Written by Lucy Lane
All commission from affiliate sales will be donated to The Minnesota Freedom Fund.
“In a racist society, it is not enough to be not racist. You have to be anti-racist.” In the last two months, the iconic words of Angela Davis have reappeared on protest signs and reverberated online, as the senseless death of George Floyd propelled the Black Lives Matter movement into the global spotlight like never before. Now, they are at the heart of a new design by Witches Hit Back; a loud reminder to silent white people that they can, and must, become active players in the fight against racial injustice. Anti-racism work is a lifetime commitment, and there is no greater symbol of that commitment than Angela Davis. Which leads me to one question: who am I to write this piece?
Well, I’m a white, cisgender, bisexual woman living in London as a freelance copywriter. But I’m also every white woman who was aware of her white privilege, yet allowed her copy of Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race to gather dust on the book shelf. I was too swept up in the London rat race to do more than speak out around election time, or when another Black life became a death trending on Twitter. It shouldn’t have taken George Floyd’s murder to open my eyes, but open they are, and I intend to stay awake. There’s also no time to lose for white tears or guilt. So how exactly can we stay awake – and be useful?
With that question (and the brilliant resource guide by Giselle Buchanan) in mind, below I point to 10 Black women who are teaching white people how to become anti-racist. And to be clear, I have framed these 10 actions around these women, because there’s absolutely nothing I could suggest as a white person that hasn’t already been expertly taught by Black leaders.
BELIEVE BY BLAIR IMANI
“If you’re white and believe in ghosts or aliens, the least you can do is believe BIPOC when we talk about racism.”
This is just one of the brilliant posts shared by author and historian Blair Imani, whose work is a stark reminder of the dramatic overhaul required of our school syllabuses. I’m also listing the action of ‘Believe’ first, because it’s the bare minimum that white people can commit to every morning, when we wake up to a world ready to treat us better than Black people. We’ve heard “listen and learn” a lot lately, and yet conversations and comment sections are full of white people attempting to define what is and isn’t racist. Simply put: lived experience isn’t up for debate. Whether you follow on Instagram or order a copy of Modern Herstory, re-take your whitewashed History GCSE exam with Blair Imani, and go into every conversation about race ready to believe.
BRUNCH BY IVIRLEI BROOKES
Brunch is about to get political. Watch Mindset Mentor Ivirlei Brookes’ viral video and prepare to transform mimosas o’clock into uncomfortable but necessary conversation, with a side of extra halloumi please. In this video, Brookes expertly reminds us of our individual influence as she urges: “That brunch table is big enough.” If you feel helpless or insignificant, remember that you don’t need the whole restaurant to hear you, just your fellow brunch-lovers. Keep each other hungry to learn. Your anti-racism work can also be turning a conversation about your latest reality TV obsession (no judgement there) into a discussion about the Black Lives Matter list curated by Netflix. Brookes also continues: “Get committed to being the very vocal white friend.” Your voice is your power, and if you make just one friend at the table think harder about their own efforts, you’ve turned smashed avo on toast into meaningful action.
BOOST BY AARON PHILIP
She made history after her viral tweet landed her a modelling contract, becoming the first Black trans model with a disability to be signed by a major agency. Now, Aaron Philip is using her platform to provide an emergency boost for those who are vulnerable or in need of support. From being forced to leave toxic homes to becoming jobless due to Covid-19, she not only shares stories, but encourages followers to “BOOST/SHARE/DONATE” to further assist in each case. If you’re addicted to scrolling, a simple comment of “BOOST” or a heart emoji will help get more eyes on the post. This action is also something you can apply to Black activists and Black-owned businesses on Instagram. If you can’t afford to donate or purchase regularly, drop some love in the comments and boost their work for others to love and learn from.
UNLEARN BY RACHEL CARGLE
For the most expert deconstruction of everyday white supremacy, follow Rachel Cargle. As a public academic, writer and lecturer – there is no one better to look to when it comes to unlearning the casual, covert racism that has been baked into white culture. From gaslighting and whitesplaining to tokenism and tone-policing, Cargle analyses the comments she receives in response to her work, dissecting them line by line. It’s a masterclass in psychology as much as a practical tool for spotting the language within your own circles. She also curates The Great Unlearn – a monthly, donation-based learning platform for those who are “committed to curiosity for what is possible in the world.” When the glare of whiteness is already so bright, the spotlight on Rachel Cargle’s work couldn’t be more necessary.
WORK BY LAYLA F. SAAD
Layla F. Saad is the best-selling author of Me And White Supremacy; a book that is next on my list to tackle – and tackle is the word. This isn’t an audio book you can half listen to while cooking. This is “the work” in workbook form: a 28-day process and personal anti-racism tool that every white person needs to commit to completing. Saad is also critical reading for the white wellness and spiritual crowds – whose reliance on positivity can veer into the toxic kind; a spiritual bypass from meaningful action. Her poem, The Revolution Will Not Be Colonised, is also a powerful reminder to white people to decentre ourselves from the Black Lives Matter movement, and allow Black leaders to lead.
NEGOTIATE BY MUNROE BERGDORF
In 2017, Munroe Bergdorf became the first transgender model to face a campaign for L’Oreal U.K. – but she was later fired for a Facebook post that implied all white people were guilty of racial violence. When L’Oreal Paris posted a black square on Blackout Tuesday, Munroe openly condemned her former employer, holding them accountable for the hypocrisy of its performative, PR-gold, one-liner: “Speaking out is worth it.” In response, acting president of L’Oreal Paris Delphine Viguier-Hovasse reopened the dialogue with Munroe – and while reaffirming the company’s position that “negative labels should not be used to define all individuals in any group”, both parties were able to find a way to move forward, with Munroe taking a seat at the table for the new Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board. Munroe’s victory is not only a personal one, but a reminder to all white people to be having the difficult conversations with the decision-makers in their own workplace. To dismantle systemic racism, we need to apply pressure to the very top – negotiating the change we desperately need to see. With a chorus of promises to do better from the white male-led business world, now’s the time to speak frankly about the reality of the change that is required – and it won’t be achieved by one anti-racism workshop either.
CHALLENGE BY CANDICE BRATHWAITE
While I’m only a few chapters into Candice Brathwaite’s bestselling book, I Am Not Your Baby Mother, my small world feels bigger with her voice in my ear. Often labelled as a must-read for mothers, for me, it’s a must-read for humans. Expectant dad? Read it. Woman who doesn’t want children? Read it. Brathwaite masterfully challenges the stereotypes that are so casually flung around by parents on the playground and printed on the pages of glossy magazines – and somehow, all with infectious humour. I also often find myself thinking about her personal essay for the Sunday Times, challenging the notion that Black women shouldn’t wear red lipstick. The idea that the scarlet lip is reserved only for the fair-skinned (as implied by rapper ASAP Rocky) is, of course, ludicrous. I’ve worked with beauty brands throughout my career, and have always taken issue with colour-matching services that supposedly ‘diagnose’ the shades you should and shouldn’t wear based on your features – because heaven forbid a white girl with ginger hair and blue eyes should wear purple eyeshadow? Brathwaite inspires confidence and radical self-love. To wear what makes you feel good – and her Instagram page is a colourful testament to this. Follow Candice Brathwaite, challenge stereotype, and reject beauty advice aimed at women by cis men. The lipstick revolution is here.
CHANGE BY RENI EDDO-LODGE
The book that was shamefully gathering dust was finally read, and I will be grateful to Reni Eddo-Lodge forever. Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race will always be the first resource that made me stop and consider how exhausting and excruciating it must be to have the same conversations about racism and privilege over and again, with an audience unwilling to accept it. She realised that in order to change the conversation, she had to stop having it. (Nb: not with every white person.) And with these boundaries came a viral blog post that changed the entire debate about Britain and race. A particularly profound moment arrives as Eddo-Lodge describes guilty white people as: “the internet equivalent of standing outside my bedroom window with a boom box and bunch of flowers, confessing their flaws and mistakes, begging me not to leave”. This was the moment I realised my tears for George Floyd were doing nothing for Black people who are dying or grieving every day. That I too would need to change my approach – by having more of the conversations that are falling on Black people to have. It isn’t the responsibility of Black people to educate white people. It’s on us. Reni Eddo-Lodge also says that she is trying to change the world with words – and I can say wholeheartedly that she changed mine.
CHECK BY KYLA J LACEY
Still unsure (or in denial) of your privilege? Watch Kyla J Lacey perform her White Privilege poem. Passionate and visceral, spoken word has never been more powerful. I shared the video in an Instagram story and a couple of weeks later, she sent me a red heart emoji. I know this has no real significance to anyone but me, but all I could say in response was: “Your poem is earth shattering.” Lacey has written many poems, and they’re all raw, unapologetic, and brilliant. But the undeniable White Privilege poem will shatter your world when you hear 400 years of oppression condensed into a matter of minutes. And it should shatter your world. Go to bed checking your personal white privilege as a new habit. And throw out your DVD of Dangerous Minds right now.
STITCH BY SONYA RENEE TAYLOR
“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was never normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”
I end this list of actions with Sonya Renee Taylor, because in one quote she paints the bigger picture so profoundly. Set against the backdrop of the global pandemic, her words encapsulate the depth of change that is required to truly dismantle 400 years of white supremacy. It’s not just that inequality and racial hatred exist, it’s that they are normalised – so white people can continue to go about their everyday lives turning a blind eye. Sonya Renee Taylor is absolutely right: the fabric of society is defected; an entirely new garment is necessary.
Of course, change on this scale may seem overwhelming, even impossible – but no one is expected to become an activist overnight, or at all. To quote Reni Eddo-Lodge once more, it’s about “chipping away” in the best way we can. And if we all commit to Believing, Brunching, Boosting, Unlearning, Working, Negotiating, Challenging, Checking and Stitching – change will happen.
I hope these 10 actions for white people as taught by Black women can be of some use – to those who truly want to be useful in the fight for racial justice. And if your work starts by making a statement of intention with a statement Angela Davis t-shirt, brilliant. Better still, purchase with my coupon code ANTIRACISM for 15% off; any commission I make from affiliate sales will be donated to The Minnesota Freedom Fund. Witches Hit Back are also donating 30% of profits from this design to the fund.
One closing thought: for me, this is so much more than a t-shirt. It’s a call-to-action. And it’s a mirror: asking me what I’ve done today to stay active and engaged in the movement – in the human responsibility of creating an equal world. Some days that reflection will be uncomfortable – but that discomfort is necessary. The commitment to becoming anti-racist must become as much a part of everyday life as choosing what to wear. So let’s get dressed and get to work.