Building an Antiracist Action Plan for the Long Haul

The world has always been on fire for those who are marginalized and minoritized. Black people of all genders are murdered on the streets and in their homes. Indigenous women are killed at rates ten times the national average. Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) are dying from COVI19 at rates that far exceed those among white people.

Maybe you just noticed the fire. Maybe you’ve fanned the flames. Maybe you want do to something about the burning.

I’m one of many well-intentioned white people who wants to do something. As the saying goes, though, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Some things that white people are doing are harmful and just need to stop. We have to stop asking Black people what we should do when we feel helpless or uncertain. We have to stop going into BIPOC spaces and taking over in subtle and overt ways. We have to stop seeking consolation from the people who are being oppressed when we feel painful emotions.

Unfortunately, saying what not to do doesn’t help people figure out what to do, as any psychologist can attest. And figuring out what to do in the midst of emotions and crisis is fraught with the potential to cause harm (see above).

Seems to me that we each need an intentional antiracist action plan that lays out what we personally commit to do week-by-week for the long haul — not just when headlines overwhelm us or we’re inspired to make a sign for a protest.

At my house, we’re building our action plan. There are six steps (so far). No one step is sufficient (that’s right: you’re not done after that protest you marched in last week). And still, all six steps together aren’t enough. But we have to get started somewhere.

In talking with white friends about my household’s action plan (see #6), some asked to see it. So here it is in case it can help as you make your own plan. Under each step, I’ve included suggestions, which I’ll be updating. So check back. But ultimately, you have to make your own plan that reflects your values and commitment.

1. Donate.

Got privilege? Then spend it. Figure out what donating meaningfully means for you given your life circumstances. Learn what folks who think critically about generational wealth and privilege have to say about donating, such as the Chinook Foundation; or more about social justice philanthropy from Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation.

2. Individual reading/watching and reflection.

People with privilege need to keep building our muscles to learn and respond reflexively so that we can listen with humility, advocate fiercely (when the space is one where we should be the ones advocating), recognize our own role in oppression, and identify racist policies in order to act to change them.

There are lots of so-called antiracist reading lists circulating. For example, #ShutDownSTEM offers a reading list for people new to discussions of race as well as people who have already done some reading and want to learn more. In addition to things like How to be an Antiracist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, you might consider:

Relevant to my research team’s focus on violence against women and children, consider:

And relevant to clinical psychology in particular, Dr. Ken Pope has compiled a reading list on a website that is fully accessible. 

But there are perils to reading lists. Tre JohnsonDr. Kendi, and others have pointed out that reading [fill in NY Times bestselling book here] or going to your [familiar, comfortable] book group is a way white people make themselves feel better or perform allyship. We feel as if we’ve done something (or we tell the world we did because there was that book club meeting, after all); however, we haven’t taken any actions to dismantle racist systems. 

Therefore, it’s important to be clear that this action item is about reading and reflecting to understand the stories behind the news; to learn about the longstanding, root causes of problems so that we can identify our roles in oppression and take antiracist action. Reading and reflection are only as useful as the actions that arise from them. 

3. Be counted showing up to listen to BIPOC voices.

Beyond reading, sign up and show up for forums, information sessions, or other conversations led by BIPOC communities. Be counted so that events can say X-hundred or Y–thousand people signed on to listen. And then listen as if lives depended on it.

4. Go to trainings that focus on building skills.

This is different from attending something to listen and be counted (#3 above) or reading/watching (#2 above). Those things can help develop awareness, but awareness is pretty useless without skills. We all need to build and practice skills.

Go to trainings even if they initially sound like they are (too) basic. If they turn out to be, great — then we have a chance to practice the skill of humility as we keep listening. Because here’s the reality: There is always something to learn when we engage topics that are steeped in hundreds of years of oppression, silence, and lies.

When you register, ask if you can pay for two people so that someone else can go for free (that’s an option with the Racial Equity Foundations training below, for example).

5. Direct Action.

Showing up for one-time protests can demonstrate the sheer number of people who care, build solidarity, and bring attention to problems. However, when demonstrations aren’t organized by the communities affected or around a specific solution to a problem, they risk not leading to real or sustainable change.

Focus on participating in direct actions recommended by organizations who are doing community organizing for the long haul. Check that actions are led by BIPOC individuals/organizations or those who have clear accountability to BIPOC communities, as recommended by Showing Up for Racial Justice, Denver Chapter.

Beyond figuring out who is organizing in your community and getting involved, learn how to show up for direct actions as a white person. You can read more here from Showing up for Racial Justice, Denver Chapter.

 6. Direct Talk.

The time for awkward silences, complicit gaze-aversion, or “we just don’t talk about politics” excuses among white people has long passed. Actually, there was never a time for this. White people need to talk to white people to persuade them to act in antiracist ways.

I’m asking myself to talk to white people, including those in my life who don’t share my worldview. I hope you do too.

I started with a family member whose political views are quite different from mine. When we talked the other night, I told them what I saw happening across the country. They said “well, all we can do is pray.” I said “actually, that’s not true” and rattled off a list of actions — the start of this list, as it turns out. The next morning, I sent them actions to take, framed around how they think about things (instead of only how I think about things) — that is, framed around their self interests.

Now I’m planning the next intentional conversations I’ll have with white people in my life, including those who don’t necessarily agree with me. Who will you talk to?

***

Note: Thank you to Dr. Ann Chu and Kathleen Ferrick for invaluable input on earlier versions.

Last updated: June 24, 2020