Everyone Wants to Be Anti-Racist ’til My Black Ass Tells You How

Note: This post is an adapted version of a talk given by our team leader, Bethany Stewart, during our virtual event “A Day in the Life of Racism” last Friday night:

Over the years, I’ve noticed a bit of a phenomenon or practice amongst white progressives who claim an anti-racist identity. And that is, everyone wants to be anti-racist until my black ass tells you what real anti-racism is.

For starters, anti-racism is about a lot more than a performance or debates on social media from the comfort of your home. Anti-racism is way more than reposting an article from “The Root” or “Essence.” It’s about more than arguing with your cousins or high school classmates on Facebook. Anti-racism is way more than donating to BLM or sending me reparations on Juneteenth (although, my makeup collection SURELY appreciates it). Anti-racism is about way more than individual acts that satiate your need for moral superiority. In its true form, it is some of the hardest work and the toughest journey that a white person can ever take on because it does in fact require that you both question and relinquish everything that you consider to be normal and reality. It’s tough but I don’t feel sorry for you. It is about constructing a new you that aligns itself with the new creation that God is calling us all into. Thus, I do not feel sorry for you because I know that digging into this opportunity for growth into anti-racism is an opportunity to be met by God. 

Most recently, I had a really bizarre incident with some white friends of mine in a meeting. I should start by saying that I am fully aware that I have a notable sense of humor. It’s a part of my anxious personality, I make jokes because I’m really somewhat shy and feel uncomfortable in a lot of settings so joking is my coping method. Most people quickly learn that they can joke with me and it’ll be totally fine. Part of my humor includes impressions that I pride myself upon. To make a long story short, in this meeting, a friend did a really fantastic impression of a person whose speaking style I have tried to grasp for some years. As soon as they did the impression, I lamented that I’ve been trying to do that impersonation for some time and couldn’t quite grasp it. Another friend retorted “you can’t quite get that black out of your voice.” Now, let’s be clear, I have a fantastic sense of humor but don’t ever play with me like that

As a black person who has always been in and survived predominantly white spaces, I’ve learned how to eat micro and even macro-aggressions. But that day and in that setting, I couldn’t let it go. After a few moments, I asked if I could go back to that moment and I said “it’s difficult enough being the only black person in spaces and comments like that make it even more alienating.” The person immediately became defensive and then some days later basically said that they didn’t want a relationship with me and that space anymore.

I was angered and hurt but most of all, I was perplexed. How can folks claiming an anti-racist and peace filled identity be so adverse to a very present opportunity to be anti-racist? What I concluded is that a lot of white people aren’t really prepared to be anti-racist but rather, they are invested in the performance of what is considered to be the ”right side” of anti-racism. However, they are oftentimes not at all willing to relinquish the habits and practices of white supremacy. For so many folks, anti-racism is simply a guise for their racism. It is a performance of moral superiority that still inhabits the landscape of white supremacy. Anti-racism so often has nothing to do with my black ass at all but rather to do with this need to be better than Trump supporters, better than your racist granny better than those “other white people”. It is about upholding the same hierarchical structures that white supremacy is dependent upon.

And you usually see the adverse response show up in a two-fold way.. The first is shame. As opposed to being able to take in that a behavior is racist and unacceptable and thus be able to cease that behavior. White people feel shame that they (as a whole person) are bad, rotten, and just like those “other” white people that they so want to be better than. In Romans 8: 1-4, the Bible says “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.[c] And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” What are we afraid of and what’re we feeling shame for? We are freed by Jesus to face our sin and be forgiven, our sin, our sin of racism does not doom us forever. Further, we are brothers and sisters in Christ, if I tell you as a brother or sister that you have sinned against me, that you have violated me, simply change the behavior. Our goal is to be that new creation that God is calling us to, not to condemn you for an eternity. Take that on the chin knowing that I love you and I, too, want to be loved. Set aside your ego and shame for the opportunity to grow into that new creation. Move away from the present structure of white supremacy that demands your performance of perfection, self righteousness and “anti-racism” and damns you for not getting it right. 

And secondly and most importantly, it shows up in a rejection of both a black person and woman and thus a black woman correcting you. To have a black woman ask for a different behavior from you is adverse to every ounce of your white indoctrination. Who is lower on the social hierarchy rung than a black woman? Quite frankly, we see that in the way Breonna Taylor’s life was completely disregarded just last week. So the nerve of me, a black woman, to ever assert anything over you? Right? But you’re anti-racist, though?

As I stated earlier on, anti-racism is more than the performance. It is a total restructuring of who we are, what we know and what we find comfort in. It cannot stop at the books, it cannot stop at a conversation, it cannot stop at a Facebook post. It must be in every aspect of your life including in moments with the people you purport to want reconciliation with. So what’re you going to do next when the opportunity to be anti-racist is in front of your face and coming from a black face? You need to decide now.

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3 thoughts on “Everyone Wants to Be Anti-Racist ’til My Black Ass Tells You How”

  1. Wow what a real and honest article! Thank you Bethany! I met you at the Roots of Justice training. I pledge to work to be an antiracist and to be open to being called out so I can continue to grow, learn and heal from the violence of white supremacy.

    Liked by 1 person

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