Before I tell you how this is not about us, let me tell you about me real quick. Middlish class, white male, millenial/gen z/gen next or whatever. I grew up in a small, predominantly white, blue collar, port town in New Jersey called Gloucester City. The neighboring city, Camden, was mostly black and brown people of a similar social class. Both were river city suburbs of Philadelphia. Both full of deeply religious people. Both full of drugs and alcoholism. But Camden was mostly black and brown and Gloucester was mostly white. Growing up here, it didn’t take very long to realize that the segregation was intentional. In fact, I learned all the racist slurs I know from my father, his friends, and my coaches; people who were supposed to be my positive role models taught me some pretty hateful things at a pretty young age. Being a child seeking adult approval, I bought into it. I didn’t know any better. I would say fucked up things that I knew would get a response even though I didn’t necessarily feel that way. It was inherited, contagious, and systemic.
But it didn’t take me very long to realize how stupid racism was. A bunch of young white kids, who idolized and imitated black athletes and rappers, had a flagrant disdain towards black people. We loved black culture but were taught to hate black people. It made, and makes, no sense.
Luckily, as a young teenager I traded in a passion for sports for music. With that came a community that honored diversity headed by a slew of anti-racist role models (thanks, late 90s ska scene). All it took was some informal education on this issue from a voice that I was willing to listen to. While it was just the beginning of my deprogramming, my mind had been cracked wide open.
Now, I’m not suggesting that if we all listen to The Specials the country will be instantly cured of systemic racism. Centuries of social conditioning won’t just disappear. But as our society rapidly evolves with the technologies that feed it, old paradigms will crumble and die. These loud, ugly grasps for attention are nothing more than the last ditch efforts of a frail, dying fire – doomed to be stomped out by force.
As the people who have benefited from the historic atrocities attached to colonialism, we must be that force. This is our turn to stomp it out. This generation can, and must, create level ground that prioritizes community over competition as a foundation to build a stronger, unified country and world.
This time around, the resistance cannot come from the oppressed. Women, blacks and indigenous Americans have repeatedly taken stands against the powers that be and the system still stands to favor those who created it. This time, it has to come from the voices on the inside. Gear up, my fellow white people. This is not the time for neutrality or color-blindness. It’s time for us to put this racism bullshit to rest for good.
This is not white guilt. It’s white responsibility. I’m not guilty of the crimes against humanity that my ancestors committed but I have benefitted greatly from the system that was built upon them. This is the acknowledgement of an unearned, lifelong privilege I’ve received and the desire to use it for a greater good.
I know not everyone needs to read this but I hope those that do, will. Here are 10 things we all can do to end systemic racism from the inside.
1. Listen. The truth of the matter is, this struggle isn’t about us. Now is a time to listen and learn. You’re just trying to help with all your great suggestions and ideas but if you take the time to listen you’ll gain a much deeper understanding of this extremely delicate situation from someone who actually experiences the inequality firsthand. If you begin to feel offended, bite your tongue. Reflect on that emotion after you read more about White Fragility. If it gets uncomfortable for you, that’s good. Growth is uncomfortable.
2. Choose your words mindfully. The more you listen, the more you realize the vast inequalities faced by POC. For example, look at the differences in words used by media when BLM protests vs. when white nationalists protest. Why are black teenagers always labeled “thugs” when they are the victim of a crime while white teenagers are labeled “troubled” when they are the assailant? Recognize these differences and make a conscious effort to end the cycle by starting to get your information from relevant sources. Want to learn more about the struggles of POC, read articles and books written by POC. And, when communicating what you’ve learned, be mindful and socially aware of the words you use.
3. Check your Privilege. Yes, even poor white folks have white privilege. Don’t believe it? Consider this hypothetical situation. You’re being pulled over by police for no reason. Your license, registration, inspection are all good. You know you weren’t speeding, didn’t run a red light, etc. The white officer steps out of his car and starts walking up to you. Do you fear for your life? No? That’s white privilege. Black people have been bullied for so long by police officers that they don’t even have to commit a crime to be attacked. And our system is so fucked, that most of the time, the officers get PTO!
Understand your privilege and use it for positive change and to amplify the voices of the disenfranchised. This system created by straight white men favors straight white men. Sure, you’ve worked hard all your life to get where you are, but the truth is white people receive special consideration in a system that was set up by their ancestors.
4. Stop being silent. There’s a time to be silent and there’s a time to speak up. Shut down racist jokes and oppressive demeanor in friends, coworkers and especially family. Make people question their own actions. Don’t just unfollow them on Facebook, troll their shit. Let them know this type of thinking and behavior is not acceptable or the norm. I know it’s hard because you love your racist uncle but sometimes people need hard love.
5. Not all racism is hateful. So you’re not flying Nazi flags and burning crosses, but buying into and perpetuating stereotypes is still racist. Think for a minute on how you’re perception of other cultures has been programmed through your favorite shows as a kid and start to dissect it with an open adult logic and you’ll find all levels of racism embedded in those cartoons and sitcoms. Media has never been fair or honest and painting minorities the bad guy is no new trick (see Reefer Madness). Because of the light naturedness of the delivery, we often overlook or even laugh at this level of “casual racism” but on a subconscious level, this type of conditioning is not just fear based ignorance but super unhealthy for our collective society.
6. Stop appropriating cultures. You’ve heard this before. Maybe you didn’t fully get it. Appreciating=cool Appropriating=not so much. Save your excuses. This doesn’t mean you have to stop eating pho or tacos but maybe you should try the authentic dishes before tweeting your expertise. Also, you can ditch that head dress you packed for the music festival, stop binge drinking Corona in a sombrero on Cinco de Mayo and get a better Halloween costume idea.
7. Teach the next generation. Whether you have kids of your own or you’re playing the role of auntie/uncle, we need to teach our youth that tokenism isn’t multiculturalism or true diversity. There’s more to people than the pop-culture imagery that has been placed on them. Show them books, TV, and movies featuring predominantly people of color as protagonists. Get your daughter a black doll; travel with the intention of learning a culture rather than exploring it and celebrate local events that fall outside of your own culture.
8. Reconnect with nature. Whether you’re practicing gardening or ayahuasca ceremonies, reconnecting to nature is reconnecting to indigenous ways. It realigns our subconscious vision and helps us to a feel a oneness with nature. When we no longer see ourselves as separate we’re much less likely to want to act hatefully or destructively towards others.
9. Get active. Attend marches and protest aside POC to express solidarity but more importantly be the face of someone else’s struggle amongst other white people. Not able to attend a protest? Boycott and separate yourself from people and companies that are known racist. Stop giving racist people your money, energy and time. Write a blog, Facebook post, tweet. Bring it up at dinner, especially when elder family members are around. Reach the people closest to you, encourage them to do the same and watch the anti-racist waves ripple out into your community.
10. Rebuild together. As old ways fade, new innovations arise. We can rebuild a system that is truly inclusive. One that holds space and encourages growth for minorities so that we can work collectively on the dire issues of our planet and stop dividing ourselves based on the color of our skin or the invisible boundaries around us.
Here at Kalani Honua we aim to be a living model for this societal rebuild. A place where diversity and wild individuality is not just tolerated but celebrated; a place where freedom still exists. Our goal is to create seeds of change in every person who visits; seeds that will go back into the world and make the change they wish to see.