by Holly Park
This is part of a series of posts from participants in the Texas Local Food Anti-Racism training by the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ). Together we are creating an anti-racist food system in Texas.
Racism. I wrote it. You read it. It is a nasty reality that we live with but to fix it we can’t be afraid to talk about it. So say it again. Racism.
The National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) Anti-Racism training sponsored by the Texas Center for Local Food was an invaluable opportunity to start tough conversations, and learn how to continue them productively. Our trainers at the NCCJ sessions guided us towards truths I have a hard time seeing as a white person benefiting from the systemically racist culture and systems that currently rule America. Equally as important, this training also gave us the toolkit we need to further explore our own privilege (white and POC) and to productively combat the pervasive and thriving white supremacy in the world.
At the very beginning of the training, the leaders clearly defined rules to ensure everyone felt comfortable and understood how to be respectful of each other. In a safe place, for everyone from every background, we discussed what racism is and what it means. We covered some of the historical roots of racism, what exactly systemic racism looks like, the real world impact of racist policies, and some lived experiences of racism. We separated into a POC identifying group and a white identifying group to discuss any feelings and thoughts we had but weren’t comfortable sharing with the larger group. We also discussed why it was important to separate and give that space to everyone. Even though we are in this together and racism affects everyone, it does not affect us equally or in the same ways. Most importantly there were no stupid questions, no shaming, and no judgement. Best of all we were given resources to continue education ourselves and advocating for equitability.
My most treasured takeaways from the training are things I wish I could share with everyone on the planet. They are concepts that seem so simple, but when patiently explained to me, mean so much.
- Impact and intent are two (sometimes very) different things
- What you say and what you mean are not always the same thing, even if you don’t know it. In the context of someone else’s life the words you choose will hit someone else in a way you may not intend, but is still very real. For example, you may think telling someone you are “colorblind” will signal to them you do not feel racist. However, you are signaling you would rather not think about race or racism. And while that may be easy for you, it is not a choice for many. “Colorblindness” erases the history of inequitable race relations as well as people’s current lived experience. So while you may intend to be “colorblind” as a way to not be racist, the real impact is you are perpetuating racist attitudes and propping up systemic racism by ignoring the problem or glossing over it. Just remember, not meaning to hurt someone doesn’t make the pain go away.
- What you don’t know can hurt you and the people around you
- Continuing with the example of “colorblindness”, you may not know that it is a dog whistle for racism. But saying it, even if you want to use it in a different way, is still racist. You may not know better, but that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt someone. Another example is a company policy about acceptable hair styles. Policies about “professional hair” can discriminate against anyone with non-white hair. If an African-American woman wants to work in an office, she may not feel comfortable, or worse may not be hired, if she has Afro-textured hair and chooses to wear it naturally or in braids. While you may think a policy is about good hygiene and a neat appearance, not recognizing how ethno-centric and exclusive the policy is doesn’t change the damage it does.
- It’s not anyone else’s job to educate you
- You may still not understand why “colorblindness” or specific dress codes are racist and hurtful. Google it. It is not the job of any POC you may know or meet, not anyone’s job, to ensure you understand. Racism is a stressful and emotional topic. It can literally be life or death for some people. There are lots of public resources like websites, podcasts, books, articles, and more where people have chosen to speak up about systemic racism, personal lived experiences, and everything in between. As a human being it is on you to walk your own journey of compassion, empathy, and understanding. I encourage you to educate yourself for your piece of mind, for your own personal growth, for the people around you, and for the people you don’t know that are being hurt and killed by racism every single day.
We were asked towards the end of the training to imagine what the world would be like if there was no more racism. What the exercise highlighted is that not only is that world beautiful, it doesn’t have to be fictional. How do we stop racism? We talk about it.