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The issues of systemic racism can be combatted by proactively being anti-racist rather than "not racist."

According to folks in the Iowa State and Ames community, it has never been enough to just be ‘not racist.’ 

“'Not racist' people think because they have decided to not use the N-word or accepted minorities as their friends that they’ve done their part to eliminate racism,” said Martin Stennis Jr., an Ames Black Lives Matter activist. “While those are steps toward progress, they barely scratch the surface of what is needed to rid our country of racism.” 

According to Monic Behnken, associate professor of sociology and director of the leadership studies program, people should instead strive to be anti-racist. She said the difference between being "not racist" and "anti-racist" is about 75 years.

“What I mean by that is that this idea of being 'not racist' is just a very dated way to think about the way in which race functions in our society and the definitions of what it means to be racist,” Behnken said.

To illustrate, Behnken uses the analogy of being funny. For example, Behnken explained how sometimes people are funny while othertimes they are not, but to call someone funny isn’t 100 percent true because it’s not possible to be funny all the time.

”For someone to say ‘I am not racist’ is to deny the reality of the ways in which we engage in conversations around race and ethnicity and other forms of identity,” Behnken said. 

When discussing the difference between "not racist" and "anti racist," Reginald Stewart, vice president of diversity and inclusion, also made use of an analogy. 

“If you are ‘not’ a drunk driver, that means you don’t drive while under the influence," Stewart said. "If you are 'anti-drunk driving,' the conversation becomes bigger than you and requires you to actively campaign against and educate others on the dangers to society … of the behavior of driving while drunk."

Stewart turned to acclaimed author Ibram X. Kendi, who is credited with coining the term.

“[An anti-racist is] one who is supporting an anti-racist policy through their actions or expressing an anti-racist idea,” Stewart said.

Stennis also looked to Kendi when describing what it means to be anti-racist. 

“The thing with anti-racism is that it’s something you must continuously strive to be," Stennis said. "Dr. Kendi writes, it 'requires self-awareness, constant self-criticism and regular self-examination.' You either work toward that mindset or you ignore those critical steps and refuse to thoroughly acknowledge the oppression faced by some in this country.”

According to Stennis, by practicing self-awareness and criticism, anti-racists will gain an understanding of racial inequities so they can help make the appropriate decisions with votes, policy change and awareness to create equity among racial groups in all aspects.  

“Anti-racists also continuously strive to express anti-racist ideas, which believe there is nothing right or wrong with either racial group, but rather racial inequities stem from racist policy,” Stennis said. 

According to Behnken, the first step in becoming an anti-racist is to review how your own thoughts and actions may lead to oppression of marginalized communities.

Stennis also said in order to be a true anti-racist, you must strongly believe in the cause.

“We must believe that the change we seek in our societies is attainable," Stennis said. "If you are having trouble believing, history provides more than enough proof that we can destroy inequity."

Stennis also urges people to engage in self-criticism and constant self-examination.  

“We examine ourselves in this situation for the same reason we get a medical examination: to make sure everything is working as it should, and if not, we adjust for the better and continue with the other healthy habits we have,” Stennis said. 

As for ways to take active steps to becoming an anti-racist, Behnken, Stennis and Stewart all agree people should begin by educating themselves on the racist roots in the United States’ society and democracy, particularly by reading “How to Be an Antiracist” by Kendi.  

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Ibram X. Kendi is known as the person to coin the term anti-racist. 

“People can practice being anti-racist by actually learning the history of this country and the way racist ideas shape our consciousness,” Stennis said. “It is impossible to dismantle something when you don’t know its origins or can’t comprehend it.”

Behnken urges white folks who are new to the anti-racist conversation to not only study what it means to be anti-racist but to also study what it means to be white in order to gain a better understanding of race and its ideas.

Stennis says the next step in becoming anti-racist is to share what you’re learning with others, no matter how difficult the conversation may be.

“While it can be an uncomfortable discussion for all who may be involved, those painful conversations must happen in order to normalize discussing racist policy and ideas so we aren’t frozen into inaction because we’re afraid to talk about said subjects,” Stennis said. 

After learning about the topic and sharing it with others, according to Behken and Stennis, another way to actively practice being anti-racist is by advocating for positive racial policy change.

“One can practice being an anti-racist in a bigger way by helping drive out racist policy makers so there’s a better chance at eliminating such policy," Stennis said. "We need only politicians who want to produce equitable policy.” 

Stennis also said donating time and money to anti-racist organizations and policy makers is another way to practice being anti-racist, and Behnken said potentially running for office could be a great way to create policy change. 

Ultimately, Stennis reminds folks that bringing equality and equity to all races and marginalized communities is a positive step into the future, not a power tactic from the past.

“First, understand that we are not trying to recreate the caste system or hierarchy with minorities on top, but rather dismantle a system that keeps minorities, marginalized folks and underprivileged white people from important and/or equal resources,” Stennis said.

Behnken echoed Stennis by saying not only will being anti-racist benefit members of other races, but it will benefit you, your family and your community, but this will take time.

“Knowing that destroying the racist components of a country with such embedded racist history will not happen overnight,” Stennis said. “We will make mistakes on our journey … but that does not mean we cannot acknowledge our mistakes, correct them then proceed to strive for better self-awareness.”

Stennis said pursuing anti-racism simply boils down to determination and passion. According to him, people must push past every roadblock and keep our gaze fixed on the ultimate goal — to live in a world where we refuse to believe the only way we can succeed is by continued oppression of fellow Americans.

(5) comments

Mitchell Hammond


Justin Fischbach

You’re so ignorant

Justin Fischbach

How do we feel about South Park? As an Anti-Racist person myself, i cannot deny how funny the show is.

Facts and Logic

Ah yes, the esteemed Dr. Ibram X. Kendi who believes it is wrong for white people to adopt babies of a different race... sounds like an intelligent and reasonable person for sure!

The problem with so-called 'anti-racism' is that it never ends - Mr. Kendi says so himself! It is nothing more than a way to club people with dissenting political, economic, or social opinions into submission out of fear of being called racist. His entire goal is to continually keep moving the goalposts on 'ending racism' - that way he can keep making people agree with him. Don't believe me? Tell me the end goal of Ibram X. Kendi.... when will the U.S. be fully anti-racist? When we get rid of capitalism? When everyone has free health care? When no one argues with him on policy? Wait a minute - now why does that sound like a political agenda? It's pretty obvious that Mr. Kendi is using race to convince people they have to agree with him politically. Not only are his ideas politically-motivated, they are also damaging - a hyper-focus on race serves to focus people on race, instead of allowing people to truly see people as their neighbors. In the end, it only serves to divide people further, making companies focus on 'filling a quota' of minorites to seem anti-racist or colleges admit a certain number of minorities to show their devotion to anti-racism. Isn't that in and of itself racism? By hyper-focusing on race, we are creating a climate in which companies, colleges, etc are hiring and admitting people based solely on race - I don't think that's progress.

Personally, I strongly believe that we should treat people, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. If anyone has a specific racist policy in mind, I am more than happy to join with them and fight to end it. However, I refuse to chase after and tear down structures and systems that are clearly not racist. Flawed people can create good things. That is exactly what the American Experiment has been - our Founding Fathers were flawed people, just like all of us. Over the course of American history, we have fought to become a more perfect union with more equality for everyoe - from the horrors of slavery to the evil of Jim Crow laws and segregation. As a nation, we have made huge progress and have been able to truly become a land of opportunity for everyone. Don't believe me? Ask the thousands of migrants who come to the United States every single year - people of all races, genders, political ideas, and life experiences. We have built the greatest nation in the world, and everyone around the world can see it - why can't we?

Noah Kopischke

I do believe that there is a difference between "not racist" and "anti-racist" and that we should strive to be anti-racists. I believe that all people are equal and should be treated as equals. However, I am strongly opposed to Kendi and Diangelo and other radical critical theorists. Critical race theory (CRT) is a horrible theory that threatens to destroy society and ensure that we never have racial equality. We CANNOT fix racism and racial inequality by using reverse discrimination, yet that is exactly what CRT proposes that we do. We see it already in education; why are there scholarships available to black people but not white people? Reverse discrimination. Now, I am all for offering scholarships to poorer people, and if black people are disproportionately poor, then black people will get more scholarships. I'm great with that. But if we exclude poor white people, then we are just creating a different kind of inequality to keep certain white people poor strictly because of their race via reverse discrimination and reverse racism. That is NOT equality! That way of thinking is NOT "anti-racism." It's just being a different kind of racist. What's more, offering scholarships based exclusively on race says to black people "You can't do this on your own because you are black" whereas offering scholarships based on income says "You can't do this because you are poor." Which of those two messages is the racist one? Let's fight racism together. Let's be anti-racist. For real.

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