In the earlier essays in this series, I laid out the connections between antiracist white identity and racial agency. Antiracist white identity elaborates our vision of how we white people want to be different in relationship with other white people and people of color. Racial agency is the belief that we can become different and act differently in the realm of race, and that being and acting differently are linked. In this essay I turn to antiracist competencies, the actions we take to build and sustain relationships as we create communities and organizations that honor people of all races and cultures.
As a white man, there are so many ways in which I have learned to act differently in the realm of race than I was raised to act. Some of my ingrained habits were taught by my family, others were taught by my teachers, and many seeped into my consciousness through the dominant culture. I have had to struggle to develop different skills and make them into new habits. To be clear, this is a life-long process and there are many ways in which it is incomplete. Imperfectly, I have developed these antiracist competencies:
- Thinking about how race affects my perceptions and those of people around me.
- Recognizing that my perspective as a white man raised in a majority-white community is not the default perspective.
- Listening without immediately responding to share my own perspective.
- Learning, holding, and acknowledging the history of racism and antiracism.
I still need to do much to develop these antiracist competencies:
- Reflecting on, speaking publicly about, and reforming my and others’ racist aggression (sometimes called “microaggressions”) against people of color in our communities.
- Acknowledging and celebrating the brilliance, resilience, and humanity of people of color.
- Holding space for, communicating, and valuing emotions.
- Sitting in radical love and empathy for my fellow human beings — racist and antiracist; white, Black, Latinx, Asian, Native, Middle Eastern — and allowing my loving and empathetic self to push me and others to grow in antiracism.
To improve my facility with these antiracist competencies, I have to practice. This is best done with other white people so that we can push one another and try things out without experimenting on people of color, who have already experienced enough white experimentation — which often feels more like racial aggression. My workplace has a structured model of racial affinity groups that meet monthly to support one another in developing relationships across racial difference, and we white people meet to discuss our own racial development. But even if your workplace or school does not have these structures, you can gather informally with other white people to support one another through reading, discussion, and emotional sharing. These conversations allow us white people to work through what competencies we need to develop and what we could and should do in specific relationships and situations connected to race.
Although this final essay of this series focuses on antiracist competencies, practicing these competencies is not the end of the developmental trajectory — it is part of a never-ending cycle of growth. We build our antiracist white identity, racial agency, and antiracist competencies in any order and simultaneously, feeding back into and through each other in the messy process of racial development. After reading my series of essays on racial development, you may be wondering why you should engage in something so awkward, painful, and halting. One set of reasons has to do with the fact that people of color in the United States do not get to choose whether they will engage in racial development — they are forced to engage because their races and cultures lie outside the mainstream. Just by existing, they are confronted with the need to articulate their own value in a white-dominant culture, and fairness dictates that we white people should engage in struggle as well. But the true reason we white people need to engage in racial development is that, without doing so, we exist only as stunted, perverted versions of ourselves. We are hampered by whiteness, by white supremacist culture, by rampant capitalism, which tell us that we don’t need other people, that we can do it all on our own, that what we buy is who we are. We are told that we are the creators of culture, that we are the ones who give peace and democracy to the world, that we are the peak culture that all others aspire to emulate. We are told that this planet and its environment are here for us to control and dominate. In reality, we have been sold a pack of lies. Because our families have identified themselves as white, we have given up our rich cultural heritage and replaced it with a culture of buying, with a culture that values the individual over all. We have accepted that we must act, live, and exist in separation from one another and from our world.
Racial development is the answer to these white cultural assertions. When we engage in racial development, we connect with people of other races and cultures, but we also connect with ourselves. This the path back toward relationship and community. This is the path back toward honoring and valuing the planet that gives us all life. Why should you engage in the awkward, painful, halting process of racial development? It is the path back to our own full humanity. I hope that you join me on this path, so that we can find our way together.
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