What I Wish I Knew: My Own Goals for Anti-Racist Practice

Catherine Jones
Date Published: 
November 4, 2005

What I Wish I Knew:

MyOwn Goals for Anti-Racist Practice


by Catherine Jones


These are some principles that I've developed formyself so that I can  stay focusedon actually doing anti-racist work, rather than thinking and talking about it awhole lot. These all come straight from lessons I've learned from my experienceof doing the work. I'm not saying that any of these statements is The Answer;this whole list of stuff is more a reflection of where I'm at right now in myongoing struggle to figure it all out. Maybe it'll work for you, and maybe itreally won't. My main point in all of this is, if you want to do anti-racistwork, do it. Don't          wait untilyou feel like you're the perfect anti-racist. There's a whole big movement outthere that needs you!


Do your homework. There IS stuff going on in yourcommunity. Find out          what it isand how you can support the work.


Don't expect people or organizations of color to tellyou how to be in          solidaritywith them, but be willing to modify or toss out any of your ideas if they thinkthere's a better way for you to support them. Have a very rough plan that youcan be flexible with and that's based on an authentic and accountableunderstanding--not just your own thoughts--of  where people and organizations of color can use yoursupport.


Be conscious about how you prioritize your work-spend a significant chunk of your time doing the stuff that really is unsexyand be conscious about what you do and don't commit your time to. If going to 8workshops a week has you feeling too exhausted to do childcare at a meeting forlow-income women of color, you may want to re-evaluate.


Build accountable relationships with other whiteanti-racists who can both support you and call you on your shit when it'snecessary.


Take care of yourself but be real about it. Figureout the things that          rejuvenateyou and do them; take breaks when you need them, but don't          use theexcuse of "self-care" to get out of doing the work. Setrealistic          boundariesfor yourself and stick to them.


Give Practical Support!!!!! What are your resourcesthat you can share  withorganizations of color? Maybe you can provide food or childcare or         translation at meetings, maybe you can help phonebank for specificevents, maybe you can volunteer to work at the front desk, give people rides,find out where a group can get donated computer equipment, or throw afundraising party at your house. There are tons of ways for white folks to givenecessary behind-the-scenes support to organizations of color. Figureout--don't assume you know--what people need, and find a way to help out.


Don't abandon the work if it makes you feel"uncomfortable." This is a pretty common feeling when white folks areactually working with people of color. Acknowledge that you feel this way, tryand figure out why, get support from other white anti-racists who you respect,and keep going. Most of us have been there.


Don't wait for people to come to you out of the blue'cause they won't. Be proactive about letting organizations and allies know whoyou are and what you do. Figure out when it's appropriate to get involved, anddo it.


If the majority of your anti-racist work consists ofeducating other  white folks onanti-racism, make sure to spend a lot of time focusing on ways the participantsin your training or workshop can plug into racial justice struggles that aregoing on in their community. Work on developing tools for identifying existingstruggles and developing a group's capacity to support those struggles in apractical, not just an ideological, way.


Make sure not to confuse anti-racist group dynamicswith anti-racist work. And don't give up on one just because you're practicing theother.


Do authentic and accountable leadership developmentwith emerging white         anti-racists, especially around doing the work. Talk to newer whiteanti-racists          about theirwork, what they've learned, and what's been challenging. Help          them tobuild the practical skills they need. Be there for them.


Give props to white folks who are doing practical,behind-the-scenes anti-racist work in your community.


Find role models of your own, white folks who aredoing anti-racist work in a variety of capacities. Seek out these folks in yourown community.They're there.


Be willing to do what's needed. Maybe you really wantto be working with          some amazingand popular organization of color that doesn't actually have          a whole lotof opportunities for you to plug in, while another organization          down thestreet is doing less high-profile work but really needs some folks to help themwith fundraising. Take the opportunity to be of use.


Take criticism from people of color for what it is--agift.


If you have political disagreements with a person ororganization of color that you're doing political work with, think criticallyabout what your issues are and where they're coming from. Don't abandon yourprinciples simply because a person of color may have a different take on acertain idea, but don't be afraid to challenge some of your deeply-held beliefsif you find that they don't hold up when you look at them with an anti-racistframework. Be open to criticism, even criticism of your politics, if it comesfrom an anti-racist perspective.


You're gonna make mistakes. You're gonna feelembarrassed when you do.          This is nota reason to stop doing the work! In my experience, if people          know thatyou're a generally accountable person who shows up and kicks          ass whenyou're needed, they won't take it nearly as hard if you say or do the wrongthing every now and then. But learn from your mistake, don't make it again, anddo what you can to smooth things over in a principled way.


Build authentic and good personal, as well aspolitical, relationships with people of color.


Don't be a shrinking violet. Sometimes white folksthink they're being anti-racist if they go to a meeting and don't do or say anythingat all. You can step up to the plate without dominating. Just make sure thestuff you're stepping up to do is appropriate. (If you're not sure what'sappropriate or not, start out by volunteering to do behind-the scenes supportwork that someone else won't have to take a whole lot of time to show you howto do. As your relationship with the organization progresses you'll get a feelfor how much leadership or visibility they want you to take.)


This is my motto--say less, think less, do more.Remember that you're          not a wholelot of use to the movement if you're sitting in a workshop. Put your knowledgeto use. The struggle needs you!


(....and Don't Talk Too Much At The Meeting. Really.)


feedback, rants, insight, or arbitraryobservations can be addressed to cjones14at tulane.edu