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What I Mean When I Talk About Behaviors That Perpetuate White Supremacy

(An excerpt from The Antiracism Starter Kit — second edition to be published Monday, September 30, 2019)

You’ll see this phrase a lot in Where Change Started content - “behaviors that perpetuate white supremacy.” There is a very good reason for it that serves as an important anchor for everything you’ll see on this platform. However, before I go into why I’m so intentional and consistent with this verbiage as an antiracism educator, let’s talk a little bit about antiracism in general.

If you google the word, “antiracism,” you’ll likely find as many different definitions for it as you will results. That’s because many incredible, capable, and well credentialed individuals have reasonably, for one reason or another, seen fit to define it differently as they explore these concepts from various new lenses and lived experiences. This is not new. It has been the nature of social justice scholarship long before little ole me ever entered this world. However, this is precisely this reason that it is important that you have a firm understanding of what perspectives, experiences, and beliefs have informed the foundation of the antiracism content you’re learning from.

My goal for creating the The Antiracism Starter Kit is that it leaves you feeling knowledgeable about what lies ahead of you in this work and confident in your ability to go out there and find the tools you need to do the work in an way that is sustainable for you in the long run. My priority is that you are successful in becoming antiracist. However that happens. And whomever that happens with. So in the spirit of you finding the right fit, I would like to take this time to provide you with the all of the information you’ll need to determine if the WCS approach is one that will assist you on your journey to becoming antiracist. 

How I Approach Racism At Where Change Started –

The foundation of the resources here at WCS is not directed at the unconscious biases or malicious thoughts some white people have towards Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. In other words, my work doesn’t speak directly to individuals who are still struggling to identify or speak truth to the negative emotions they have towards BIPOC. Those people and emotions exist. There is no doubt about that. And while I’m confident WCS resources can be used by those looking to explore those particular manifestations of racism, they are not the direct focus of the work you’ll find here.

I believe that racism is systemic. Meaning, I believe that racism is codified human behavior — through our laws, social norms, and mores — driven by an unchecked white supremacist political ideology. I believe that every single aspect of our human behavior today has been deeply embedded with this white supremacist ideology. Whether it’s the U.S. Constitution to workplace policies and procedures to the social “norms” of the day – our lives are forever impacted by rules and guidelines that have been steeped in white supremacy since this country’s founding. Every one of us were born into this system of rules that has governed whiteness, blackness, and otherness, how they’ve related to one another, and how they’ve extended freedoms, protections, and limitations to the human beings living within those political labels. And everyone single one of us has the ability to perpetuate it.

This is why you’ll see me use the collective pronouns, “we” and “us,” in my writings at WCS. This is not by mistake. We don’t all benefit from white supremacy (only whiteness gets that privilege), but we are all very capable of perpetuating this system of racialized harm – regardless of our intentions and regardless of our hearts for our fellow man. Our starting points may be different and our work may require more of us depending on the lens with which we navigate these structures within our society, but white supremacy is white supremacy and the behavior that perpetuates it, perpetuates it. Any perpetuation of it allows for the system to continue as it was designed. Which leads me to why there are four stages in the WCS approach to antiracism.

The IRAC Method –

I truly believe that racism is a systemic problem in need of a systematic fix. As founder and sole content creator of Where Change Started, my academic and professional backgrounds within law and public policy have played a large role in the underlying philosophies that ground the resources I create for this platform. I’m also one of those people who loves the process of learning, so it’s not surprise that The IRAC Method to legal analysis we learned in law school left a huge impression on me and ultimately informed the structure of the four staged approach to antiracism that you’ll find on the WCS platform today. 

IRAC is a widely practiced methodology that stands for Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion. It is used by law students and lawyers all over the country when answering legal questions. William H. Putnam describes it as “a structured approach to problem solving” and I couldn’t agree with that description more. I absolutely fell in LOVE with it! Legal problems are complex and most of the time, they’re buried in the stories of client trauma making them hard to see without a structured approach. It wasn’t until I embraced this tool during my time in law school that I began to develop confidence in my ability to identify the legal problems that my future clients would bring to me, (should I have decided to practice law, that is). It is that kind of confidence that I hope to help members of this community find with the resources I create a share within this space.

The way most law school exams are structured, student’s receive a large fact pattern with the task of identifying the legal issues that exist within it and presenting a solution to remedy the particular problem(s) you identified. Here is a breakdown of how The IRAC method generally works within the legal writing context: 

—  The Issue is the legal question(s) presented in a given fact pattern that need to be answered before a remedy can be determined.

—  The Rule is a synthesis of all the relevant case law that will decide the issue.

—  The Analysis is a where you apply the rule you just articulated to the specifics of the legal question you identified as the issue at hand.

—  The Conclusion is the resulting comprehensive answer to that legal question.

 With IRAC being the sanity saving problem solving tool it was for me during law school, I figured I could take the spirit of that tool and rework into one that would benefit those looking to become antiracist. After all, the legal system is directly implicated in the WCS approach when I make mention of the codified human behaviors that maintain the system of white supremacy. Why not see what utility it could have as I attempt to create skills-based resources for the individuals wanting to do this work?

After taking time to strongly consider the three things I’ve come to identify as our primary responsibilities within antiracism – (1) to identify, unpack, and dismantle the ways in which our behaviors perpetuate white supremacy, (2) to lead by example in inspiring others to do the same; and (3) to compensate the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color for their intellectual work product along the way – I felt pretty strongly that this approach would be useful for anyone needing help with making sense of the overwhelm that comes with antiracism work. And to my surprise, tens of thousands of individuals around the world have begun to find it as useful as I did! 

The Four Stages of Becoming Antiracist –

Given that my focus in antiracism is specific to the codified human behavior that maintains the systemic structure of white supremacy, I believe that the process of identifying, unpacking, and dismantling the ways in which our behaviors perpetuate white supremacy happens within four distinct and incredibly important stages: Awareness, Education, Self-Interrogation, and Community Action. 

Stage One — Awareness The Issue. Stage one of the process of becoming antiracist is when you become aware that a racial injustice exists. However, antiracism awareness is much more than just being of present mind that white supremacy is a problem within a particular area of our society. It’s about also recognizing that you have a unique role to play in the efforts to stop the continuation of that system. It serves as a catalyst that propels you into action in the fight to dismantle white supremacy. Actions that have to be taken with intention and proper focus if they are to contribute to the end goal of antiracism.

This parallels the issue portion of The IRAC Method in that antiracism awareness always begs the question, “What can I do to be a part of the effort that stops this cycle of systemic harm?” That is why so many people are eager to engage in community action type work the minute they finally become aware of racism within their zone of influence. They immediately want to “do something,” because social justice minded people are a people of action. That is a good thing. However, there is no way for one to know what the true answer to that question is without doing the ground work to find it.

The general answer to this question for everyone will always be for them to (1) stop engaging in any behaviors that perpetuate white supremacy in this particular way and (2) to engage in behaviors that perpetuate a system of racial equality. However, the secondary question, the one you’re actually exploring in this process is unique to you. It’s about how you can do the things expected in this work, because it can look differently for each of individual at various seasons of life. This is where stage two comes in.

Stage Two — Education | The Rule. This is the stage where you get intentional about your antiracism education. You have to seek this information out by creating the space and time to needed to dive deep into each piece in order to understand the role white supremacy has played in the creation and maintenance of this specific racial injustice. Antiracism educational materials can be books, articles, blog posts, lectures, workshops, documentaries, podcast, or more. All that matters is that they are intentionally instructional from individuals who have volunteered to provide them for you.

The reason this stage parallels the rule portion of The IRAC Method is because much like with legal writing where it takes multiple pieces of case law to determine what the governing rule is for the issue at hand, the same can be said about antiracism. You’ll likely have to seek information from many different resources in order to gain a clear picture of how white supremacy is manifesting in this area of society.

In legal writing, there is also a hierarchy to the case law that take precedent over others based on the authority they have in the area of law that is relevant to the issue at hand. You’ll want to apply this principle to the resources you’re learning from during this stage as well. Remember, lived experiences matter more than learned perspectives. You’ll want to make sure you’re prioritizing the voices and intellectual work product of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in your antiracism education. 

Stage Three — Self-Interrogation | The Analysis. In this stage, you start to ask yourself the hard questions that start the process of you identifying, unpacking, and dismantling the ways in which your past and present behaviors are perpetuating white supremacy in the same ways that relate to what you’ve seen manifested during the education stage of becoming antiracist. You do the work laid out in this stage because there is no way for you to stop engaging in these behaviors without identifying them within your personal patterns of behavior in the first place. And there is no way for you to actually enter into the community action stage without potentially causing great harm to Black, Indigenous, and People Color with your continued perpetuation of white supremacy due to your unchanged behaviors.

This parallels the analysis portion of The IRAC Method in that it requires you to directly apply the information you’ve learned about the issue at hand to your own behaviors for comparison. The link here deviates a little bit from the legal writing example I’ve been sharing thus far in this section (remember, I said I tweaked it a little bit here and there). However, it is very much still rooted in a structured information gathering principle I learned during my time in law school. For a more accurate illustration, let’s think of a civil case, instead of a law school exam.

In civil litigation, interrogatories are generally a part of the discovery process. They are formal investigations (asked with specific and direct questions), conducted by the parties of the case, for the sole purpose of establishing the facts as each side contends they are. This is exactly what you’re doing when you self-interrogate your behaviors within the backdrop of what you’ve learned about how white supremacy has manifested itself within a particular situation. The white supremacy you became aware of in the first stage of this process is one party. Your personal thoughts, belief, and practices and the other. These interrogatories will help you discover whether they are in alignment with one another, and thus require change, or if you’re established behaviors make you a safe person to start engaging in community action stage of antiracism.

The self-interrogation stage is you about identifying any of the ways your behaviors may be perpetuating white supremacy. One purpose of these interrogatories is for you to unpack any of the emotion that may arise within you brought on by racial triggers that to could lead to racist bypassing, which does the opposite of holding you accountable. Another purpose of these interrogatories is for you to identify any racist tool of defense you may be deploying to engage in racist bypassing as well. *Side note: Did you know that people have been researching racial triggers in relation to jury selection since the 1990s? This is what I mean when I talk about codified human behavior being pervasive within every aspect of society. Even the jury selection process had rules and procedures that have allowed for the manipulation of racial biases while appearing to be impartial.

After using interrogatories to help you identify your racial triggers and your racist tools of defense, you will then replace them with the tools of accountability that will assist you in minimizing the harm your behaviors could have had in the community action stage once you’re ready to engage.

Stage Four – Community Action | The Conclusion. The Community Action stage of becoming antiracist is where you take what you’ve learned about yourself and put it out into the world in an attempt to lead others into this work by example and where you begin taking part in restorative efforts that perpetuate a system of racial equality. The stage is the most anticipated stage of the process. People of action like to act. It’s understandable. Unfortunately, this stage is also the one where you can cause the most amount of harm if you’ve attempted to bypassing thoroughly engaging with the previous three steps before entering it.

Stages one - three are there to provide you with the foundational authority necessary for you to be successful at leading by example to encourage and inspire others to enter into this work. You cannot be an antiracism advocate without this skill. So be sure you aren’t trying to get here without doing that foundational work first.

This last stage of becoming antiracist parallels the conclusion portion of The IRAC Method because it serves as the fully informed answer to the question presented at the beginning of this process. One that you’ve come to with structure and intention. One that centered the intellectual work product and lived experience of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. One that didn’t attempt to exempt you from being included as part of the problem.

All the things that matter when we state our ultimate end of antiracism as being one of true, sustainable change towards racial equality. 

Why I Believe In This Approach To Antiracism

That actually is rather simple, so I’ll make it quick. I believe that change starts within ourselves and that the impact we have on ourselves will be the impact we have on the world. I believe that progress is a process. That it’s cyclical and that each of us will find ourselves navigating these stages over and over again as we seek to leave this world a little better than we found it. This process helps me breakdown the weavings of this complex system into bit sized, sustainable pieces that make me feel empowered to do my part in this work. I hope it does for you too.

The WCS Four Stage Process for Becoming Antiracist is but one approach in this growing field of social justice scholarship. However, it is the truest reflection of what I know And I only teach what I know. If you are someone with a desire to develop the skills for identifying, unpacking, and dismantling the ways your behaviors perpetuate white supremacy, then I think this approach could be one of value to you.

I strive to live my life of racial justice advocacy by example – which is exactly what I ask of others joining with this work with me. And if you do decided that you want that to join the rest of us in the WCS community to learn and grow alongside one another, then welcome aboard, my friend. I am so glad you’re here.

Please don’t hesitate to let me know if I can assist you in any additional way as you journey to become antiracist.  

— L. Glenise Pike, founder + executive director