What Can I, a White American, Can Do About Racism?

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Like many pages on in this online notebook, this page will be updated from time to time. It is not and never will be complete.

Educate Yourself

Read Books

This is a small list, but it’s a start.

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Race for Profit by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale

A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind by Harriet A. Washington

Watch Videos

This is another small list, but it is also a place to start.

13th by Ava Duvernay

Black America Since MLK And Still I Rise by PBS

Teach Us All by Sonia Lowman

Whose Streets? by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis

Notice Your Own Racism

Here’s the part people get REALLY angry about: having racist thoughts or feelings or habits and not even knowing about it. People often immediately insist that they aren’t racist. This may be true for people who were raised in a society where physical differences are truly not recognized as being connected to the worth of a person. However, most of us weren’t raised in such an egalitarian society, and the -isms became a part of our sense of normalcy.

What You Think Is “Right” May be Racist

Most of us grew up with some distance from other people who are different, and we have to only imagine what life must be like for other people based on tiny bits of information we gather from brief observations and secondary sources.

For those of us who were around people who are different, we may have been taught that there was a right way to be and a wrong way to be, and the right way may often be the White way. Take language for example. People say things like, “This is America; speak English.” English is a language of White people who conquered the native peoples. Modern English is the language of the decedents of those conquerors. It is not the language of the people who were already here, the people who were abducted and forced to be here as tortured slaves or their descendants, or the people who immigrated to escape oppression in other countries or build better lives in a new home. On top of that, it is often taught that the “proper” way to speak English is the affluent-class White way.

Such “right way” or “acceptable way” of looking, speaking, behaving, dressing, etc., creates racist beliefs that feel “normal”. That “normal” feeling that turns into discomfort when you are around something that is different may be the result of racist expectations you didn’t even know you had.

Pay Attention to Your Experiences with Mindfulness Daily

Pause and notice at this exact moment what you see… hear… smell… taste… feel physically on your skin… feel physically inside of your legs, arms, back, neck… feel physically inside of your torso… feel emotionally… and think. At this exact moment, be aware and mindful of the whole of your experiences.

Now I will write some words, and as you read them, notice how you feel.

Bees like flowers.

Clouds are water.

Babies need love.

Black lives matter.

All of these statements are true. While reading those words, if you noticed any muscle contractions, tightness in your chest, changes to your pulse, skin temperature changes, a slight cringing feeling, a desire to look elsewhere, emotional frustration, anxiety, sadness, guilt, shame, or thoughts that argue against these ideas or immediately attempt to add information to them, then you are may be having a stress response to that those words mean to you.

Repeat this whole exercise, starting with noticing what you see. Try again.

Again, if you notice any physical, emotional, or thought reactions that may be caused by a stress response while reading one or more of those word groups, you may be opposed to the information conveyed in that group of words.

If this happened to you, which group of words was it?

Sit quietly and compassionately with yourself, and allow yourself to explore what those words meant to you both on a surface level and in the deeper layers of meaning. Where did those feelings and thoughts come from? Where did you learn them? Did you expect them to be here in this present moment?

This process, repeated many times a day with many situations, allows us to notice when we have multiple values that are in conflict with each other. It also helps us notice reality is in conflict with our beliefs, even the beliefs we didn’t know we had.

Educate Your Kids

The books and videos you use to educate yourself may be inappropriate for your children. Consider their developmental level before using those resources with them.

There are many books and videos that can be used as tools for teaching about racism to kids. It can be a book or video specifically about racism. It can also be a book or video where characters are discriminated against for being different. You may even look through a book or video that is not about discrimination and discuss pictures or the experiences of characters (e.g. characters being all or primarily White, asking things like “I wonder what the story would be like if this character looked different”.)

Talk to kids about their ideas, what they notice, and how they feel about their experiences and the information they are learning.

Talk to kids about what you value and what you hope they will learn to value and why.

Be a role model for your kids, your siblings’ kids, your neighbors’ kids, and any child you meet. Don’t just tell them to treat people equally and to stand up for people who are being oppressed; show them how it’s done.

Education Your Partners, Siblings, Cousins, Parents, Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, Etc.

Creating a Family that Embraces Diversity

Go to museums together. Travel. Watch movies about different cultures together. Try different cuisines together in authentic restaurants. Explore differences and appreciate them.

Talk about current events, historical events, and race. Talk about it! Avoiding the topic to avoid discomfort actually increases the discomfort when it comes up, and it will come up. Just talk about it all.

Dealing with The Racist Family Member

Almost every family I know has at least one family member with strong racist ideas and an even stronger insistence that they are not racist.

Do not assume you can argue with them into seeing things differently unless they have already demonstrated that they are willing to consider other perspectives and are willing to do the uncomfortable and humble process of growth.

Do be openly vocal or otherwise communicate about your values if it is safe to do so. (Skip this part if it will put you in danger.)

Do tell them you disagree with their racist ideas if it is safe to do so. (Skip this part if it will put you in danger.)

Be willing to set boundaries if necessary. For example, if someone makes racists comments in public, it is acceptable to tell them that you will not go in public with them because of this bad habit. If someone threatens you for your beliefs, it may even be appropriate to reduce or avoid contact with them for your own safety.

Do act as a positive role model. Maybe they’ll criticize you, or maybe they’ll learn something by watching you.

Do let them know you love them even if you disapprove of their behaviors and disagree with their ideas. You can love someone and set boundaries at the same time.

Make Choices to Be Deliberately Inclusive of Diverse Perspectives at Work and in School

In school, work on class projects with people you don’t know very well or people who seem different from you. Deliberately get to know people who differ from you.

Work with people who are different than you. Hire people who have different cultural backgrounds. Stand up for coworkers when you notice discrimination happening.

Ensure that the production of products and services you provide do not contribute to the oppression of others. For example, if you make clothing products, pay fair wages to the people who make the clothes, and don’t contract with manufacturers who have oppressive practices. If you run a spa, ensure that the products you use are safe for employees who may be exposed to them for extended periods. If you are not directly responsible for making these decisions, bring it to the attention of people who may have such power.

Consider how the products or services your company provides can be used by people from various backgrounds and by people in different circumstances. Who will have access to what you provide? Who will not and why? Make efforts to create products and provide services that will benefit people in as many cultures as possible, not just the ones with money.

How are you marketing and who is a target customer? Make efforts to ensure that you are reaching out to many groups of people who may benefit from what you provide.