Stand Against Racism 2017: What you pledged, and where to go from here

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During April, YW Boston led 119 organizations in raising awareness and prompting action towards advancing racial equity through our 2017 Stand Against Racism campaign. Participating groups hosted pledge boards that prompted individuals to reflect on racism and write down what they personally will do to advance racial equity. The pledge boards were hosted by libraries, corporations and businesses of all kinds, nonprofits, government agencies, arts institutions, apartment buildings, and individual advocates, including one who brought her board to the Quincy T-Stop. At least 1,500 people took part in the campaign and made a personal pledge to advance racial equity.

There was a rich diversity of pledges, reflecting the diversity of individuals who took part in the campaign. In general, pledges represented the following themes:

Speaking up

  • “I will have conversations with other people about racism”
  • “I will speak out against hate”
  • “I will be an upstander and encourage others to say and do something when they encounter racial injustice”
  • “Speak up! If I see it, I’m addressing it!”
  • “I will look at [company’s]¬†culture and policies through a racial equity lens and speak up when I see things that should change.”
  • “I will not be silent and sit quiet. I will be loud and proud.”
  • “I¬†will give my voice to those being silenced.”¬†

This was the most common type of pledge. Many people pledged to speak up if they witness interpersonal racist remarks or actions, while others pledged to speak out against institutionalized racism and other forms of racism and racial inequity. There was much said about speaking up, and an awareness of how much is not currently being said. For some people, speaking up when overt racist comments happen is highly uncomfortable, and pledging to speak up in those instances is a growing edge. There are many reasons that our voices can get caught in our throats when speaking up against racism, including power dynamics, fear of losing a job, fear of being retaliated against, or a limited understanding of racism or confidence in what to say.

To help empower people to speak up, we must both provide safety around people naming and calling out racism, and provide more education about¬†racism and the many forms it takes. We talk about racism using the “4 I’s” framework – that racism shows up interpersonally, institutionally, ideologically, and internally. Once people have that understanding, they can more effectively speak up and push the conversation even further beyond eliminating the use of slurs and other explicitly racist comments, to naming and addressing racist policies in institutions and other forms of racism.

However, among these pledges there were quite a few that addressed speaking up for people without a voice.¬†While likely well-meaning, if people with privilege speak over or for others without privilege, it can actually further entrench inequities. Instead, “passing the mic” if you have the privilege to access it is a more effective way to speak up.¬†

Educating oneself, and being accountable for words/actions

  • “I pledge to expand my consciousness to be more aware of and sensitive to use of overt or subtle expressions of racism and racial stereotypes”
  • “Educate myself and others about the roles that African-Americans played and play in the history of the United States”
  • “I will challenge and question my assumptions and biases.”
  • “Be mindful of my thoughts as well as my words.”
  • “I will use inclusive language.”

A large number of people pledged to educate themselves about racism, and to then examine their own thoughts, words, and deeds, and hold themselves accountable. Learning about racism and how it may show up in the world and in yourself is critical to be able to¬†identify your biases and address them.¬†This work is essential to advancing racial equity and is best if practiced regularly, similar to Jay Smooth’s comparison to the work of unlearning racism being like dental hygiene.¬†

A helpful step towards recognizing and being accountable for your own biases is to take the implicit bias test. People of all racial backgrounds harbor biases, and racism does affect everyone Рbut white supremacy means that the biases of white people have real consequences for people of color in terms of safety, resources, and opportunities.

Treat everyone the same, with kindness/love/respect

  • “Smile at all my neighbors”
  • “Don’t talk about races‚Ķ we are all the same”
  • “I pledge to never judge another person on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationally or any other characteristic. I will treat everyone fairly and justicely.”
  • “Our souls are all the same color”
  • “I will lead by example. I will treat all people, no matter race ethnicity or culture with the same level of respect all humans deserve.”

There was a sizable portion of pledges that centered on the message that everyone is the same and should be treated as such. While acknowledging that everyone has equal humanity, dignity, and rights is a critical first step towards eliminating racism, we cannot stop there. This type of message was the foundation of civil rights work in the mid 20th century, and unfortunately some people still are not on board with this basic premise. But, in order to address institutionalized racism and other forms of systemic racial inequity, we must recognize that race does play a large role in people’s experiences, challenges, and opportunities in the world. A “colorblind” attitude is not only counterproductive, but harmful.

As Judith Butler has said, “It is true that all lives matter, but it is equally true that not all lives are understood to matter. Which is precisely why it is most important to name the lives that have not mattered, and are struggling to matter in the way they deserve.”

Celebrate/honor/support people of color

  • “Promote the Latina heritage and contributions we make to society!”
  • “I will find/make a list of local businesses owned by people of color, and share it with friends and colleagues”
  • “I will provide technical assistance and access to capital to Black and Latinx entrepreneurs.”
  • “I will challenge the effects of internalized racism as a person of color, and find ways to center my voice.”
  • “I will coach and empower black women to strengthen their image and feel their worthiness, beauty, and visibility without waiting for permission from others.”
  • “I will disrupt anti-blackness and carry forward the radical traditions of my Black and indigenous ancestors”

Pledges from people of color about celebrating and promoting their heritage were especially heartening to see. We can’t let a¬†focus on identifying and calling out racism suffocate the narratives of the joy of coming from marginalized communities. Creating spaces and opportunities to share affirmations of and for people of color and their stories is critical. ¬†Part of disrupting racism is people of color being supported in unlearning internalized racism, and practicing radical self love and self care.

Beyond celebrating and supporting people of color in an attitudinal and narrative shift, we must do so through our actions. Making a concerted effort to allocate resources and support businesses of color is a direct way to combat the 200-plus years of systemic racism that discriminated against these types of institutions and put roadblocks against them even existing. Look for ways to use resources and allocation of opportunties to right previous injustices.

Focus on the children

  • “I will teach my children the importance of showing respect for others, inclusion, acceptance of differences, and racial equity and equity for everyone”
  • “I will help children wake up.”
  • “Actively expose my children to a variety of cultures and experiences”
  • “I will teach my son how to be a strong black man and I’ll learn from my loved ones how to make a difference in a racist world”
  • “I will teach my grandchildren that everyone should be treated equal!”

Several people put the focus on teaching their children, in the hopes that the next generation will be equipped with the attitudes and skills necessary to create a more racially equitable world. Research shows that implicit racial bias can start as early as preschool, so actively addressing this issue with children is critical. These pledges are important and inspiring Рand, we should always retain the awareness that we can make a change in the now. Youth leaders have a strong legacy of working to advance racial equity in Boston; seek out existing youth-led efforts and support them.

Visit our resources page for more information and guidance on advancing racial equity.