Many people believe racism is simply a hateful worldview held by individuals. They are unaware of how deeply-seated these issues are. They are so deep that even if you remove individual racists from an organization, inequalities and injustice would remain. Racism is systemic. For years, society has built institutions and relied on systems with racism baked into the foundations. Institutions and policies may not ever refer explicitly to race, but the outcomes disproportionately and negatively affect certain racial groups. It isn’t enough to simply be “not racist.” One must commit to being anti-racist and building anti-racist spaces.
How does racism work?
Before we discuss being anti-racist, what is racism? Race is a social construct. There is no scientific difference between people of different races. The Human Genome Project discovered that all humans are 99.9% identical in their genetic makeup. That fact hasn’t stopped people from oppressing others based on their race. The origins of racism are multifaceted, but many experts believe it can be boiled down to greed. To justify actions like colonization and the use of slavery, people had to believe that those being colonized or enslaved were somehow inferior or even less than human. Everyone from politicians to the clergy to scientists created the idea of racial hierarchies and racial traits to support and excuse atrocities. Under the guise of keeping things “as they should be,” they created institutions and policies that reflected these hierarchies and upheld white supremacy.
Types of racism
Society has changed over time. Oppressed people worked for liberation (and continue to do so) and gathered allies. Attitudes evolved and new laws and institutional policies came into being. Racism remains, often in a less blatant – but no less harmful – form. There are two main kinds of racism:
When people think about racism, this is what many imagine. Individual racism is the beliefs and actions of individuals. Racism can be both conscious or unconscious. When someone expresses their racism to another, it includes discrimination, racial slurs, and race-based hate crimes. Individual racism can also look subtle and reveal biased perceptions separate from the blatant hatred many associate with racism.
Systemic racism (sometimes interchanged with institutional and structural racism) consists of unfair, discriminatory, and biased practices and policies in businesses, governments, and other organizations. While race might not be specifically mentioned, the outcomes reveal racial disparities. Many people are unaware or in denial about systemic racism and its historic, long-reaching impacts. This makes further progress difficult because many believe racism is a thing of the past.
Being anti-racist and building anti-racist spaces
Many believe that to create an equal society, everyone should be color blind. “I don’t see race” remains a common response to racism. However, while race is a social construct, the effects of racism are extremely real. Dismantling racism requires an understanding of it in all its forms and a commitment to intentional action. In the words of Angela Davis, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”
The Wesleyan University and JusticeEquityDesign’s “Designing and Building Institutional Antiracist Spaces” teachers students how to foster real change. This course aims to go beyond the usual “diversity” workshops and dig into the root causes of inequity. Over 20 hours, students learn a set of tools and a framework that can be applied to a variety of institutions. There are four units (one per week):
- Introduction (6 hours to complete)
Work includes videos on racial justice training and implicit bias. Readings, workshops, and practice exercises cover topics like equity, colorblindness, systemic bias, prejudice, and more.
- Week 2: Putting Theory into Practice (7 hours to complete)
Armed with skills and concepts, students will now apply them. Topics cover criminal justice reform, design thinking, tools, history lessons, and more.
- Week 3: Shifting Narratives – Looting, Rioting, or Protesting? (5 hours to complete)
This unit covers more techniques, history, and how to use poetry as a tool.
- Week 4: Putting Your Knowledge Into Action (3 hours to complete)
After three weeks of learning facts, vocab, and tools, students will now learn how to apply what they’ve learned to their own institution.
Who is this course for?
This course on building anti-racist spaces is targeted at educators, educational administrators, lawyers, advocates, and anyone else working in fields that involve equity and/or civil rights. That being said, it’s a good fit for anyone who wants to see equity in the world and their institution. It’s a beginner-level course that’s 100% online. Enrollment is free. There’s financial aid available through Coursera if you want to purchase a certificate. To fight systemic racism, anti-racist spaces are essential. This is becoming clearer and clearer by the day. Creating these spaces is challenging, but with this Wesleyan course, you’ll be equipped with a solid knowledge foundation, practical tools, and a framework that can be brought to the space you’re working in.