Amid recent protests denouncing endemic racism and police brutality, a question I’ve heard humming in the ether, often from white people, is: What can I do? Resmaa Menakem offers one version of an answer: “An embodied antiracist culture and practice doesn’t exist. And now you have to create it,” he says.
You may have heard our first conversation with Resmaa, a clinical therapist and racialized trauma expert, last month. After it aired (and quickly became one of our most popular episodes), Resmaa proposed that he join Krista in conversation again, this time together with Robin DiAngelo, the sociologist and author of White Fragility. Both of them are thoughtful about what it looks like for white people to build an anti-racist culture in their communities — to harbor a cultural and relational shift that can accompany ongoing political action and systemic change.
While a culture shift is never linear, DiAngelo talks about cultivating a greater self-awareness as one starting point. She says when white people ask her, “What can I do?” she asks in return: How have you managed not to know what to do? “[Especially] when the information’s everywhere; they’ve been telling us forever. What does it take for us to ask, and then, to keep asking?” she says. This is not a quick or foolproof process, but rather an ongoing commitment to a practice of critical noticing. “It’s so easy to see where we swim against the current and so much harder to see where we move with the current … I’ve spent my life noticing the injustices I’ve experienced, but I was very far in life until I started to notice, what injustice have I perpetuated? And how have I benefited?”
But asking these questions is only the beginning. There’s no such thing, DiAngelo remarks, as being antiracist. It’s not a fixed status. Instead, we must orient ourselves toward constant and consistent thought and action. As Menakem says, “I’m not interested in your credentialing or your virtue signaling. It means nothing to me, because I know that when I go home and my son is getting ready to go and get in the car and drive off, that my stomach feels like it’s going to fall out; that when I watch my wife have to go interact with these organizations and these structures that are brutalizing her, I know that that’s going to continue, for me, even when you tell me you’re an ally.”
Beneath the question, “What can I do?” is often a sincere desire to see change. But as anyone who’s ever tried to enact change knows: It does not happen overnight or over the course of a few months. It cannot be checked off of a to-do list. Rather than seeking the comforts of accomplishment, what we ought to be working toward is a world more just, altogether unfamiliar to any of us.
Editor, The On Being Project
This Week at The On Being Project
Our Latest Episode
On Being with Krista Tippett
"Robin DiAngelo and Resmaa Menakem:
The author of White Fragility and an expert on racialized trauma together — a deep dive into the calling of our lifetimes.
Work with Us
We’re searching for a talented producer to join our Studios team to work on Poetry Unbound, This Movie Changed Me and experimental audio-video projects. This position can be remote. Apply by this Monday, July 13. Learn more.
Recommended Reading & Listening
Listen | “Self-Reflection and Social Evolution” with Darnell Moore
The writer and key figure in the Movement for Black Lives connects self-reflection with social change in his On Being conversation.
Read | “The Truth of Change in Every Solidarity” by Sharon Salzberg
The meditation teacher brings the wisdom of mindfulness and interdependence to examine ideas like complicity, responsibility, and action.
Listen | “Sidling Up to Difference: Social Change and Moral Revolutions” with Kwame Anthony Appiah
The philosopher and writer draws connections between the quality of our interpersonal relationships and social change.
Watch | A Guide to Embracing Chaos
Krista was recently in conversation with Lulu Miller at the 2020 Aspen Ideas Festival. They talk about the problem with categories and the power of words to destroy or remake the world.