Reader view: Practicing antiracism

How Could This Happen?

I Wonder Why?

For the past several days, these two questions have been asked repeatedly. “How could this happen” to George Floyd (or Ahmaud Abery or Breonna Taylor or to bring it home locally, Nagi Kandasamy)? Or, “I don’t understand, why do police/people do this”? The answer given all too quickly is that it due to racism and that racism is simply something we all can and should just turn off. The other thing we hear a lot is “I’m not racist.”

As an avid reader and stuck at home more hours than I can count, I have been reading way too many books. I finished one about a month ago and just opened it back up today on my Kindle to reread. It is by Ibram X. Kendi, a black man descended from slaves, raised predominantly in black neighborhoods, and educated at a historically black college, who wrote a book, How to Be an Antiracist. In this book, Kendi clearly shows just how deeply racism is woven into the fabric of our society. And, he admits that he was a racist. It is possible/likely that he (like us), still is.

But his point is that to undo racism, we need to acknowledge that it exists, that we are all to some degree racist, and that to undo racism, we need to acknowledge and understand how race has been constructed over time and actively work against.

As a researcher, I often use techniques to encourage people to think a bit differently about things (or get at what we call System 1 thinking) by asking respondents to put themselves in another’s person’s shoes or to attempt to understand why someone else may not act the way you think you would or think they should. One behavior we studied using this technique is bullying. We had teens saying things like “I would never bully someone like that” or “If I saw someone being bullied, I would. . .” or “I don’t understand why someone didn’t. . ..” But then we see teens standing by while knowing/seeing their friends being bullied. Sound familiar?

So, in our bullying research we asked participants to choose a partner. Partner #1 had to say what they would say or do if they were in a group and saw someone being bullied. Partner #2 had to come up with reasons why other people in the crowd observing the same behavior didn’t do what Partner #1 said they should do. The results? Let’s apply this to the current scenario and you will get a sense of what we heard. Here is how a recent conversation of mine just went.

ME: “OMG. That thing I just saw on the news in Minneapolis is the worst thing I have ever seen. I don’t understand how this could happen. Why didn’t the people filming do something? If I had been there, I would have called 911 and kept the dispatcher on the line until they got back-up there.”

MY FRIEND: “Yes it was just awful. But just imagine Becky if you were a black person in a predominantly black neighborhood filming and observing this. Would you be comfortable calling the police?”

ME: “Oh DUH. I never thought about it like that.”

Now, I marched in several protests during the Civil Rights and Vietnam years and if confronted, I would be likely to say, “I am not racist.” However, despite my life experiences and as you can see from the conversation above, I am still in some ways a racist. But I continue to hope that in everything I do I practice antiracism.

So maybe it would help just a bit if all of us in Edmonds have some conversations. Have someone be Partner #1 and some else be Partner #2. Post your conversation and let’s see what kinds of things come up. Perhaps, we can come away with some ideas to make us all just a little bit less racist and further along the path to becoming an antiracist.

— By Rebecca YalchEdmonds 

22 Replies to “Reader view: Practicing antiracism”

  1. I spent part of my youth as a minority being judged by some on my race. In my experience, this is a VAST MINORITY of people, and are frowned on by most. But I think people searching earnestly to find racism in every corner are often like the guy with a hammer; everything looks like a nail. Part of what makes life interesting is our differences. And beautifully in this country, we’re equal in the most important way, equally recognized in front of the law. BLM is fundamentally wrong and racist, as black lives surely do matter, but just no more than any other life.

    Our biggest problem is the increasing trend over the past few decades to filter behavior and judge differently based on race and tribe. This is the crux of the problem here and is exactly the OPPOSITE of what MLK righteously said in “I have a dream” about judging by content of character not color of skin. Certain cities and communities have allowed this narrative to be exploited by many ignoble elements including politicians and race-hustlers; throwing gas on the fire, now we see the inevitable lawlessness coming home to roost for them. This is true especially with agent provocateurs in anarchic Antifa as well as the more roguish elements of BLM. However, what’s not on display, is the numerous victims who have the misfortune to suffer violence occurring under circumstances that don’t match this preferred frame. Crime comes in many racist forms, the white cop on black frame is in vogue, while excusing and ignoring other frames.. Black on white/asian/hispanic, Asian on, Hispanic on..etc.. At the end of the day though, it’s crime, the race is unimportant.

    Cops are the thin blue line, protecting the vulnerable and the violently unappreciative alike, while striving to uphold a noble oath and code. When we’re young and sketchy, no one likes the cops. The spotlight here is rightly on a rogue cop, but let’s not paint them all with a broad brush, and recognize and call out any underlying culture that celebrates violence and lawlessness. This would be looting and anarchy in any form. It’s simply inexcusable.

    Much of America’s race problems are firmly rooted in ignorantly allowing this elevation of race and tribe over the colorblind justice most folks already desire. Race is irrelevant, the only way forward is judging right and wrong (legal and illegal) under all circumstances solely on behavior. Apply due process (with assumption of innocence) and prosecute logically to the extent it deserves, but don’t kowtow to race hustlers disingenuously flaming the simmering fires of the emotionally fragile. I think most people in Edmonds know and practice this already.

    Long story short.. Right and Wrong don’t see race or occupation.


    1. Let me stop you right here Mr. Sherman — “BLM is fundamentally wrong and racist, as black lives surely do matter, but just no more than any other life.” The point of Black Lives Matter and the people who keep saying it, is that black lives clearly don’t matter to some people, and they clearly didn’t matter to Derek Chauvin when he snuffed out the life of George Floyd. When it comes to the use of deadly force, history — past and current — sadly illustrates that some police officers value black life less than white. Think about George Floyd again — does anyone think for a moment that officer Chauvin would have done the same to a white suspect in a white neighborhood? Of course not.


      1. Do white suspects never get killed by the police? Do all black suspects that get killed by the police only come at the hands of white officers? This seems to be what many people are saying, is that really the truth we want to build a movement on? If we want to “solve” racism we need to stop swinging to extreme positions using single people to represent millions and calling for paybacks. Every time we raise one group above the rest trying to help them through problems of the past don’t we at the same time declare them as being less than the rest. Isn’t our offer to pull “them” up saying that we are above and they can only catch up with our help, that seems kind of racist. Racism, sexism, genderism, etc gets better when we truly treat everyone without looking at what makes them different, even if we are puting them into those groups for “good” reasons.


      2. It’s convenient but false narrative. Whites more likely to be shot by a cop, blacks are more likely to kill cops than be killed by a cop. I can slice the data a number of ways, I’ll list a couple to start with. Blacks kill themselves and every other race at an incredibly higher rate than any other race. For every innocent George Floyd, there are innocents of every race who had their life snuffed out as well. Doesn’t make either right, but to think it’s only one-sided is dangerously naive. ALL lives matter EQUALLY.


  2. Thank you Rebecca !
    It is imperative that we become anti-racists.
    We must speak out and protest racism whenever we see it , which is everywhere.
    Racism is systemic in our society..
    White silence is complicity.
    It is our (whites) problem, it is up to us to change .
    We must examine our white privilege and how we prop up racism everyday.
    It is not enough to think that we are not racists. We must be anti-racists.
    Edmonds has had some despicable acts of racism lately. We must protest racism whenever we see it and hear it. It is up to us to be a part of the solution and stop being the problem. Thank you everyone.


    1. The definition of racism is one where someone discriminates against someone else based on their race. True? As this would work in any direction, where do Asians, Hispanics, American Indians, and Pacific Islanders fit in? Logically it’s clear that any race could be, and probably is racist to one another. So.. Are we denying other races some privilege, and just where do well-to-do blacks fit in while we’re it? Sounds a bit discriminatory. Perhaps even……. Racist.?. Hmm.

      Systemic Racism? The American system that we all live under is the least racist design with the most colorblind opportunity in the history of man. A system where the standard of judging is merit, the antithesis of racism. A place where anyone of any creed or color can be successful and live the “American Dream” or any other self-defined dream. It has nearly nothing to do with race, much more in wanting to be a producer, working on a vision, and then working hard. There are thousands of examples of all races. But, while our capitalist system is the fairest, awarding those with a vision, it certainly does punish the lazy and the parasites of society.

      White privilege? Any privilege I personally have came from my parents raising me right, then years of education, planning, and hard work. Like millions of Americans of all races. I’m humble and thankful for what I have, but nothing was given to me.. My white guilt meter is rightfully pegged at “None”.

      “We must speak out and protest racism whenever we see it”.. Well, I think I’ll team up with MLK and call out the racism and tribal privileges of intersectionality It’s the very definition of racism. Perhaps we can do something about it where we’ll judge by merit, not skin color or privileged class.

      White silence. Well that wouldn’t be me. I calls em as I sees em..

      Since racism is everywhere, perhaps you could tell me specially where it is? More importantly the specific despicable acts of racism here recently.

      I agree that we should all be a part of the solution. So, how bout we all start by taking personal responsibility for our own lives, and vowing not live life as a victim.


  3. Rebecca, Yalch,

    Thank you for sparking the discussion.

    For those of us who use media, whether news, comedy, interviews to better understand topics, including racism, government action, and related, here are a selection of sources from which to choose.

    The following are samples of topics on Racism from new legislation, definitions, commentary, comedians, leaders, civil rights… Sources for Understanding was racism was created, maintained and evolved by those in power.

    Trevor Noah: On a search Engine: enter “Trevor Noah Racism”, select from a plethora of this International Comedian, author, talks show host, leader on commentary, standup, interviews and literature on Racism.

    ‘My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, Season one, Episode One” visiting Selma with John Lewis, with Barack Obama and John Lewis (on Netflix)

    ‘Officials in Ohio have declared racism a public health crisis in the state’s most populated county… The declaration describes race as a “social construct with no biological basis… It also identifies two types of racism: individualized racism and systemic racism”…
    Source: :Racism declared a public health crisis in Ohio’s most populated county
    The disparities have been underscored from the coronavirus pandemic.”
    By Ella Torres May 20, 2020, 9:50 AM

    Also, in the Snohomish County’s 2020 HART (housing report), taking action toward improving housing for people of color is mentioned at least seven times in the publication.


  4. Prefaced from a good friend: “It’s profoundly sad and humbling that these words are just as true and necessary today as when they were spoken decades ago… ”

    “Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. I’m still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice. I feel that violence will only create more social problems than they will solve. That in a real sense it is impracticable for the Negro to even think of mounting a violent revolution in the United States. So I will continue to condemn riots, and continue to say to my brothers and sisters that this is not the way. And continue to affirm that there is another way.

    But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
    —Martin Luther King, Jr.


    1. Wrong on a few levels.. Any comparison between conditions when he said that and now is either naive, disingenuous or both; either way a false equivalence. Relevant then when his riot observations were spoken, Jim Crow and segregation ruling the day. But comparison between the conditions then now are night and day. Any person of any race today needs only vision and hard work. The examples are numerous and obvious. And while opportunities have changed dramatically for the better, it’s interesting that we still see the same wanton destruction and violence as from the late 60’s in Detroit, Chicago etc.. And the “injustice” justification for it doesn’t match reality either, the fact is that however you want to slice the data, blacks kill at a MUCH greater rate than any other race.. At the end of the day, what hasn’t changed one iota over time is his fundamental and absolute understanding of character over race.

      Anyone defending the stealing and burning of anyone else’s stuff is taking a very slippery relative path to justice, and lacks a very fundamental understanding of the golden rule. This “OK for me but not for thee” is the root of any justice problem. Again, neither right nor wrong recognizes race or occupation.


    2. Thank you for sharing this, Lori.

      At the core of MLK’s message was that rioting – and violence in general – was not a “change agent” of itself, but was instead to be seen as a manifestation of the failure to hear the oppressed and the aggrieved. He was as right then as he is now. Ironically, to that message we could add RFK’s address on April 05, 1968 (“On the Mindless Menace of Violence”), delivered the night that we lost MLK (still one of the greatest public addresses of living memory, and unfortunately too long to reproduce here). Those lessons are as relevant today as they were then.

      The non-violent protests that we hear across the country today (to be sure a constitutionally protected activity that shares no province with the looting going on) will become the bitter and corrosive unrest that we experience tomorrow, if we don’t at least listen. We can avoid all that, if we don’t retreat so far into angry little tribes that we lose the ability to reach out and listen.


      1. I’m sorry, I just can’t get past the utter hypocrisy. I hear oppressed and aggrieved, peaceful protest, white privilege, I can’t breathe etc.. . All just boil down to justifications for violence. AND ignore the thousands of other victims because they don’t fit the preferred frame and no one is looting for them.. But OMG, the whining and criticism of the evil 2A right when the guns come out, except they don’t start the brick throwing or the shooting.

        Listen? I’ll always listen to a point, but just as it’s not their responsibility to keep me happy, it’s not mine to keep them happy. I see this problem as systemic, but not as in racism; primarily the wearing of victim-hood, failure to take personal responsibility, failure to keep the family together, and fathers not raising their sons.

        Everyone gets beat down, but most just don’t whine, shoot and burn down their neighbors. The responsible just get up and figure out how to get it done. Innocent cops and others are getting shot. People’s stuff is getting stolen. There’s burning buildings and chaos everywhere. It’s a pathologic failure of the emotionally fragile. As circumstances have improved through the years, we’d rightfully expect improvement, and yet we’ve seen the same stuff for 50 years, and this may be the worst. Doesn’t extrapolate well for the future.


  5. I probably should have positioned my Reader’s View as a Book Review. But a key point that I was trying to make is that Ibram Kendi’s position is that everyone (Kendi himself, me, our commenters such as Mr. Sherman) is to some extent racist—not a racist as it is defined today but rather having some inherent / intrinsic racial biases.
    I read his books – “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” and “How to Be an Antiracist” – because as a researcher I was interested in his acknowledgement of these inherent / intrinsic biases—in research terms we refer to them as part of our System 1 thinking. The concept of System 1 versus System 2 thinking was popularized by Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Memorial Prize Winner in Economic Sciences. System 1 is the first level of thinking that happens in any situation—it is fast, automatic, instinctive, and emotional. By contrast System 2 thinking is slow, conscious, deliberate, and logical. The information processed by System 1 often feeds into System 2, but System 2 can sometimes correct mistakes or misjudgments produced by System 1.
    So Kendi basically posits that that our history, the way we have been individually raised, and the environment in which we live has contributed to a System 1 level of thinking that is in many cases racist. He acknowledges that it takes a long time to overcome System 1 thinking. So, his premise then is that by being “anti-racist,” and teaching “anti-racism” – i.e., in everything we do and say consciously acting to not be racist– we will first and foremost be good and responsible human beings who do not consider “color” in the things that we do but will ultimately (over time) overcome this immediate System 1 thinking.—i.e., we will finally replace the System 1 thinking that sometimes results in us doing and saying things that don’t reflect our true, logical, and thoughtful selves.
    I am excited to see that Kendi has a new book forthcoming on June 16th – “Antiracist Baby”—designed to introduce young readers (and their grown-up parents and grandparents) to how to use language to begin conversations early that start to break down this System 1 thinking. I can’t wait to get my hands on it—I am reaching out to our local Edmonds bookstore in the hopes that they can have hard copies on hand immediately so I can share it with my grandchildren.


  6. Apologies for this brief breaking of my recent vow of silence. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I would respectfully suggest to all who comment here, that following this simple admonition from, arguably, the World’s greatest philosopher ever, would solve most of our problems in terms of race, politics and religion. Love is simple; hate is very complicated and debilitating in the end.


  7. For people who have the mindset of Roger Sherman’s current perspective, I do not think you are open to exercising Rebecca Yalch’s suggestion. If someone were willing to lead such an exercise, (Perhaps with the 6 foot distancing, or online) it would be educational for all involved: leader, participants, and audience.

    For now, those who are interested, Trevor Noah, attempts to explain, not excuse, the riots. Trevors commentary today parallels Martin Luther King Junior’s of yesterday.


  8. Thank you Rebecca, for sharing your article with us. I too have read Kendi’s book and have been on a journey to learn more about systemic racism, my white privilege & power, and how to be an ally to oppressed and under represented communities. I have a long way to go. Now I have an opportunity to reach out to our Edmonds family through my work as the Coordinator for the City of Edmonds Diversity Commission. The implicit biases and systemic racism run deep. Only folks who are willing to do the work, have an open mind and engage in constructive open dialogue can grown, learn, and make positive change. One of the most powerful ways to begin this process is to share STORY. When we listen to others experiences with an open mind and heart (empathy), we begin to see more clearly the humanity and struggles of individuals and communities. By sharing story and exposing ourselves to other ideas and cultures, it deepens our connections to others. The Edmonds Diversity Commission is on a mission to do just this. Please join our Facebook page “I am Edmonds” @IamEdmonds and share your stories with us and with the Edmonds community. We want to hear from you on ways we can support and celebrate the diversity of all here in our community. or email me directly at Mayor Nelson is also forming an Equity & Justice Advisory Task Force to help us move forward on policy changes. Peace be with you all.


  9. Have none of you traveled outside of your echo chambers? Does all of your experience come from a book? The FIRST time I traveled to the third world, it was CRYSTAL clear that we’re all the same in what’s important.. A smile’s a smile, a frown’s a frown and a tear’s a tear.. EXACTLY the same. How do you people not see this??? This feels like a conversation I’ve had with 10 year olds and here’s the take-aways..

    a. The Golden Rule is probably the single most important rule in guidance between people. Many of you either never knew it or have forgotten it.
    b. Following sketchy pompous violent pubescents (often thugs) with little experience or wisdom is a road to disaster. Older wise black folks are often the victims here.
    c. Ignorantly or naïvely not calling out the community who are as a group, overwhelmingly are the PERPETRATORS of murders and violence, NOT the victims. If Black Lives Mattered, wouldn’t they stop killing themselves in Chiraq et al? And now look who’s engaging in the killing, looting and burning.
    d. Spineless mayors/councils who flame the fires and won’t own it when the emotional midgets and agent provocateurs are emboldened. They can’t or won’t protect their people, looking to pin the blame everywhere except where it belongs.. With Them.. Then imagine that, our mayor’s pining for a looters alliance.
    e. The logical and moral contortions engaged to justify and defend the undefendable is amazing.
    f. Keep lessons from the past, but obsess about the future and everyone’s potential instead.
    g. If systemic discrimination was a major problem, how do millions of Black Americans, Black Africans, Asians, Hispanics, American Indians and Pacific Islanders have any success? Because they focus on families, raise good kids, have a vision, work hard, and don’t let setbacks stop them. In other words, they have gumption and grit, not blame and victim-hood.

    Money, not race, is privilege. All lives matter. For those who still don’t get it, our only path forward is colorblind judgment based on behavior over race. As long as selective justice for a preferred race and tribe exist, NOT equal justice for all, this kind of problem will go on forever. Liberal predecessors who fought for racial equality are aghast and ashamed, rolling over in their graves.


  10. Unfortunately Roger in the current environment books are having to serve as a substitute for our world travels. And as others have said so far better than I:

    “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss

    “Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” — Mark Twain

    “My alma mater was books, a good library…. I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.” — Malcolm X

    “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” — James Baldwin

    Tina — I saw the article this morning on stories. I hope that this will start some good conversations rather than shutting them down. And I hope to see the Diversity Commission take a broader, leading role in these conversations.


  11. Reading’s a great adjunct, but reality isn’t the map. I live in hope for those who don’t or haven’t to engage in the riches and understanding it provides to the mind, body, and spirit. Also said better than me.. .

    “Explore. Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing the lawn.” – Jack Kerouac
    “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” –attributed to St. Augustine.
    “You can’t have a narrow mind and a thick passport. – Pauline Frommer
    “I still make sure to go, at least once every year, to a country where things cannot be taken for granted, and where there is either too much law and order or too little. ” – Christopher Hitchens
    “Of all the books in the world, the best stories are found between the pages of a passport.” – Unknown
    “To travel is to live.” – Hans Christian Andersen
    “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends. ” -Maya Angelou
    “The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” – Samuel Johnson
    “Airplanes may kill you, but they ain’t likely to hurt you.” ― Satchel Paige


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