Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Lori Blewett
The Evergreen State College

Perceived physiological and cultural differences are easily exploited by political elites for the purpose of gaining and maintaining social control. Discrimination and violence are a common consequence of perceiving one group of people as less trustworthy, moral, intelligent, or civilized (and ultimately less human) than another group. Imbalances of power are seen as reflections of individual strength and cultural merit rather than systemic injustice. Efforts toward creating a desirable society continue to be hindered by unquestioned privilege, fear, and prejudice across race, caste, and ethnic divisions.


There are few cultures in the world that have not been affected in some way by European concepts of race. In some cases, European colonizers layered race on top of long- standing caste hierarchies or religious prejudices to further subjugate, divide, and control colonized people. In the United States, alliances between blacks and poor whites, for example, were intentionally subverted by elites who bestowed minimal advantages on lower-class whites to prevent class-based uprisings. The historical legacy of long-maintained racial divides and inequalities continues to affect any organization attempting to create a more just and sustainable society, even when racism is not the primary issue that an organization or movement wants to address. As with gender divisions, race, caste, and class hierarchies often intertwine to erode the effectiveness of organizations and their communication, especially when patterns of privilege and bias go unnoticed.


This pattern has two major dimensions: Anti-Racist Awareness and Anti-racist Action.

Awareness begins with seeking a deeper understanding of the multiple ways that racism and race privilege operate in the lives of individuals and organizations. Anti-racist books, movies, workshops, lectures, discussions, and observation can all be useful tools for raising awareness. Multi-cultural history books (e.g., "A Different Mirror") or social/economic analysis (e.g., "Black Wealth White Wealth") can help us see beyond the myth of the melting pot, and understand how social structures maintain racial inequity generation after generation. Films like "Banking on Life and Debt" help us understand the international forces that maintain global inequalities built upon European Colonialism, and how those inequities reinforce domestic racism. Reflective essays like "White Privilege and Male Privilege" can help us see how privileges are bestowed upon whites on a daily basis, even when they do not seek racial advantage.

By analyzing social and historical dynamics of power and privilege, we understand why few people reach adulthood without internalizing social hierarchies that shape our unconscious perceptions of one another. At the same time it is important to become more aware of the possibilities for change and resistance. We must learn about the successes of communities of color that have struggled against racism, and we must learn about inter-racial solidarity that has aided anti-racist efforts at numerous times and places in history.

Armed with a better awareness of the dynamics of racism, members of an organization can become more reflective about their own practices. Developing and maintaining an anti-racist consciousness is an on-going process for most people, but it is especially challenging for members of dominant racial groups. Because information and communication represented in the dominant culture are likely to reinforce the racial status quo, whites in the U.S., for example, must take extra care to seek the perspectives of people of color who are critical of mainstream policy, discourse, and ideology.

Action begins with recognition that we are not powerless in the face of institutionalized or interpersonal racism, and that challenging racism is both an individual and collective responsibility. Examples of anti-racist action are plentiful --from individuals interrupting racist jokes to transnational organizations uniting against contemporary colonialism.
An anti-racist orientation can help guide many facets of an organization: out-reach practices, service providing, hiring, resource allocation, group communication, etc. With an anti-racist perspective, individuals can work to create organizations that both embrace ethnic diversity and model a commitment to racial justice. Organizations whose members are primarily from privileged communities can seek guidance from leaders that represent grassroots organizations in other communities. Groups can form alliances across racial or national boundaries making shared use of differing access to information, experiential knowledge, economic resources, and political power.

Organizations can promote anti-racist solidarity by investigating the racial dimensions of any issues that they are working on. For example, anti-racist environmentalists have exposed the disproportionate effects of toxic waste on communities of color. Information technology activists interested in racial justice have designed projects to accomodate differing needs in differing ethnic communities. Within the anti-war and anti-globalization movements, activists with an anti-racist orientation have drawn attention to the role that racist discourse and ideology play in maintaining public support for international policy.

The greatest challenge to anti-racism is the discomfort, defensiveness, and animosity that it often engenders among whites (or other racially privileged groups—depending on the context). Rejection often happens when individuals from privileged groups do not see themselves as responsible, in any way, for the conditions that other racial groups experience. Talking about race privilege and unconscious racial biases can seriously threaten people’s positive sense of self. Many people are more comfortable believing that innate characteristics of racial groups cause the problems or successes that each groups experience, and some people even perceive themselves to be discriminated against when members of other racial groups demand social change to alleviate injustices. Whites who are economically disadvantaged, (or who experience discrimination related to age, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, or other characteristic), sometimes see anti-racism as a denial of their own hardships. In extreme cases, oppressed whites may react so negatively to anti-racist critiques that they turn toward white supremacist or neo-nationalist ideologies to shore-up their low self-esteem (see Paul Gilroy for a critique of British anti-racist education of working class youth). People of color also sometimes oppose anti-racist perspectives when they have been convinced by the dominant culture that racism is no longer a significant, institutionalized problem. For people of color, becoming more aware of racism can be particularly painful and disempowering.

In order to be successful, anti-racists must recognize the strength of dominant racial attitudes and ideology. Anti-racist education and discourse should be geared toward the forms of denial and dismissal that are most common in a particular context. Educational activities should include follow-up support to help people process new, sometimes disturbing, ways of seeing the world. Resources that put a human face on the experience of racial oppression can be particularly useful. Focusing on the shared costs of racism (and the shared benefits of ending it) may be the best way to encourage inter-racial solidarity. When both whites and people of color recognize that ending racism is in their interests, they begin to see themselves as part of the long history of resistance to racism. This sense of solidarity across time and racial boundaries adds meaning and a sense of hope to the difficult, and sometimes emotionally painful, process of recognizing and challenging race privilege and racism.


Only by recognizing racism (personal and institutional) and actively challenging it, can we hope to overcome the racial divisions that inhibit effective problem solving and weaken progressive movements. An anti-racist orientation to social change can help organizations successfully challenge policies and practices that mask power, exploitation, and resource grabbing behind the guise of liberal individualism and national interests.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Efforts to improve societies are hindered by privilege, fear, and prejudice across race, caste, and ethnic divisions. As with gender divisions, other hierarchies intertwine to erode the effectiveness of organizations. Anti-Racism has two dimensions: Anti-Racism through awareness and Anti-Racism through action. An anti-racist orientation to social change can help organizations challenge policies and practices that mask power, exploitation, and resource grabbing.

Pattern status: