5 Ways to Take Action for Racial Justice

“Racial justice is the systematic fair treatment of people of all races, resulting in equitable opportunities and outcomes for all. Racial justice — or racial equity — goes beyond “anti-racism.” It is not just the absence of discrimination and inequities, but also the presence of deliberate systems and supports to achieve and sustain racial equity through proactive and preventative measures.” [AECF]

There are a plethora of good intentions when it comes to racial justice. However, good intentions are inadequate without consistent action that challenges our biases and directly benefits our most marginalized communities. Often, as a biracial Black woman with intersecting identities, folks lament to me online that they would become more active if only they knew how they could help. I’ll be perfectly honest: this frustrates me to no end even if I can see the genuine desire to help. I see this as a complex circumstance that derives from algorithms–making our online presence as racially segregated as our immediate environments and relationships often are–coupled with ignorance, unintentional bias, and white or white-passing defensiveness when people of color (especially Black and Indigenous people) share truths that most would prefer not to be confronted with. Additionally, it is worth noting that no one is asking for help in the form of charity; we are asking for your collaboration and co-conspiration as if this struggle and pain was yours, too.

Another comment I often get is this: “instead of criticizing or judging us, tell us what to do!” If you feel judged by what I say, that deserves reflection as to why you have such a strong, negative response to my words. Often, some truths that are pointed out to folks are so painful to confront that it causes people to protect themselves in the form of avoidance, demonization of the person delivering the message and, in some cases, overt aggression. If the words of Black people feel condemning, evaluate whether we are actually condemning you or if your own actions are the source of that condemnation. If the shoe fits, don’t demonize the person who told you that the shoe fit.

Additionally, I grow frustrated that so many Black and Indigenous people feel responsible for the education and action of our peers and strangers on the internet. For example, I am a Neuroscience PhD student who would love to focus solely on my work, but that has never been a luxury afforded to me in higher education. Lacking urgency, action and a focused approach for our most marginalized communities is a privilege many cannot afford to take. Because our survival is tied to one another, as Audre Lorde stated, it is critical for us to collectively take on this work. We cannot afford to have our most marginalized constantly carrying the weight of racial justice alone. In the words of Angela Davis, “If they come for me in the morning, they will come for you in the night.” These oppressive systems impact all of us and our unique, intersecting identities, even if the impact is often most severe for Black and Indigenous people and their intersecting identities. It is extremely important for all of us to come together, support one another, do our part and share in the fight for racial liberation as if it were our own.

Here are some resources I hope will help those who have genuine desires to help, which include challenging your assumptions that you are free from bias solely because you have good intentions or a Black coworker you are cordial with. For this post, I focus on Black and Indigenous people in the United States, due to the unique and longstanding histories in the US (and beyond) with racism and disproportionate current day outcomes. Race also intersects with every other marginalized community, creating for the most severe outcomes for Black, nonwhite Latinx and Indigenous people in other communities (e.g. LGBTQIA2S+, Disabled, etc which routinely fail to talk about the intersection of race.)


1. DONATE TO ORGANIZATIONS OR INITIATIVES THAT DIRECTLY BENEFIT BLACK AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLE.

One tangible way of showing up for affected communities is to donate to groups, organizations and families. Here is a list of groups you can donate to.

You can also donate to GoFundMes to support Black families who have lost innocent loved ones due to police violence and murder. Here is an incomplete list of GoFundMes to support families, legal costs, etc for Black people murdered by police in 2020.

You can also educate yourself about race and police brutality by looking at data from MappingViolence.Org & the Washington Post Police Violence Database. Additionally, please look to the Human Rights Council for statistics and names of Black Trans women who were murdered in 2020. Black Trans women account for over 90% of Trans fatal violence in 2020 and this trend has been consistent for years, another reason why intersectionality and a focus on our most marginalized is important for communities in which Black people are disproportionately targeted (e.g. LGBTQIA2S+ community).


2. SIGN PETITIONS & CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVES

Last week, the Black community mourned the loss of Brandon Bernard, who was peripherally involved in a crime at the age of 18 and was sentenced to death at the age of 40. Black people are 4x more likely to receive the death penalty compared to white peers and account for over 1/3 of death penalties while only making up 13% of the US population. Additionally, while Black people account for nearly 50% of murder victims in the US, the death penalty is overwhelmingly served to Black people when the victims are white.

  • You can sign petitions on websites like Change.org and follow petitions pertaining to racial justice. For example, please sign this petition for Julius Jones, a 19 year old wrongly accused of a crime and currently faces the death penalty in Oklahoma.
  • You can also call or email our representatives, even if they are not in your state, and voice your concerns. This is a great article by Andrea González-Ramírez on how to contact your representatives, which demystifies the process if you do not know who your representatives are. It takes less than a few minutes to do all of these things.

3. BE OUTSPOKEN IN YOUR IMMEDIATE ENVIRONMENTS AND ONLINE

I have witnessed for years as my Black and Indigenous peers in the outdoor industry and academia have consistently taken the most risks with advocacy and action for racial justice. Being outspoken is not easier for Black and Indigenous people. Many of us are shy, uncomfortable being outspoken and would prefer to be silent to avoid attention. Again, it is such a privilege to remain quiet in the face of ongoing injustice. The constant action and outspokenness of Black and Indigenous people comes at a cost to our health and lifespan; this should not always be carried out by those who are most impacted in our communities.

  • Amplify the words of Black and Indigenous people in your communities (e.g. STEM, outdoors, etc) offline and online. Evaluate who you are most comfortable listening to and learning from; if Black and Indigenous voices make you uncomfortable, reflect and ask why. Follow and value Black and Indigenous perspectives on matters outside of racial justice (value Black and Indigenous people as people who don’t have to teach you solely about race), support people who center Black and Indigenous joy, Black and Indigenous artists, Black and Indigenous scientists and athletes, etc.
    • YOU DO NOT need a large online following to amplify Black and Indigenous voices, and if you have a large following please recognize how much power you have to raise awareness, raise donations and be vocal in your community. Do not be more afraid of losing followers than doing what is right for our collective community.
  • Hold your universities, diversity committees, workplaces, and partnering organizations accountable.
    • In the Outdoor industry, you might ask brands if they hire Black and Indigenous influencers or athletes, ask to see better representation in events and social media posts, ask brands to show outward support for Black and Indigenous communities and organizations, and donate to organizations like Climbing For Change, Vertical Generation, Melanin BaseCamp, Outdoor Afro, Indigenous Women Hike and so many others. If you are an athlete or partner with brands, ask what diversity, equity and inclusion efforts they are financially backing and implementing; what is the long-term plan and how are they holding themselves accountable? How are they making the sport more accessible? How many Black and Indigenous people serve on their board or have positions of power within the company? Is there transparency in the pay structure for Black and Indigenous athletes and employees?
    • In academia, you might ask what measurable action diversity committees have made which center and directly help Black and Indigenous people and their intersecting identities. You could ask that programs track specific underrepresented domestic groups, namely Black, Indigenous, nonwhite Hispanic, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander instead of lumping everyone under the umbrella of “URM” (the same could be said for international students, who are overwhelmingly white [white Latinx, white/light-skin Asian, white European] and ask about diversifying international recruitment efforts). You might also support orgs like Black in Neuro, Cientifico Latino and MUSE mentorship. If you are an administrator, how are programs prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion without overburdening Black and Indigenous faculty and students? Who do you see largely leading and guiding these efforts? You can advocate for paid expertise to assist in antiracism and racial justice efforts instead of letting this burden constantly befall Black and Indigenous peers.
      • If you are a teacher, you can be mindful of the burden Black and Indigenous students face, offer support and flexibility, educate yourself on discussing race in the classroom (or how not to discuss race) and incorporate inclusive teaching practices. Students are all severely affected by the pandemic, and many are further affected by the ongoing trauma to the Black community.

4. COMMIT TO A LIFETIME OF EDUCATION, LEARNING AND UNLEARNING

Every single one of us grew up & currently live in a racially unjust society. This affects every aspect of our lives, from where we live and grow up, whether or not our families own a home, who we befriend, how much money we make, what fields or hobbies we had access to and/or are supported in pursuing, how we access information, how much representation is available in a given career or hobby, access to basic accommodations and resources, daily feelings of safety, etc. It is up to every single one of us, especially those who are white/white-passing, and non-Black/Indigenous, to self-educate on the historic and current day struggles of Black and Indigenous people. It is also critical to look in the mirror and ask how your unintentional bias is at play. We cannot cram this in a month, year or several years. It will take a lifetime of patiently learning and unlearning that we can work into our daily routines.

There are several antiracism reading lists available online, which center Black and/or Indigenous people and Queer and/or Disabled Black and Indigenous people. There are books appropriate for any age, from adults to children. If Black and Indigenous children are young enough to experience racism (especially racism coupled with homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc), your children are old enough to read about it. (Bonus: buy from a Black or Indigenous owned bookstore.)

5. BUY BLACK / BUY INDIGENOUS

Laura Edmondson has an entire gift guide on her Instagram highlights for Black and Indigenous artists and organizations you can buy from over the holidays and all year round! You can also visit websites like We Buy Black to search for items you can buy from Black owned businesses. Indigenous artists’ work is also highlighted on Laura’s page, though Indigenous work is often appropriated (e.g. beadwork) and sold by non-Indigenous people. Please make sure you are buying from an Indigenous person if someone is claiming to sell Indigenous (or “Indigenous-inspired” artwork).

Many of my friends and I work all of these things into our weeks/days, knowing that we will constantly learn how to do better with more education and action. It is a marathon, not a sprint. It is possible to work, enjoy hobbies, do self care and prioritize racial justice efforts in your life. As a PhD student who works two side jobs, started a nonprofit with friends, mentors seven students, has a partner, owns a pet and has hobbies (and just wrote this blog post for you all) I hope that being busy can stop being used as an excuse.


Tips of what NOT to do:

Do NOT

  • Center yourself in discussions about race if you are white or white-passing (e.g. “I grew up poor!” “I have faced discrimination too!” “But I’ve faced hardship too!”) This is not relevant when we are having discussions about hardships which are directly related to a person’s skin color and/or the unique histories for Black and Indigenous people in the US.
  • Randomly ask Black and Indigenous people for free education or to “pick our brains” about diversity. You are likely one of dozens of people doing this, while we are disproportionately doing DEI work, working 2x as hard as our non-Black or Indigenous peers, and navigating daily racial trauma. Please pay us for our time or do not ask.
  • Cherry pick the Black and Indigenous people by only supporting those who make you comfortable in your immediate environments or online. Ask yourself who you are most comfortable learning from, listening to, and most often seek relationships with and why?
  • Take on a “white savior” mindset. Please google this and read more to avoid feeling like a savior in racial justice efforts. An example of this would be white women and men traveling to other countries to help Black and Brown kids with their disproportionate wealth, yet they routinely ignore, demonize and do not listen to Black and Brown people in their own country of origin, let alone have close relationships with Black and Brown adults without a savior-type relationship being at play.
  • Be afraid of making a mistake. You will. I will. We all do. How you respond and move forward is the most important thing. Do not make a mistake, ignore or lash out at Black or Indigenous people who call you in or out, and fail to really reflect or change. Changed behaviors are the best apology. The worst thing that will happen if you make a mistake if that someone will tell you. The fear of making a mistake or the anger of being told you made one should not be stronger than the desire to be outspoken or do the right thing.
  • Don’t message Black and Indigenous people talking about how much of an ally you are in a private direct message. (aka “the behind closed doors ally” instead of risking your social capital to speak up.)
  • Do not tone police Black and Indigenous people; racism is emotional for people who have a lifetime of experiences navigating it. Don’t center your discomfort and allow Black and Indigenous people to express themselves. Many of us already change our tone and behavior around white/white passing people; authenticity needs to be prioritized in these spaces.
  • Do not ask Black and Indigenous people if “all Black and Indigenous people” agree with everything we say or do. We are not a monolith and we are not representative of every single Black or Indigenous person. You would never hear something a white person says and ask “do all white people believe that too?”
  • Do not try to befriend us because of our race alone. Relationships must be mutually beneficial and both parties must be genuinely, mutually desiring the other’s friendship. Please do not try to force relationships thinking that one or two Black acquaintances makes any person anti-racist.

Reader recommendations:

  1. One Anti-racism Action / Day (Subscribe)
  2. Social Justice Toolbox
  3. Thread on Hiring DEI experts (instead of forming endless DEI committees)
  4. Random House antiracist reading list

2 thoughts on “5 Ways to Take Action for Racial Justice

  1. This is an excellent read! Thank you so much for publishing this. I find as a Canadian, many of my immediate acquaintances are quick to turn a blind eye to racial injustice in our country, and don’t see a way they can help combat this. Resources like this are so important for showing them how they can be more mindful and take part in actionable change.

    Like

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