Social Justice Usage
Source: Kendi, Ibram X., How To Be an Antiracist (p. 9). Random House. Kindle Edition.
The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” It is “anti-racist.” What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of “not racist.” The claim of “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism. This may seem harsh, but it’s important at the outset that we apply one of the core principles of antiracism, which is to return the word “racist” itself back to its proper usage. “Racist” is not—as Richard Spencer argues—a pejorative. It is not the worst word in the English language; it is not the equivalent of a slur. It is descriptive, and the only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it—and then dismantle it.
New Discourses Commentary
This definition, which does not merely mean “against racism,” as one might assume of the term, is absolutely standard in Social Justice. In fact, it reflects the core tenet of critical race Theory that racism is ordinary and pervades everything. As may be seen in Kendi’s use of the word “inequities,” antiracism is to be thought of in terms of equity, not equality.
In critical race Theory, it is simply impossible for racism to be absent from any situation. One may be actively racist by perpetuating racial prejudice and discrimination against non-white people (particularly black people), or passively racist by failing to notice racism in oneself or others and thus failing to address it. Both of these are bad. One can only be “antiracist” by noticing racism all the time, in every person and every situation, even when it is not readily apparent (or a fair reading of the situation—see also, close reading and problematizing), and “calling it out.” This is understood to have the effect of making racism visible to everyone and enabling it to be dismantled (see also, consciousness raising, critical consciousness, and wokeness).
The identification of racism against non-white people in any situation is always possible and rarely, if ever, falsifiable because it does not have to be intentional or conscious (see also, impact versus intent). For example, if a black customer and a white customer entered a store at the same time, and the white sales assistant approached the white customer to offer help first, this could be identified as racism because it prioritized the white person’s needs (see also, centering). However, if the sales assistant approached the black customer first, this could also be identified as racism because it could be read as indicating a distrust of black people and unwillingness to have them browse the shelves unsupervised. The shop assistant’s perception of her own motivations are irrelevant, and, to be a conscientious antiracist, she would need to admit her racism and pledge to do better.
In fact, the antiracism approach would start from the following assumption, as phrased by critical race educator Robin DiAngelo (author of White Fragility): “the question is not ‘did racism take place?’ but rather, ‘how did racism manifest in this situation?’” (Source.) As such, the racism of the shop assistant in the preceding example—and, more specifically, the racism underlying and defining her interactions with the customers—is fully assumed, though probably hidden (see also, mask).
Antiracism is the name for the practice she is expected to undertake under a Critical Social Justice paradigm in order to critically examine herself, the interaction, her past behaviors, her privilege and positionality within society (and its relevance—see also, intersectionality), as well as her motivations (including, especially, unconscious ones), and to find that racism and then abhor it so that she might fulfill her pledge to “do better.” To fail to do this is taken as a form of complicity—another manifestation of her racism—which is in need of critical examination under an antiracism program, and is very deeply Theorized as such (see also, white equilibrium, white fragility, white comfort, white innocence, white ignorance, racial contract, anti-blackness, active ignorance, pernicious ignorance, willful ignorance, false consciousness, and internalized dominance).
Social Justice scholars, including DiAngelo, indicate that antiracism is a “practice” that requires a “lifelong commitment to an ongoing process” of fighting systemic racism (see also, praxis). This process expects people to constantly reflect upon the ways in which they, and others, support, or are complicit in, “whiteness,” “anti-blackness,” “racism,” and “white supremacy,” as these terms are understood from within the context of critical race Theory and critical whiteness studies. It then expects antiracists to subscribe to social activism which allegedly minimizes its impacts, including—as DiAngelo has put it regarding herself—through the concerted attempt to “be less white” (see also, problematize).
Antiracism carries with it a commitment to accept the systemic definition for racism—i.e., that it exists immanently, always and everywhere, regardless of intent—even if there isn’t a single person who is racist in the usual understanding. The system itself can be “racist” even if there are no racists within that system (see also, systemic power). An antiracist has the obligation of searching for instances of racism that confirm the systemic “reality” of racism, internally, with others, and in society and its various forms of representation.
While critical race Theorists and educators like Robin DiAngelo distinguish between “active racism” and “passive racism,” they indicate (e.g., in Is Everyone Really Equal?) that it is not possible to be passively antiracist. There is only active antiracism. In fact, to be passively antiracist would be to be passively racist, instead! Thus, the requirement to be an activist, both in the inward, soul-searching sense of the word and in the usual outward sense, is absolute and non-negotiable.
Active ignorance; Anti-blackness; Bias; Call out; Center; Close reading; Complicity; Consciousness raising; Critical; Critical consciousness; Critical race Theory; Dismantle; Do better; Equality (ideology); Equity; False consciousness; Impact versus intent; Implicit bias; Internalized dominance; Intersectionality; Mask; People of color; Pernicious ignorance; Position; Praxis; Privilege; Problematize; Racial contract; Racism (systemic); Social Justice; System, the; Systemic power; Theory; White; White comfort; White equilibrium; White ignorance; White innocence; White fragility; White supremacy; Whiteness; Whiteness studies; Willful ignorance; Woke/Wokeness
Revision date: 6/25/20