The results of racism are everywhere: unemployment, police brutality, inadequate education, unacceptable housing – the list goes on. While the work to treat these symptoms of racism must continue, it is also essential to look at the causes of racism and take action to remove them.
Whether you’re working within a community organization or have made a commitment to do anti-racism work on your own, you need to define the terms:
Prejudice: an emotional commitment to ignorance
Power: control over economic and social institutions
Racism: race prejudice plus power
Looking at these definitions, understand that people of color don’t have the power of the structures of society to magnify and empower the biases. In the Czech Republic only whites can perpetuate racism because whites control the economic and social institutions.
This doesn’t mean people from a variety of backgrounds and orientations are incapable of prejudice or exempt from confronting racism and discrimination on any level. We all have to confront injustices within our organizations and personal lives. Eliminating racism is more than correcting personal biases, living in an ethnically mixed community or having culturally diverse friends. Eliminating racism – and discrimination against any group, such as women, gays and Romanies – means scrutinizing our institutions and taking action to make them bias-free.
The first step is to identify and understand the causes of racism. Racism operates within a circle or cycle that repeats itself. No one in the Czech Republic escapes the process that socializes us to participate in this cycle. It has four phases:
preparation, action, internalization and justification.
In the preparation phase, we receive misinformation. Largely separate from people different from ourselves, we are unable to question these “facts.”
In the second, action phase of the cycle, whites act out this early socialization, perpetrating injustices, maintaining separation and communicating misinformation. For example, a white person interviewing a qualified African man for a job can’t get past a strong feeling of discomfort and doesn’t hire him. The white person doesn’t ask himself if he feels uncomfortable because of early misinformation about Africans, and no one else in his company is hiring Africans.
In the third phase, internalization, the people being discriminated against start believing the misinformation and act it out on themselves, their family and others close to them – such as Romanie domestic violence.
The fourth phase, justification, is the result of the group in power seeing the misinformation reinforced through others’ actions, thus strengthening already held prejudices.
IN THE WORKPLACE Valuing diversity within the workplace is an important step in fighting racism because it creates a culture where different voices are represented and where perspectives from all backgrounds are valued. Yet, putting different kinds of people into the same room does not itself dispel racism. Racism is the foundation for other kinds of discrimination.
In your workplace, talk with people of other nationalities, women, people with disabilities, gays and lesbians to find out what work they do and what barriers they face in the organization that keep them from advancing or being included. Look at the institutional framework – who comprises mangagement staff, who controls governance, creativity and decision-making. Look at who sits on your agency’s board, recent hiring practices, service providers, merchandising and investments. You may want feedback from your clients, volunteers, board, customers or visitors. Do an audit of the organization’s publications, exhibits, pictures on the walls; look for representations of stereotypes and diversity.
Form a task force chaired by a senior staff member to develop a plan for confronting racism and inclusivity in your workplace. Task force activities can range from diversity workshops to recruitment strategies (both for employment and internal committees) to action plans for achieving a more bias-free work environment.
Be aware of unconscious racism in the workplace – such as white members assuming superiority in planning sessions or assuming they have more to contribute. Don’t ignore the validity or wisdom in a suggestion from a person of color and then take the same suggestion from a white person. Don’t assume all people of color will welcome inclusion in white society.
Be aware of how such unconscious actions contribute to institutionalized racism and how it shows up in numerous facets of our society – from our hiring practices, to our schools to where we locate polluting factories.
IN COMMUNITY WORK Organizing neighbors around common issues can bring people together and help break the racism cycle by creating an opportunity to meet, share and learn from each other. In addition, community organizers have a unique opportunity to break the cycle by publishing/communicating information to the broader community. Be knowledgeable about the real facts and use them to articulate that social concerns are about human rights, not the rights of any one population of people.
For example, immigration issues are often framed in the context of people of color. Do your homework. Compare statistics on undocumented workers and where they come from – even today, a large percentage of undocumented workers are from European countries.
Bombard the media. Call or write to protest racist remarks, ads, biased reporting and lack of positive information. Look into and then beyond mainstream media for ways to get correct information out. Look to the institutions in your neighborhood, such as churches, schools, block clubs and community centers, that could be good forums for outreach, distribution of flyers, fact sheets, forums and anti-racism trainings.
IN YOUR PERSONAL LIFE Whenever possible, counteract misinformation with correct information. Understand that race does not reflect a scientific concept but is instead a label that permits us to sort people into groups. Organizing to eliminate racism with the premise that we are one people is very powerful.
This is not to say that we should ignore differences. People’s skin color comes from ancestors who have lived for thousans of years in certain parts of the world. Support multicultural education and form coalitions with multicultural advocacy groups. As a nation, all of us must learn to be proud of who we are and where we came from.
Interrupt racist remarks every time you hear them. This may be difficult to do at first, but it gets easier with practice. Concentrate on interrupting in a non-blaming way that will not make the person defensive. Keep the focus on yourself by using I-statements instead of speaking for people of color who are being targeted. “I find that kind of joking offensive.” Not “that is cruel to Mexican-Americans.”
Look at your own actions and assumptions. Do you interrupt people of color when they’re speaking to you one on one or in a group? For some, this is based on the misinformation that people of color need help, are less intelligent or don’t have anything of value to say. Don’t assume people of Asian or Latino backgrounds are foreigners. When you meet a person from those ethnic backgrounds, don’t ask where they are from.
Make friends with people of other ethnic or cultural backgrounds. This is a cornerstone of breaking the cycle because it often results in interrupting separation, misinformation, internalization and justification.
The care of children is one of the most important aspects in breaking the cycle of oppression. Children who are abused emotionally or physically may learn that it’s okay to oppress others. Prejudice is taught and learned. It seems easier for children who have been oppressed to flip into the oppressor role. Interrupt the oppression of children, including anti-child acts and remarks.
Be aware of the use of language. Language is powerful; that’s why changing it is so important. It often reflects attitudes and beliefs based on the misinformation acquired during phase one of the cycle.
Use Asian-American or Asian heritage instead of Oriental. More important, respect a person’s right of self-determination by using the group name of his/her choice. For example, “Hispanic” is a governmental term that lumps Spanish-speaking people together. Ask, “What is your cultural/ethnic background?”
Always use proper racial terms, and respectful language about discriminated populations. Using derogatory or slang terms only reinforces their use and meanings. Avoid stereotypical language, such as calling a boom box a ghetto blaster. Don’t call people minorities when they are the majority on earth.