Anti-racism: racial equality needs more than not being actively racist
To truly work towards racial equality, we have to take proactive measures to address entrenched racial stereotypes and injustices.
The term ‘anti-racism’ has gained traction and is commonly used in discussions on how we should combat racial inequality in 2021. But what does this actually mean?
As movements have shifted focus from language and specific measures towards widespread societal injustices and attitudes, so too have views on how those of us working towards racial equality should approach this issue. Instead of just being ‘not racist’, many believe that we should be ‘anti-racist’; rather than only passively refraining from engaging in racist behaviour on an individual level, we must all take positive action to push back against any racism we encounter — whether individual or structural — on a collective level to achieve real timely change.
The concept itself is by no means a novel idea — there are many examples of structural changes towards racial equity, such as the civil rights movement in the US or the end of Apartheid — but this discourse change reflects a conscious unease with seemingly enjoying our own privilege whilst knowing that others are suffering. Doing so is increasingly being interpreted as a tokenistic approach.
The now global Black Lives Matter movement is a classic example of this change: it is not enough to say that Black people deserve equal treatment, we must guarantee this happens in practice. Whilst having Asian friends or professing a love of Chinese takeaway shows some appreciation of diversity, individuals from East Asian backgrounds are also speaking out against the underappreciated issues associated with hate against Asian communities — with impressions of accents, eyes being pulled to seem narrower, and ‘jokes’ about bats and the pandemic all being cited as actions that are often taken as humourous when they are in fact both dangerous and offensive. It is not that this is anything new; it is just that no one really noticed until assaults and abuse against Asians, particularly Asian women, were suddenly widely reported upon in recent months.
So, what does this imply for us in terms of concrete actions?
The term may be “anti-racism”, but being anti-racist does not mean countering injustices against a race as a homogenous group; indeed, the structural nature of the idea means that intersectionality should be taken into account. For example, ethnic minority women are more vulnerable because they also suffer from gender inequality, and economically disadvantaged ethnic minority women face additional layers of discrimination. Whilst calling out those who disparage or discriminate against other ethnicities is a good start, we must all consciously think about how we as individuals are privileged by default of a combination of our personal characteristics — including how race can both be a privilege and a disadvantage — and what we can actively do to empower other ethnicities.
JAN Trust works primarily to support marginalised ethnic minority women, so the intersectional aspect of anti-racism is a concept with which we are extremely familiar. Indeed, we take a holistic anti-racist approach to our work because we have extensive expertise in the structural racial inequalities that disadvantage our beneficiaries.
Our Muslim women are extremely vulnerable to Islamophobic racist abuse — not helped by inflammatory language used by prominent public figures — which is a particularly important issue for us as we see this from both the lens of our empowerment work directly with these women and our counterextremism work. The increase in Islamophobia can certainly at least mostly be attributed to the extremely inaccurate and dangerous conflation of Islam with terrorism, when the religion is itself strongly against any sort of harm upon others.
JAN Trust’s own anti-racism work comprises a few different methods: we educate marginalised women so that they can gain better skills with which to enter the workforce and mainstream society; we encourage everyone to be anti-racist through our advocacy work; and we empower mothers and young women and girls against online hate and extremism — to which they are particularly at risk — through our pioneering Web Guardians™ and Another Way Forward™ programmes respectively. Through the latter, we galvanise a whole new generation of women to be anti-racist through solidifying their accurate knowledge base and practising their active advocacy work through making a video campaign. To support our work against racial injustice, please donate and interact with our social media content.