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What does it mean to be antiracist?

Deepening conversations and expanding resource lists is important this month

February 17, 2022 — 

 

What’s the problem with being “not racist”? It is a claim that signifies neutrality: “I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.” But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” It is “antiracist”. (Ibram X. Kendi, How to be an Antiracist)

Most of us have heard the term “antiracist”—in the media, in social settings, on our Instagram feeds—but what does this term really mean?

For starters, it’s important to understand how aligning oneself with antiracism differs from claiming that one is “not racist” or that one “does not see race.”

Following the election of Barack Obama in 2008, a wave of celebration rushed across North America. Milton Vickerman writes that “Obama’s victory seemed the very essence of Martin Luther King’s Promised Land, where the content of character, rather than presumed group-based attributes, determines the individual’s fate.”(p.1)

Though feelings and progress and victory in the Black community were certainly warranted, the masses who have used this accomplishment as a justification for dismissing racism are concerning. Racism has not magically disappeared from contemporary society— from microaggressions that many BIPOC encounter daily, to police brutality and systemic violence, racist ideology is still very much a part of contemporary North American society. And with support for the extreme-right and populism in Canada and the U.S. growing, now is not the time to pat ourselves on the back and convince ourselves that the battle has already been won. Acknowledgement, action and awareness are critical in the fight against racial injustice.

Supporters of post-racial logic, which is sometimes called “colourblindness,” would like to push conversations about racism under the rug, arguing that racial oppression is no longer a relevant concern.

In his book How to be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi unpacks how the neutrality of “not racist” ideology functions as a mask for racism, explaining that we must liberate the term “racism” from its pejorative connotations. This is to say, claiming that racism is a dirty word—that it is uncouth, that it is a low blow—debilitates communities and individuals who have been harmed by racism, preventing them from naming the system that has oppressed them.

The claim of “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism . . .(“Racism”) is a descriptive, and the only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it—and then dismantle it. The attempt to turn this usefully descriptive term into an almost unusable slur is, of course, designed to do the opposite: to freeze us into inaction. (Ibram X. Kendi, How to be an Antiracist)

Returning the term “racism” back to its proper usage is, according to Kendi, is one of the core principles of anti-racism. Being antiracist involves grappling with discomfort around this word. Antiracism philosophy requires that we re-centre our analysis, focusing on the safety and empowerment of victims of racism rather than the comfort of perpetrators.

Learning about antiracism isn’t something that happens overnight. We can’t passively sit by, read a few posts on Instagram, and then claim to be an antiracist. Antiracism is a process that requires deliberate conversations and intentional unlearning. It involves actively seeking out resources, not just relying on BIPOC friends for ad-hoc education and book recommendations. Today, the FRKM is offering a list of resources that can be used as a starting point for individuals hoping to expand their horizons and learn more about what it means to be an antiracist. Some of these resources are specifically related to anti-Black racism and the BLM movement, some are related to sports, health, and fitness, and some are specifically related to Canada and issues faced by the Indigenous communities.

Books

  • How to be an Antiracist – Ibram X. Kendi
  • Black Life: Post BLM and the Struggle for Freedom – Rinaldo Walcott & Idil Abdillahi
  • The Skin We’re In – Desmond Cole
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colourblindness – Michelle Alexander
  • Racism in Winnipeg – free eBook available through Fernwood publishing

 Find more resources visit diversebooks.org or Winnipeg Public Library’s section on racism and anti-racism.

Podcasts

  • The Unlearning Channel – hosted by Mel Vee & Jacquie Gallos Aquines
  • Changing on the Fly: A Podcast on Hockey and Politics – hosted by Arron Lakoff
  • Burn it All Down: the Feminist Sports Podcast you Need
  • The Shakeout Podcast Episode 173: Olympian Mohammed Ahmed Reflects on the Intersection of Identity and Sport – available for online listening via Canadian Running Magazine

Research

 

This list is made possible by recommendations from Craig Brown, M.A. in Kinesiology and Recreation Management alumni, who has conducted research projects related to the experiences of newcomers in sport in Manitoba, queer-youth resilience, antiracism in sport in Winnipeg, and an organizational equity, diversity, and inclusion review. Craig has also worked with the Bisons women’s soccer team as a student sport psychology consultant. Craig’s mantra is to be the change that he wishes to see in others, one interaction at a time.

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