Feeling Helpless? 15 Things You Can Do To Fight Racism and Work For Social Justice
I cannot count how many times I have been asked in recent days, “What can I do?” This question often comes from a place of helplessness, frustration, and even guilt. I can’t pretend that I have a definitive answer to this question but I will offer one perspective and a number of suggestions.
First, a perspective adapted from something I wrote more than a year ago. “I see the project of social justice as one of the most important organizational efforts of our time and, as such, take from the lessons of dozens of successful organizations. We cannot all be doing the same thing. We must use talent efficiently. We cannot waste time micromanaging each other.” I am grateful for and awed by the courage of protestors who put their bodies on the line so that we might be heard. I also believe that the project of building an antiracist America is tremendously complex and will take a sustained and coordinated effort–probably one that will take a few more generations. And because of this, the effort must be multi-faceted.
Anti-racism NEEDS diversity.
In addition to protesters, we need problem-solvers, organizers, counselors, coalition-builders, legislators, healers, artists, consciousness-raisers, strategic planners, historians, analysts, educators, and more. With that in mind, here are some suggestions:
Start with yourself. Take the time to confront your own racist ideas, habits, and behaviors. It is painful but worthwhile. In this blog post, I write a little about my confrontation with my own (yes MINE) anti-black racism. If you are looking for further reading, I highly recommend Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be An Antiracist.” Are you good at organizing? Find information that needs to be sorted and compiled and make it publicly available–attorneys offering pro bono representation, places where people can get first aid, educational and training resources for business owners, or clean up efforts. Are you a trained counselor or a really great listener? Ofter to listen without judgment. Start with your friends and family. Perhaps invite your neighbors and coworkers to lean on you. Perhaps you might even extend an offer to your social networks. This moment is taking an enormous toll on the mental health of those who choose to be engaged. You can help people grieve, find purpose, and center themselves in the midst of turbulence. Do you have financial resources to spare? There are coalitions, nonprofit organizations, and ad hoc fundraisers all over the country that could use some support right now. However, PLEASE do your due diligence and make sure your funds are going where you intend them to! Got a knack for online research? Act as a filter for your social network. There is an ALARMING amount of misinformation floating around right now. Spreading lies helps no one. Fact-check, follow-up, and help keep your connections from falling victim to those sowing discord. Are you an artist? We desperately NEED your creativity right now. Posters and zines, songs and anthems, poems and essays. We need symbols to rally around, beauty to touch our hearts, reasons to feel joy, experiences to humanize this, inspiration–we need art more than ever. Are you skilled at mediation? We need to expand the coalition of those willing to work for social justice. Those who are able to reveal common ground, mutual benefits, productive partnerships and build relationships are absolutely critical. Social justice benefits us all. Are you a historian? We need your mastery of the broader context to show us what brought us to this moment. We need you to show us the mistakes of the past so that we do not repeat them. We need you to show us what came before so that we can intelligently move forward. Are you an archivist or a documentarian? We need records of this moment. Records that will combat groups who are using misinformation to spread discord, records for those who need to see to believe, records for our children, and their children so that none of this is in vain. Are you an educator? First, thank you, you have my heart. There is SO much ignorance…and fear so easily fills gaps in knowledge. Fortify people with facts. Help them think deeply and critically about race and power. Give them the intellectual gifts of complexity and nuance. Are you a healer? Whether you are a nurse, nutritionist, personal trainer, or a spiritual leader; people’s bodies and minds, hearts and souls are in need of healing. Lead a guided meditation on Zoom, provide first aid for those who have been beaten and gassed, feed people. Are you inclined to civic engagement? Volunteer for a candidate you believe in or run for office yourself. Organize a virtual voter registration drive or learn what it takes to introduce a piece of local legislation. Call your elected leaders and let them hear your voice. Have some economic chops? Provide your expertise to those small businesses who are now reeling to survive and rebuild after the combined effects of COVID-19 and property damage. Blessed with an able body? There are a number of clean-up efforts going on around the nation. Lend a hand and while you’re there collect the stories of those who have been affected, not only by property damage but also by years of fear, intimidation, and over-policing. Just listen. There are organizers all over the country articulating their needs. Listen, be humble, let your sense of ethics and humanity guide you to the voices that you can amplify with a genuine heart. Sometimes the best thing you can do is pass the mic.