June 19 is approaching, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth: a celebration of black liberation.
Yet, as mass unrest once again erupts across our country, many of us are left wondering what celebration is appropriate in today’s context?
Ahmed Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. David McAtee.
These are only a few victims of a centuries-long stream of violence against black folks in this country. Many of us recognize the racial motivation behind their murders. Most of us (read: white people) disavow overt acts of racism, yet still believe racism is something that exists only in the other, carried out through individual, isolated acts with limited, albeit serious, impact.
But white supremacy in this country is far more insidious; racism is baked into our culture, codified in our policies, ingrained in our systems and lives deep in our psyche.
In a country ravaged by a plague that has disproportionately harmed our neighbors of color while they reel from wounds of violence carved deep over many decades, the only appropriate way I can imagine celebrating Juneteenth is to make an unapologetic call for my white friends, family, colleagues and neighbors to commit to anti-racism.
Anti-racism is more than simply not acting racist. Anti-racism requires constant vigilance — an unlearning of our conditioned behaviors, beliefs and biases, and constant, intentional, new learning of the ways we can recognize and dismantle racism in ourselves, our community, our institutions, and the systems we navigate daily.
As we approach June 19, here are a few ways white people can practice anti-racism:
1. Listen, read, educate yourself and practice self-reflection. For most of us, our biases are unconscious and their implicit nature makes it difficult to identify them.
In 1971, Gil Scott-Heron sang “The revolution will not be televised.” Today, the revolution is being live-tweeted and live-streamed 24/7. Ignorance is no excuse. Listen, watch, read, absorb and reflect.
Raising your own consciousness about the ways our black community experiences anti-blackness daily will illuminate the reality of white supremacy’s stronghold in this country. After all, you cannot fix something you cannot see.
If Twitter isn’t your thing, turn to Netflix. Try Ava Duvernay’s “When They See Us” or “13th” to start.
2. Learn about white fragility. Listen, I know it’s hard for white people to talk about race. I’m white; I get it. We think of ourselves as good people who could never be racist.
Reality check: it isn’t about us.
Though uncomfortable, confronting the ways in which you consciously or unconsciously perpetuate racism does not make you immoral. However, blatant refusal to acknowledge the ways you benefit from being white in a world designed to serve you at the expense of people of color is actively harmful.
It’s uncomfortable, but you get no cookies and no gold stars for doing the right thing.
3. Speak up and act: I am sure you’ve read Desmond Tutu’s quote, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Let that sink in.
Certainly, anti-racism activism looks like protest. But the spirit of anti-racism also lives in the small acts you take each day to change the minds and hearts of those you love and respect. It is in the courage to challenge others in their unlearning that you can enact real change in your sphere of influence.
So, the next time your racist uncle pipes up at Sunday dinner, don’t bite your tongue. The next time your sister sloppily raps along to a Tik Tok song and casually drops the n-word, confront her.
And if you have the financial means to do so, take it a step further by putting your money where your mouth is by donating to organizations that advance anti-racism work.
The recent slayings of Arbery, Taylor, Floyd and McAtee must ignite a collective urgency to eradicate white supremacy. In solidarity, I invite you to join Bakersfield College for a week-long virtual dialogue and celebration of Juneteenth beginning the week of June 15. Visit our website www.bakersfieldcollege.edu for more information, or find me on Twitter to get involved: @lesley_bonds.
Lesley Bonds serves as the director of student success and equity at Bakersfield College.