Racism is the belief that a person’s race determines their worth and abilities. This creates a racial hierarchy and the belief that certain races are superior to others. Racist beliefs have justified colonization, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the Holocaust. When aligned with power, racist beliefs become systemic racism. Laws – both written and unwritten – discriminate against some races while protecting and advancing others. How can we end racism? It must be addressed on both a personal and societal level. Here are three essential steps:
#1. Acknowledge racism in all its forms
This first step to ending racism is to recognize its existence. Many people think of racism as always overtly blatant or intentional, but racism comes in many forms. In the United States, studies show there’s bias in every sector of society from healthcare to housing to media. Job applicants with “stereotypical” African-American names are less likely to get called for an interview, while around the world, the beauty industry celebrates fair skin while degrading dark skin tones. It’s also important to understand the history and evolution of racism. Things like poll taxes and literacy tests kept people from voting. While these laws didn’t explicitly mention race, they intended to target marginalized groups.
Most people claim to hate racism, but if they aren’t able to identify what it is, it will inevitably continue to thrive. Those affected by racism are gaslit. They’re told their experiences aren’t actually examples of racism and that they’re misunderstanding what’s happening. People are even shamed for speaking up and told that by “changing the definition of racism,” they’re stripping the word “racism” of its meaning. This blend of denial, gaslighting, and shaming normalizes the more “subtle” forms of racism and allows it to thrive.
#2. Overturn racist and discriminatory laws
Getting rid of laws that negatively and disproportionately affect certain races is a vital part of ending systemic racism. It isn’t enough to simply acknowledge that a law has a racist intent or effect; it needs to be overturned. There are many examples of systemic racism around the world. In the United States, systemic racism is found in healthcare, banking, and education. In South Africa, the apartheid system (1948-1994) ensured that the white population stayed on top politically, socially, and economically, while black Africans were the most disenfranchised. China has a reputation for systemic racism against Black people in their universities. In 2020, the local Guangzhou government implemented strict surveillance and forced quarantines for all African nationals in response to Covid-19.
Getting rid of laws based on racism and designed to uphold unequal outcomes is necessary for ending systemic racism. Many people believe that society can stop racism by teaching love and acceptance, but the reality is that even if everyone stopped being racist overnight, the system would still produce outcomes that disproportionately impact certain races. That’s because the systems were designed with that specific intent even if they didn’t explicitly mention race. These discriminatory laws also reinforce racist beliefs by making it much harder for marginalized groups to break out of poverty, go to good schools, get certain jobs, and so on. With systemic barriers lifted, a person’s race stops being an obstacle that needs to be overcome.
#3. Commit to anti-racism
On an individual level, people must commit to being anti-racist for racism to end. While we just mentioned that systemic racism wouldn’t end even if everyone stopped being racist overnight, that first step in personal anti-racism is necessary for people to fight to end racist systems. Anti-racism is a lifelong pursuit. It isn’t an accomplishment you can check off a list; it’s a continuous self-reflection and willingness to be held accountable. To be anti-racist, you must acknowledge differences rather than pretending they aren’t there. As an example, when addressing the gender pay gap, it’s essential to acknowledge that white women make more than Black, Hispanic, and Native women. At the same time, anti-racists must also identify the common goals they share with other racial groups. This helps build solidarity.
Anti-racists also commit to allyship and amplifying the voices of underrepresented groups. The role of an ally is a supportive one; it’s not an opportunity to play the savior. This support includes monetary support, speaking up when you witness racism, listening, and calling for more diverse representation. Mistakes will be made, but for racism to end, people must be willing to keep learning and keep trying. It’s the only way the world moves forward.