Tag Archives: racism

Allyship in Professional Settings

Written in the Covid-stricken USA during the late July part of the 2020 BLack Lives Matter protests.

I was hired in March for a temporary position without benefits for an employer where I know I will not be able to get a permanent position. This gives me some freedom to perform acts of allyship without fear of losing my job. Any negative consequences of stepping up for others will be minimal in the long run. Given the circumstances, it is worth it to me to risk burning a few bridges if it leaves ash behind that others can turn into soap to use to clean up this mess. And, it is a mess.

Racism, transphobia, ableism, and more. Just like the rest of the USA, our workplace has issues. Our leadership, however, has been outspoken about wishing to correct internal issues of racism. I leveraged that to begin my allyship campaign at my new, temporary workplace. This article describes a portion of what I have done so far in the hopes that others will be able to glean ideas from it.

First, back in June after the Black Lives Matter protests hit a new nationwide height after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, a member of senior management cancelled a weekly casual Zoom meeting and replaced it with one intended to address antiracism. Being someone who is accustomed to discussions on race, I entered the call prepared to listen and learn. Instead, I found myself stifling a series of would-be faceplams on camera and acting primarily out of allyship rather than from a place of learning.

In summary, the meeting was a disaster. The interesting thing about it, though, is that the person who lead it probably left feeling like it was a success. I will skip past a lot of the details for timeliness for you my dear reader, but I don’t think this senior management person noticed that I – not the manager – was the one providing facilitation. I was the one who noticed that white people were talking over each other so fast that even they couldn’t get a word in edge wise, much less a person of color trying to work up the courage to say something in a hostile environment. I was the one who noticed that it was a hostile environment, not the manager. I – the temp who had been there for 3 months – was the one who said things like “Everyone please hold on, [person’s name] was trying to talk. I think your mic is off,” and otherwise creating space for voices of color to be heard amidst the white clamor. A caucophony, if you will excuse the pun.

Almost no voices of color spoke up, and those who did quickly stopped contributing when they saw how the meeting was going. None of the management called people to task for expressing racism. And, there was a lot of expression of racism; the people who were expressing it just did not recognize it for what it was. I don’t know whether the senior management present failed to recognize it or failed to act despite recognizing it, but either way it functioned to sanction and thereby galvanize the racism, regardless of intent. The black faces on the screen sat flat-flipped and silent for the majority of the meeting, only briefly going wide-eyed at the horrible things various white people said before carefully schooling their faces back to cold professionalism. That silence said more to me about the problems with race in my department than anything that the white people rambled on about for the hourlong meeting. The one thing that all of the different black people in the meeting who spoke all said – the thing they were clearly and unambiguously unanimous about despite only barely speaking at all – was that they wanted more of these discussions to happen. This was a start, and only a start, as far as they were concerned. Personally I found that take generous considering how badly that start went, but I kept my mouth shut.

At the end of the meeting, the senior manager asked me to send an email with the books I had recommended during the meeting. The manager was going to send them out to everyone. If that happened, I never got the email.

I thought about how that first antiracism meeting went badly due to the fact that it was lead by someone unqualified to do so. I decided I needed to say something to the senior manager who lead it. Clearly someone needed to, and most or all of the black people there were obviously not comfortable doing so. I wondered whether I should offer to pass on information anonymously, but none of the black people in my department are on my team and I am so new that they have no reason to trust me any more than they do anyone else. I ultimately sent this to the senior manager in the body of an email:

“I would recommend creating an anonymous way for anyone who wants to give you feedback to do so. I imagine this would make anyone of any given minority you aren’t a part of feel more comfortable bringing up issues in the department and criticisms about your handling of related topics.”

The response I got was disheartening. I won’t quote it directly here for privacy reasons, but the senior manager essentially said that anonymous surveys are not offered because they do not allow the senior manager to address the individual. The message also expressed that anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable going to the senior manager directly can go through someone else they do trust. I thought about how I had only been there for 3 months so it was silly to think I would be able to trust someone else enough for something like that. I thought about the silent faces and didn’t think it was reasonable to expect any of them to trust someone else like that either.

The next week’s casual Zoom meeting came, and I had not yet heard anything about another antiracism meeting even though it had been asked for by several people of color, both black and nonblack. So, when the senior manager asked for questions at the end of the casual Zoom meeting, I asked, “I was just wondering when our next antiracism discussion was going to happen.” The senior management expressed surprise that people wanted to talk about it more, then decided to schedule one for the following week. That’s how invisible people who aren’t white are in a working environment with white leadership. This is why we white people need to listen to our black and brown coworkers and reinforce heir voices with our own. I then carefully suggested, “I think if we could have some clearer goals for that meeting it might be a bit more useful.” The senior manager smiled and promised clarity.

Leading up to the second antiracism conversation, I considered the fact that this senior manager should probably not be the person who runs these antiracism talks. These kinds of conversations have a lot of different goals they can encompass, and each one needs something different. For example, if we want to give black employees a place to air their grievances with the company, the expectations and ground rules are going to be a lot different than if we want to systematically go through our policies and look at what might need to change. The first meeting didn’t have any clarity over what kind of meeting it would be, and that is part of why it was unproductive. I sent another email:


I am CCing [my direct supervisor] and [the relevant middle manager] because I’m not entirely certain who the right person is to send this to. I believe that the following are important goals for our antiracism talks:

  • Creating a learning environment about race, racism, and antriacism, especially for white people.
  • Working together to recognize and dismantle racism within ourselves, especially white people.
  • Creating space for people who aren’t white to voice grievances about the racism in our department.
  • Working together to recognize and dismantle the systems of oppression present within our department.

I don’t think we can do all of those things at the same time both because it’s too much all at once and because several of them are contradictory in terms of responsible ground rules. Each one is also big enough that it would make sense to pick just one at a time for each of these meetings. It is my hope that clear goals such as those above will make the next antiracism meeting a bit more productive.

That is why I asked for clear goals to be set for our next antiracism meeting. I realized after the Zoom meeting ended that my request was itself ironically unclear, so that is why I am sending this email with additional context.

I also think it would be a good idea for whoever leads these antiracism meetings to be someone who has experience doing so.


The senior manager’s response started with thanks and went on to inform me about a Zoom event happening the following week put on by an existing inclusion and diversity group for the entire department. According to the email, the antiracism talks for our part of the department were to be put on hiatus until after the bigger event, that way it could be used to inform policy and tactics moving forward.

The contrast between the bigger event and the earlier Zoom meeting was utterly stark. It was well-organized, with speakers prepared to speak on relevant topics in useful ways. I did not learn anything because they were speaking to those who are just beginning to learn about race and racism, but it was heartening that they were so prepared and the questions people asked showed that they were learning a lot. Best of all, they prospered concrete steps for each group in the department to utilize.

Fast forward to late July, and there was another large department Zoom meeting. This one was designed for people to ask questions about anything, so a lot of them were about things like working from home and salaries. However, this was also the first time since I started working here that I saw an anonymous feature in use. In addition to Zoom’s chat window, there was an anonymous question feature that displayed people’s anonymous questions in a secondary chat for everyone to see. There was also a thumbs up feature, and questions with more “thumbs up” responses got boosted further towards the top of the list.

At the top with the most thumbs up was the question: “When can we expect to see a coherent and transparent plan to address the rampant racism and transphobia in [our departement]?” There were also a slew of other questions, each with their own collection of thumbs up, that made it very clear that there are several people who are very unhappy with the working environment due to these axes of oppression. For context: these questions got as many or more thumbs up reactions as the questions that didn’t have anything to do with social equity.

The senior-senior management team’s response to these questions? Waving it away, denial of there actually being issues, and an admission of not having any plan to make a plan. Somehow the same managers who said things like, “Without more data we can’t really be sure these things are happening” also said things like “If someone really thinks this is happening, they are welcome to come talk to me privately about it.” No one is going to have enough trust left to talk to a manger privately about a serious issue after that manager makes it clear they don’t and won’t be taking it seriously.

One of the managers was new and spent very little time speaking except during introductions, as new people often like to listen more than speak. This was the new manager’s first big meeting. This manager is also black and went from smiling the smile of a giddy new-hire excited to work their new job to the same careful mask worn by the other black people in that first awful antiracism meeting in June.

Yesterday, the senior manager for our part of the department (the same one who had run that first antiracism meeting back in June) had a follow up meeting with us. The email invitation said it would be to discuss working from home, transitioning back to working in person, or anything else from the big meeting that people felt like discussing. This senior manager opened the Zoom meeting with something along the lines of, “This session is for you, does anyone have any questions?”

After a long pause and some chuckling comments about no one wanting to speak up, a middle manager decided to go first. “I found it very informative just how strongly people are feeling about their working environment right now,” the middle manager said carefully. I wondered whether this referred to all the people who hate working from home while their kids were also home, or to all the people who were feeling marginalized because of race or gender.

The senior manager decided it meant the first one and went on for about 5 minutes about working from home, the stressors involved in that, transitioning back to the office, and what that might entail. The middle manager politely waited for the senior manager to finish talking and then clarified: “I was referring more to the people who were expressing concerns about racism, and disparity in pay, and things like that.”

The senior manager was probably embarrassed, and awkwardly repeatedly gave assurances that we can talk about that if it is what people wanted to do. Awkward chuckles and comments came from both managers, and then I asked if I could ask a question. The senior manager welcomed it warmly.

“It seems like a lot of the questions to that end, whether it was racism or transphobia, got rather hand wavy answers. I saw a question on the anonymous chat that was up there towards the top of the list, and I’d like to ask it here: When can we expect a coherent and transparent plan for addressing these things?”

That was enough to get the ball rolling. I was able to sit back and listen, learn a little, and watch as the team finally began to start moving towards taking real action instead of just talking about how important it is to take action.

At some point the conversation moved to trying to adjust hiring practices to ensure a wider diversity in hiring. During this, the senior manager said something about trying to get the gender balance to be 50-50, and a few other transphobic/binarist remarks. I finally spoke up again and asked, “[Senior manger], are you open to some feedback?” The senior manager said yes, so in front of all 20 or so people who work under this senior manger, I quoted the manager’s own words a few times and said, “I would like to remind you that there are more than two genders, so if you really do want this to be ‘an inclusive and welcoming place,’ you might want to consider adjusting your language. It can never be ’50-50′ if it is actually inclusive.”

The senior manager responded by thanking me for the feedback and expressing an intention to do better moving forward. A coworker privately messaged me emojis of clapping hands and called me courageous, saying, “I have never seen someone call [senior manager] out like that!

The next time I spoke up, I wrote out what I had to say ahead of time for the sake of getting through it all despite nerves. In fact, I had written this up before the meeting even started specifically because it needed to be said, and of all my coworkers, I risk the least by speaking up. I put it on a Notepad window directly below my camera and made the window super narrow to minimize eye movement from reading. Our senior manager is so verbose that I was able to edit it to match the nuances of the context of the moment I chose to speak up prior to unmuting my mic. That moment came when the senior manager said something which had been said so many times before: “I would hope anyone who has a concern would feel comfortable talking to me directly.”

I asked to speak to that point, and then said this (which I have done my best to edit to match the words that I ended up actually saying):

“I think it’s important to talk about the intricacies of how the power dynamics involved in leadership roles preclude people from speaking up. By their very nature, the kinds of issues that marginalize people also break down the trust that is necessary to speak up about those issues. Since we know that those issues exist, and we know that we have serious problems in [our department] with racism and transphobia and perhaps other axes of oppression as well, it makes sense to be sensitive to the fact that people on the harmed ends of these spectrums risk a lot when speaking up. Whether it’s a promotion or the chance for a temp like me to get a permanent position or whatever it is, marginalized people are unlikely to be without fear of being passed over for these things or otherwise treated poorly for speaking up. I know I mentioned to you before that I believe it is important to have an anonymous feedback mechanism. This is why. Asking people to trust a leader enough to speak to them directly when they are a leader in a department that marginalizes those people doesn’t make much sense in light of these dynamics, regardless of good intentions. Regardless of your very clear and obvious good intentions.”

I muted my mic again. The conversation immediately progressed to how to go about creating anonymous feedback systems with multiple active participants already on board with the idea. Concerns were raised about how to ensure that it is truly anonymous, considering we are a department of IT people and that means we all know the data exists somewhere if you have to log in with your company login credentials to access the form. A very productive and efficient conversation ensued about the logistics of putting together something that people can actually trust.

The coworker who had messaged me privately before sent a private new message that said, “I would have expected the language you used to be used in an upper level seminar course on power dynamics and institutionalized gender discrimination.”

I talk to a lot of queer people in my spare time. It’s kind of like informal grad school lol,” I responded. Please note dear reader that I used the word “queer” knowing my coworker is about my age. Older LGBTQIA people are often still stung deeply when they hear that word so I do my best to avoid using it as a blanket word when speaking in groups.

In our private chat, this coworker – who has been there for many years – told me that it is very good for this department to be exposed to this language.

Meanwhile, the conversation on the Zoom meeting returned to hiring practices. People threw out some well-researched ideas that have been implemented by other organizations with great success, such wiping names from resumes and CVs before handing them to the hiring committee to remove bias from perceived race and gender, something which studies show happen even when people don’t think they are exhibiting this bias. Look up “unconscious bias in hiring” for more information.

The senior manager voiced support of all ideas that were discussed. It was the first meeting larger than my small immediate team that I have attended since I was hired in March that seemed to be productive in any capacity whatsoever, much less within this context. It would not have been productive if people had not decided to talk about racial inequity even though it is uncomfortable.

After the meeting ended, someone I have never met thanked me privately for speaking up, saying that it made the meeting purposeful and productive, and expressing fear that if they speak up, it risks too much, so they will not be doing so. Speaking up makes a difference for those who can’t. That is why I do it, and that is why I recommend you do it too.

The Helpers

Many of us remember what Mr. Rogers told us to do as children when things got scary: “Look for the helpers.” As for adults, we are to be those helpers.

As I watch buildings burn and police turn several kinds of military grade weapons on peaceful protests across the nation (USA), I have been doing both. I’ve been looking for the helpers, and doing my best to be one myself.

Here in Seattle we’ve got Seattle Police Department (SPD), SWAT, and National Guard. Over the past week or so, peaceful protesters have gathered daily at the East Precinct in Capitol Hill, Seattle’s historically gay neighborhood. Police have been using every excuse they can to teargas the crowd, or throw flashbang grenades into their midst, or any one of a number of other weapons that are clearly not intended for deescalation.

We have that on video, thanks to Jessica Frost, who held her phone out of her apartment window above the police line for over six hours to broadcast live via her Facebook profile, where you can find daily recordings. Some of them are also posted to Brandon Frost’s profile as well. Eventually they asked the community for help obtaining equipment. They have gone from one cell phone held precariously out a window to six cameras streaming simultaneously to get more evidence and more views. The Frost feeds are going to be key in future lawsuits and to historians.

Jessica didn’t keep her phone out of the window all night that first night though. She had to close the window to protect herself and Brandon from the clouds of tear gas. You can hear her coughing in the video even with the windows closed.

This picture was taken on June 2 at 7:14am of the streets of Seattle. That’s not fog. That’s tear gas:

An image of Seattle streets. In the distance, skyscrapers are below an orange sunrise sky. The streets are filled with teargas that looks like slightly yellow fog. Faint figures of people gathered in the street are visible in the gas.
An image of Seattle streets. In the distance, skyscrapers are below an orange sunrise sky. The streets are filled with teargas that looks like slightly yellow fog. Faint figures of people gathered in the street are visible in the gas.

Night after night, people have gathered at the East Precinct. Night after night, things have turned violent when the police attacked the protesters with war-grade weapons. Except the tear gas – that may not count as war grade since it’s been banned from use in war by the Geneva Convention. Anyway, night after night, people have regrouped and continued to stand their ground. Leaders have actively worked to keep the crowd peaceful. Protesters work to stop the few who would cause trouble from doing so. You can see all of this on the Frost feeds.

Local to the area, you can find maybe three to six other protests happening on any given day. None of these get much if any attention from the news. None of these turn violent. None of these have any real police response. Go figure. When the police don’t attack, things stay peaceful. SPD has proven daily this week that they are incompetent and violent when it comes to handling peaceful gatherings that they don’t like.

Now of course, all of this is happening because people in America are suddenly taking racism seriously and protesting against it. (If you’re thinking “Racism? What racism?” this article from the Thai Enquirer does a good job summarizing it.) George Floyd may have been the martyr that drew people together, but it could easily have been Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Darrien Hunt, or any other number of black Americans to die at the hands of police in the past few weeks. Or any of the over 600 black Americans to be shot to death by police in the last 2 or 3 years. America has a problem, and we’ve decided to fix it. The police don’t like that. It’s probably because they’re part of the problem and, as other writers have said, “they are allergic to accountability.” I’ll get back to this in a moment.

Before this week, I wasn’t sure what an anarchist was. If I’m being honest, I’m still not, but what I have seen in the past week has made it clear that “anarchy” in practice is not equivalent to “chaos,” despite everything I’ve heard about the word from teachers, politicians, and other people who aren’t anarchists. My anarchist friends have told me this repeatedly, but this week I got to see it in action.

As I watched across social media and other platforms, anarchists individually identified needs and choose which ones to fill on their own, all while respecting the Black Lives Matter movement’s leaders. People with medical training set up first aid kits or stations. Some of them asked for medical supplies, food, or water. People with supplies or money provided them. People with vehicles drove the supplies.

People who heard what the leaders wanted passed that information on via several types of platforms so that people could use it to inform their decisions. It’s a large part of why the protests have stayed peaceful; some of the local anarchists heard the leaders wanted a peaceful protest, and have been helping to enforce that up at the police line where the instigators tend to congregate.

Someone with a whole lot of tech savvy coordinated some of the communication and connected people with needs to people with resources. This included coordinating emergency rides and other immediate needs, since 911 is not a reliable place for people who are protesting police brutality and systemic racism to get help. Others with tech savvy backed up the recordings of the Frost feeds to ensure that the police couldn’t eliminate this vital evidence by deleting the posts from the Frost profiles.

All of these efforts combine into moments like the one shown in this Facebook post:

Facebook post from June 3rd at 2:49pm reads, "Sending someone downtown with lunches, masks & water. We're also at Cal Anderson 11/Pine w/more lunches provided by Weld - PBJ, grapes. Trail mix & lemonade. Med supplies too" and is accompanied by two photos. The one to the left shows a person holding a handwritten sign that reads "FREE FOOD!! WATER AND MED SUPPLIES!!" The person is wearing a hat and face covering. The picture to the right shows food in an open cooler.
Facebook post from June 3rd at 2:49pm reads, “Sending someone downtown with lunches, masks & water. We’re also at Cal Anderson 11/Pine w/more lunches provided by Weld – PBJ, grapes. Trail mix & lemonade. Med supplies too” and is accompanied by two photos. The one to the left shows a person holding a handwritten sign that reads “FREE FOOD!! WATER AND MED SUPPLIES!!” The person is wearing a hat and face covering. The picture to the right shows food in an open cooler.

When I asked the person who posted that for permission to post it here, it was happily given. This person also asked me to emphasize that if you wish to provide supplies, make sure they are supplies people have actually asked for. Some people, wanting to be helpful, did not properly coordinate to ensure they were providing things that people actually needed, which meant that this person has gotten stuck with a lot of unneeded items at the end of protests.

On the note of supplies, the supply lists I’ve seen floating around from people asking for donated supplies have things like “water,” “umbrellas,” and “Sharpies” on them. Not one weapon is on any of the supply lists I have seen. Here is one of the most recent supply lists to cross my path. I have hidden the location because on the night of June 7th/June 8th, police or one of the agencies they were working with tossed explosive weapons directly into the medical care area.

A screen shot of a list is titled "Additional request for today:" and has the following items listed on bullet points: "Toilet paper, hot drink mixes, new socks, hand sanitizer, freshly clean blankets (Covid concern), hot cups and lids, helmets, clear goggles, impact resistant eye wear, energy drinks." The bottom says "Supplies can be brought to..." and the next word is censored.
A screen shot of a list is titled “Additional request for today:” and has the following items listed on bullet points: “Toilet paper, hot drink mixes, new socks, hand sanitizer, freshly clean blankets (Covid concern), hot cups and lids, helmets, clear goggles, impact resistant eye wear, energy drinks.” The bottom says “Supplies can be brought to…” and the next word is censored.

Not all of the people I have described above self-describe as anarchists. Many of them do, and several of those who do have been vocal about this kind of community networking and support being part of what anarchy means to them. I have learned from watching this unfold that I do not know what anarchy is. I’m writing about it here because whatever it is, it’s not what the mainstream narrative says it is.

Despite the fact that the protesters are unarmed and the police are fully armored, the police have been acting as though an umbrella is a weapon and have responded with tear gas and other outrageously overblown responses to the point that a pink umbrella has become a symbol of both peaceful protest and SPD violence towards peaceful protesters. Their overreaction to umbrellas and tossed plastic water bottles has prompted a series of memes, one of which found its way onto a protester’s sign:

A protester in Settle holds up a large cardboard sign near a line of SPD officers, with a National Guard soldier visible behind the police. The sign has a giant printout of the "is this a pidgeon" meme edited for the occasion. The person is wearing an SPD shirt and shoulder badge, a SPD face shield, and is gesturing at a water bottle in mid air where the butterfly was on the original meme. It is captioned, "is this a riot?"
A protester in Settle holds up a large cardboard sign near a line of SPD officers, with a National Guard soldier visible behind the police. The sign has a giant printout of the “is this a pidgeon” meme edited for the occasion. The person in the meme has been edited and is now wearing an SPD shirt and shoulder badge, an SPD face shield, and is gesturing at a water bottle in mid air where the butterfly was on the original meme. It is captioned, “Is this a riot?”

Let’s get back to the bottom line of what is going on: The USA is built on and was in a literal sense built by a racist system of hierarchical oppression, and people are fed up with it. It is time to make changes that have been needed for hundreds of years. This requires the people in power to lose some of their power, and that will not happen without some kind of fight. That’s what we are seeing. That’s why the police are protecting their precincts instead of the people who would like to see police dismantled, reformed, defunded, and/or abolished. All they need to do to end the violence is stop causing it. Instead, they are attacking people.

Mr. Rogers told us as kids to look for the helpers. Now is our time as adults to be the helpers. That doesn’t have to mean going to a protest, handing out supplies, or providing them as described above. It can also mean writing to your representatives to demand changes, asking your police chief or mayor to step down if you are in a city where police are being violent, or any other number of political actions. You can look at local, county, state, and federal levels and contact every one of your representatives. Every time you contact a politician, it’s like getting a bonus vote.

And, if you are white like me, you may have the most power of all to make lasting change that goes well beyond the correction of police brutality towards people of color, which is only one of the symptoms of the problem. Our minds grew up surrounded by racism. It is not possible to grow up white in America without being influenced into thinking in racist ways even if we do not realize it. We have the ability and responsibility to do the work to learn to recognize that and dismantle it, both within ourselves and for the systems of oppression we live within.

If you haven’t ever thought much about race, now is the time to start educating yourself. If you have already started your journey towards understanding race and racism and your racist family frustrates you but you haven’t had frank conversations with them about it, now is the time to have those hard conversations. We must change the way we as white people think about race and racism to be more in alignment with reality, allyship, and antiracism before black lives in the USA will be treated as though they really do matter. This is the part that isn’t fun, doesn’t show up on news, and can feel the least rewarding, but it is also absolutely vital for any meaningful change to occur.

Also, my dear fellow white Americans, you know that awful feeling you get when someone else who doesn’t know you all that well thinks they know better than you do what you need? Black people are sick and tired of white people trying to tell them how to protest, how to be black, how to go about reaching a place of equality, and so on. We have never been black, so it is ridiculous to think we can know better than they do what it is that they need. Listen to them first before taking actions to support their needs. That way you’ll actually have the information you need to make good choices about your actions.

From something as silly and annoying as bringing unneeded supplies that nobody asked for, to something as serious and racist as accidentally silencing the voices of the people you’re trying to uplift, everything about this will go better if you listen first, then act accordingly. If you’re not used to that, start by following some black leaders on social media, such as John Boyega, one of these bloggers, Senator Cory Booker, and countless others. Find at least ten. Read, don’t comment. While you’re at it, follow some leaders of other races as well. Other axes of racism work differently than the white-black axis, and we need to educate ourselves about all of them.

Here is the Netflix documentary “13th,” free on YouTube, filled with relevant history and context:

Our ancestors did not fix the system. That’s on them. It follows that if we do not fix the system, that’s on us. It’s time to be one of the helpers.

This topic was selected by the author’s Patreon patrons.

Intro to Personal Anti-Racism in America

I want to preface this by saying that I am a white American, and the target audience for this particular piece is any white adult in the USA who is against racism but may not have really dived into racial dynamics and anti-racism very much yet. If you’re a kid, you can still read this, but some things may not quite apply to you, and you may not have some of the information this piece assumes the reader has, which might make it difficult to understand in some places.

With that context established, I would like to invite you to take a moment to prepare yourself for this content. Remember that America was in a very real and literal sense built on the backs of slaves on land stolen through genocide of several different groups, many of whom are still here and fighting for the return of their ancestral lands, because unlike Africa, this continent was never decolonized. Remember that as history progressed, the powers that kept people of color down persisted, changed forms, and were enacted on every nonwhite racial group to arrive here.

These powers and influences are still all around us. We are steeping in them. Remind yourself that you are merely human, which means these influences have impacted the way you think in ways beyond your awareness. Remind yourself that it is up to us, today’s white people in America, to do whatever we can to correct the way we think about and handle race, because no one is going to do it for us. We can’t usually do that while feeling comfortable. That means this piece will likely be uncomfortable to read at times, and that’s okay, because that is part of how progress towards racial equity happens. This kind of discomfort doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It means you’re an improving person, which is truly the best you can do. Ready? Here we go.

The first prerequisite for doing anti-racist work on a personal scale is this: We must acknowledge the extreme levels of racism swirling all around us in the USA.

Our culture, society, and government are racist in function and value white people above people of any other race. We can see this in the numbers, with black people being disproportionately turned away for jobs and promotions, indigenous women being murdered at an astounding rate, black men and boys being disproportionately murdered by police, and so on. We can see it in the actions of our government during the lifetimes of today’s population, such as the forced internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, and of course the Trump administration’s despicable handling of immigrant and refugee families at the southern border, enacting atrocities which aren’t being applied to white immigrant and refugee families arriving from predominantly white nations.

We can also see the pervasiveness of racism by opening our eyes and following Americans of color on blogs and social media, and by opening our hearts to the truth of what people of color are saying about their daily experiences with racism of various scales both to our faces and all over the internet every day. Too many of us brush these things away as exceptions, as not true, or as not significant. Until we accept the fact that people of color experience racism daily on scales that range from racist comments, to systemic threats to one’s livelihood and home, to various forms of racially charged murder and other bodily harm, we cannot begin to do our necessary work because we are limiting ourselves through willful ignorance. The evidence is there; there is no valid excuse to ignore it now that we are adults and responsible for our own knowledge.

Most of us white Americans grew up not seeing any of this, perhaps even being taught that racism was a thing of the past. Indeed, many American high school history and sociology textbooks happily point out the “post-racial” nature of America as if this concept was somehow true. But, as white adults, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves and make sure we understand reality now. We have the most power out of any racial demographic to uphold or change the way systems work here. We have so much power, in fact, that both our actions and our inaction matter and have real consequences for ourselves and others. We must use this power responsibly and with intention. To do that, we need to learn about and acknowledge the reality of racial inequity in America. We cannot bury our heads in the sand, or our neighbors and community members of color will continue to suffer. Their continued suffering will be on us, just as the suffering of their ancestors was on our ancestors.

The second prerequisite is this: We must understand that we (white Americans) all enact racism, often without even realizing it.

The idea that we white people could grow up surrounded by so much suffering and not even see it astounds me, and yet this appears to be a frequent experience. We don’t suffer due to our race, so we don’t know what it is like and have no personal evidence that it happens to others. We weren’t adequately educated about racial dynamics in school, so we have little to no academic knowledge of it. We were raised by generations that believed racial blindness was the answer to fixing racism (it’s actually racist), so we have little to no immediate community culture that supports the concept of racial harm being real.

So, it makes sense that when we were growing up white in America, we didn’t really have any way to know about the existence of racial inequities, much less which specific actions or systems cause racial suffering for people of any given nonwhite race.

If we don’t know which actions or systems cause people of color to suffer, then it is impossible to conclude that we are avoiding doing or contributing to those actions or systems. We can’t fix what we can’t recognize, so we are given no means by which to prevent ourselves from inadvertently furthering the racial harms in America. In other words, the system we were born into creates racism within ourselves beyond our own awareness, regardless of our good intentions. This in turn means that inaction with regards to our own self-education as adults supports racism, both within ourselves and the structures in place around us.

On the occasion that a person of color tries to explain the existence or experience of racism to us before we have done the work to educate ourselves, and before we have accepted that racism real and “post-racial America” is a myth, that person’s words are so at odds with everything we think we know that we tend not to believe them. Nobody likes being treated as if their experiences didn’t happen, and it’s got an extra layer of oppression when there are racial dynamics involved like this. This is a common example of a way in which white people are directly racist to people of color without even knowing it. This particular kind of racism makes many people of color understandably less inclined to talk to white people about racism.

Here is a more specific example of unwitting racism from a study described in a post from Psychology Today:

Race can also play a role in evaluations of performance and achievement. In one experiment, law firm partners were asked to evaluate a memorandum supposedly written by a third-year associate named Tom Meyer.  Half of the partners were led to believe the Meyer was black and the other half that he was white. The partners found twice as many spelling and grammatical errors in the memorandum they thought was written by “black” Tom Meyer than “white” Tom Meyer. And their comments suggested very different assessments of the associate’s capacity:  White Tom Meyer was described as having “potential” and “good analytical skills”;  black Tom Meyer  by contrast, “needs lots of work” and is “average at best.” One partner stated he “couldn’t believe [the associate] went to NYU.” It is doubtful the partners who read and commented on the memorandum saw themselves as racist, but subconscious ideas about academic ability clearly guided their appraisals.

Excerpt From “Racial Dynamics in Education and Health Care” by By Rachel D. Godsil and Linda R. Tropp

You and I, being mere humans, are not immune to this phenomenon. Accepting that we have these internal biases allows us to seek them out and work to dismantle them. We can’t do that work without accepting and recognizing our biases for what they are.

With all that in mind, we can begin to do the work to discern and dismantle racism in ourselves and our immediate spheres of influence.

We cannot do this work until we give ourselves a basic understanding of what the heck is going on. We must give ourselves the education that the public system failed to provide. Once you begin to have an understanding of racial dynamics, you will be better equipped to direct your own re-education, and to have enough context to do things like look up answers to why a person of color told you that something you did or said was racist. This will be a lifelong process with a steep initial learning curve. Why not get started now, with everything shut down anyway?

Here is your initial homework to get you started:

  1. Look up the racial demographics of your state, county, and city.
  2. Find out which indigenous people lived in your area before colonization, and which do now.
  3. Pick one of the racial groups you found above.
  4. Look up “what is it like to be [x] in America” on the internet. Find something written on the subject by someone of that race, and read it.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you have an initial idea of the racial situation of your city.
  6. Bonus: Repeat steps 3 and 4 for your the races in your whole county or state.

For those who prefer books, check your local library’s online catalog for downloadable e-books and audio books to maintain isolation to fight this global pandemic. A suggestion to get you started: “Racism in American Popular Media: From Aunt Jemima to the Frito Bandito,” by Brian D. Behnken and Gregory D. Smithers (part of the “Racism in American Institutions” series).

Transphobia and Racism

Anthropologists are aware that there are a plethora of genders around the world. Whether we are talking about gender identity or cultural gender, which are two distinctly different concepts, this remains true. Refusal to accept the reality of the existence of more than 2 genders is refusal to acknowledge the validity of many of the world’s cultures. This is therefore a form of racism or cultural supremacy rising up under the mask of transphobia and/or binarism.

Modern Western imperialism has its roots in the 15th century when various European nations began colonizing other people’s countries, glorifying it as “discovery” and justifying it by insisting that the people who already lived there were animals, not people. This likely played in to their immediate dismissal of cultural differences as “wrong” or “inferior.” Several cultures around the globe enjoyed the freedom of multiple recognized genders before their lands, societies, and resources were taken over by European colonizers, missionaries, and so on. These freedoms often also extended to general acceptance of various relationships that we might call LGBQ through our modern, Western lens. These were among the other freedoms European colonizers squashed during their whitewashing of the cultures of other nations.

Examples for further reading of case studies include:

Decolonization began in some continents in 1945, five centuries after colonization began, and never happened in North America. While many countries regained their independence, it wasn’t until after devastating impacts on their cultures were enacted by the withdrawing conquerors and entrenched over periods of time that were sometimes hundreds of years and multiple generations long. For example, 34 countries in Africa now outlaw homosexuality as of this writing. This isn’t surprising, when we consider that the colonizers came from Europe and 17 European countries still require sterilization of transgender people to this day. Sexual orientation and gender aren’t the same thing, but European rigid requirements around gender include rigid requirements around sexual orientation because their concept of sexual orientation is based upon gender. Thus, many of the world’s nations that are currently very hostile to LGBT people weren’t always that way, and only became that way because of the influence of missionaries and conquering nations from European (and later, American) origin. Nations beginning to relax their death grip on LGBT existence and behavior as transgender and queer rights are slowly won back is thus an aspect of modern decolonization.

North America was never decolonized. Canada and the United States continue to engage in genocide towards indigenous peoples. The fact that most of the states in the United States only recognize two genders legally despite the existence of several indigenous genders is part of this. Our societal and legal refusal to recognize that genitals do not necessarily define gender, and that there are more than two genders, is an extension of the same racism and cultural supremacy that fuels ongoing genocide of various indigenous peoples, that brought anti-gay laws to multiple continents that did not previously have them, and which we must actively combat both within our own minds and at all levels of government if we wish to undo the ongoing evils of those who came before us, and which are still enacted by many of the people around us.

This topic was selected by the author’s Patreon patrons.

Transphobia and Racism are Inseparable in Western Cultures

In this article, “(x)” is used to provide links to sources for and further reading related to preceding sentences.

When people of various European nations colonized huge chunks of the planet, part of the process involved replacing aspects of the cultures they conquered with aspects of their own. (x) In this process, genders and sexualities that did not fit into their beliefs were purged along with any religious or spiritual practices that could not be folded into the conquering nation’s Christian ideals. (You can read more about Christianity as a tool of colonialism here and here.)

Across the planet, people of various cultures have had more than two genders for a very long time, such as the Navajo, ancient Jewish societies, the Bugis of Indonesia, and many more. These were often erased by white colonialism, just as queerness was also vilified. After generations passed, cultures which once held space for various kinds of LGBTQIA people lost that capacity. India is a great example of this. Where they once had more than two genders and some branches of the Hindu religion celebrated same-sex love, it is now unsafe to be openly gay in much of the country and people who aren’t men or women are now highly stigmatized. The original law that criminalized same-sex action was put in place under British rule, which ended in 1947, but it wasn’t overturned until 2018 due to the lasting destructive impact of British colonialism on Indian culture. (x) You can watch a short interview with India’s openly gay prince from right before that decision here. Like India, many countries’ homophobic laws came directly from British rule. In fact, CNN says:

“Of the 71 countries around the world in which same-sex sexual relations are illegal, it’s no coincidence that more than half are former British colonies or protectorates, according to research provided by the International LGBTI Association.” (x)

Some cultures have retained their original concepts of gender and sexuality despite the erasure efforts of those inflicting genocide upon them. These cultures are still alive and well. Choosing to insist that the only genders which exist are those recognized by one’s own culture is thus an act of cultural supremacy, and one which feeds into the racist legacy of white colonialism. Transphobia and racism are inseparable in this way.