How to Be Less Stupid About Race is one in a stack of books I’m reading as part of my overdue reeducation on racism. I’ve reviewed more than 500 business books for The Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations for 27 years.
What exactly should we do now?
What can you and I starting doing today to tackle racism at work and in our community?
It’s a question Crystal Fleming, author of How to Be Less Stupid About Race, gets asked at every speaking engagement. Crystal is a writer, sociologist and associate professor of sociology and Africana studies at Stony Brook University.
“Being educated about inequality and oppression can feel as if the weight of the world has been placed on your shoulders and now you’ve got to DO! SOMETHING! ABOUT IT!,” says Crystal. “It’s a positive sign to want an action plan that will explain how to put your newfound knowledge into practice and make this world a better place.
“But this is what I’d tell my younger self: no one is going to be able to explain to you, in a soundbite, what you should do to challenge racism. They simply can’t. The answer is going to vary for each individual, depending on your personality and background, interests, talents and inclinations. So, it’s your job to figure out how you can best leverage your knowledge and skills to help humanity.”
Instead of a soundbite, Crystal has 10 recommendations for how we can be less stupid about race and do our part to dismantle systemic racism.
Relinquish magical thinking. “If you want to pursue the cause of social justice, give up the need for quick fixes and gird your loins for a long struggle. To sustain your work for the long haul, you’ll have to build up your reserves of resilience, self-care, community care and courage. You’ll have to nurture your capacity for hope, humour, love and connection, even, and especially, in the midst of oppression.”
Critically assess your racial socialization. “Most of us were not taught to acknowledge the impact of racial ideas, scripts and behavior on our upbringing and values, but that’s the kind of internal work that’s required for addressing racism.”
Start or join an antiracist study group and share what you learn about systemic racism. “Making a long-term commitment to challenging racism also requires a lifetime of learning.”
Empower young people to understand systemic racism. “Help ensure that children and adolescents in your sphere of influence understand that race is not just about ‘skin colour’ or ‘seeing race’. It’s a systemic problem that’s going to require collective mobilization to bring about enduring change – and youth have an important role to play in dismantling white supremacy.”
Recognize and reject false equivalencies. “One of the most dangerous and pervasive forms of racial ignorance is the insistence on drawing a false equivalency between being a member of the racial majority group and a member of a racial minority group.”
Disrupt racist practices – get comfortable calling shit out. “If you’re not making powerful white people uncomfortable, you’re doing antiracism wrong. Leverage your social influence, stand up against racist behavior and be willing to make your racist family members, friends and/or colleagues uncomfortable.”
Get organized – support the work of antiracist organizations, educators and activists. “The most intelligent way to address a systemic problem is to approach is systematically, which involves organizing and mobilizing collective action.”
Amplify the voices of Black women, Indigenous women and women of colour. “Our vulnerability to multiple forms of oppression render Black women more sensitized to and knowledgeable about the complexities of racism, sexism, classism, and so on.”
Shift resources to marginalized people. “Institutions, organizations, politicians and everyday citizens can all make it a regular, ongoing practice to look for ways of disrupting the status quote by investing material, cultural, social and political resources into vulnerable communities.”
Choose an area of impact that leverages your unique talents. “You don’t have to be a ‘single-issue’ antiracist, but I do recommend selecting a few areas to build your knowledge and maximize your impact.”
Crystal says we’re stupid about race because we think of racism as individual prejudice and not as a broader system and structure of power. “Whether you realize it or not, racism is systemic, pervasive and embedded within the core of all our major institutions. The consequences of systemic racism are vast – from the burgeoning racial wealth gap, political disenfranchisement, mass incarceration and racist immigration policies to micro-aggressions, racial profiling, racist media imagery and disparities in health, education, employment and housing.”
Along with reading Crystal’s book and adopting one or more of her recommendations, there’s one other thing you and I can do right now. When we ask if authors and experts can run antiracism workshops and guest talks at work and in our community this fall, pay them for time and expertise.
‘I could write entire novels about the so-called invitations I’ve received to give free talks about racism and slavery at well-funded universities that built their wealth on racism and slavery,” says Crystal. “Gee, as tempting as it would be for me to enrich your life with my unpaid labour while you rollick in your white privilege, I’m going to have to pass.”