“This is awful. But what can I do about it?”
This is the common White response (heck, the common response for most people) to understanding the frightening the nature of institutionalized racism (and other forms of oppression) in the United States – and in many other countries across the globe.
It can feel like the ultimate catch 22. You want to do more to help. But, if you’ve learned anything about racism, you’ve hopefully learned not to center yourself – and White people are VERY good at that.
After many centuries of creating and perpetuating the deeply interwoven pathology that is White privilege and systemic racism the problem is bigger than seems palpable to most.
Thankfully, many of us have woken up to the problem. And, thankfully, the voices and teachings of Black/Indigenous People of Color have also become loud enough for many more to hear, and finally take enough notice to create change.
For those caught in the paradox between just how big the problem is, and just how apparent the necessary unraveling of the cultural and systemic racism is, the question becomes – “So, what can I do?”
There is a lot you can do. In fact, much of it is change you can be making in your already very busy and full life.
10 things you can do now to unravel systemic racism and create real, cohesive and lasting change:
1. Center BIPOC.
Black and Brown voices have been repressed and shut down for centuries. White people have appropriated their work for centuries, claiming it as their own. And White people have taken the stage for as long as we can remember.
It’s time to hand the megaphones and platforms to Black/Indigenous People of Color. Actually, it’s been time, but you can begin now.
You can do this by consuming, as well as featuring content from BIPOC writers, podcasters, authors, teachers, scientists and artists. There is a LOT out there.
Doing so will help you unravel where you have been seeing the world with eyes of privilege, or a one-sided perspective, or Whiteness (if you’re white). And it will finally begin to tip the scales of who gets to take the stages and contribute to the growth, innovation and change in our society.
2. Kick complacency to the curb.
Staying quiet and maintaining the status quo is part of the very same societal conditioning that has created and perpetuated systemic oppression. What some people call “polite”, is actually oppressive.
Most of us can see with a fair amount of clarity when something is NOT okay, and is harming another. And most of us have been taught to stay quiet about it.
You MUST speak up if you want to see change. Speak up in your community, in your family, with colleagues and coworkers. Notice where harm is being done, even if it’s in seemingly small amounts. Even if it’s in the quietness or complacency of another.
The same goes with how you’re choosing to spend each day. Complacency comes either from fear or privilege. If you’re not spending your days doing things to contribute to a better society, ask yourself whether there’s a certain amount of privilege that has convinced you that it’s not important.
3. Do your inner work.
Though you may not be to blame for this, your inner knowing of what’s possible is coated with layers upon layers of “protection” preventing it from expressing itself.
It’s likely you were taught things when you were young, by well-meaning people, that are unknowingly creating harm. ALL of us have been.
We carry pain and unprocessed trauma from the DNA of our ancestors, as well as our own unique wounds.
In the process of unraveling systemic racism and oppression, pain WILL arise. It’s what we do with it that’s important. Dismissing it, shutting it down, or taking it out on others will only perpetuate the problems.
And unprocessed (often buried) pain in our communication will create more barriers than it will change. This isn’t the time to be quiet, but it IS the time to do your part in communication that can be received; that lands with people.
When our communication is coated with ego, privilege, arrogance, or fear, it can’t be heard by many. Do your inner work so that you can be clear on when and how it’s time to speak up, or to do something, and also when it’s time to step back and listen (if you’re White, please do a LOT of this) and give voice to someone else.
Note: If you’re in any kind of direct service with people, this goes double time. It takes continued death of the ego to be, hold, and maintain a safe space for People of Color, as well as White people unraveling their racism.
4. Redefine calling out to calling IN.
I repeat, this isn’t time to stay quiet or be complacent. We can’t come together to create change if we’re not calling out those who (both overtly and covertly, intentionally and unintentionally) create and/or perpetuate oppressive and racist systems or ways of being.
The “call out culture,” however, perpetuates a certain amount of fear. And though there’s truth in that we all (especially White people) need to dissolve the fragility that holds us back from letting it be okay to get called out. There is also truth in that human nature responds better to being invited in, rather than pushed away.
Instead of calling people out, invite them IN to the conversation. Invite them to sit in the fire with you to burn away whatever ego, protection, fear, or lack of awareness caused them to create or perpetuate harm. Create a safe space for them to be held in the fire. The ego will put up a fight from burning if the space to let down its barriers isn’t created.
5. Ask your Black and Brown friends what they need.
If you’re White, it’s easy to be unclear as to whether it’s your place to do or say something in the conversation of systemic racism.
It’s not our place (any of us) to insert ourselves into the healing conversation of another. It is our place (all of us, and especially White people) to offer up support and come together in community.
There is a lot of pain, suffering and heaviness for all of us to move as we go through this process of change – but it’s important for White people to acknowledge that the heaviness is infinitely greater for Black/Indigenous People of Color.
Check in on your Black and Brown friends and ask them what they need. Be there for them emotionally and energetically.
It’s a common thing for a White person to say they stand in support, but not actually remain standing there. Don’t be that person.
6. Find, and live YOUR purpose.
Each one of us has a calling. Your calling is what the world needs most from YOU to actively create change. Even if it seems to you like your unique purpose or calling won’t make a direct impact on unraveling systemic oppression it CAN, and will, if you live it all the way.
In order to live out a calling, you must become it. That becoming process will help you see all of the ways you are meant to work to create change.
Spending your time stepping into and taking action on YOUR unique contribution for the planet will make more of a dent than you may realize. You can see it like a puzzle we’re all filling in pieces of together.
If your puzzle piece is missing the world will stand back and scratch its head. As you contribute your piece, the world will be catalyzed into change.
7. Ask questions.
Not all things will be evident to you in any single moment. Change has to happen with specific timing – the pieces that are ready to open, opening as, and when it’s time. Asking lots of questions will promote your active participation in change as the planet is ready for it.
Whether you’re focusing on unpacking your privilege, or wondering what else you can actively do to create a new paradigm, keep asking questions.
Ask them of others, ask them of yourself, ask them to the One Source, and ask them of your purpose.
Note: If you’re White, please be aware that asking questions of BIPOC isn’t always aligned nor helpful. If you have questions of BIPOC, seek out someone you can PAY to help you unravel your questions, and/or go to the many resources that are already available for you to read/learn from/listen to.
8. Actively work to tip the scales.
It’s going to take some time to unravel the old paradigm and create a new one. Reparations are important, as is creating a culture of true equality (note: we’re far from this right now), as is infiltrating the broken systems, as is creating new ones.
All of this is going to take time. However, with each step, you can actively work to tip the scales.
Whether it’s in who you’re paying for what, who you’re hiring, who you’re collaborating with, who you feature and put the spotlight on, or how you show up in your community, there is balance to restore. Ask yourself what it means to tip the scales.
Note: If you’re White, be cautious to keep any sort of “hero complex” in solid check. And then do what is your place to tip the scales.
9. Be open.
It would be impossible for any of us to get this “right” in every moment. Changing a paradigm requires confrontation of our demons. It requires enough failure to unpack what’s creating the invisible roadblocks. And it requires a steadfast figuring it out – even when it hurts.
Be open with yourself as you figure out what you can do.
Be open with others who may have more experience or specific wisdom to help you unpack places where you can do better.
Be open with everyone else as they’re figuring it out (read: not complacent, but open – there’s a big difference).
10. Teach your children the power of acting on change.
We are repairing generations upon generations of oppression, control, bias, and deeply interwoven separation. We can’t do it alone, and we can’t do it in a vacuum.
The children in your life need to learn about how to create change as much as you do. They can start now. They can learn now. They can take action now.
And they can learn about what it takes to create change, so that when it’s their time to experience and step into their own calling, they have the tools to do so with more ease than we’ve been able to do it with.