Racism is a set of beliefs or actions that views a person or group as inferior to another person or group because of their physical appearance, such as the color of their skin. While it has most been perpetrated in the U.S. by people of European descent against various other groups, such as African-Americans or Latinos, racism also figures into tensions between various other groups -- for example, look at the longstanding friction between African-American and Asian-American populations in some parts of the U.S. As the U.S. becomes more diverse and the world more mobile, we must be prepared to act in order to reduce the likelihood of hostility due to these differences.
No matter what culture you're from, you've seen the results of racism even if you've never directly felt racism directed towards yourself. The results of racism can be seen everywhere: stereotypes, violence, under funded schools, unemployment, police brutality, shabby housing, a disproportionate number of African-American men on death row, and many other ways. Racism can be found in many different areas of society: in the media, in service organizations, in neighborhoods, at school, in local government, on your block -- you name it.
Racism is complex and difficult to define, and it's one of those things that many people define differently. Thinking about how you define racism is important in getting started with your efforts against it.
Think about what racism means to you, and talk about it with people you know.
Why is it important to reduce racism?
This may seem obvious. Racism is bad, so of course it should be reduced. But there are more thoughtful answers to this question than just that.
- Racism impedes or prevents the recipient of racism from achieving his or her full potential as a human being.
- Racism impedes or prevents the recipient of racism from making his or her fullest contribution to society.
- Racism impedes or prevents the person or group engaging in racist actions from benefiting from the potential contributions of the recipient of those actions.
- Racism increases the present or eventual likelihood of retaliation by the recipients of racist actions.
- Racism goes against many of the democratic ideals upon which the United States and other democracies were founded.
- Racism is illegal, in many cases.
In other words, there are both moral and sometimes legal reasons to act against racism. There are also strong pragmatic reasons as well. Racism can harm not only the recipient of the racism, but also the larger society, and indirectly the very people who are engaging in the racism.
What's more, some important new research suggests that in some cases, racist actions can cause physiological harm to recipients. For example, a recent review of physiological literature concludes:
"Interethnic group and intraethnic group racism are significant stressors for many African-Americans. As such, intergroup and intragroup racism may play a role in the high rates of morbidity and mortality in this population." (Clark, Anderson, Clark, and Williams, 1999).
While we try not to moralize on the Community Tool Box, let's face it -- racism is just plain wrong. To quote the popular bumper stickers currently seen all over the U.S.: "Racism sucks." And we should all be involved in ending it.
How can you reduce racism?
While we try in the Community Tool Box to offer easy, step-by-step instructions for community work, eliminating something like racism isn't so simply carried out. Reducing racism is a complex task that varies from community to community, so it doesn't lend itself well to simple, 1-2-3 solutions. Something like this takes knowing your community well and choosing strategies that best fit your community's needs, energies, and resources. Nonetheless, there are a lot of solutions that can be used in reducing racism, many of which can be easily implemented.
With that in mind, we offer a variety of individual and group actions and steps you can take in combating racism so that you can decide which of these tactics might work best in your community. Some tactics are better suited to serve as responses to a racist group, event, or incident in your town; others can be done any time. You may also find some ideas that inspire you to come up with your own solutions. Be creative!
Things You Can Do in the Workplace
Actively recruit and hire a racially and culturally diverse staff. This doesn't only apply to rank-and-file workers, but to upper management and the board.
While it's not enough just to fill your staff with a rainbow of people from different backgrounds, representation from a variety of races is an important place to start. Contact minority organizations, social groups, networks, media, and places where people of different racial and cultural groups congregate or access information. If you use word-of-mouth as a recruitment tool, spread the word to members of those groups, or key contact people. Also, consider writing an equal-opportunity promotion policy.
Talk to the people of color on your staff and ask them what barriers or attitudes they face that hold them back. An honest attempt on the part of management to find out how you can improve your workplace for members of minority groups that work there will not only give you some practical ideas about what you need to work on, but it will also signify that the needs of minority staff are taken seriously.
Examine your newsletter or other publications and look out for negative portrayals, exclusion, or stereotypes. Look around at any artwork you have in your offices. Are any groups represented in a stereotypical way? Is there diversity in the people portrayed? For example, if all the people in the clip art used in your newsletter are white, you should make an effort to use clip art that shows a bigger variety of people.
Form a task force or committee dedicated to forming a plan for promoting inclusion and fighting racism in your workplace. This group can be in charge of handling any complaints from workers, making a long-term action plan for improving race relations and diversity in your workplace, and putting on workshops and other staff development activities on diversity.
Things You Can Do in the Schools
Form a diversity task force or club. This can be done in a school or university setting. Your diversity group can sponsor panel discussions, awareness activities, and cultural events to help prevent racism. Your group can also award small seed grants to teachers or instructors to help them carry out projects that will promote cultural understanding and inclusiveness.
Work to include anti-racism education in your school's curriculum. Lobby your school board to make changes or additions to the curriculum. Many tools are available to educators and schools who wish to include this kind of material. For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Teaching Tolerance" program offers teaching kits at http://www.splcenter.org/teachingtolerance/tt-index.html.
And an interesting set of resources for teachers wishing to teach students about bias in the media from the Media Awareness Network can be found at http://www.media -awareness.ca/eng/med/class/teamedia/stereoe.htm.
Recognize holidays and events relating to a variety of cultures. Observing and doing educational activities about events like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday and other dates of significance to minority groups provides an opportunity for students to learn about a variety of cultures. Using these events to promote understanding is a great way to help prevent racism.
"Example: The "Book of Dreams" "
Every year for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, school children in North Adams, Massachusetts put out a "Book of Dreams" every year. The book features poetry, essays, and artwork by local kids, all based on a diversity theme. The book is done along with an annual Martin Luther King Day supplement in the local paper.
Things You Can Do in Your Neighborhood
Welcome all newcomers. Form a committee to welcome anyone who moves into your neighborhood regardless of what they look like. Send representatives from your committee or neighborhood association over to the new person's house with flowers, a fruit basket, or some other small gift and say, "We're glad you're living here. We welcome you."
Make "safe zone" signs or stickers. Some neighborhoods have made small signs or stickers for their homes that read, "We welcome good neighbors of all races, backgrounds, and faiths." These stand in contrast to the small signs in many yards that warn would-be intruders of the particular security system they've had installed.
Things You Can Do in Your Community
Form a coalition to work against racism. This is often done when there needs to be a response to racist actions happening in a community. Sharing information and resources as well as working together with other organizations and initiatives in your area will strengthen your efforts to fight racism in your community.
"Example: Toronto Coalition Against Racism
In the summer of 1993, Toronto experienced a rise in increasingly violent racism, much of which was directed at Tamil immigrants. Neo-Nazis were doing much of the violence. Eventually, a large protest was held, with 3,000 people led by the Tamil community chanting "Immigrants In! Nazis Out!"
The people who organized the protest went on to form the Toronto Coalition Against Racism. TCAR is a coalition of over 50 community based anti-racist and social justice organizations. According to its web site, TCAR has been involved in many community actions since forming, including:
- Opposing a ban placed on Filipino youth from entering a local mall
- Working with the Somali community to oppose harassment by security guards and landlords at a housing complex
- Mobilizing the public through forums and actions in defense of immigrant and refugee rights
- Supporting the Tamil Resource Centre as it struggled to rebuild its library and office after a firebombing in May 1995"
Serve as a media watchdog. When biased reporting or racist advertising happen in your local media, get on the horn. If the press devotes an entire article to the five Klansmen who held a hate rally in your town while overlooking the much larger crowd that counter-protested, call them on it. If it fits the mission of your organization or initiative, organize your members to speak out in large numbers; if this sort of work isn't really part of what you do, consider at least issuing a public statement -- putting out a press release, holding a press conference, or writing a letter to the editor -- expressing your disappointment in the media outlet that has run the offensive story, photo, or article.
Organize a cleanup or rebuilding campaign when racist graffiti or vandalism appears in your city or neighborhood. For one thing, doing something as a community to repair physical damage done by racism shows that the people in your town won't stand for such displays of hatred. It also can attract media attention to your cause and put a positive spin on a negative situation.
Example: St. Francis De Sales Central Elementary cleanup campaign
In Morgantown, West Virginia, a convenience store had been painted with racist skinhead graffiti. After their teacher showed them a video on how another town had fought hate, a sixth-grade glass at St. Francis De Sales Central Elementary decided that if the graffiti was left alone, it would give the impression that the community didn't care about racism. The kids got together and painted over the graffiti, earning them the thanks of the state Attorney General and publicizing their point.
If there is a racist rally or gathering in your town, consider organizing a counter -protest. A peaceful demonstration that simply shows another point of view will show that your community does care about race issues and will not stand by silently when racist groups come to town. Humor is a good way to reduce potential tension, yet allows you to get the point across.
Example: Kook Lutz Klowns counter-protest
During another Ku Klux Klan event in Pennsylvania, a group calling itself the "Kook Lutz Klowns" counter-protested by showing up at the rally dressed in flowered sheets, red noses, and wigs.
Read on for an example of a counter-protest that not only served to show a different viewpoint, but also raised funds for anti-racist work.
Example: Project Lemonade counter-protests
When the Ku Klux Klan was planning a rally in Springfield, Illinois in 1994, a local Jewish couple decided that they should come up with a constructive form of counter-protest. Project Lemonade-- whose name comes from the old saying, "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade" -- counter-protests peacefully during the racist event, then collects pledges for every minute that the hate rally went on.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that your protest should be peaceful and that the point of your being there is NOT to argue with racist zealots. Don't get into skirmishes that could potentially be ugly or dangerous with bigots. Just find a way of showing an alternative point of view.
Make an effort to support minority cultural events. This can be as simple as encouraging your members to attend an event and/or including these events in your organization 's newsletter or calendar. When in doubt, call the organizers and just ask, "How can we help support what you're doing?"
Work together with other groups to plan events. This goes beyond simply supporting another organization's event. You can get more seriously involved by co-sponsoring an event with another group or several groups.
Organize a letter-writing or postcard campaign or circulate a petition. A petition can be a simple document stating your organization's position on an issue or issues pertaining to racism, or you may decide to promote a letter-writing campaign targeting newspapers, elected officials, or other key figures in the issue.
Example: The "Face Up to Racism" campaign
In 1997, Australian activists put together a huge photo-petition campaign that they called "Face Up to Racism." Over ten thousand people sent signed photographs pledging their opposition to racism. The photos varied -- some were snapshots of people of different races together, some were pictures of the senders. After sending the photos to Governor General Sir William Deane, the petition then became a display that toured the rest of Australia as well as Singapore and Hong Kong.
Start a documentation project. Documenting racist activities in your community will give you concrete information that can be very useful in anti-racism work. For one thing, there will always be those who deny that racism is a problem, or at least that it's as big of a problem as it really is, in any community. Being able to show proof that there is indeed a problem with racism in your community can dissuade those who deny the need to fight it. In addition to proving the need for anti-racism work in your community, documenting racist incidents or activities allows the targets to feel less isolated. Documentation can take a lot of time and energy, so it's not a job for any single person. Forming a committee will allow you to divide up the work. You can learn more about setting up a monitoring and documentation project at this page from the Center for Democratic Renewal: http://www.igc.org/pra/cdr/cdrmonre .html.
For an example of what one group did, see the report by a community documentation project -- North Carolinians against Racist And Religious Violence's 1993 report -- at the following link: http://drum.ncat.edu/~drwww/report93.html.
Be sure your town makes diversity part of its mission. Many towns include diversity in the city government's mission statement. Most also have a local human rights or human relations office that promotes diversity and investigates incidences of discrimination, including racially motivated incidents.
Put together a community forum or town meeting on racism. Giving citizens a chance to talk about how racism is affecting your community can give you insight into how people feel on the subject, ideas on other things you can do to combat racism, a chance to network with others in the community who share your goal of fighting racism, and publicity to let racists know that your community isn't going to stand for racism in its midst.
Example: Center for Healthy Communities forum
The Center for Healthy Communities in Dayton, Ohio hosted a community forum titled "Race, Ethnicity and Public Policy: A Community Dialogue" in the fall of 1997. This community forum gave a panel of local expert as well as members of the audience the chance to ask mayoral and city commission candidates questions about the impact of racism on the Dayton community and the role it plays in local public policy decisions. More than 150 people attended, including state and local officials, community organizers, clergy, citizens, and students.
Make an effort to teach children the value of equality and tolerance. Racism usually starts in childhood. According to the Leadership Conference Education Fund, children already have stereotypical views about minorities by the time they're 12 years old. Also, with concerns rising over school violence, teaching tolerance in schools has taken on a new urgency. Encouraging your local school district to include diversity education in its curriculum can help nip racism in the bud, alleviating future problems in your community. Even if you don't approach the schools, you can start practices of your own to encourage children to think about tolerance and race, as shown in the example below.
Example: Children's essay contest on race relations
In 1998, Smith Recreation Center in Fayetteville, North Carolina held an essay contest in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. essay contest. More than 400 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students submitted essays on how they would improve race relations.
The students read their essays, which were judged on content, grammar, logic and presentation, during a program at the Smith Center. The winner, who wrote, "I would remind people that Dr. King died trying to keep peace in the world If we do not stop the violence, there will not be any people left in this world," was presented with a $50 savings bond. Runners-up each were given $25 savings bonds.
A 4th-grader said she would put on anti-racism public service messages on radio and television.
"Instead of a Million Man March, I would have a Global March," one boy wrote. "My march would represent global unity and peace."
"I can improve race relations by being a good friend to all black and white people I meet at school, in my neighborhood and other places," wrote another child.
For some ideas on how to teach about equality, check out the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Teaching Tolerance" program online at http://www.splcenter.org/teachingtolerance /tt-index.html.
When racism strikes your community, show a unified front. Demonstrate your solidarity with the groups who are being targeted by racists to show that your town will not stand for it.
Example: Showing a unified front
In Billings, Montana, a Jewish family was a target of racist action after they displayed a lighted menorah during Hanukah. Outraged, members of the community vowed to show their refusal to bow to racism. The next night, almost every home in town had a lighted menorah in the front window.
Organize a vigil. Throughout history, vigils were primarily a religious practice in which the faithful would stay up at night, saying prayers or fasting as a way of preparing himself or herself spiritually for a religious feast or observance the next day. Today, a vigil generally means a nighttime observance, usually by candlelight, in which people gather to contemplate a particular event or situation. Sometimes a march is included at the beginning or the end of the vigil. Vigils are often organized in response to violence, and holding one after a violent racist act in your community provides people with a way to process their grief and confusion. Vigils are sometimes used simply to protest a particular condition or societal ill, so you don't have to have an occasion to mark -- a vigil that simply focuses on racism or hate crimes can be very effective in generating public awareness on the issue.
Example: Vigil against racism at DePauw University
In October of 1999, a vigil against racism and violence was held at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. The interfaith vigil, which was held at a local Methodist church, started with the ringing of the church's bells. About 250 students, professors, administrators, and local residents attended. Participants read statements about understanding and tolerance from many religious perspectives, as well as quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. There were also call and response prayers, hymns, and organ music. After the service in church, participants took a candlelight walk to a pond on campus, where they sang the civil rights anthem, "We Shall Overcome." The vigil concluded with a prayer from a rabbi. Afterwards, most who attended the vigil signed a declaration declaring their solidarity against hate violence.
Things You Can Do As an Individual
You don't have to form a group to do something about racism and hatred. Each of us, as individuals, can react constructively to racist acts as they occur. If you have experienced a racist act or see one occur -- say something. Be polite, be articulate, be rational, but be firm. Claim your personal dignity.
Example: Being followed by a store clerk
Juanita, a Mexican-American was shopping for clothes in one of the more upscale clothing stores in town. After a little while she noticed that one of the store staff seemed to be shadowing her. There were numerous other shoppers, though she was the only person of color in the store, and no staff person was shadowing them. This seemed a possible case where either the staff or store may have had a policy of watching some shoppers more closely than others.
Juanita decided to call the staff person on her behavior by asking why she was being followed, but no one else was. Juanita explained the inappropriateness of the behavior. In addition, she spoke with the store's manager, who assured her that the staff behavior was not based on policy. Juanita asked the manager to speak to the clerk about the behavior. After that Juanita never had that experience again in that store.
But you don't have to wait for this to happen to you. If you see it happening to anybody -- say something about it to the appropriate people.
To sum it up
Figuring out what to do about the ugly reality of racism in our communities presents a difficult challenge. There is no single or easy set of instructions that will eliminate racism once and for all. Instead, it is something we must continually work against -- choosing the strategies and actions that will be most effective in our own individual communities. In this resource, we've suggested such strategies and actions, and shown examples of how many of them have been put into practice in real communities. When you start deciding how to reduce racism in your own community, feel free to use any of these ideas, but also feel free to be creative and come up with your own solutions as well.
Contributed by Chris Hampton
Edited by Bill Berkowitz and Jerry Schultz. © The Community Tool Box. Used with Permission.
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