Racism is a pestilence that affects the safety and well-being of people of colour. As we continue to witness the injustices that exist as a result of racism, one thing is clear: It isn’t enough for our white allies to just be “not racist”; they must be anti-racist. If you’re wondering what the difference is, we’ll break it down for you.
The definition of racism
Racism has many layers; that should always be understood. The basic definition of racism is the blatant discrimination, prejudice, and wrongful treatment of people based on the belief that your race is superior to theirs.
Racism is not just brutalising people through hate speech or physical actions—it also makes itself apparent systemically, through employment processes, unfair banking practices, healthcare, socioeconomic disparities, and the criminal justice system.
Here are the different types of racism as outlined by the U.S. National Museum of African American History & Culture:
Individual racism is the beliefs, viewpoint, and behaviours of individuals that support or maintain racism in both conscious and unconscious ways. Examples include believing in the superiority of white people, not hiring a person of colour because “something doesn’t feel right,” or telling a racist joke.
Interpersonal racism happens between individuals. These are public expressions of microaggressions, often involving slurs, biases, or hateful words or actions.
Institutional racism is based around and within an organisation. These treatments, policies, or practices are discriminatory, unfair, and biased and based on race, giving a better outcome for white people over black people. Although institutional policies may not specify race, their intent is to establish advantages outside of communities of colour.
Example: A school system where students of colour attend more frequently will be underfunded and overcrowded in comparison to schools with predominantly white students.
Structural racism is the entire system of racial bias that spans through institutions and societies. It allows privileges for white people, while providing extreme disadvantages to people of colour.
Example: Racial stereotypes that depict people of colour as criminals or “thugs” in mainstream movies, media and entertainment.
The difference between being not racist and anti-racist
To not be racist means that somewhere in your humanity you realise that all humans have an equal right to respect and tolerance. When you are not racist, you do not see yourself as better or more deserving of anything in this world because although we are not all the same or share the same experiences, we have the right to be afforded the same access to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
However, just because you may not be racist does not mean that you are not complicit or engaged in upholding the benefits and privileges given as a result of systemic racism
Being anti-racist, on the other hand, means that you are actively doing the work to combat racism. NAC International Perspectives: Women and Global Solidarity affirms that “Anti-racism is the active process of identifying and eliminating racism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies, practices and attitudes, so that power is redistributed and shared equitably.”
Why being anti-racist is imperative
It is not enough to simply say, “I am not racist.” That would be nice if people from marginalised communities did not lose their lives through state-sanctioned murder, prison, and failed healthcare practices as a result of racist systems. While racism is a pervasive and deadly problem, you must actively work to combat it. In order to not aid in racism, you must openly denounce it and demand change.
By being anti-racist, you acknowledge that something is horribly broken and has to be fixed. Anti-racism requires real strategies and practices to challenge and counter racism in all of its subsets.
Here are some ways to be anti-racist:
Speak up when you hear a racist joke among friends, family, or coworkers.
Donate to reputable causes that are in need of support to aid marginalised groups.
Learn where your privilege comes from and how it impacts others negatively.
Become more active in dismantling racist systems (underserved schools, criminal justice reform, healthcare advocacy)
Racism did not occur overnight and it will not end that way. But if we all actively do our part we can truly effect real change in the world.