The more I do antiracism work the more I am drawn to abolitionist thinking and reimagining a world where every life matters, everyone has an opportunity to thrive and there is collective liberation. The prison industrial complex is abolished, cancel culture is gone and we have a path to compassionately hold people accountable for harm/isms while also giving them a path to redemption and reparations. We have the capacity to hold intense feelings, talk about hard things in an embodied way and all heal from racial harm. What do you imagine?
At the same time I am aware that racism will never end because it is embedded in every institution. It is in the air that we breathe. That realization can sometimes feel overwhelmed or disheartening and then I remember the words of Mariame Kaba: "Hope is a discipline". You have to work at having hope again and again; find your inspiration. Work to reduce harm and build up communities of resilience.
I was watching my favorite movie, Remember the Titans, with my 14 year old son recently. Why do I love this movie? It tells the story of a high school football team that is experiencing forced racial integration in the early 1970s and how by working together and building personal relationships they were able to heal/change their racial conditioning. I love these movies that spark hope about people's ability to change and heal in the context of relationships.
The reality is that most of the US is still highly segregated so that many people don't build meaningful relationships with people racially different than them where authentic and messy conversations about race can occur so we move around in the world with lots of prejudice, white body supremacy and antiblackness.
So we are watching this movie and one of the high school players was overtly racist and not willing to change his beliefs and his racist beliefs led to physical and emotional harm. I called him a racist and my son turns to me and says why are you calling him a racist rather than saying that he has been conditioned by a racist society (which is what I have taught him). I said because for that time period his overt actions of harm are based on racism. He believes in white superiority and the inferiority of black people.
I have found in the last year or two it is not helpful to call most people racist. It seems to shut down conversation, simplify what I am trying to communicate and racism has many different levels given we have all been socialized by racist forces. Most white people I encounter don't meet the traditional criteria for being an overt racist. Until we create a paradigm where there is a path for redemption and repair when you are called out as a racist I don't know how many people are able to face that truth and do better. Cancel culture is part of white supremacy culture. We can do better to hold people accountable and support them in their transformation.
My son is often calling out/calling in white peers who use the n word. I had to work with him to have a more nuanced conversation with peers about why white people should never use the n word as he was calling everyone racist. I want him to hold is outrage and keep calling people into these messy conversations about race while not dehumanizing them.
How are you cultivating messy conversations about race? How are you exploring your racist conditioning? How does antiblackness still show up in everyday life? What is inspiring hope for you in your daily life to sustain your antiracism work?
Check out my webinar on critical race theory. Rather than polarizing people it can provide a path for healing from racial harm.
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Nathalie Edmond is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of trauma from a mindfulness based and somatic approach. She is also a yoga teacher and anti-racism educator. She lives with her family in New Jersey.