Racism is not an issue only for perpetrators and victims (and their respective supporters). Racism continues to happen because bystanders remain bystanders. The victims cannot stop it, the perpetrators won’t. But bystanders, who are in majority, can reduce racism.
But I am innocent! I did not create the problem nor do I contribute to it. Why are you asking ME?
This is a common thought of the bystanders. They are correct. There is an individual innocence. Bystanders probably don’t actively contribute to racism. But their lack of action does. Collectively, bystanders were not and are not innocent.
We must eradicate racism because otherwise, sooner or later, it will turn against ourselves. Fighting racism is an entirely rational thing to do.
There is wisdom in this famous quote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
If you want full justice for yourself and those coming after you, the only rational action is to make sure there is full justice for everyone. That’s how the math works. If you allow injustice to appear somewhere in the society in which you live, you are at the same time leaving the door open for injustice to hit you or your offspring at a later point in time.
This is why experts on this topic say it isn’t enough to be against racism. You must become an antiracist – one who takes concrete action to level the playing field, remove systemic racism, and provide equal justice to all.
But I don’t have time! I have so many other important things to do.
A common rejection. Probably also true. People have a lot of things on their plates. So why should we make room in our minds and days for actions of antiracism? Because equality and justice are the foundation of a functioning society. Without justice, society starts to fall apart. Justice must always be a top priority.
It takes time to learn about racism and the various ways to eradicate it. But it does not take that much time to start acting on your newfound insights. Once you get it, you are good to go. You need to understand the concepts of privilege, institutionalized racism, and justice (or the lack of it). You need historical context and facts of the matter. After that, your antiracist actions can be embedded in your everyday doings.
In my mind, those actions are of three types:
* Sharing information about racism and how to counter it, helping others on their learning journey
* Taking positive action to level the playing field, removing unconscious bias and systemic racism
* Stepping up and speaking up when even just traces of racism are happening
Many of society’s leaders and accomplished individuals grew up privileged, not subject to racism. They certainly worked hard and have earned their success. But many of them also were free from a burden or hindrance that was present for others with similar dreams and aspirations. Seeing your own privilege helps you understand what systemic racism is about. And that insight instructs you on how to remove barriers for people, creating a level playing field.
I am myself on this journey. I grew up oblivious to problems of this sort. To me, the world was just. I believed I could succeed solely on my own merits. It did not dawn on me that in every society, there are marginalized groups for whom the world is not just. They may be able to succeed, but they will need more tenacity or luck to get to the same spot. For them, it is not a meritocracy. When they succeed, they have had to fight harder than others.
When I started seeing these structural deficiencies of society, I first fell into the trap of perceived innocence. I hadn’t created the problem, I argued to myself, so I had no duty to help remove it. It took a long time for me to realize that exactly because I am a privileged bystander, I am in the unique position to actually make a difference. And I should make a difference not for reasons of guilt but reasons of justice. Structural inequality and injustice appear on their own, growing slowly but surely. So we must all take concerted action to the opposite, striving for more justice all the time. That’s how we leave a world behind us that can be a level playing field for everyone.
At some point as children or perhaps later, we have all felt alienated. We have felt we do not belong. This means that every single human being can relate to exclusion. What great news! Dig up that uneasy feeling of yours from years ago and use it to understand the perils of systemic racism which is similar but much much worse. This will help put things in perspective so that we can proceed to take action.
When we acknowledge that everyone may feel like an outsider, we can make sure everyone can feel like an insider. We provide equal rights and justice to all. We allow everyone to become the best versions of themselves. This does not come at the expense of anything else. It is a pure positive that adds to the wellbeing and economic prosperity of society.