Want to be Anti-Racist? Begin by Looking Within
“Our job is to spark the genius of everyone around us, set them on fire, and let them loose into the world to radically transform it.” -Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead
How to Spark the Genius of Everyone
In her virtual presentation in the Loyola University Aspire series, Dismantling Racism: Where do I Begin?, Dr. Whitehead suggested that it is necessary for each of us, regardless of our starting point, to do the personal exploration to prepare ourselves with knowledge and an understanding of our own relationship with racism and privilege. This “work” is a logical and essential first step in becoming anti-racist and, ultimately, in creating transformative change. For many, this is not an easy step, but fortunately, Dr. Whitehead offered a roadmap to help us on this journey towards self-awareness:
1. Learn what racism is and how it has evolved
To become anti-racist and create transformative change, it first is necessary to understand what racism is and its deep roots in the United States. While this first step may sound obvious, for many (and for white people specifically), this means learning a more expansive and inclusive historical narrative that acknowledges the white supremacist foundations of this nation. Citing the work of Nikole Hanna-Jones on the 1619 Project and the scholarship of Dr. Ira Berlin, Dr. Whitehead emphasized that by 1661 the southern colonies had legalized slavery to drive their plantation-based economy and, thus, transitioned America from a society “with slaves” to a “slave society.” This distinction and the social, political, and racial hierarchy that emerged from it created a legacy that is still present today in all aspects of American life, from the education system to social hierarchies.
2. Examine your own lived experience and its power to influence and shape your decisions and actions
The context of our lives matters. Our personal experiences affect how we see systemic racism, whiteness and our own relationship with privilege. Consider the ways in which certain identifiers have been normalized (race/white, gender identity/cisgender, biological sex/male, etc.) and therefore privileged in U.S. society. What is our relationship to the “norm”? How do these qualities intersect with one another to affect our lived experience? In those areas where we experience an unearned advantage, how are we using it to create space and opportunities for people who do not?
3. Practice meta-cognition
Metacognition is the process of thinking about one’s own thinking, and it is a necessary tool for building greater self-awareness and engaging in productive discussion about race, social justice and peace. In any given moment, we must analyze our own thought process and ask: “Where did I get my ideas about race?” Where do I sit with the question of race? Where am I in the development of my own racial identity awareness?” and much more. This practice will provide us with greater knowledge of our thoughts and behaviors and can influence the actions we take.
4. Speak up and speak out
With a greater awareness of our own position in society, we have the capacity to “bend privilege” toward equity and justice. If we consider the example of race, more white advocates are needed, as they can move into spaces where Black and Brown voices may be discounted, and encourage other white people to pick up that burden. If you are white, are you giving up your own space to make room for people of color? Or, if you identify as male, are you creating space and opportunities for women, particularly women of color, and trans individuals?
Dr. Whitehead calls for us to “spark the genius of everyone around us and set them on fire.” In turn, those around us can use their flame to ignite the genius of those around them and so on. It’s remarkable to consider that the simple reflective act of looking in the mirror is the first step on a course to radically change ourselves, others and our world.
Hear directly from Dr. Whitehead in S1.E4. Learning to Bend Privilege of our Leading the Emergence podcast series.