As I’ve mentioned, recently I’ve received an increased number of messages from white friends and acquaintances asking me for suggestions of ways they can help fight racism. Thus the bold title of this post, a question I am hesitant to claim to be able to answer. I understand folks are reaching out to me because I am someone in their circle who has been studying and working on this issue for years. I also know that, as a white person, I have been taught to believe in the superiority of my opinions, and I realize that we all are socialized to privilege white answers to any question. This is part of the culture of white supremacy we are trying to dismantle.
It is crucial that, in this struggle for liberation, we turn to black and brown leaders for guidance on what steps to take and how. Towards this end, I feature local leaders of color on this blog regularly, voices to tune in to. The internet can offer a wealth of others. Of course, folks will have differing opinions on everything. There are a myriad of strategies. This stuff is complicated. Keep listening.
In addition, we must make ongoing efforts to learn about and honestly look at how racism works in the world and within ourselves. The discomfort this will cause is part of the work.
Those points made, I still want to respond to those who have reached out with me. Particularly those who are paralyzed by not knowing where to start.
One of the things I appreciate about DeWayne Barton’s Pearson Plan for “Rebuilding Affrilachia” is that it encourages each of to figure out what is our “lane.” As I stated in a recent post, if you are ready to do something about racism, you can work from where you are. Do you know your neighbors? How can your neighborhood be more equitable? What conversations can you have with your friends? Beyond that, are there manifestations of institutional racism in your workplace that can be addressed? Is there a board or group you are a part of that could stand to be more inclusive? Etc.
As you look more closely at what can be done from where you are, there are many local resources to inform your efforts, including the Center for Participatory Change, the Center for Diversity Education and the WNC Diversity Engagement Coalition. The Adaway Group has an upcoming program, “Diversity is an Asset,” that I am sure many people in Asheville could benefit from. Maybe your boss is one of those people.
If you are looking to work at a community-wide level, I have heard local Black Lives Matter leaders speak of using the State of Black Asheville report as a framework for their work, with the idea of having teams addressing each category of disparities. The categories in the report are Education, Health Care, Housing, Criminal Justice, Economics, and Culture. Which of those areas do you feel must capable of addressing? All of these areas are interrelated, of course, but may be overwhelming to act on at once. An idea would be to choose an area that resonates with you/fits with your assets, learn as much as you can about it, act. This would include finding out what grassroots, people of color led groups are working on that issue, asking them what type of support they need, and helping to connect them to that support. For example, ABIPA works on health care. For criminal justice, I know the Asheville Black Lives Matter group is promoting the Campaign Zero platform of solutions that you could lend your weight to.
Another key component of the Pearson Plan is a focus on youth. What can we offer the next generation? What barriers can we remove, what pathways to opportunity can be created or enhanced? I am impressed by the grassroots, people of color led programs for young people that we have in Asheville. Groups doing powerful work with limited resources. Below is a list of programs on my radar, with links to their Facebook pages.
My Community Matters Empowerment Program
YTL Training Program
Christine W. Avery Learning Center (Summer STARS program)
Word on the Street (Youth-run online magazine, starting soon)
Nuestro Centro’s Raices (culture and dance program)
My Daddy Taught Me That
My Sistah Taught Me That
If you’re looking at the disparities outlined in the education section of the State of Black Asheville report, while you are studying policy and systemic changes that need to be advocated for, you might also consider tutoring an elementary school student this year, though Read to Succeed Asheville, or at one of our city’s many after school programs.
Spending money on and helping to promote businesses and events led by people of color are concrete actions that, though small, can be part of cumulative efforts towards equity.
Clearly, this is is not a comprehensive answer to the big question posed in the title of this post. Instead, it is food for thought as we each answer the question for ourselves. Hopefully these ideas can be starting place for those who want to shake free of paralysis and determine what steps to take towards challenging the systemic oppression of people of color. If you are someone who is already in motion, you are encouraged to add to this by offering suggestions in the comments section for my white friends who are wondering what to do about racism.
Last but not least, I encourage you to read the Movement for Black Lives Policy For Change Platform, a powerful vision for black power, freedom, and justice.