No, Fv¢khead, You’re Not An Antiracist. Yet.*
You’re still learning about racism, and it’s fv¢king complicated and runs deeper than you realized. That’s okay. We’ll all get there. Let’s not award ourselves the title before we earn it. We’re antiracists in training.
“The good news is that racist and antiracist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next. ”
Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist
The way we use the word racism has changed as we’ve hashed it out socially and dug into the past to understand the systemic issues, structures, and biases that perpetuate it. So much so that Merriam-Webster redefined it last year to reflect the change currently happening in our language. And honestly, it could still use more work.
You see, American racial and ethnic definitions change…a lot. They’re based on political priorities and the role certain groups play in immigration and labor. They’ll continue to change until we fully unpack White supremacy, if ever. Europeans weren’t legally White for a while. Japanese were ruled as not White by the Supreme Court in 1922. Mexicans were White until 1930. Arabs from the Middle East and North Africa have to check the ‘White’ or ‘Some other race’ box on census forms because those are the only category they might fit in, even though many don’t identify with the former. Just because White America hasn’t gotten around to defining a type for a group of people from a rich history that connects two continents doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be one. Right? Understanding that the erasure and miscategorization of ‘other’ identities is at the core of White supremacy is a huge and necessary step towards dismantling racism.
Racial identity is fluid because race is a social construct. Therefore the spectrum for our contemporary use of the word race/ism is broad and even vague. And make no mistake, we’re all taught parts of it. It’s based on perceptions and learned attitudes about ‘others.’ Anti-Black prejudice is racist. Anti-Asian prejudice is racist. Anti-Latino prejudice is racist. Anti-Semitic prejudice can be racist. Anti-Arab prejudice can be racist. Anti-Muslim prejudice can be racist. It goes on. To believe anyone is immune is outdated and frankly, ignorant. It’s along the lines of saying you’re either White, Black, yellow, or red. We all know there is way more to it than that. If you’re against one or more of these ‘Anti’s,’ you aren’t necessarily an antiracist. You’re more accurately anti-‘Anti-Blackness’ and / or anti-‘Anti-Semetisim’ in that moment. To be truly and progressively antiracist requires understanding and accepting all the different ways we are and can be racist first.
If you’re wondering, “What do Semitism and Islam have to do with racism?” consider this: Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, and atheists have been the victims of Muslimophobic hate crimes. There were millions of non-Jews killed in the Holocaust. Victims of Anti-Muslim and Anti-Semitic sentiment aren’t usually targetted for what they believe. They’re targetted for their likeness. The specifics of their hair color and its texture. Their skin tone that is neither Black nor white-White. They’re targetted because of an ignorance of an entire part of the world that makes a diverse group of people all look the same to some.
So, if you’re on this quest towards antiracism and you’re actively trying to do the work too, remember to tear apart all the different categories of people you think you know. Let’s continue to question them and where we learned them from. And let’s stop waiting until folks are shot in their homes, getting beat up outside barkeries, or followed and killed for cutting someone off on the highway to begin considering the value of their humanity, identity, and their representation. Let’s connect the dots from all we’re learning and apply it to ALL people.
“Activism doesn’t change the dictionary, activism changes the language.”
Peter Sokolowski, Editor at Large, Merriam-Webster
Our definition of racism will keep changing as our understanding and acceptance of race evolve. For as long as ‘Other ____’ and ‘Some other race’ are how we categorize some folks, no one can truly be an antiracist.