms affect their chances of long-term success.

Here are the highlights of what I learned about their experiences at work in corporate America:

“Your work is judged plus other intangible things”

A lot of women told me that they code-switched, which involves embracing the dominant culture or vernacular among certain groups (like co-workers, for example) and switching to a more authentic self when around friends and family.

One woman I spoke with, a successful entrepreneur who was interning at a tech startup before going to business school, excitedly described her most recent position where, for the first time in her career, she reported to a black woman. She said she, “performed better” and was “a lot more comfortable and confident.” She described what it might have been like if she had to code-switch instead: “Being judged on your work versus mentally performing well would have been more taxing. Your work is judged plus other intangible things. You second-guess yourself and that affects your confidence.”

She wasn’t the only woman to mention the mental strain associated with trying to live up to a professional ideal originally created to stifle, rather than support, diversity. Another woman passed on an opportunity for a full-time position at the Obama White House because she felt inhibited by stereotypes. “I was given opportunities to stay at the White House but I didn’t because I felt like people were very judgmental of my race, and my gender, and everything. My ideas weren’t getting traction that I feel like others from white guys were.”

A twenty-something woman at a top-tier consulting company described the first time she worked for a client team that included other people of color. The client was a prison and her team was making recommendations for how to group specific inmates together. “I said, ‘You wouldn’t put Nicki Minaj in a cell with Remy Ma.’ Everyone instantly got it and it was a beautiful thing. I wouldn’t be able to make that analogy on another team. It was the project I performed the best at. That partly had to do with the fact that your clients look like you and it’s easier to build that relationship.” Because she performed so well on the project, she gained social capital with her supervisor. It’s a direct example of how working with people you can relate to can positively influence your career.

There was a general disillusionment among these women about how their colleagues view the world versus how they experience it. One woman described crying in her hotel bed after reading about a police officer killing a person of color. She had been traveling with coworkers for a business trip and they were all on a text chain to coordinate logistics. That same day a Hollywood couple had also broken up and the conversation on the text chain focused on the Hollywood gossip, never addressing the shooting. She said, “I remember watching [a shooting] and crying in my hotel bed. And then having to go to work. And no one checked in for your wellbeing.” This is the reality for many black women at work in America. They care deeply about the issues affecting the black community but that feeling isn’t generally supported or acknowledged in the workplace.

“We are tied to other people of color”

Each interview revealed just how much these women’s experiences at work are viewed through a larger filter of race and class.

“I can go into my office right now and meet five people, out of that, four will be white,” described one woman I spoke with. “Out of those white, their whole family might be of generational wealth. That one black person they can more than likely identify someone in their family who is living in the projects, living in poverty or doesn’t have education beyond high school level. That is the experience of black people in general — that we are tied to other people of color who are in poor situations.”

This isn’t to say that every white person in corporate America comes from generational wealth. It is to say that it’s impossible to divorce current statistics about race in this country from black women who have to go to work every day. Black women in corporate America aren’t immune to the realities facing black people in general or the historical relationship between race and resource access in this nation. Instead, they’re forced to put that aside when they sit down at their desk.

This forced separation between hardships facing the black community and the institutional whiteness of the white-collar job can be mentally taxing and make it harder to perform well at work.

“My mentors talk to me about dimming my light”

It’s not uncommon for black women to feel like they have to make others feel comfortable when they’re in a group (especially if that group is made up of people who look nothing like them).

The women I interviewed talked a lot about having to dampen aspects of their personality to feel like they could fit into the culture of their workplace. One woman told me, “My mentors talk to me about dimming my light. I always thought I had to bring that down to make people comfortable.” These women tended to feel that their organizations “weren’t ready” for them and they felt like they couldn’t be their authentic selves in the office at the risk of making others feel uncomfortable or hurting their chances of professional advancement.

These sentiments echoed similar things I’ve experienced. I’ve been told to smile in the office and, at the risk of coming across as too aggressive, I tend to wait until everyone else has spoken before choosing to weigh in. Part of that is simply because I’m an introvert. But another part is because I’ve been conditioned by society and its predominantly white institutions to feel that as a black woman I come across as aggressive, bossy, and selfish when I speak my mind compared to a man or white woman making the same statements. Many people feel as though they can’t be their true selves in the workplace at the risk of seeming unprofessional. These interviews made it clear that for the most part black women don’t expect to be able to bring their full selves to the workplace and still get ahead.

“If you have no one in your corner you get weeded out”

Almost every woman I interviewed touched on the idea of needing to find sponsorship in the workplace — the idea of finding someone at your company who can advocate for raises, projects, and promotions on your behalf. One woman who works as a consultant put it like this: “Sponsorship is very important. The black community where I work we have a hard time finding that. It’s not a formal program but it’s part of the review process. People ask who was in this person’s corner? You need sponsors to get projects. Staffing is really anxiety-driven. You interview for every project. If you have a sponsor you might not need to interview. If you have no one in your corner you get weeded out.”

Black women often find sponsorship challenging in their organizations if they have trouble relating to those whom they work with. Because of this, they may often attribute their lack of advancement in the company to a lack of sponsorship.


“You can’t be what you can’t see.” These are the famous words by Marian Wright Edelman and they are as much true for children dreaming of becoming rocket scientists or astronauts as they are for black women climbing the corporate ladder.

Aside from not seeing professional role models, there are real business consequences to consistently being in the minority at work. Differing from the majority at work creates what Katherine Phillips, Nancy Rothbard, and Tracy Dumas call status distance, that is, how far away you are from the perceived norm and power structure in your company. When you know that you suffer from status distance, you’ll seek to conceal status-confirming information about yourself. Exclusion forces people to deviate from their authentic selves. And authenticity is integral to well-being.

And beyond the emotional and mental toll, homogeneity and bias can have real career consequences for black women. Researchers found that when a group is shown photos of different people, black women’s faces were least likely to be recognized out of a group of white men and white women. Statements said by a black woman in a group discussion were also least likely to be correctly attributed compared to black men, white women, and white men. Black women in leadership positions are also more likely to be criticized or punished when making mistakes on the job.

While I tried to limit my own bias as much as possible by interviewing only women whom I did not know and sticking to the same set of questions for every interview, it was impossible to completely remove my own personal experience from this project. Without it, I wouldn’t have been driven to undertake it in the first place. This is also a small sample size which makes it impossible to draw sweeping conclusions. Though the fact that consistent themes emerged and that out of 10 black women, 0 regularly work with other women of color, means that if true equality in the workplace is what we’re after, then sooner or later we’ll have to address the issues that are unique to women of color — and black women in particular — in the workplace.

For black women it’s not just a pipeline issue. Once they are in the door, they need to feel supported in ways that are specific to being a woman of color. So that even if they are alone on their team, they will realize they’re not alone at all.”

White Supremacy Culture

From Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, ChangeWork, 2001

This is a list of characteristics of white supremacy culture which show up in our organizations. Culture is powerful precisely because it is so present and at the same time so very difficult to name or identify. The characteristics listed below are damaging because they are used as norms and standards without being pro-actively named or chosen by the group. They are damaging because they promote white supremacy thinking. They are damaging to both people of color and to white people. Organizations that are people of color led or a majority people of color can also demonstrate many damaging characteristics of white supremacy culture.


  • little appreciation expressed among people for the work that others are doing; appreciation that is expressed usually directed to those who get most of the credit anyway
  • more common is to point out either how the person or work is inadequate
  • or even more common, to talk to others about the inadequacies of a person or their work without ever talking directly to them
  • mistakes are seen as personal, i.e. they reflect badly on the person making them as opposed to being seen for what they are ó mistakes
  • making a mistake is confused with being a mistake, doing wrong with being wrong
  • little time, energy, or money put into reflection or identifying lessons learned that can improve practice, in other words little or no learning from mistakes
  • tendency to identify whatís wrong; little ability to identify, name, and appreciate whatís right

antidotes: develop a culture of appreciation, where the organization takes time to make sure that peopleís work and efforts are appreciated; develop a learning organization, where it is expected that everyone will make mistakes and those mistakes offer opportunities for learning; create an environment where people can recognize that mistakes sometimes lead to positive results; separate the person from the mistake; when offering feedback, always speak to the things that went well before offering criticism; ask people to offer specific suggestions for how to do things differently when offering criticism

Sense of Urgency

  • continued sense of urgency that makes it difficult to take time to be inclusive, encourage democratic and/or thoughtful decision-making, to think long-term, to consider consequences
  • frequently results in sacrificing potential allies for quick or highly visible results, for example sacrificing interests of communities of color in order to win victories for white people (seen as default or norm community)
  • reinforced by funding proposals which promise too much work for too little money and by funders who expect too much for too little

antidotes: realistic workplans; leadership which understands that things take longer than anyone expects; discuss and plan for what it means to set goals of inclusivity and diversity, particularly in terms of time; learn from past experience how long things take; write realistic funding proposals with realistic time frames; be clear about how you will make good decisions in an atmosphere of urgency


  • the organizational structure is set up and much energy spent trying to prevent abuse and protect power as it exists rather than to facilitate the best out of each person or to clarify who has power and how they are expected to use it
  • because of either/or thinking (see below), criticism of those with power is viewed as threatening and inappropriate (or rude)
  • people respond to new or challenging ideas with defensiveness, making it very difficult to raise these ideas
  • a lot of energy in the organization is spent trying to make sure that peopleís feelings arenít getting hurt or working around defensive people
  • the defensiveness of people in power creates an oppressive culture

antidotes: understand that structure cannot in and of itself facilitate or prevent abuse; understand the link between defensiveness and fear (of losing power, losing face, losing comfort, losing privilege); work on your own defensiveness; name defensiveness as a problem when it is one; give people credit for being able to handle more than you think; discuss the ways in which defensiveness or resistance to new ideas gets in the way of the mission

Quantity Over Quality

  • all resources of organization are directed toward producing measurable goals
  • things that can be measured are more highly valued than things that cannot, for example numbers of people attending a meeting, newsletter circulation, money spent are valued more than quality of relationships, democratic decision-making, ability to constructively deal with conflict
  • little or no value attached to process; if it can’t be measured, it has no value
  • discomfort with emotion and feelings
  • no understanding that when there is a conflict between content (the agenda of the meeting) and process (peopleís need to be heard or engaged), process will prevail (for example, you may get through the agenda, but if you haven’t paid attention to peopleís need to be heard, the decisions made at the meeting are undermined and/or disregarded)

antidotes: include process or quality goals in your planning; make sure your organization has a values statement which expresses the ways in which you want to do your work; make sure this is a living document and that people are using it in their day to day work; look for ways to measure process goals (for example if you have a goal of inclusivity, think about ways you can measure whether or not you have achieved that goal); learn to recognize those times when you need to get off the agenda in order to address peopleís underlying concerns

Worship of the Written Word

  • if itís not in a memo, it doesn’t exist
  • the organization does not take into account or value other ways in which information gets shared
  • those with strong documentation and writing skills are more highly valued, even in organizations where ability to relate to others is key to the mission antidotes: take the time to analyze how people inside and outside the organization get and share information; figure out which things need to be written down and come up with alternative ways to document what is happening; work to recognize the contributions and skills that every person brings to the organization (for example, the ability to build relationships with those who are important to the organizationís mission)
  • only one right way
  • the belief there is one right way to do things and once people are introduced to the right way, they will see the light and adopt it
  • when they do not adapt or change, then something is wrong with them (the other, those not changing), not with us (those who ëknowí the right way)
  • similar to the missionary who does not see value in the culture of other communities, sees only value in their beliefs about what is good

antidotes: accept that there are many ways to get to the same goal; once the group has made a decision about which way will be taken, honor that decision and see what you and the organization will learn from taking that way, even and especially if it is not the way you would have chosen; work on developing the ability to notice when people do things differently and how those different ways might improve your approach; look for the tendency for a group or a person to keep pushing the same point over and over out of a belief that there is only one right way and then name it; when working with communities from a different culture than yours or your organizationís, be clear that you have some learning to do about the communitiesí ways of doing; never assume that you or your organization know whatís best for the community in isolation from meaningful relationships with that community


  • decision-making is clear to those with power and unclear to those without it
  • those with power think they are capable of making decisions for and in the interests of those without power
  • those with power often don’t think it is important or necessary to understand the viewpoint or experience of those for whom they are making decisions
  • those without power understand they do not have it and understand who does
  • those without power do not really know how decisions get made and who makes what decisions, and yet they are completely familiar with the impact of those decisions on them

antidotes: make sure that everyone knows and understands who makes what decisions in the organization; make sure everyone knows and understands their level of responsibility and authority in the organization; include people who are affected by decisions in the decision-making

Either/Or Thinking

  • things are either/or ó good/bad, right/wrong, with us/against us
  • closely linked to perfectionism in making it difficult to learn from mistakes or accommodate conflict
  • no sense that things can be both/and
  • results in trying to simplify complex things, for example believing that poverty is simply a result of lack of education
  • creates conflict and increases sense of urgency, as people are felt they have to make decisions to do either this or that, with no time or encouragement to consider alternatives, particularly those which may require more time or resources

antidotes: notice when people use ëeither/orí language and push to come up with more than two alternatives; notice when people are simplifying complex issues, particularly when the stakes seem high or an urgent decision needs to be made; slow it down and encourage people to do a deeper analysis; when people are faced with an urgent decision, take a break and give people some breathing room to think creatively; avoid making decisions under extreme pressure

Power Hoarding

  • little, if any, value around sharing power
  • power seen as limited, only so much to go around
  • those with power feel threatened when anyone suggests changes in how things should be done in the organization, feel suggestions for change are a reflection on their leadership
  • those with power don’t see themselves as hoarding power or as feeling threatened
  • those with power assume they have the best interests of the organization at heart and assume those wanting change are ill-informed (stupid), emotional, inexperienced

antidotes: include power sharing in your organizationís values statement; discuss what good leadership looks like and make sure people understand that a good leader develops the power and skills of others; understand that change is inevitable and challenges to your leadership can be healthy and productive; make sure the organization is focused on the mission

Fear of Open Conflict

  • people in power are scared of conflict and try to ignore it or run from it
  • when someone raises an issue that causes discomfort, the response is to blame the person for raising the issue rather than to look at the issue which is actually causing the problem
  • emphasis on being polite
  • equating the raising of difficult issues with being impolite, rude, or out of line

antidotes: role play ways to handle conflict before conflict happens; distinguish between being polite and raising hard issues; don’t require those who raise hard issues to raise them in ëacceptableí ways, especially if you are using the ways in which issues are raised as an excuse not to address the issues being raised; once a conflict is resolved, take the opportunity to revisit it and see how it might have been handled differently


  • little experience or comfort working as part of a team
  • people in organization believe they are responsible for solving problems alone
  • accountability, if any, goes up and down, not sideways to peers or to those the organization is set up to serve
  • desire for individual recognition and credit
  • leads to isolation
  • competition more highly valued than cooperation and where cooperation is valued, little time or resources devoted to developing skills in how to cooperate
  • creates a lack of accountability, as the organization values those who can get things done on their own without needing supervision or guidance antidotes: include teamwork as an important value in your values statement; make sure the organization is working towards shared goals and people understand how working together will improve performance; evaluate peopleís ability to work in a team as well as their ability to get the job done; make sure that credit is given to all those who participate in an effort, not just the leaders or most public person; make people accountable as a group rather than as individuals; create a culture where people bring problems to the group; use staff meetings as a place to solve problems, not just a place to report activities
  • iím the only one
  • connected to individualism, the belief that if something is going to get done right, ëIí have to do it
  • little or no ability to delegate work to others

antidotes: evaluate people based on their ability to delegate to others; evaluate people based on their ability to work as part of a team to accomplish shared goals

Progress is Bigger, More

  • observed in systems of accountability and ways we determine success
  • progress is an organization which expands (adds staff, adds projects) or develops the ability to serve more people (regardless of how well they are serving them)
  • gives no value, not even negative value, to its cost, for example, increased accountability to funders as the budget grows, ways in which those we serve may be exploited, excluded, or underserved as we focus on how many we are serving instead of quality of service or values created by the ways in which we serve

antidotes: create Seventh Generation thinking by asking how the actions of the group now will affect people seven generations from now; make sure that any cost/benefit analysis includes all the costs, not just the financial ones, for example the cost in morale, the cost in credibility, the cost in the use of resources; include process goals in your planning, for example make sure that your goals speak to how you want to do your work, not just what you want to do; ask those you work with and for to evaluate your performance


  • the belief that there is such a thing as being objective
  • the belief that emotions are inherently destructive, irrational, and should not play a role in decision-making or group process
  • invalidating people who show emotion
  • requiring people to think in a linear fashion and ignoring or invalidating those who think in other ways
  • impatience with any thinking that does not appear ëlogicalí to those with power

antidotes: realize that everybody has a world view and that everybodyís world view affects the way they understand things; realize this means you too; push yourself to sit with discomfort when people are expressing themselves in ways which are not familiar to you; assume that everybody has a valid point and your job is to understand what that point is

Right to Comfort

  • the belief that those with power have a right to emotional and psychological comfort (another aspect of valuing ëlogicí over emotion)
  • scapegoating those who cause discomfort
  • equating individual acts of unfairness against white people with systemic racism which daily targets people of color

antidotes: understand that discomfort is at the root of all growth and learning; welcome it as much as you can; deepen your political analysis of racism and oppression so you have a strong understanding of how your personal experience and feelings fit into a larger picture; don’t take everything personally

One of the purposes of listing characteristics of white supremacy culture is to point out how organizations which unconsciously use these characteristics as their norms and standards make it difficult, if not impossible, to open the door to other cultural norms and standards. As a result, many of our organizations, while saying we want to be multicultural, really only allow other people and cultures to come in if they adapt or conform to already existing cultural norms. Being able to identify and name the cultural norms and standards you want is a first step to making room for a truly multi-cultural organization.

Korbett Mosesly: 10 Ways to Practice Institutional Racism at your Non-profit Organization

  1. Maintain white leadership. Ensure that white people, even in institutions that serve primarily people of color, predominantly occupy your board leadership and executive management positions. This is going to require you to come up with some really excellent excuses to mask institutional racism.
    • They have to be qualified…
    • We can’t find qualified candidates…
    • They need to meet the minimum qualifications…
    • Team culture is important here…
    • We just don’t know any people of color…
    • We have good qualified white people that should be promoted…
    • We asked [a black person] once and we never got any applications…
  1. Frame the issues & lead the strategies for people of color. Ensure that white people, even in institutions that serve primarily populations of color, predominantly frame the social issues and lead the strategies to impact social problems. Invest in mostly white non-profit leadership to receive the training and resources needed to pursue their strategies and ideas. Make value statements that minimize the strategies created by people directly affected by the issues and do not invest in their strategies.
  1. Limit partnerships with (and Feedback from) communities of color. Limit your investment in creating partnerships with communities of color to sending an occasional marketing email about your programs. People of color will request an opportunity for feedback on programs or service design, implementation, and evaluation. Limit this feedback to a survey and do not come back to share if that information was used in any way.
  1. Ignore complaints of bias and racism from workers and clients. Ignore micro aggressions and micro-inequities social workers of color experience by their white social work colleagues.
  1. Value credentials vs. the skills needed to serve diverse populations. Carefully select employment criteria and credentialing requirements and do not require demonstration of the knowledge and skills required to effectively serve a culturally and linguistically diverse service population. In addition, you can diversify your lowest paid workers that usually provide direct service to ensure you have some diversity in your staff.
  1. Do not involve people directly impacted. Do not involve people directly impacted into the planning, implementation, and evaluation of services at your organization. This will maintain a dependency on the services you provide and ensure that people of color don’t receive the training, resources, and opportunity to learn the skills to address social issues in their own communities.
  1. White wash the diversity language. Minimize the critique of institutional racism by expanding the definition of diversity to include other forms of diversity (i.e. gender, sexual orientation, occupation, background, socio-economic status, and geography.)
  1. Maintain the social dynamic of white non-profit affinity groups. Don’t participate in social initiatives predominately led by people of color. Focus on social events where you can share resources between other predominately white led organizations and increase your fundraising revenue (i.e. annual galas). When non-profit leadership staff recycle donations to each other, it will show strong community support for your organization.
  1. Exploit black clients in poverty. Exploit black clients and front line staff on marketing materials. Show the most disadvantaged heartbreaking stories of clients you served and how you helped them. Use this to raise money and have the appearance of a strong commitment and connection to communities of color. If every organization does this, the narrative will be communities of color could not do this without white people. This will also minimize the achievement of communities of color and organizations led by people of color who often show a more positive and empowering image.
  1. Cultural competency. Include Cultural Competency Training for your staff (there are many white people that provide this training) to have the appearance of wanting to address equity. Learn the language to have better conversations about race and equity, but do not create an action plan that would ensure equity and empowerment within your organization.

I realize that institutional racism may not be your goal or intention. You may not even be aware of the complexities of racism at your organization. I hope this post moves you from unintentional racism to intentional allyship.

Fakequity: We Can’t Train Our Way to Racial Equity

Erin is gone on a “work trip” and told me it’s time to write this blog post that I promised weeks ago. In true Heidi fashion, I need to start off my post with a disclaimer. I make my living as a racial equity consultant and most of my work comes from requests for trainings. So, it might not be in the best business interest to criticize the core service of my business, but here it is. I too am learning to undo the ways I uphold systemic racism and support white supremacy. Change, reflection, and applied learning are values I strive to model in my own journey towards racial justice. This is one of my “show what you’re learning, not what you already know” moments of living the Color Brave Space norms.

Training is NOT the destination

I now realize many mainstream organizations are approaching “training” as the destination for their racial equity work. This realization and discomfort are affirmed through employee surveys, where overwhelmingly the most common response to what their organization is doing to advance racial equity is training. Believing we can train our way to racial equity is fakequity.

There are two fundamental reasons training cannot be our destination. First, paraphrasing the Racial Equity Tools definition, racial equity is when race is no longer a predictor of outcomes. Training does not guarantee disparities by race will be eliminated. In the article, The Subtle Linguistics of Polite White Supremacy, the author defines the system we are trying to dismantle as one that protects white comfort, white control, and white confidentiality. Training also does not guarantee these systems of white supremacy will be undone or even disrupted. As our friend at Nonprofit AF writes, racial equity is about money and the ability for communities of color to have power and control over how money is spent to address racial injustice. Training does not guarantee money will go to communities of color to fight racial injustice. (Sidebar, I know you will continue to conduct training so please ensure you are hiring facilitators who are people of color. Hiring white facilitators because it makes mostly white participants feel more comfortable continues to center whiteness.)

The second reason training is not the destination is most organizations have staff who are starting at such varying and disproportionately low skill levels. Having participants at such varying skill levels makes conducting an effective workshop almost impossible. I use language learning as a parallel cognitive skill. Imagine you were trying to teach a Spanish class to participants who don’t know any Spanish, who know some Spanish, and a few who are fluent in Spanish. Then imagine the expectation was that after 8 or 9 hours of training everyone will be fluent. We are setting ourselves up fail. We are creating a false sense of progress that upholds the very system we are working to dismantle.

Relying mostly on training continues to give whiteness the benefit of the doubt

A predictable pattern of systemic racism is giving white people the benefit of the doubt while requiring people of color to show proof and evidence. This double standard plays out in who organizations hire and promote based on a perceived potential. It plays out in requiring people of color to prove or show evidence of racial discrimination before we are believed.

Relying mostly on training to achieve racial equity continues to uphold this double standard. People of color are required to know how to navigate white systems before we are deemed “qualified.” Yet through training at mainstream organizations, mostly white people are disproportionately invested in and seen as having the potential to learn strategies to achieve racial equity. Going back to the language analogy, we are trying to train people to speak Spanish in a few hours, when what we need right now are fluent Spanish speakers.

Moving beyond training, addressing racialized POWER

  • Hire for Racial Equity Skills – Hire people already fluent in understanding systemic racism and strategies to achieve racial equity. This should be a required, not just a desired, qualification. At the very minimum, stop hiring people who don’t believe systemic racism exists.
  • Promote based on Racial Equity Skills – Like hiring, racial equity skills should be viewed as a required qualification. This means developing and using job performance “metrics” reflective of this requirement, and of course having evaluators/supervisors with high racial equity skills as well.
  • Design for Racial Equity – One of my favorite examples to share is the behavioral economics study that looked at different rates of organ donors in Europe. What the study found is the opt-in or opt-out form at the department of motor vehicles had the most influence over rates of donors. We currently have an opt-in approach to racial equity, when what we need to design are programs and process that default to racial equity. Erin wrote Luck Doesn’t Create Equity – Good Design Yields Better Results back in 2015, it is still one of my favorite blog posts.
  • Put your Money Towards your Racial Equity Values – We need to do a better job of tracking where our money is going. Often people get uneasy when I tell them I consciously try to spend money at businesses owned by people of color (if you haven’t seen our open source POC business map, check it out). If I asked you, do you want almost exclusively to support white businesses, the answer is usually no. But if we are not consciously thinking about it, we probably are supporting mostly white businesses. That is what the default system is designed to do. Be transparent with your money, how much is supporting white businesses, white staff, white consultants and how much is truly being directed at poc businesses, poc staff, and poc consultants?
  • Change Decision Making Tables – Decision making is connected to money and resources. Who sits at the final decision-making tables for how money is spent, invested, or how staff time is used? If these tables have been and continue to be disproportionately white this is systemic racism at work. If you continue to justify why and how these tables can’t be changed, this is paternalism upholding white supremacy.

What would you add to this list of ways we can work towards racial equity beyond training?

Making training more effective

I’m realistic, you’re still going to spend time and resources on training. I will also continue to train, as it does allow me to get my foot in the door of many organizations that would otherwise never have these conversations. Before you jump on the training bandwagon, check out this past blog posts on how to make racial equity training more effective. Here is a hint, all or mostly white groups discussing racial equity is a recipe for fakequity. We need to stop treating racial equity trainings like 8-hour degree courses, and start viewing them as continuing education opportunities. Here are my commitments. What are yours?

  • I am committed to taking on more projects that help people change organizational practices and processes to address racialized power.
  • I am committed to supporting organizations to find ways to have training be one, but not the only, strategy to work toward racial equity.
  • I am committed to facilitating racial equity workshops among people of color, as we also have work to do and often this work doesn’t or can’t happen when whiteness is overwhelmingly present.

When you see me next, feel free to ask me how I am doing on my commitments.

Community Wealth Partners: The State of Diversity in the Nonprofit Sector

“With this post, we will examine data surrounding the current state of racial diversity in leadership, staff, and boards across organizations in the nonprofit sector. As the sector increasingly recognizes the need for talent diversity as a strategy to accelerate social change, Community Wealth Partners has conducted a scan of existing research to understand the factors leading to gaps in attracting/recruiting, hiring, retaining, and advancing people of color. The scan was conducted at the request of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which has launched a Social Sector Talent Pipelines Lab to tackle these factors with key partner organizations.

To solve complex problems, it is critical to understand the root causes of those problems. In the case of the growing and related issues of racial inequality and poverty, we must openly acknowledge that the problem exists, and then explore the factors at the root of that problem. Sadly, statistics from high school dropout to incarceration rates point to the reality that in America, racial discrimination is one of the most significant root causes of inequality in education, health, and wealth outcomes.


There is a growing belief across our sector that in order to increase racial equity and inclusion, we must look inside and pursue greater diversity among staff, leadership, and boards of nonprofits and foundations. In partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, we recently conducted research to understand the full picture of racial diversity in the nonprofit sector. Our research looked at the current state of diversity in the workforce, as well as specific trends in attraction, recruitment, retention, and advancement of people of color in the sector.

We started by seeking the most up-to-date numbers on the representation of people of color in nonprofits and foundations. Overall, we found that while people of color represent 30% of the American workforce, only 18% of non-profit staff and 22% of foundation staff is comprised of people of color. For foundations, this number significantly decreases when looking at leadership and board member positions. This gap in diversity across staff and leadership in the sector reflects a lack of diversity in perspectives and backgrounds that could help organizations better understand the market and adapt and innovate strategies.

To understand this gap, we next examined practices around attraction, recruitment, retention, and advancement of people of color in the nonprofit sector. Through this research, we identified implicit biases throughout critical points in the hiring process that explain why staff at organizations continues to be predominantly white. The fact is that organizations rely heavily on existing staff, who are predominantly white, to pass along job openings through their networks, which are often homogeneous. The result is that white staff members are generally spreading the word regarding job openings through a largely white network, creating a perpetual cycle of hiring on repeat. For those people of color that do submit resumes, controlled studies have found that subconscious biases exist, resulting in individuals with white-sounding names being 50% more likely to get an interview. For those people of color that do get an interview, controlled studies again have found bias where white interviewers recommend a black candidate significantly less often than a white candidate with the identical credentials.


In order to address these biases throughout the recruitment and hiring process, organizations should take stock of critical points in recruitment:

  1. Assess the diversity of applicants submitting resumes for various positions within the organization to determine if current recruitment outlets are attracting a racially diverse pool of applicants
  2. Examine the diversity of candidates selected for the interview process to assess whether there may be implicit biases in the resume screening process that limit the number of diverse candidates being considered for positions
  3. Examine the diversity of candidates that receive job offers to assess whether there are implicit biases in the interview process that limits the number of diverse candidates that are given job offers

Identifying the point(s) in the hiring process where an organization is failing to recruit or select diverse candidates is a critical first step to developing more inclusive strategies and processes, and in turn, better equipping the organization to accelerate social change.

The hiring process is just one of several points in the talent pipeline where nonprofits are failing to attract, retain, and advance people of color. In future blog posts, we will further explore our findings on the role that leadership commitment to diversity plays in attracting people of color, and factors that hinder the advancement of people of color to leadership positions.

NOTE: For consistency, the author used the same terms to describe race/identity as the cited research.

Discussion Questions (please leave comments below):

Which of the findings did you find surprising?

What strategies have you implemented to build and retain a diverse and inclusive team at your nonprofit? What worked? What has not worked?

What are the sector’s biggest challenges to making the talent pipeline more diverse?

Does the sector understand this issue fully? What further research is needed?

What can we learn from the corporate or government sectors’ efforts to diversify their talent?

Further reading:

Diversity in the Philanthropy Career Pipeline

 Diversity in Nonprofit Hiring

Rainier Valley Corps: Three Strategies for Decolonizing Nonprofits from a Black Queer Feminist Organizer

“I’m critical of nonprofits, but only because I know we can do better. I began volunteering and working at nonprofits after becoming disenchanted by the Great Recession; politicized by gender studies courses; and inspired by former Pres. Barack Obama, whose life story introduced me to the term “community organizer.”

Obama made being a community organizer seem like one of the most meaningful jobs in the world. For the past eight years, I’ve been a part of nonprofits in the Southeast and the Pacific Northwest, often being employed as an organizer. Despite warnings of notoriously low nonprofit salaries, I entered this field for a chance to live out my Black queer feminist values.

Although I sometimes grow weary of nonprofits, I don’t regret my decision to work at them. This work has taught me important lessons about the world around me and about myself. The relationships I’ve established at nonprofits are priceless, and I feel like I’m better because of them.

At nonprofits, I’ve experienced the beauty of bringing community members together to achieve a common vision. I’ve also been a part of victorious organizing campaigns that convinced me that another world is possible, one where oppression has no place to flourish.

Some of my most cherished moments have been at nonprofits, but unfortunately, I’ve also felt dehumanized and devalued by them. They can be hostile workplaces for People of Color (POC) due to the impacts of the nonprofit industrial complex (NPIC).

The NPIC is a system of relationships between the State, the owning classes, foundations, and nonprofit and social justice organizations that results in the surveillance, control, derailment, and everyday management of political movements, according to INCITE! Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans people of Color* Against Violence.

The NPIC is designed to exploit POC while enriching the pockets of middle-class and wealthy white folks. According to Community Wealth Partners and the Annie Casey Foundation, only 18 percent of nonprofit employees are POC, which is proof of how entrenched in white supremacy the NPIC is.

This industrial complex dilutes grassroots POC movements by funding white-led nonprofits to solve social issues while starving POC organizations of resources. Black liberation movements of the 60s and 70s, such as the Black Panther Party, were severely weakened by the NPIC. It makes nonprofits extremely difficult to navigate for POC and other historically oppressed groups.

Feeling the effects of the NPIC made me question whether I could be in this field for the long haul. I worked at nonprofits where I thought my job was to create social change, but I was actually just a token hire expected to uphold the status quo.

At these organizations, my voice was silenced as a working-class Black queer non-binary woman, while middle-class, cisgender heterosexual white managers decided what our underserved constituents needed.

When advocating for better conditions for myself and co-workers of color, such as livable wages and mandatory anti-oppression training for staff, I’ve been penalized more often than not. It’s been tough to suffer these injustices at places that claim to adhere to social justice.

In the past, when I experienced harm at nonprofits, I questioned whether they were a necessity or an unnecessary evil. I’ve come to believe that despite their flaws, nonprofits play an essential role in our current society, especially ones led by POC and other groups on the margins.

Perhaps one day nonprofits won’t serve a purpose because everyone will have equitable access to what they need to thrive. However, this will require all systems of oppression to be eradicated, which isn’t bound to happen anytime soon. Thus, now isn’t the time to abandon nonprofits–now is the time to decolonize them.

To me, decolonizing nonprofits means transforming them from sites of isolation and trauma for POC employees into spaces where we can find healing and liberation.

Decolonizing nonprofits means decentering whiteness and honoring difference within our organizations. It means discovering how our ancestors took care of their communities before nonprofits existed and learning from their practices.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of concrete ways to decolonize nonprofits (both POC-led and white-led) for staff, board members, volunteers, and/or members. I’ve offered three strategies below to help us all begin decolonizing our practices. I hope they resonate with you, especially if you too are a nonprofit worker of color.

  1. Embrace a culture of abundance, not scarcity

Most of my nonprofit jobs have paid less than a living wage and provided few to no benefits. Many talented POC have had our labor exploited by nonprofits.

We’ve been brainwashed to believe that we don’t deserve comfortable lives since we work for the public good. I don’t believe this; even though nonprofits aren’t intended to create profit, the labor it takes to run them is real and deserves to be compensated as such.

Often nonprofits don’t pay well because they don’t know when their funding will dry up, which is a valid concern. However, this phenomenon can also be attributed to a culture of scarcity that persists at nonprofits where board and staff become complacent with not having enough resources. This ultimately hurts employees of color the most.

It may sound naive to advocate for a culture of abundance at nonprofits, but we must believe in our abilities to raise enough money to adequately honor our labor. We must also believe in our right to be justly compensated, especially when we’re POC, queer, trans, and/or disabled workers.

I’m optimistic yet realistic, so I realize that sometimes nonprofits simply can’t pay living wages due to lack of funding. Foundations and governments intentionally create barriers to funding, which is why POC-led organizations are chronically underfunded.

Most grantors want nonprofits to have 501(c)(3) status from the IRS, which requires a costly and lengthy application process. Once a nonprofit gets their 501(c)(3) status, it takes a lot of resources to maintain it that many small nonprofits simply don’t have.

Moreover, according to Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, only 25 percent of foundation grants go towards general operations, which is usually the part of a nonprofit’s budget that pays for staff salaries.

Rather than funding general operations that are essential to keeping a nonprofit’s doors open, foundations often require grant applicants to propose elaborate programs that align with their whitewashed theories of change. These applications require time and resources that most POC organizations are lacking. They constrain our programming and force us to meet unrealistic benchmarks.

Anti-racist nonprofits should demand that grantors move away from these types of white supremacist-informed grantmaking practices. When they can’t pay living wages, underfunded nonprofits can at least actively work towards this goal. One way to do this is by tapping into the abundance and strengths in their own communities by prioritizing grassroots fundraising.

  1. Less hierarchy, more collective decision-making

Nonprofit structures aren’t terribly different from corporate structures. Hierarchy exists on a nonprofit’s board and staff, and top-down decisions are often made that leave out staff and community members.

This is detrimental because executive directors (EDs) and board presidents typically don’t come from the historically oppressed communities they serve and may not understand their needs. Nonprofit staff not in leadership positions are more likely to hail from marginalized communities, and our opinions are just as valuable as our managers. We have the right to be a part of major decisions at our workplaces.

Strict hierarchies don’t make our nonprofits better. Having one or two central leaders make decisions for an entire community organization isn’t what equity or social justice looks like.

EDs and board presidents aren’t the only ones who should feel ownership of a nonprofit. For the past three years, I’ve studied worker-owned cooperatives because I admire how their model allows each worker one vote, and everyone’s vote carries the same weight. Worker-owners operate a cooperative as a collective.

Nonprofits have a lot to learn from co-ops and their collective decision-making processes. Worker co-ops, which have deep roots in communities of color, prove that democratic workplaces can be a functional thing.

One way that nonprofits can move towards collectivism is by bridging the gap between board and staff and allowing them to hear from each other on a regular basis. Staff besides the ED should be able to inform board decisions since we’re the most familiar with a nonprofit’s day-to-day operations.

If nonprofits feel like they can’t accomplish their work without hierarchy, their leadership should at least represent those who are most impacted by systemic oppression. Nonprofits can’t be at their most effective when they’re not led by communities who access their programs and services.

  1. Practice transformative justice/community accountability

When harm takes place, nonprofit employees, board members, volunteers, and members should be accountable to the community and to each other. It’s inevitable that harm will occur at nonprofits because interpersonal relationships are never perfect, no matter how hard we work at them.

During the era of #MeToo, we can’t ignore that emotional, physical, and sexual abuse occur at nonprofits. Even we “social justice warriors” are capable of causing harm, and we need to know how to hold our people accountable without engaging the State. POC especially can’t rely on the State to protect us when we’re being killed by the police in unprecedented numbers.

Decolonizing nonprofits means seeking accountability when violence happens within our organizations in ways that don’t engage our punitive justice system. It means people who experience violence within nonprofits are able to determine what justice looks like for themselves alongside trusted advocates and community members.

Furthermore, it means nonprofit workplaces believing and supporting survivors while simultaneously dismantling the oppressive systems that cause people to harm.

These acts fall under the umbrella of transformative justice/community accountability (TJ/CA), which is defined by Seattle-based queer and trans femme of color organizer Kiyomi Fujikawa as “community-based responses to violence that seek to address immediate needs for justice (e.g. safety, dignity, connection, self-determination, support, healing, accountability, etc) in ways that both address the survivor’s immediate needs (including addressing the behavior of an individual abusive person) and change the root causes of that harm and oppression and ultimately end violence.”

All nonprofits, not just anti-violence organizations, should be doing the work of ending interpersonal violence. It’s our duty to model what community-led justice looks like for the rest of the world. As INCITE! says, “the revolution starts at home,” meaning our movements can’t possibly change the world if we don’t address the harm happening in our own backyards first.


Despite my critiques of nonprofits, I’ll probably always be involved in them in some way. I’ve dedicated too much time, creativity, energy, and labor to them to give up now.

To keep myself motivated in this field, I follow the revolutionary work of Black women and trans and queer-led nonprofits, such as Sister Song Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective (Atlanta), Southerners On New Ground (Atlanta), SPARK Reproductive Justice Now (Atlanta), and Women With A Vision (New Orleans). I have so much to learn about how they thrive in spite of the NPIC, and I’m curious whether they have their own decolonization strategies.

Currently, I’m invested in decolonizing nonprofits in Seattle as a fellow at Rainier Valley Corps, a POC-led capacity building organization; the Operations Manager at Families Of Color Seattle, a WOC-led organization that connects parents of children color to parenting programs and resources; and a worker-owner at Carolyn Peruth Coaching & Consulting, a queer and non-binary POC-owned worker cooperative that, among other services, works with nonprofits to develop and implement anti-racist, intersectional feminist practices.

As you can probably tell, I’m unapologetically vocal about my desire to decolonize nonprofits, and I’m always looking for new comrades. Now that you’ve read my strategies, won’t you decolonize nonprofits with me?”

Yes! Why Does White Fragility Show Up at Workplace Diversity Trainings?

“As a former professor and current facilitator and consultant, I am in a position to give white people feedback on how their unintentional racism is manifesting itself. In this position, I have observed countless enactments of white fragility. One of the most common is outrage: “How dare you suggest that I could have said or done something racist?” Although these are unpleasant moments for me, they are also rather amusing. The reason I’m there in the first place is because I have been hired specifically to do that; I have been asked to help the members of the organization understand why their workplace continues to remain white, why they are having so much trouble recruiting people of color, and/or why the people of color they hire don’t stay. They want to know what they are doing that is unsupportive to people of color.

At this point in my career, I rarely encounter the kind of open hostility that I was met with in my early days as a facilitator. I attribute this change to the years of experience behind my pedagogy. Of course, I am also white, which makes other white people much more receptive to the message. I am often amazed at what I can say to groups of primarily white people. I can describe our culture as white supremacist and say things like, “All white people are invested in and collude with the system of racism,” without my fellow white people running from the room or reeling from trauma. Naturally, I don’t walk in and lead with those statements; I strategically guide people to a shared understanding of what I mean by those claims. Still, white people tend to be more receptive to my presentation as long as it remains abstract. The moment I name some racially problematic dynamic or action happening in the room in the moment — for example, “Sharon, may I give you some feedback? While I understand it wasn’t intentional, your response to Jason’s story invalidates his experience as a black man” — white fragility erupts. Sharon defensively explains that she was misunderstood and then angrily withdraws, while others run in to defend her by re-explaining “what she really meant.” The point of the feedback is now lost, and hours must be spent repairing this perceived breach. And, of course, no one appears concerned about Jason. Shaking my head, I think to myself, “You asked me here to help you see your racism, but by God, I’d better not actually help you see your racism.”

I was co-leading a community workshop. Because an employer had not sponsored it, the participants had all voluntarily signed up and paid a fee to attend. For this reason, we could assume that they were open and interested in the content. I was working with a small group of white participants when a woman I will call Eva stated that because she grew up in Germany, where she said there were no black people, she had learned nothing about race and held no racism. I pushed back on this claim by asking her to reflect on the messages she had received from her childhood about people who lived in Africa. Surely she was aware of Africa and had some impressions of the people there? Had she ever watched American films? If so, what impression did she get about African Americans? I also asked her to reflect on what she had absorbed from living in the U.S. for the last 23 years, whether she had any relationships with African Americans here, and if not, then why not.

A sense of white superiority and knowledge of racial power codes appear to develop as early as preschool.

We moved on, and I forgot about the interaction until Eva approached me after the workshop ended. She was furious and said that she had been deeply offended by our exchange and did not “feel seen.” “You made assumptions about me!” she said. I apologized and told her that I would never want her to feel unseen or invalidated. However, I also held to my challenge that growing up in Germany would not preclude her from absorbing problematic racial messages about black people. She countered by telling me that she had never even seen a black person “before the American soldiers came.” And when they did come, “all the German women thought them so beautiful that they wanted to connect with them.” This was her evidence that she held no racism. With an internal sigh of defeat, I gave up at that point and repeated my apology. We parted ways, but her anger was unabated.

A few months later, one of my co-facilitators contacted Eva to tell her about an upcoming workshop. Eva was apparently still angry. She replied that she would never again attend a workshop led by me. Notice that I did not tell Eva that she was racist or that her story was racist. But what I did do was challenge her self-image as someone exempt from racism. Paradoxically, Eva’s anger that I did not take her claims at face value surfaced within the context of a volunteer workshop on racism, which she ostensibly attended to deepen her understanding of racism.

Another example: I am coaching a small group of white employees on how racism manifests in their workplace. One member of the group, Karen, is upset about a request from Joan, her only colleague of color, to stop talking over her. Karen doesn’t understand what talking over Joan has to do with race; she is an extrovert and tends to talk over everyone. I try to explain how the impact is different when we interrupt across race because we bring our histories with us. While Karen sees herself as a unique individual, Joan sees Karen as a white individual. Being interrupted and talked over by white people is not a unique experience for Joan, nor is it separate from the larger cultural context. Karen exclaims, “Forget it! I can’t say anything right, so I am going to stop talking!”

The episode highlights Karen’s white fragility. She is unable to see herself in racial terms. When she is pressed to do so, she refuses to engage further, positioning herself as the one being treated unfairly. In the post–civil rights era, we have been taught that racists are mean people who intentionally dislike others because of their race; a racist is consciously prejudiced and intends to be hurtful. Because this definition requires conscious intent, it exempts virtually all white people and functions beautifully to obscure and protect racism as a system in which we are all implicated. This definition also ensures that any suggestion of racially problematic behavior will trigger moral outrage and defense.

One way that whites protect their positions when challenged on race is to invoke the discourse of self-defense.

The large body of research on children and race demonstrates that children start to construct their ideas about race very early. Remarkably, a sense of white superiority and knowledge of racial power codes appear to develop as early as preschool. Professor of communications Judith Martin describes white children’s upbringing:

As in other Western nations, white children born in the United States inherit the moral predicament of living in a white supremacist society. Raised to experience their racially based advantages as fair and normal, white children receive little if any instruction regarding the predicament they face, let alone any guidance in how to resolve it. Therefore, they experience or learn about racial tension without understanding euro-Americans’ historical responsibility for it and knowing virtually nothing about their contemporary roles in perpetuating it.

Despite its ubiquity, white superiority is also unnamed and denied by most whites. If we become adults who explicitly oppose racism, as do many, we often organize our identity around a denial of our racially based privileges that reinforce racist disadvantage for others. What is particularly problematic about this contradiction is that white people’s moral objection to racism increases their resistance to acknowledging complicity with it. In a white supremacist context, white identity largely rests on a foundation of (superficial) racial tolerance and acceptance. We whites who position ourselves as liberal often opt to protect what we perceive as our moral reputations, rather than recognize or change our participation in systems of inequity and domination.

One way that whites protect their positions when challenged on race is to invoke the discourse of self-defense. Through this discourse, whites characterize themselves as victimized, slammed, blamed, and attacked. Whites who describe the interactions this way are responding to the articulation of counternarratives alone; no physical violence has ever occurred in any interracial discussion or training that I am aware of. These self-defense claims work on multiple levels. They identify the speakers as morally superior while obscuring the true power of their social positions. The claims blame others with less social power for their discomfort and falsely describe that discomfort as dangerous. The self-defense approach also reinscribes racist imagery. By positioning themselves as the victim of anti-racist efforts, they cannot be the beneficiaries of whiteness. Claiming that it is they who have been unfairly treated — through a challenge to their position or an expectation that they listen to the perspectives and experiences of people of color — they can demand that more social resources (such as time and attention) be channeled in their direction to help them cope with this mistreatment.

When I consult with organizations that want me to help them recruit and retain a more diverse workforce, I am consistently warned that past efforts to address the lack of diversity have resulted in trauma for white employees. This is literally the term used to describe the impact of a brief and isolated workshop: trauma. This trauma has required years of avoiding the topic altogether, and although the business leaders feel they are ready to begin again, I am cautioned to proceed slowly and be careful. Of course, this white racial trauma in response to equity efforts has also ensured that the organization has remained overwhelmingly white.

Social power is not fixed; it is constantly challenged and needs to be maintained.

The language of violence that many whites use to describe anti-racist endeavors is not without significance, as it is another example of how white fragility distorts reality. By employing terms that connote physical abuse, whites tap into the classic story that people of color (particularly African Americans) are dangerous and violent. In so doing, whites distort the real direction of danger between whites and others. This history becomes profoundly minimized when whites claim they don’t feel safe or are under attack when they find themselves in the rare situation of merely talking about race with people of color. The use of this language of violence illustrates how fragile and ill-equipped most white people are to confront racial tensions and their subsequent projection of this tension onto people of color.

A cogent example of white fragility occurred during a workplace anti-racism training I co-facilitated with an interracial team. One of the white participants left the session and went back to her desk, upset at receiving (what appeared to the training team as) sensitive and diplomatic feedback on how some of her statements had affected several of the people of color in the room. At break, several other white participants approached me and my fellow trainers and reported that they had talked to the woman at her desk and that she was very upset that her statements had been challenged. (Of course, “challenged” was not how she phrased her concern. It was framed as her being “falsely accused” of having a racist impact.) Her friends wanted to alert us to the fact that she was in poor health and “might be having a heart attack.”

Upon questioning from us, they clarified that they meant this literally. These co-workers were sincere in their fear that the young woman might actually die as a result of the feedback. Of course, when news of the women’s potentially fatal condition reached the rest of the participant group, all attention was immediately focused back onto her and away from engagement with the impact she had on the people of color. As professor of social work Rich Vodde states, “If privilege is defined as a legitimization of one’s entitlement to resources, it can also be defined as permission to escape or avoid any challenges to this entitlement.”

White fragility keeps people of color in line and “in their place.”

Let me be clear: While the capacity for white people to sustain challenges to our racial positions is limited — and, in this way, fragile — the effects of our responses are not fragile at all; they are quite powerful, because they take advantage of historical and institutional power and control. We wield this power and control in whatever way is most useful in the moment to protect our positions. If we need to cry so that all the resources rush back to us and attention is diverted away from a discussion of our racism, then we will cry (a strategy most commonly employed by white middle-class women). If we need to take umbrage and respond with righteous outrage, then we will take umbrage. If we need to argue, minimize, explain, play devil’s advocate, pout, tune out, or withdraw to stop the challenge, then we will.

White fragility functions as a form of bullying: “I am going to make it so miserable for you to confront me — no matter how diplomatically you try to do so — that you will simply back off, give up, and never raise the issue again.” White fragility keeps people of color in line and “in their place.” In this way, it is a powerful form of white racial control. Social power is not fixed; it is constantly challenged and needs to be maintained.

In my workshops, I often ask people of color, “How often have you given white people feedback on our unaware yet inevitable racism? How often has that gone well for you?” Eye rolling, head shaking, and outright laughter follow, along with the consensus of rarely, if ever. I then ask, “What would it be like if you could simply give us feedback, have us graciously receive it, reflect, and work to change the behavior?” Recently, a man of color sighed and said, “It would be revolutionary.” I ask my fellow whites to consider the profundity of that response. It would be revolutionary if we could receive, reflect, and work to change the behavior. On the one hand, the man’s response points to how difficult and fragile we are. But on the other hand, it indicates how simple it can be to take responsibility for our racism. But we aren’t likely to get there if we are operating from the dominant worldview that only intentionally mean people can participate in racism.”

Diversity of Funding

“According to 2013 data, only 6.9% of all grants go toward communities of color” D5 Coalition.

“Less than 8% of philanthropic support goes towards investing in communities of color.” Decolonizing Wealth

Grant Craft: Practical Wisdom for Grantmakers

 What Is a Racial Equity Lens?

For grant makers and foundation leaders, using a racial equity lens means paying disciplined attention to race and ethnicity while analyzing problems, looking for solutions, and defining success. Some use the approach to enhance their own perspectives on grant making; others adopt it as part of a commitment endorsed across their foundations.

How a Racial Equity Lens Works

A racial equity lens is valu-able because it sharpens grant makers’ insights and improves the outcomes of their work. People who use the approach say it helps them to see pat-terns, separate symptoms from causes, and identify new solutions for their communities or fields.

Applying a Racial Equity Lens: Skills and Strategies

Where, specifically, does a racial equity lens get put to use by individual grant makers? The answer is simple: everywhere. A keen awareness of race and ethnicity, and of their impact on access to power and opportunity, is a distinct asset when applying the classic skills of effective grant making.

Implementing a Commitment to Racial Equity: Policies and Practices

When a foundation decides to focus on racial equity, how does that commitment get translated into the organization’s goals and routines? Foundation leaders and program staff share examples of what they have learned about applying a racial equity lens to their programming, operations, and external affairs.

Looking Inward: Using a Racial Equity Lens Inside Your Foundation

Grant makers who have championed racial equity within their foundations describe a handful of tactics for getting over the predictable hurdles. Ground the discussion of racial equity in the foundation’s mission, they say, be open to learning, and be upfront about your goals. But don’t lose sight of the possibility of resistance and setbacks.

A racial equity lens focuses on how race and ethnicity impact experiences with access to opportunities, outcomes and power. It provides a mindset that grantmakers can use to eliminate inequities and close gaps. One of the biggest questions to applying a racial equity lens is how to get started. It begins with thinking about objectives and asking how racial disparities create barriers to goals. Focusing more on outcomes allows grantmakers to consider how to grapple with how benefits and burdens are distributed in society. These patterns then make it easier to focus on changing systems for greater impact. There are many strategies grantmakers can consider when implementing a racial equity lens into their work. Starting with a landscape scan within your own communities is also a good way to start the conversation. Be upfront about your efforts and actively seek out new leaders to include.

Adopting a racial equity lens also means committing to change internally by implementing policies in your own organization. Consider gathering data specific data about the racial composition of your grantees and your community. Some grantmakers have formed dedicated programs or positions to ensure commitment in all aspects of work. Beyond policies to create more equitable grantmaking practices, organizations should reflect on diversity within their own organization. Taking a hard look at vendors, boards and staff can help craft a culture that is not only welcoming, but one that values and embraces diversity and inclusion. Reinforce your commitment with constant communication internally and externally. These are just some of the practices in Grantcraft’s guide, “Grantmkaing with a Racial Equity Lens.” From this guide, grantmakers can further learn about how they can bring a racial equity lens to their own work and read about examples and strategies to put into practice.

In Deep Initiative: Things you wanted to know about grantmaking with a racial equity lens but were afraid to ask.

1. How do I make “the case” within my organization for more racially equitable and socially just grantmaking? Looking through a racial equity lens allows a grantmaking organization to see where the disparities lie between races, and thus understand how these existing racial disparities are standing in the way of the funding organization reaching its goals. In making the case, one needs to examine how the grantmaking organization’s work needs to address these disparities and the systems behind them. In doing so, funding can be directed to break down these systems and can result in not only meeting the organization’s goals, but benefit all people (see “The Curb Cut Effect”).

2. What approaches have other organizations used to make room for new grantees in their portfolios? One way is to open a two-part proposal process that first funds a planning grant then makes grantees eligible for a larger, multi-year grant. The planning grant will give a new organization time to get familiar with the funder’s processes and requirements, while the funder can assess the organization’s capacity to take on a larger initiative. However, make it clear up-front that receiving a planning grant does not guarantee the next round of funding. In the end, whether receiving a larger grant or not, the organization is able to build some capacity to prepare for other philanthropic investments.

3. How do we identify and source new grantee organizations? Using a guide such as this is a start. Organizations have been listed by category and geographic region to make it easier for searches. In addition, looking to funder affinity groups like Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders will bring you into funding networks that work with organizations new to yours.

4. What, if any, different considerations do I need to take into account for organizations that traditionally do not receive foundation grants for their work? Organizations such as these may not have the structure in place to apply for and manage a grant. while they may have the capacity to accept your funding they may not have the capacity for the tracking and reporting requirements that come with formal grants. As a result, you may want to consider an easier application form for smaller organizations and a more minimal reporting format. This may also mean setting aside a small pool of funding specific to these types of funding initiatives so a uniform simplified application and reporting process is applied to all such organizations.

5. How can I partner with other funders to build the pipeline of organizations led by people of communities of color and Indigenous communities?Joining funder affinity groups, such as SAFSF, Native Americans in Philanthropy, Association of Black Foundation Executives, and Asian Americans in Philanthropy, would be a great way to begin learning from and partnering with other funders who have more experience working with smaller organizations not accustomed to grants. These organizations also can assist funders in understanding how to apply a racial equity lens to their grantmaking. Finally, attending the Change Philanthropyconference is another way to learn about issues of racial equity and meet funders working with organizations led by people of color and Indigenous communities.

Vanessa Daniel: The gentrification of movements: 4 Ways funders can stop putting raisins in the potato salad

…Gentrification is infuriating and, for the communities and cities we love, heartbreaking.

The gentrification of cities involves affluent white people moving in, sometimes because they are attracted to the culture, i.e., the “ethnic” food, etc. The trouble is, they often don’t like the people of color who created that culture.

So they call the police on us (in Oakland, this included an attempt to shut down a 65-year-old Black church because the singing was “too loud” and to ban the playing of any musical instruments without a permit around Lake Merritt, a popular spot for drumming).

They displace us (between 2000 and 2014, 31 percent of Oakland’s Black population was pushed out, an indicator of a similar trend of push out among other groups of color).

And they engage in theft and appropriation of the culture.

Before you know it, there are white women donning saris and putting their image on their own line of “artisanal” Indian ghee. There are white hipsters opening soul food restaurants. The restaurants look OK from the outside, but something isn’t right.

There are raisins in the potato salad.

The gentrification of movements is no different.

In recent months, I have noticed it picking up steam as, particularly in this treacherous political climate, strategies that have been used for decades by people of color are finally gaining the attention of funders.

Black women, in particular, are killing the game. They are literally preventing entire states from plunging over the Roy Moore-esc cliffs that the majority of white voters (including white women) are trying to drive them over. These women launched #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo, two of the boldest movement moments of our time – movements that are changing the weather, culturally and politically, in this country.

Women of color are running for office in record numbers – and winning – with some of the most courageous platforms we’ve seen, dispelling the myths that candidates must water-down their messages and pander to white swing voters in order to win.

Women of color-led organizations in particular, such as BlackPAC, Texas Organizing Project, New Virginia Majority and CHIRLA have spent years honing year-round voter engagement approaches that treat voters not just as a tactical means to win elections but like, well, people, i.e., whole people deserving of candidates and organizations that bring an integrated race, class, gender and decolonization analysis. They make voters actual partners in the long-term, shoulder-to-shoulder work of transforming material conditions and the balance of power toward social justice in neighborhoods, cities and states. They have focused on talking to voters directly, and they have prioritized the New American Majority (people of color, millennials and single women).

Yet organizations led by people of color, especially women of color and particularly Black women, are seeing precious little of the surge in philanthropic giving that has occurred post the election of 45.

As these strategies gain traction with funders, well-funded, white-led organizations that dismissed these approaches and the people of color who developed them are now declaring to funders, “Look! we have a new innovation!” They are announcing that they will no longer just run TV ads during elections; they will knock on doors and talk directly to people. They will no longer ignore women voters, voters of color and young voters but, instead, will reach out to them. Some are Elvising and Columbusing, claiming full credit for major wins like those in Virginia and Alabama that were clearly delivered by Black women.

These movement gentrifiers are essentially telling funders, “Everything that people of color-led organizations can do, we can do it better and … at scale. So don’t fund them. Fund us!”

Some funders are responding affirmatively. It can be a relief to check the “diversity” box without ever having to change who you are writing a check to, without having to deal with the minefield of implicit bias and outright racism that keeps foundation staff and trustees from trusting people of color organizations with money and without having to pull back the curtain on the allure of scale to find that big numbers often lack the depth of relationships in a community that translates into the real power to win in the short- and long-term.

The problem is this: There will be raisins in the potato salad.

There are entire movements in this country, with hundreds of thousands of people in their ranks that were founded expressly because people of color could not express their boldness and brilliance within white-led movements. Excluded worker organizing (such as domestic workers who were left out of 1935 National Labor Relations Act), environmental justice and reproductive justice, nearly every social justice sector has a people of color-led wing of the movement that was created for this exact reason.

The idea that philanthropy can simply fund people of color via white-led organizations and fuel the boldness that people of color are generating is false. At some point (as has been proven again and again), there will be white leadership telling people of color to not talk about police brutality or to tone it down on immigrant rights or to go silent on transgender rights because they don’t want to spook white swing voters. At some point, there will be raisins in the potato salad.

Aside from being ineffective in moving the needle on social change generally, this funding approach only reinforces white supremacy.

A helpful parallel is this: Hundreds of years ago, women were not allowed to obtain credit. Eventually, the law in the United States changed to allow banks to require women to have their husband or another male relative cosign their loan or credit application (this was permitted until 1974). Very few people today would point to the shift to this cosign situation and declare that it afforded women real freedom or self-determination. If we can see the problem with that, we are capable of seeing the problem with funding people of color-led work underneath the sign-off authority of white leadership.

Now, should white-led organizations working for justice engage people of color? Yes, particularly if they want to win. Are there some that are doing so in authentic and respectful ways and that are even deserving of funding? Certainly. But to say it is highly problematic for white-led organizations to be the majority of what philanthropy supports in order to reach communities of color is an understatement. It is a stark manifestation of white supremacy.

What can funders do or avoid doing?

  • Direct at least half of the dollars in your portfolio to bold and courageous social justice organizations that are deeply rooted in communities of color and that have majorities of people of color – particularly women of color – in leadership positions at the staff and board levels. This, it is worth noting, is not the same as a majority white organization with a single person of color as executive director or an organization with a majority people of color line staff and white people in most of the decision-making positions. NCRP’s thoughtful Power Moves guide is a helpful read for those of us in philanthropy grappling with how best to support marginalized communities. One of the tenets it lifts up is: “Fund under-resourced communities to build power and be their own agents of change.” Yes, do this!
  • Recognize the difference between organizations with an extractive approach that seeks to use people of color as a means to an end and those with a collaborative and generative approach that see and treat people of color as partners in long-term work. Defund the former. Fund the latter. For example, voter engagement campaigns aimed at mobilizing voters of color in a one-off way to elect candidates who have zero commitment to represent the interests of communities of color is not an original or effective means of winning social change. It is colonialist and imperialist in the most basic sense.
  • Stop offering people of color-led organizations small amounts of funding to hand their ideas and innovations over to white-led organizations who are deemed “capable” of taking them “to scale.”Fund the organizations that had the great ideas in the first place to take them to scale.
  • Build your muscle to work against implicit bias and structural racism and misogyny on a daily basis. Beverly Tatum describes structural racism as a moving airport walkway. Virulent racists are running on the walkway. Some people who disagree with racism think they are disengaging from it by standing still, but the walkway still moves them toward the same destination of racial disparities and discriminatory outcomes. In order to take an active role in dismantling white supremacy and any system of oppression for that matter, one must turn around on the walkway and walk faster in the opposite direction. This takes strength, backbone, endurance and tenacity. For many white people, it takes building muscle groups that they have never had to use. Part of the reason total annual philanthropic giving to people of color has flat-lined at roughly 5 percent for more than a decade, despite the rising percentage that people of color makeup of the U.S. population, is because too many people in philanthropy are standing still on the walkway. Build your muscle. Do the work to change the status quo.

Let’s stop bankrolling the gentrification of movements. Let’s fund toward the liberation of all people. And when it comes to freedom, liberty and potato salad, let’s enjoy the real deal.

Further Readings on Funding

Decolonizing Wealth: Print Resources

Further Readings

Duality of Inclusiveness


Illustration: Alicia Brown

People of Color Need their Own Spaces

“People of color need their own spaces. Black people need their own spaces. We need places in which we can gather and be free from the mainstream stereotypes and marginalization that permeate every other societal space we occupy. We need spaces where we can be our authentic selves without white people’s judgment and insecurity muzzling that expression. We need spaces where we can simply be—where we can get off the treadmill of making white people comfortable and finally realize just how tired we are.

Valuing and protecting spaces for people of color (PoC) is not just a kind thing that white people can do to help us feel better; supporting these spaces is crucial to the resistance of oppression. When people of color are together, there can be healing. We can reclaim parts of ourselves that have been repressed. We can redefine ourselves and support one another in embracing who we are…

…When white people are present, this crucial examining usually doesn’t happen. Sharing our experiences in integrated spaces often means preparing to defend our anger and frustration, or taking care of white individuals who find what is being said hurtful. This means that when PoC do take the leap to share painful experiences, white listeners often shift the focus back onto themselves and their own grievances; thus attention and power implicitly shift back to white individuals, reinforcing the status quo…

… Yes, when people of color create space to be with only each other, it is a form of temporary physical segregation in the literal sense of the word, but that is not akin to the institution of segregation. We are not proclaiming “separate but equal” with the creation of PoC spaces. These spaces aren’t acts of oppression, but rather responses to it.” Kelsey Blackwell, The Arrow, Why People of Color Need Spaces Without White People

Duality of Inclusiveness

Screen Shot 2019-08-01 at 9.46.03 PM

  • Diversity to dismantle racism
    • Increasing diversity is power tool to:
      • Decrease racial bias w/ historically segregated white people
        • Especially among children
      • Increase representation w/ historically marginalized people
  • Unintentional Inclusiveness
    • Can come at a cost to marginalize people

“The question here is what is meant by “inclusive?” How “inclusive” are integrated spaces for PoC? For white people, “inclusive” spaces typically feel similar to the spaces they normally operate in, but maybe have a few more brown people.

For anyone who has tried to “invite in” more diversity, you may wonder: Why is it so difficult to get Black and brown people to show up? The reason is that merely inviting more people of color into a space does not in and of itself make that space inclusive. Patterns of white dominance suffuse the space just like other spaces we occupy, only this time, we’re calling it “inclusive.” That’s more painful and frustrating than being in spaces that are blind. Staying in that “inclusive” room actually involves PoC putting aside our own needs and taking care of white people as we’ve been conditioned to do. Then we go home and tell our brown friends how uncomfortable it was and all the things that were said or done that we can’t believe. We do not go back…

… I challenge this idea that “inclusive spaces” can be made without serious reflection, exertion, and patience. To be a truly inclusive space, it must be created by causes and conditions that allow it to happen organically—the internal work has been done so that the fullness of many different bodies can coexist…What are the causes and conditions that allow for organically populated integrated spaces? With gentleness and precision, white people must do the work of looking at the delusions of ego (a shared social conditioning) that encourages them to succeed at the expense of everyone else…

… Expecting people of color to be in the room to help white people learn about race is yet another example of privilege. Being in a space where white people are starting to wake up to their white cultural conditioning is heartbreaking for me. It is a pain that is felt deeply. I ache for my ancestors and my ancestors’ ancestors. A sadness comes welling up, and it feels like drowning. While there are some people of color who are up for being in conversations with white people about race, this is a gift offered in the service of collective liberation, and it requires tremendous energy, patience, bravery, and effort.” Kelsey Blackwell, The Arrow, Why People of Color Need Spaces Without White People

Token Inclusiveness

  • Tokenism
    • A perfunctory or symbolic effort to be inclusive to members of minority groups
      • Recruiting small number of people of color to give appearance of racial equality, fair representation or diversity
      • Often intended to create the impression of social inclusiveness and diversity in order to deflect accusations of discrimination
      • Selecting a person of color on a panel, board, collective to represent/speak for entire community of color
      • Making a person of color the “go to” person for questions about communities of color

“If your community is mostly white, it is not by accident. Do your work, get real, look at the places you’ve been avoiding. Ask another white person the question you’ve been unsure about asking. See how you’re perpetuating the system of institutional racism; we all are. Become intimately familiar with your role. Explore the places within yourself that you hold back. Can you be yourself a little more? You do this work and people of color will naturally want to engage with you. Why? Because through feeling and exploring your ignorance you’ve created a genuine opening for my reality. Stepping into this unknown means carving out space for my existence.” Kelsey Blackwell, The Arrow, Why People of Color Need Spaces Without White People

For Kids


Brightly: How to Talk to Kids About Race

  • Take Stock First
    • Ask yourself the hard questions first.
      • How do you navigate race?
      • Who are the members of your social and professional circles?
      • Does your family discuss race?
      • What images does your child see?
      • What conversations does she hear from you?
      • Take Harvard University’s “Implicit Bias” test to examine your own beliefs
  • Take Opportunities
    • When race comes up, keep the lines of communication open
      • even if your child says something embarrassing, insensitive, or outright racist
      • Don’t simply condemn and shut down conversation.
    • Ask questions to find out why they’re thinking and how these ideas developed
    • “Young children need caring adults to help them construct a positive sense of self and a respectful understanding of others,” Teaching for Change – Teaching Young Children About Race
  • Be Authentic and Intentional
    • Choose books that acknowledge that all of us are “different” in some way
    • Narratives that don’t only portray marginalized groups as suffering, in crisis, being “saved” by outsiders
      • it’s also important to avoid reading only “hero” narratives about “exceptional” individuals
    • Seek out stories of multidimensional characters living complex lives

Books to Teach White Children and Teens How to Undo Racism and White Supremacy

  • Harvard University Studies suggest Children
    • By age 3 exposed to racism/prejudice, tend to embrace/accept it
      • Even though they might not understand the feelings
    • By age 5, white children are strongly biased towards whiteness
  • To counter this bias, experts recommend:
    • Acknowledging race and racism w/ children early and often
    • Children’s books are one of the most effective and practical tools for initiating these critical conversations
      • Can also be used to model what it means to resist and dismantle oppression

Anti-Racism Children Book Lists

  • Charis Books: Books to Teach White Children How to Undo Racism/White Supremacy
  • Social Justice Books: A Teaching for Change Project
  • Black Boy Fly: 53 Children’s Books Centering and Celebrating the Humanity of Black Boys
  • Decolonizing Thanksgiving: Toolkit for Combatting Racism in Schools (List of Native books)
  • 10 Unapologetic Books About Race in America
  • 16 Books About Race That Every White Person Should Read
  • 37 Children’s Books to help talk about Racism & Discrimination


Break Out of White Circles

  • By preschool, children may have already internalized harmful racist attitudes
    • Exposure to different races at an early age can greatly reduce a child’s bias
  • According to “Good Sports” youth sports can be a great form of exposure to diversity
    • Exposes Children to Diverse Authority Figures
    • Learn The Importance Of Teamwork And Relationships
    • Provide New Frameworks For Thinking
    • Teach Inclusivity to Adults and Parents

Talking to Children About Racism

Time: Why White Parents Need to Do More Than Talk to Their Kids About Racism

  • A study interviewed 36 boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 13
    • ½ of kids attended diverse schools, neighborhoods, and/or activities w/ children of color
      • Majority of these white kids were comfortable discussing race, conveyed complex ideas about racism and had applied experiences participating in social activism
      • As one 11-year-old white child growing up in this diverse context said,
        • “I think [racism] is a way bigger problem than people realize. It’s nowhere near what it used to be… it’s just different and white people don’t realize it… people want to hide it.”
    • 1/2 of kids attended segregated schools, neighborhoods, activities
      • These white kids joked around about race with their friends
        • using the phrase “that’s racist” as an insult akin to “that’s stupid,”
        • had limited understandings about both contemporary and historical aspects of racism in America
      • This was true regardless if families spoke openly about race and racism, or not
      • As one 11-year-old white child growing up in this context said,
        • “Racism was a problem when all those slaves were around and that like bus thing… like Eleanor Roosevelt, and how she went on the bus. And she was African American and sat on the white part… but after the 1920s and all that, things changed.”

“White kids learn about race as a result of their own independent experiences — not just conversations. Their lived experience and their interactions with peers, teachers, neighbors, coaches, siblings and strangers matter greatly. The choices parents make about how to set up children’s lives influence their kids’ ideas about race and racism. The neighborhood they live in, the school they attend and the activities they participate in — sports leagues, religious organization, clubs, summer camps — set the parameters for how kids understand race.” Margaret A. Hagerman – Time

Alex Mlynek: How to talk to kids about racism: An age-by-age guide

Explaining race and racism to kids can feel like a minefield for parents, but it doesn’t have to. Here’s our age-by-age guide to handling this topic.

Have you talked to your kids about race and racism? Maybe you think they’re still too young or that a specific conversation isn’t really necessary?

They’re never too young, and an ongoing dialogue about race and racism is a really good idea, says Rachel Berman, graduate program director of the School of Early Childhood Studies at Ryerson University in Toronto and a researcher on a project called Can We Talk About Race? Confronting Colour-Blindness in Early Childhood Settings. “Children need adults to help them develop respect for and acceptance of others,” she says. “Not talking about race and racism sends a message to children that this is a taboo topic, no matter what their age.” What’s more, she adds, kids who may be targets of racism may need help negotiating their feelings and figuring out how to respond to what they’re experiencing.

But how do you start the conversation? Each age group has different needs. Read on for ways to broach the subject with your child.

Infants and toddlers
Babies are born blank slates, but studies show that they react differently to racial differences, even by six months of age, notes Berman. “The idea that talking openly to children about race and racism isn’t appropriate because children are too young and innocent or because it will ‘create racism’ (or perhaps you’ll say the wrong thing) is just not the case,” she explains.

To counteract any prejudicial messages kids might receive, create an environment where they can learn about the differences and similarities between people of different races, cultures and religions at an early age, says Karen Mock, an educational psychologist and human rights consultant in Toronto. Read them picture books and show them TV shows and movies that celebrate kids of all colours, cultures and religions, but include examples of these kids doing everyday things so that they won’t see difference as exotic. Role-model interracial and interfaith interactions, and actively seek out diverse playgroups and child care, says Annette Henry, the David Lam Chair in Multicultural Education and a professor in the department of language and literacy education at the University of British Columbia.

Also, be ready to answer questions. “Children as young as two or three may start asking about differences, such as disabilities, gender and physical characteristics like skin colour and hair,” explains Berman. What’s the best way to respond to their curiosity? Henry recalls an experience that left her impressed with the mother’s response to her daughter’s observation. “I was at a supermarket and this little girl, who must have been about three years old, said to her mom, ‘Mommy, look at the brown lady.’ They were white. Her mom said, ‘Oh, yes, and isn’t she beautiful?’ I thought, that’s a smart mom, celebrating difference instead of calling it out and saying ‘Isn’t it wonderful that we’re all different?’”

At around age three, kids start to use race, among other things, to make decisions about who to play with, says Berman. They do so thanks to biases they’ve unconsciously developed or because they reason that people who look like them are more like them. Kids this age may also make hurtful statements that parents need to be prepared to respond to. “If a child makes a comment about another child, like ‘Her skin looks dirty,’ don’t quiet her or change the subject,” says Berman. “Instead, ask your child why she thinks that and explain that darker skin isn’t dirty. Take your child’s comments and questions seriously.” Parents should be very careful about passing on their own biases and prejudices before kids even understand the concept of racism, says Shimi Kang, a psychiatrist and medical director of child and youth mental health for Vancouver Coastal Health’s community programs.

School-aged kids
When kids start school, their circle of exposure widens, which means that they may need more explicit guidance about race and racism. Kids this age are already getting subtle, often unspoken messages from TV, movies and politicians about who has power and who is valued in our society, says Berman. We must start teaching them to be critical readers and viewers. One way to do so is by asking them questions like “Are there certain groups who never get to be the hero in comic books and movies?” and “Who gets to be considered ‘pretty’?”

One book that Berman recommends for kids in grades one to five is Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester. It delves into our differences and similarities, and it’s the latter that resonates with kids this age, she explains.

This is also a time when we can begin to teach kids ways to combat racism and prejudice. But to do so, parents may have to first introduce them to the idea that some people get treated unfairly based on their skin colour, culture or religion. Henry suggests telling them about Viola Desmond, a black woman who challenged racial segregation in Nova Scotia in 1946 and who will be the first Canadian woman to be featured on a $10 bill. Desmond’s story bolsters the idea that people can make a change based on their actions—something that Kang says is important to emphasize when talking to kids about injustice so that they feel empowered to make a change.

It’s important to keep details age-appropriate, says Berman. For example, we can tell kids about the injustice faced by indigenous peoples who were forced into residential schools and explain that their hair was cut against their will and they weren’t allowed to speak their own languages, but we don’t need to mention the sexual abuse many of them faced.

It’s necessary to help kids realize that racism and prejudice aren’t confined to the past. When it comes to current events, Kang suggests that you tell kids the truth, giving them age-appropriate information, but let them lead the conversation. “Ask your kids about what they are interested in knowing about the story,” she recommends. “They may not want to know all of the details. And reassure them because kids’ first thing is fear.”

Henry notes that parents are on a wide spectrum when it comes to their comfort and knowledge in talking to kids about racism and prejudice, but we must approach this subject head-on if we want to change the world. “This is a moment when we have to help our kids understand what their role is going to be as future adult Canadians,” she says, “and it starts now.”

Tweens and teens
Older kids can have more in-depth conversations around issues of racism and prejudice and the role they may play in supporting them. At this age, you can have more sophisticated discussions on topics such as Black Lives Matter and racial profiling, says Henry. Your tween or teen may also be spending time online, which increases their risk of getting incorrect facts. “Parents have to be in tune with where their children are getting their information,” notes Kang. “It’s very easy to end up on a Twitter stream where there’s a lot of hate. But it is desensitizing, so parents of older kids should really watch out for extreme views.” Parents should encourage their kids to think critically about any source and, if you believe your children’s views are extreme, try to correct any myths they have.

Conundrum of Privilege by Margaret Hagerman

“…these (white) parents have a lot of resources economically as well as status as white people. They can then use those resources to set up their own child’s life in ways that give them the best education, the best health care, all the best things. And we have this collectively agreed-upon idea in our society that being a “good parent” means exactly that—providing the best opportunities you can for your own child.

But then some of these parents are also people who believe strongly in the importance of diversity and multiculturalism and who want to resist racial inequality. And these two things are sort of at odds with one another. These affluent white parents are in a position where they can set up their kids’ lives so that they’re better than other kids’ lives. So the dark side is that, ultimately, people are thinking about their own kids, and that can come at the expense of other people’s kids. When we think about parents calling up the school and demanding that their child have the best math teacher, what does that mean for the kids who don’t get the best math teacher?” Margaret Hagerman, , Atlantic: How Well-Intentioned White Families Can Perpetuate Racism

What can you do?

“I think part of it is how we choose to define “the best.” Some of the parents in my book, they rejected the idea that their child needed to be in all the AP classes. They valued other elements of their children’s personalities, such as their concerns about ethics or fairness or social justice. There were a handful of parents in my study who resisted having a separate track for AP students, for example, which can sometimes be a segregating force within schools.

There were also affluent parents who were very much opposed to having police officers in schools, and they were using their position of influence in the community to try to get the police officers out of there. Maybe others would be aware of their own presence at PTA meetings, making sure they’re not dominating them and making sure they’re not putting their own agenda ahead of their peers’ agendas.” Margaret Hagerman, Atlantic: How Well-Intentioned White Families Can Perpetuate Racism

Charis Cricle:  Books to Teach White Children and Teens How to Undo Racism and White Supremacy

Research from Harvard University suggests that children as young as three years old, when exposed to racism and prejudice, tend to embrace and accept it, even though they might not understand the feelings. By age 5, white children are strongly biased towards whiteness. To counter this bias, experts recommend acknowledging and naming race and racism with children as early and as often as possible. Children’s books are one of the most effective and practical tools for initiating these critical conversations; and they can also be used to model what it means to resist and dismantle oppression.

Time: Why White Parents Need to Do More Than Talk to Their Kids About Racism

“In a moment of deep racial and political divides, when explicit racism frequents our news and our communities, white parents have concerns about how to raise white kids who are kind, compassionate and, importantly, not racist. The advice they most often receive is simple: talk more to your kids about race and racism. This is certainly important. But I have seen first-hand that it is not enough.

For two years, I studied 30 affluent, white families in a Midwestern community. My research shows that a crucially influential aspect of raising white kids in America is often overlooked: the social environments in which they grow up. White kids learn about race as a result of their own independent experiences — not just conversations. Their lived experience and their interactions with peers, teachers, neighbors, coaches, siblings and strangers matter greatly. The choices parents make about how to set up children’s lives influence their kids’ ideas about race and racism. The neighborhood they live in, the school they attend and the activities they participate in — sports leagues, religious organization, clubs, summer camps — set the parameters for how kids understand race. And this is true whether parents are consciously aware that these choices matter or not, and regardless of what parents explicitly say about race.

I interviewed 36 boys and girls between the ages of ten and 13. I observed them in their everyday lives. Approximately half of the kids in the study attended diverse schools, lived near black or Latino neighborhoods and participated in activities with children of color on a regular basis. The majority of these white kids were comfortable discussing race, conveyed complex ideas about racism and had applied experiences participating in social activism. As one 11-year-old white child growing up in this diverse context said, “I think [racism] is a way bigger problem than people realize. It’s nowhere near what it used to be… it’s just different and white people don’t realize it… people want to hide it.”

But the rest of the children in my study attended predominantly white schools, lived in almost entirely white neighborhoods and participated in activities with very few children of color. These white kids joked around about race with their friends, using the phrase “that’s racist” as an insult akin to “that’s stupid,” and had limited understandings about both contemporary and historical aspects of racism in America. This was true in families where parents spoke openly about race as well as in those where race was perceived as an unnecessary topic for family discussion. As one 11-year-old white child growing up in this context told me, “Racism was a problem when all those slaves were around and that like bus thing… like Eleanor Roosevelt, and how she went on the bus. And she was African American and sat on the white part… but after the 1920s and all that, things changed.”

In predominantly white contexts like this, parents often articulate the conundrum that Heather Johnson explored in her 2014 book, The American Dream and the Power of Wealth: Choosing Schools and Inheriting Inequality in the Land of Opportunity. They say that America is a meritocracy with equal opportunity yet then confer tremendous educational privileges to their own kids by opting for private, elite schooling and tutoring, expensive enrichment programs and so on. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2015, white students constituted the largest percent of students attending private Catholic, other religious, and non-sectarian private schools. I found that kids I interviewed who attended private schools attended whiter schools and perceived that they were smarter and more successful than their public-school peers. As such, these kids developed understandings of where they fit into the world. They told me that they knew they were special and more deserving than other kids.

But even in diverse racial contexts, parents’ actions do not always line up with what they say they believe. For instance, as Amanda Lewis and John Diamond show in their 2015 book Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools, although white parents often say they want diversity in their children’s lives, their actions demonstrate their desire to protect practices of segregation within diverse schools that offer advantages to their kids. Rather than finding ways to improve the experiences of all children at their school, white parents in Lewis and Diamond’s book use their material, cultural, social and symbolic resources to advocate for their own child through practices like ensuring their child is placed in upper-level courses with the best teachers. Though these privileged parents are not directly expressing racial animosity when they advocate in this way, they are, in effect, perpetuating inequality by hoarding opportunities for their own kids. I found in my research that these types of parent behaviors shape how children understand themselves, their position in the world and what they deserve.

How white children learn about racism in America does not only happen during the interactions they have at school, though. Everyday behaviors of white parents also matter: when to lock the car doors, what conversations to have at the dinner table, what books and magazines to have around the house, how to react to news headlines, who to invite over for summer cookouts, whether and how to answer questions posed by kids about race, who parents are friends with themselves, when to roll one’s eyes, what media to consume, how to respond to overtly racist remarks made by Grandpa at a family dinner and where to spend leisure time. (Restaurants, vacation destinations and community events can be deliberately and by-default mostly white — or purposefully not.)

These small actions send subtle yet powerful messages. Parents may not even be aware that they are conveying ideas about race through these behaviors, but children learn from them all the time. In this sense, when it comes to communicating with white children about racism, parents’ actions often speak louder than their words.

The conversations parents have with their white children about race and racism matter — it’s just that so does everything else parents do. Rather than focusing solely on what they say to kids about race, white parents should think more critically and carefully about how what they do on an everyday basis may actually reproduce the very racist ideas and forms of racial inequality that they say they seek to challenge.

Good Sports: Four Ways Youth Sports Can Combat Racism

New research shows racism can be learned by children as young as 4. By preschool, children may have already internalized harmful racist attitudes.  The good news is that exposure to different races at an early age can greatly reduce a child’s bias.

In a study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto, 4- to 6-year-old Chinese children were asked to use an app that challenged them to recognize black faces. After two sessions, researchers saw a reduction in their implicit bias.

The study has been embraced by doctors and researchers who see early involvement in sports as an effective tool for breaking down racism in kids. Dr. Angel Brutus, LPC, clinical and sport performance consultant at Synergistic Solutions LLC, is one of many professionals who believe youth sports can be a great way to promote inclusivity in children.

Inclusivity is just one benefit to playing sports — and those benefits don’t just stay on the playing field. Dr. Brutus points out that many of the lessons acquired in the athletic environment translate to academics. “Some of the skills learned in sport participation can also transfer for youth into the classroom setting,” she says.

Here are four ways researchers feel youth sports can reduce bias and promote diversity in children.

Expose Children to Diverse Authority Figures

According to the University of Toronto study, developing a personal relationship with one black individual was enough to help preschoolers rethink previously developed negative attitudes. That’s because coaches, teammates, and parents of teammates have a significant influence on our future selves…

Learn The Importance Of Teamwork And Relationships

Increased exposure to and engagement with individuals of diverse backgrounds helps to humanize others, especially when each participant is tasked with pursuing individual and collective goals involving optimal sports outcomes,” says Dr. Brutus…

Provide New Frameworks For Thinking

…By interacting with a diverse group of individuals in youth sports, children are faced with the need to challenge previous harmful perceptions of other groups. This is especially beneficial for children that came from non-inclusive environments.

Teach Inclusivity to Adults and Parents

Children aren’t the only ones to benefit from an expanded network of authority figures gained through coaches and other parents on sporting teams. For parents, sports provide an opportunity to extend their own support networks.

Buzzfeed: A Powerful Lesson about Privilege for Students

Teaching While White

(Resource Website for White educators teaching Students of Color)

Where Whiteness Intersects with Antiracist Teaching and Learning

More than 80% of teachers in the U.S. are white. But most don’t know that their whiteness matters. Teaching While White (TWW) seeks to move the conversation forward on how to be consciously, intentionally, anti-racist in the classroom. Because “white” does not mean a blank slate. It is a set of assumptions that is the baseline from which everything is judged; it is what passes for normal. TWW wants to have conversations about those assumptions: what they are, how they impact our students, and how we can confront our bias to promote racial literacy.  

Teaching While White: Being an Ally: The Role of White Educators in Multicultural Education

Assumptions and Actions

Working Assumptions*:

  • Privilege and prejudice are two sides of the same coin; as I am elevated, someone else is marginalized or oppressed.
  • It is critical to distinguish between prejudice and racism: racism = prejudice + power + privilege.
  • I will never see the world through the eyes of a woman of color; my attempts to make comparisons of exclusion will never be on par with what people of color might face in certain contexts.
  • As a woman, I can relate to gender inequality. In many ways, oppression cuts across social identifiers, but experiences of oppression can be different and need to be recognized.
  • My white identity includes white privilege as an aspect of my whiteness. It is not all, but it is a part of what it means to be white, and I have to be willing to accept this reality.
  • Solidarity does not mean everyone thinks alike, but multiracial solidarity is geared toward points of intersection, not a false universalism or false unity. (Peter McLaren)
  • I do not expect people of color to thank me or to acknowledge my antiracist work. I consider it my moral responsibility and will not look for validation from people of color. I am the one who benefits most from multiculturalism.
  • Individual accountability is what changes cultures; the way I see myself is intimately connected to way I see others. If I don’t understand what it means to be white, or heterosexual, or upper- middle class, how can I ever hope to understand another colleague or student?
  • If I am called a racist, it is not the end of the conversation. It is the beginning.
  • I recognize that there will be “slippage” (Enid Lee) in my work, meaning that sometimes I will make mistakes in the process of learning how to dismantle racism. Yet I know I have to pick myself up and keep going, and it will be easier each time.
  • When I begin to feel complacent, thinking that I have “done” multiculturalism, or if I feel the need to list my multicultural credentials, then I know I still have a lot of work to do.


  • Explore my own whiteness; become firmly rooted and aware of my own ethnic identity; think about what it means to be white in my school.
  • See myself as diverse; make sure that “multicultural” is not synonymous with “other than white.”
  • Distinguish between individual and group identity.
  • Understand the social, political, and historical role of teaching:
    • I will teach the way I was taught unless I learn another way.
    • Teachers are not neutral; teaching strategies and methods are not objective.
    • We all speak from a particular standpoint based on our experiences.
    • There is no essential, observable single truth; rather, there are multiple truths.
    • Everything is not relative, but rather we recognize that cognition — the way we think and learn — is dependent upon experience and context.
  • Understand and implement multicultural teaching strategies; design a curriculum that is explicitly antiracist; be committed to raising issues of identity development in my classroom.
  • Learn the distinction between speaking for someone and speaking with someone; be committed to dialogue, as opposed to discussion, when appropriate.
  • Recognize the difference between intentions and outcomes:
    • Schools are full of people “who without intending to create racial hurdles or hostility, manage to create a fair amount of both. That they cannot see what they have done is due partly to the fact that they meant no harm and partly to a disinclination to examine whether the assumptions they hold dear are in accord with reality.” (Ellis Cose)
  • Practice “distinguishing” behavior (Randolph Carter): interrupting prejudice and/or racism, advocating for social justice, being an ally, using my privilege to dismantle systems of oppression.

Tips for Healing School-Age Trauma

“Unfortunately, from curriculum to discipline policies, too many schools reinforce racist messages and our systemic disregard for Black lives. From the Connecticut textbook that claimed slave owners treated enslaved people like “members of the family,” to the young Black girl in South Carolina who was thrown across the room by a school police officer for refusing to put away her cell phone, to the two young women in Boston who were kicked off their sports teams, banished from prom, and given detention for wearing their hair in braids, students are too often further traumatized by an education system that reproduces society’s inequities.

Meanwhile, the millionaires and billionaires who drive the corporate school reform movement claim that “no excuses” discipline and endless test prep will close the achievement gap between Black and white students. Yet these reforms have not led to any significant progress for Black students. In fact, this test-and-punish regime has forced the closure and further privatization of public schools in Black and Brown communities. Instead, we need to demand investment in schools and the communities they serve, coupled with an anti-racist, pro-justice pedagogy and curriculum.” Rethinking Schools

Tips for Healing School-Age Trauma

  • Ensure that our curriculum teaches and values Black lives and anti-racist struggle
    • “From abolitionism to civil rights, the Black freedom struggle has been a catalyst for movements that have transformed this country for the better. Therefore, bringing anti-racist curriculum into our classrooms is both about helping Black students feel valued and connected to their learning, as well as about all of us learning from the central struggles for justice when injustice is regularly front-page news. As the current movement phrases it, “all lives will matter, when Black lives matter.” Rethinking Schools
  • Ensure schools support, encourage, and listen to Black and Brown staff members
    • Develop multi-school networks where teachers of color can congregate to discuss issues that they face in schools
  • Transform our schools into sites of resistance to a system that devalues Black lives
    • Helping students start Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist clubs, putting on student and community forums, work with other teachers on taking collective action together, etc

“If schools are ever to be truly “safe spaces,” we will need to build our capacity to defend each other. Whether from police, white supremacists, ICE agents, or climate disaster, this will require social justice work inside and outside the classroom. As we return to our schools this fall, we need to rededicate ourselves to building an education system and a society that values Black lives.” Rethinking Schools

TEaching Black Lives Matter Resources

Teaching While White: A Letter to White Teachers of My Black Children

Dear White Teachers of My Black Children:

I am a Black mom.

I know it’s sometimes hard to decide whether to say Black or African-American. I used to identify as African-American because I loved hearing the reference to my ancestral homeland in my description of myself. But then to say African-American reduces the majestic continent of Africa down to the status of a country. Africa is not a country, and so I now identify as a Black woman.  I identify here specifically as a Black mom because I have two children who are now in high school. Raising them to be inquisitive, informed adults with a strong sense of identity and agency is an essential part of my life.

I am also an educator, so I understand the deep importance of guiding and shaping all of our children. I’m also intimately aware of all the cultural complexity surrounding our work. I know, too, that we have a long way to go before we’re even close to treating all of our students equitably. This is why I’m writing to you today. I have much to say about what I wish you had been able to do for my children when they were in your elementary and middle school classrooms, and what I hope you will do for all children of color entering your classrooms.

Because I’m an educator, I know well what you — or at least the vast majority of you — learned in your pre-K-12 education and in your teacher-prep program. I also know what you didn’t learn. As you grew up, you were most likely taught in school and at home that Abraham Lincoln was the great emancipator, that it was acceptable, right even, to refer to the people of the global majority as minorities, and that communities with higher percentages of Black families are in need of saving.

As a teacher, you most likely did not receive ongoing professional development about race and education in America. You’re likely to have a vague understanding about issues of diversity and equity and inclusion with insufficient understanding of culturally responsive teaching and learning. On the other hand, you most likely received extensive training on implementation of state and national education standards, new curricular initiatives, and how to improve standardized test scores. In recent years, you might have received professional development about social emotional learning, but you’ll have done so without exploring the critical sociopolitical considerations that are essential to strengthening your ability to teach well across race, class, and gender.

In high school, college, and your teacher-prep program, you no doubt were taught something about race in America, but it’s highly unlikely that you learned the truth about Black experience. It’s likely, for instance, that you’ve been taught little to nothing about the pre-enslavement contributions of Black people to the world, the horrors and impact of centuries of enslavement, post “Emancipation” Jim Crow laws and practices, and the many ongoing racially based systemic injustices such as mass incarceration, housing discrimination, wealth disparities, and lack of equal access to quality education, health care, and more.

I didn’t learn about these things in school either, but thankfully, my parents made sure I learned about these important aspects of American life and history that are absent from the textbooks and teacher’s guides.

Because it’s unlikely that you learned about all of these things in school or in your home, it’s even more unlikely that you teach about these matters now. I know that those of you who taught my children when they were younger didn’t necessarily teach them about these issues. But here’s the thing: they truly wanted to hear it from you, too. We have talked extensively about these matters at home, but my children’s school experiences would have been far more valuable if you would have introduced them to the lives and works of Ellen and William Craft, Katherine Johnson, Lewis Hayden, Ida B. Wells and Denmark Vesey. They wanted to hear you tell them the truth about The Black Panther Party, the reasons behind the FBI’s surveillance of Martin Luther King, Jr., the painful facts about Columbus’s experiences in the Americas, and the meaning of Juneteenth. And they didn’t want to just hear a few tidbits about these essential and complex aspects of American life in February just because it was Black History Month.

What my children needed from you in school — what all students of color need from you in school — is a much deeper understanding of racial history and ongoing racial matters. If you are to teach them well — teach them as I know you want to teach them — you need deeper cultural knowledge and skills. If, for instance, you teach a social studies unit on immigration and you have your students present about the countries of their ancestors, Black children need you to think more deeply about how this assignment feels for them. One of the many things Black Americans lost as a result of the nation’s involvement in enslavement is the knowledge of which African countries our ancestors came from. Although we now have some helpful information from Ancestry DNA, I, for instance, can’t say for sure whether my African ancestors were Nigerian, Senegalese, Ghanaian, Congolese, Beninese, Togolese, Cameroonian, Malian, or from the Ivory Coast. And because we didn’t have access to this information when my children were in elementary school, they ended up focusing only on their European heritage because our White ancestors are a lot easier to trace.

This can also be a tough and painful assignment for other students of color as well — especially for First Nations people whose ancestral stories are overlooked by misrepresented in the textbook versions of American history.

My guess is that you didn’t think about all this in planning the unit. Going forward, I hope you will.

Because you were entrusted to partner with me in the education of my children, I wanted you to be curious about them with the same intensity with which you’d have them stand to pledge allegiance to the flag. I wanted you to wonder how they felt when they saw Mount Rushmore or the face of Andrew Jackson on the twenty-dollar bill they handed you with their field trip permission slip. I wanted you to wonder how they felt in your class after hearing about yet another unarmed Black life erased from this world by police brutality — all because the melanin we see as so beautiful looks like danger to others. Do you know how it felt for my children when you didn’t say anything about racial injustices at the time of their occurrences? Do you know how it feels for your Black students today?

If your school is anything like the schools where I taught, you’ll be expected to interact with your students’ families at open houses, conferences, and literacy or math nights. On those nights, families are expected to come to school, and are often judged harshly if they don’t. I want you to think about this, think about why you are judging them harshly and what assumptions you are making. During parent teacher conferences, you will most likely not have a lot of time, so you’ll probably default to talking at families about their children instead of engaging in dialogues with families as partners. I know it’s hard. I’ve been there, too. But I’m asking you now, when it’s time for conferences, when families show up to engage in conversation with you about the most precious people in their lives, please don’t see your contract as a limitation. Use these moments as opportunities to connect, learn, and share.

As you well know, the dominant culture in the United States tries to suppress conversations on race. There are numerous reasons for this, most of them related to the maintenance of the power status quo. I’m asking you to help break this damaging practice — especially among adults in your school. There are certain conversations that take place in teachers’ lounges about students and their families that I find both infuriating and heartbreaking. Too often, teachers are silent in the face of racist, prejudicial, biased, or stereotypical comments. I know it’s uncomfortable to confront a colleague. I want you to consider, however, how uncomfortable it makes my family and all other families of color to know that there are people who we’ve entrusted with the care and teaching of our children who think of them as less than — less important, less worthy of our love and attention. When that moment arises next time — and it will arise — I want you to think of how uncomfortable the students are in that teacher’s classroom, and I want you to speak up on their behalf. If a colleague says something derogatory about a child and/or that child’s family, you must speak up. As Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

My children are in high school now and have had the privilege of participating in advanced placement and honors courses in school. They have scored at proficient and advanced levels on standardized tests. They are amazing young people, and they have worked hard. But none of these accomplishments make them exceptional or in any way better than their schoolmates who have not had these same opportunities. It also doesn’t make my husband and me exceptional or any better than the families of their schoolmates. Please consider the access and opportunities that are available to all students in your schools. Our job, if we are doing it right, is to celebrate every child where they are and move them forward with skill, love, courage, and grace. In a nation that claims to believe in educating all children to become engaged citizens, this practice of failing so many students of color, or tracking them based on implicit bias, or pushing them out of schools, or driving them into the criminal justice system, or ignoring them in hopes they’ll simply drop out — this adult behavior in schools perpetuates inequitable systems.

Finally, I know it’s tempting to think that because you teach in a school with a high percentage of Black students, racism isn’t an issue for you. Please know that proximity doesn’t equal awareness. That would be like a male teacher saying, “I can’t be sexist because I have female students.” Know, too, that racial colorblindness isn’t really a thing. While it’s right to treat children equitably, it’s also important to understand how race shapes lives in a racist system.

We all breathe in the smog of oppression, and the only way to expel it is to read, listen, reflect, ask questions and become better as a result of what we learn. I’m here asking you as educators to help lead the way. By improving equity in schools, by becoming truly inclusive learning communities with an effective anti-racist curriculum, we improve both individual lives and equity and justice in society. I’m here for you and I’m rooting for you. As Lilla Watson said, “… your liberation is bound up with mine.”

With love, respect, and hope,

Afrika Afeni Mills

A Black Educator Mom

Parenting for Liberation: Podcast# 29:
PACT Camp Workshop on White Privilege to White Adoptive Parents of Black Children
Trina Greene Brown

PACT Camp: I presented a workshop on white privilege for adoptive parents of black children! I was invited to speak at PACT family camp by Malaika Parker, an African American adoptive parent, who works to support the adoptive parents of color who are connected with PACT Adopt. While I was excited to support the nearly 150 Black children who attend the camp, when I found out that 75% of the parents who come to Pact Family Camp have adopted transracially–meaning the parents are white, I was uneasy about it. I had read the many articles on the disproportionate number of Black children fosterees and adoptees, and also about the challenges/problems of Black children being adopted by white folks (article links below); however, I decided to show up for Black children. In a commitment to their liberation, I worked with 125 white adoptive parents on how to risk their white privilege and challenge white supremacy, for all children of color.

Further Transracially Adoption Resources

Further Readings

For Parents

For Teachers

We Are Teachers: Here Are 21 Free Resources for Teaching Social Justice in the Classroom

Institutional Change


Martin Luther King, Jr. on Income Inequality and Redistribution of Wealth + James Baldwin

Sub Table of Contents

Civil Rights Legislation
Landmark Civil Rights Lawsuits
Possible Future Civil Rights Legislation
Possible Reparation Bills
Affirmative Action
Racism vs Class War
Restorative Justice
Campaign Zero Policy Changes to End Police Violence
Affordable Housing Policies

Civil Rights Legislation

  • “Emancipation Proclamation” (1863) proclaimed slaves were free
    • Juneteenth – June 19, (1865) – Official day slavery was abolished in last confederate state
  • 13th Amendment (1868), abolished slavery in US
  • 14th Amendment (1868) guaranteed due process and equal protection rights to all citizens
  • 15th Amendment (1870), guaranteed the right to vote for all US citizens.
  • Equal Pay Act of 1963 Requires employers to pay all employees equally for equal work
    • regardless of whether the employees are male or female
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964 Prohibits employment discrimination
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) Prohibits voter discrimination/suppression
    • 2013 Supreme Court gutted the Section 5 in the Voting Rights Law which required lawmakers in states with history of discriminating against minority voters get federal permission to change voting rules
      • At the time 9 states Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia and dozens of counties and municipalities in other states, were currently trying to pass voter restrictions
  • Immigration and Nationality Act (1965) abolished quota system/reduced immigration discrimination
  • Fair Housing Act of 1968 (FHA) Prohibits housing discrimination
  • The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) (1974) Prohibits banking discrimination
  • Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (1980) Protecting persons in institutions (including nursing homes and prisoners) from unconstitutional conditions
  • Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (1988) Prohibits discrimination in relief
  • Civil Rights Act of 1991 Improved rights for discriminated employees

Landmark Civil Rights Lawsuits

  • 1898 – United States v. Wong Kim Ark
    • Granted birthright citizenship to all persons born in the US regardless of race or nationality
  • 1947 – Mendez v. Westminster School District
    • Segregating Latino students in California unconstitutional
  • 1948 – Shelley v. Kraemer
    • Racially restrictive covenants in property deeds are unenforceable.
  • 1954 – Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas
    • Ended legal racial segregation in public schools
  • 1960 – Boynton v. Virginia
    • Ruled that segregated public buses were unconstitutional
      • Launched Freedom Riders movement
  • 1962 – Bailey v. Patterson (De-Segregation in Transportation)
    • Segregation in transportation facilities is unconstitutional
  • 1967 – Loving v. Virginia (Inter-Racial Marriage)
    • Laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage are unconstitutional.
  • 1968 – Jones v. Mayer Co.
    • Bars all racial discrimination (private or public) in the sale or rental of property.
  • 1971 – Griggs v. Duke Power Co.
    • Prohibited racial bias education requirements and intelligence tests used as conditions of employment
  • 1974 – Lau v. Nichols
    • Public school system must provide English language instruction to students of Chinese ancestry
  • 1978 – Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (Affirmative Action)
    • college admission standards giving preferential consideration to minority applicants is constitutional
  • 1986 – Batson v. Kentucky
    • Prohibits all white juries

Possible Future Civil Rights Legislation

  • Second Bill of Rights
    • Proposed by FDR in 1944
    • Guarantee rights to
      • Employment (right to work), food, clothing and leisure with enough income to support them, Farmers’ rights to a fair income, Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies, Housing, Medical care, Social security, Education
  • Economic Bill of Rights
    • Proposed by MLK Jr and the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968
    • Order Fed gov to prioritize helping the poor with a $30 billion anti-poverty package
      • a commitment to full employment, guaranteed annual income measure, more low-income housing
  • Policies to Increase Affordable Housing
    • Tenant rights, rent control, increase funds for affordable and public housing, Community Land Trusts, etc.
      • DC Anti-speculation Act of 1978
        • tax up to 70% of the profits made on residential speculation
  • Policies to End Police Violence and Mass incarceration
    • Campaign Zero Policy Changes
      • End broken windows policing, more community oversight, limit use of force, independently investigate & prosecute, increase community representation, body cams, end for-profit policing, demilitarization, fair police union contracts
  • NEAR Act (Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results)
    • Passed by D.C. Council unanimously in 2016 but yet to fully fund
    • The Act aims to reform policing outside of mass incarceration or racial profiling
      • establishing community-led violence prevention efforts by empowering community members to act as conflict mediators
      • tailored access to social programs to help people change their circumstances.
  • Restorative Justice Policies
    • “Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders. This can lead to transformation of people, relationships and communities.” Center for Justice and Reconciliation
  • Sanctuary Bills
    • Policies in place designed to protect immigrants by limiting cooperation with or involvement in federal immigration enforcement actions
  • Reparations
    • R.40: Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act
  • Affirmative Action
    • Increase ability to prosecute discrimination

Possible Reparation Bills

“Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.” Ta-Nehisi Coates – The Altantic

  • R.40: Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act
    • Introduced in Congress many times since 1989
    • Yet to be passed
  • Possible reparation approaches
    • Direct stakeholder funds
      • Direct cash grants without conditions to black adults
      • Increase social security payments to black seniors
    • Assistance to first-time black homebuyer programs
    • Tuition-free higher education for black students
      • Retroactive forgiveness of student loans
    • Black entrepreneurship funding
    • Healthcare assistance
      • Medical debt forgiveness
      • Funding efforts to heal ongoing physical and mental trauma
    • Increased access and control of food sources, housing and land
    • Guaranteed minimum livable income
    • Restorative Justice
      • Expunge past marijuana convictions and fund black cannabis entrepreneurs
      • Reform criminal justice system to eliminate racial bias and fund restorative justice programs
    • Endowments for historical and cultural institutions
    • National racial history education programs
      • To critically examine political, economic, and social impacts of colonialism and slavery
    • Historical monuments and markers for sites that experience white supremacy acts like lynching, etc.
    • Roots journeys to Africa
      • Initiative to enable people with African heritage to visit and learn about Africa

The Atlantic: The Case for Reparations

“Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole…

…the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely. Reparations, beckons us to reject the intoxication of hubris and see America as it is—the work of fallible humans. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future…

…Scholars have long discussed methods by which America might make reparations to those on whose labor and exclusion the country was built. In the 1970s, the Yale Law professor Boris Bittker argued in The Case for Black Reparations that a rough price tag for reparations could be determined by multiplying the number of African Americans in the population by the difference in white and black per capita income. That number—$34 billion in 1973, when Bittker wrote his book—could be added to a reparations program each year for a decade or two. Today Charles Ogletree, the Harvard Law School professor, argues for something broader: a program of job training and public works that takes racial justice as its mission but includes the poor of all races.” Ta-Nehisi Coates

NY Times: “The Cost of Slavery

“The typical white family enjoys a net worth that is more than eight times that of its black counterpart, according to the economist Edward Wolff. Even at equivalent income levels, gaps remain large. Among families earning less than $15,000 a year, the median African-American family has a net worth of zero, while the corresponding white family has $10,000 in equity. The typical white family earning $40,000 annually has a nest egg of around $80,000. Its black counterpart has about half that amount.

This equity inequity is partly the result of the head start whites enjoy in accumulating and passing on assets. Some economists estimate that up to 80 percent of lifetime wealth accumulation results from gifts from earlier generations, ranging from the down payment on a home to a bequest by a parent.”


Further Readings

Affirmative Action

  • What is affirmative action (AA)?
    • Government or voluntary private program designed to redress historic injustices against specific groups by making special efforts to provide members of these groups with access to educational and employment opportunities
  • Concept of AA was introduced in the early 1960s in the US
    • 1961, JFK signed an Executive Order requiring that government employers:
      • Prohibit discrimination in hiring process and in employment
    • LBJ later expanded Affirmative Action
      • To any organization receiving federal funds and added women in the criteria
  • Affirmative Action has survived many legal challenges but has been heavily restrained
    • Generally stating race could be used as a factor to keep a “diverse” student body
      • But that racial quotas were unlawful
    • In response several states passed legislative abolishing/reforming AA (California, Texas, Michigan, etc.)
  • Impact
    • Significantly increased representation in colleges and employment
      • When California abolished affirmative action in 1998
        • Minority student admissions at UC Berkeley fell 61% and at UCLA fell 36%
        • After Texas abolished its affirmative action program in 1996
          • Rice University’s freshman class had 46% fewer African-Americans and 22% fewer Hispanic students
        • Diversity in higher education provides benefit for all students, both personally and intellectually
  • Policy is Flexible
    • No race quotas or preferential treatment for people of color (only required to give equal chance)
      • No requirement to hire/accept unqualified people of color
  • White women have been the greatest beneficiaries of affirmative action
    • Yet many studies have found majority of white women oppose affirmative action
  • Trump admin Pushing Reverse Racism Myth
    • Directing DOJ’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over “deemed” to discriminate against white applicants

Wikipedia: Affirmative Action: United States

“The concept of affirmative action was introduced in the early 1960s in the United States, as a way to combat racial discrimination in the hiring process, with the concept later expanded to address gender discrimination. Affirmative action was first created from Executive Order 10925, which was signed by President John F. Kennedy on 6 March 1961 and required that government employers “not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin” and “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin”.

On 24 September 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Executive Order 11246, thereby replacing Executive Order 10925 and affirming Federal Government’s commitment “to promote the full realization of equal employment opportunity through a positive, continuing program in each executive department and agency”. Affirmative action was extended to women by Executive Order 11375 which amended Executive Order 11246 on 13 October 1967, by adding “sex” to the list of protected categories. In the U.S. affirmative action’s original purpose was to pressure institutions into compliance with the nondiscrimination mandate of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Acts do not cover veterans, people with disabilities, or people over 40. These groups are protected from discrimination under different laws.

Affirmative action has been the subject of numerous court cases, and has been questioned upon its constitutional legitimacy. In 2003, a Supreme Court decision regarding affirmative action in higher education (Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 US 244 – Supreme Court 2003) permitted educational institutions to consider race as a factor when admitting students. Alternatively, some colleges use financial criteria to attract racial groups that have typically been under-represented and typically have lower living conditions. Some states such as California (California Civil Rights Initiative), Michigan (Michigan Civil Rights Initiative), and Washington (Initiative 200) have passed constitutional amendments banning public institutions, including public schools, from practicing affirmative action within their respective states. Conservative activists have alleged that colleges quietly use illegal quotas to increase the number of minorities and have launched numerous lawsuits to stop them.”

History of Affirmative Action

Privilege as a Zero-Sum Game

“When a person of color receives a benefit, like a scholarship, it feels like feels like something is taken away from white people” MTV Look Different: White People

  • 21 million people apply for financial aid every year
    • Undergraduate college students
      • 62% are white students but receive 69% of private scholarships
      • 38% are minorities but receive 31% of private scholarships
    • Even with affirmative action
      • Whites students 40% more likely receive financial aid
      • Blacks and Hispanics are more underrepresented at top colleges than 35 years ago
  • Pell Grants are different
    • White students have a 20% chance
    • Minorities have a 38% chance
    • This isn’t based on race
    • Pell grants focus more on income
    • Since there’s economic inequalities in the US minority students tend to be poorer
  • Affirmative Action in the workplace
    • There has never been a time in the US when white men did not have the highest employment rates, highest pay rates, and weren’t the most powerful group in America
    • “It is easier for a white man with a criminal record to get hired than it is for a black man with no criminal background. According to Pew Research, even when adjusted for education and experience, the black unemployment rate is consistently twice that of whites. Even having a black name can make one unhirable. All of this is true even with affirmative action mandates in place.” Michael Harriot, Affirmative Action

“to the extent that white people believe that racism against blacks has decreased, they also believe that racism against whites has increased. They really see it as kind of a fixed pie of resources, a zero-sum game. One job for a black person equals one job that a white person didn’t get” Michael Norton, Harvard

Different Views about Affirmative Action


“Affirmative action has proved to be one of the most effective tools for expanding opportunity and promoting diversity for students of color. Race-conscious admissions policies have made campuses across the country more representative of our society. In doing so, they have helped remedy inequality created by centuries of discrimination.

Affirmative action has also become a symbol, maybe the most powerful symbol for some whites, of African-American advancement. It is a commitment to opening spaces once reserved for whites, and a reordering of power in ways that value African-American, Asian, Native American and Latino lives, voices and demands. Although it has been relentlessly attacked over the past 40 years, affirmative action has undermined the racial exclusivity of our nation’s universities.” Sherrilyn A. Ifill New York Times Journalist


“Affirmative action’s precise aims, for instance, have always proved elusive. Is it meant to make amends for the crimes heaped upon black people? Not according to the Supreme Court. In its 1978 ruling in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the Court rejected “societal discrimination” as “an amorphous concept of injury that may be ageless in its reach into the past.” Is affirmative action meant to increase “diversity”? If so, it only tangentially relates to the specific problems of black people—the problem of what America has taken from them over several centuries.

This confusion about affirmative action’s aims, along with our inability to face up to the particular history of white-imposed black disadvantage, dates back to the policy’s origins. “There is no fixed and firm definition of affirmative action,” an appointee in Johnson’s Department of Labor declared. “Affirmative action is anything that you have to do to get results. But this does not necessarily include preferential treatment.”

Yet America was built on the preferential treatment of white people—395 years of it. Vaguely endorsing a cuddly, feel-good diversity does very little to redress this. Today, progressives are loath to invoke white supremacy as an explanation for anything.” TaNehisi Coates

Further Readings

Racism vs Class War

“To ignore the fact that one of the oldest republics in the world was erected on a foundation of white supremacy, to pretend that the problems of a dual society (black vs white) are the same as the problems of unregulated capitalism, is to cover the sin of national plunder with the sin of national lying. The lie ignores the fact that reducing American poverty and ending white supremacy are not the same. The lie ignores the fact that closing the “achievement gap” will do nothing to close the “injury gap” Ta-Nehisi Coates

  • If we successfully eliminated class we would still have:
    • Institutions that pay white men more than women and people of color
    • Unconscious implicit racism
      • That more likely hires white names on resumes and shoots black people
    • A society built on centuries of systemic racism and housing discrimination
      • that has created enormous wealth disparities that will be felt for generations
    • Some of the worst segregation/spatial racism in our history
  • Class reductionists
    • people who believe economic equality is cure-all for societal ills, and would neglect policy prescriptions which seek to remedy identity-based disparities

“…race and class are so interwoven that any political project that aims to resolve one while ignoring the other does a disservice to both” Briahna Gray – Intercept

“But the truth is sometimes uncomfortable. Cultural attitudes aren’t always “caused” by anything else in some immediate or obvious sense. To explain how people “got” to believe in racist and xenophobic status hierarchies is to explain hundreds of years of Western history and the complicated story of how race and national identity were made in the West. As a result of this history, many people value their culture and identity as much as they value economic security. When their vision of the way the world should work is threatened, they see it as a personal threat. They’re racist because race and hierarchy and group identity have come to play integral roles in how humans understand the world. To deny that is to deny that both identity and the past matter, to assume everything is reducible to some kind of material or economic ultimate cause. History has shown, conclusively, that this is a mistake.” Zack Beauchamp, Vox Journalist

Further Readings

  • NY Times: An End to the Class vs. Race Debate
  • The Atlantic: White racism vs. White resentment

Anti-Racism Tools and Exercises




Anti-Racism Tools and Exercises

Activist created Online Workshops and Guides

Richael Faithful: Compassionate Interventions to White Supremacy

National organizations that host anti-racism workshops across the country

Need Inspiration?

Breathe and Push: Sikh-American civil rights advocate Valarie Kaur’s plea to her country in the times of Donald J. Trum