Dictionary definition: opposition to racism
Antiracist definition: commitment to actively dismantling systems and institutions that produce racism
When most people hear the word ‘antiracist,’ they reasonably assume that it means “opposed to racism,” just like ‘anti-communist’ means “opposed to communism” or “anti-capitalist” means “opposed to capitalism.” However, as I mentioned in the introduction, antiracism is a comprehensive ideology that uses familiar terms in technical ways. The term ‘antiracism’ is no exception.
Because antiracists see racism primarily as a system of racial dominance rather than as personal racial prejudice, they believe that personal rejection of racial prejudice is insufficient to combat racism. If we adopt the antiracist definition of ‘antiracism,’ it’s possible for someone to abhor and even publicly denounce personal racial prejudice and to still fail to qualify as an ‘antiracist’ if they do not commit to dismantling racist systems and structures.
“Anti-racist is a new name for a person or community that develops an analysis of systemic racism, becomes committed to dismantling racism, and will not rest until ultimately escaping from the prison of racism.” – Joseph Barndt, Becoming an Anti-Racist Church, p. 156
“Opposing racism is not the same as building an antiracist society. Our new series, Antiracism and America, looks at the structures that sustain a racist society – and how we dismantle them” – Ibram X Kendi, “This is what an antiracist America would look like. How do we get there?”The Guardian, 12/6/2018
The positive aspects of the antiracist definition of ‘antiracism’ will depend largely on whether you embrace the ideology of antiracism. For example, if you believe that ‘racism‘ is properly defined as “racial prejudice plus institutional power” and that ‘white supremacy‘ is properly defined as “beliefs, behaviors, or systems which perpetuate white privilege” where ‘white privilege‘ is understood to be “the set of unearned advantages that whites experience relative to non-whites, by virtue of their skin color,” then anti-racism will make sense as an ideology. Because all whites are socialized into racial superiority and because racism is deeply embedded in our structures and institutions, a passive rejection of racism is insufficient. Instead, we are all obligated to actively deconstruct and dismantle the structures of racism by becoming ‘antiracists.’
The flip side of this argument is that someone who rejects antiracism as a comprehensive ideology will find the term itself unhelpful, misleading, or even deliberately manipulative. In particular, antiracists like Ibram Kendi see a dichotomy between “racism” and “antiracism”: “For nearly six centuries, antiracist ideas have been pitted against two kinds of racist ideas: segregationist and assimilationist” (Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning, p. 2). On this view, each person is forced to either adopt anti-racism wholesale or to risk being labelled a racist. Those who reject antiracism or who accept only parts of it understandably view this definition as an illicit rhetorical maneuver that enforces ideological conformity.
On the one hand, antiracists should be clear that antiracism is a complex ideology, not merely a rejection of racial prejudice. Consequently, they should make it clear that failing to adopt antiracism is not equivalent to harboring racial prejudice.
On the other hand, those who are unfamiliar with the ideology of antiracism should try to understand its basic outlook and the terminology it employs. Hopefully, this glossary will be helpful in that regard.
- An Antiracism Glossary – Racism
- Intro to Critical Theory
- The Worldview of White Fragility – A Review of Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility
- Race, Class, and Gender: The Strengths and Weaknesses of the Ideology of the Social Justice Movement – Part 1