Top 5 contributions Antiracism offers the Immigrant Rights and Immigrant Integration movements

For the last year, Crossroads colleagues at ERAC/Ce (Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality) in Kalamazoo, MI have been intentionally working with folks in the immigrants rights and immigrant integration movements. From this collaboration come these five insights regarding the contribution antiracism offers these movements.

1. The antiracism analysis goes beyond the Black/White binary and aims to build multi-racial coalitions.

Conversations about race and racism in the U.S. are often dichotomous, inclusive only of White dominant and African-American cultural values. An antiracism lens invites those of us who work to welcome immigrants to understand the ways in which all immigrants become racialized when they arrive here according to the U.S. race construct. There are typically six racial groups in the U.S. – Arab, Asian and Pacific Islander, Latino, Native American, African American, and White. Immigrants may or may not understand how they are viewed in the U.S. compared to in their home country, but there are very real ways in which their race affects how they are treated and how much access they get to institutions and the resources necessary for life. An antiracism analysis also reminds many of us that we are not all immigrants, which you often hear within the immigrant rights and integration movement. The founding of the U.S. began with the genocide of Native Indian peoples who originally lived on this land. What’s more, there have been economic and political strategies throughout history that have been designed to steal land and resources from and invisiblize Indian people and Indian country.

2Antiracism teaches White people, including White immigrant allies and advocates, that racism is not about blame.

None of us were around when racism was established in this country over 500 years ago. Many conversations about race and racism go badly because we aren’t taught how to have productive dialogue about these often-painful topics. We need a common language, more complete awareness of history, and an understanding that racism isn’t any one person’s fault (at least not anyone living today). And yet we are all responsible for the dismantling of it. Racism dehumanizes us all and antiracism helps White people as well as People of Color find their self-interest in the work. This analysis can help White U.S.-born immigrant advocates and allies approach their work from a place of solidarity with immigrants and other People of Color instead of paternalism (wanting to “help, fix, and save” immigrants). It also reminds us that racism is more than just individual race prejudice. We must also examine how U.S. systems and institutions were built for White people, by White people, and in large part continue to serve White society better. Instead of focusing narrowly on a particular person’s attitudes and actions about different racial groups, antiracism asks the question: how is a particular White dominant culture value, practice, policy, or law working to maintain the supremacy of Whiteness?

3. Antiracism work is collaborative and always informed by/centered around anti-oppressive values.

Antiracism move us from the White dominant culture values like scarcity, either/or thinking, individualism/competition, and secrecy toward the antiracist/anti-oppressive values like an abundant worldview, both/and thinking, collective action, and transparency. Further, antiracism seeks to dismantle the silo-ing of and competition among social justice movements (aka the “Oppression Olympics”), which has been established through the divide and conquer strategies of our colonial and neo-colonial history.  What if oppressed groups starting working together – sharing knowledge, wisdom, resources, and tools? What if we all knew there is enough to go around and that we truly are stronger together? What if as resisters of oppression we began working cooperatively to co-create a country that welcomes and celebrates all?

4. Antiracism builds upon intersectionality – the understanding that we all have multiple identities.

Antiracism understands that racism is a system of oppression linked to other systems of oppression that robs each of us of our full humanity and impairs our ability to create just and sustainable community with one another both locally and globally. Racism is not the only “ism” and antiracism doesn’t ask us to drop our other identities in order to talk about race and racism. We can use our other experience around privilege and/or oppression as a window, not a wall. While it isn’t helpful to talk exclusively about racism, it is important to talk explicitly about racism. We must ask: how is race compounding upon all other identities (such as national origin and immigration status)?

5. Antiracism sees immigrant rights and immigrant integration (or welcome work) as resistance to oppression and offers a way of changing systems that have historically kept immigrants from being able to successfully integrate into their adopted hometowns.

The focus on creating welcoming receiving communities is approachable by many and can lead into deeper conversations of what it truly means to be welcoming — both in terms of individual and collective attitudes and actions AND how institutions are or aren’t effectively serving immigrants and why. Addressing national origin, culture, language, race, and documentation status-based prejudice is important and antiracism invites us to go deeper and address how immigrants experience systems and institutions (i.e.: hospitals and schools).  Doing the work of building welcoming communities is in itself an act of resistance to the historic realities of racism’s systemic and structural oppression.

Attitude or bias changing work is important and can be life-altering for both immigrants and U.S-born residents. And yet antiracism would posit that prejudice-reducing work can sometimes be masked as immigrant integration work. A school or local municipality can pass a “welcoming resolution” or proclamation, claiming to be a welcoming place to immigrants, but not actually become accountable to what that means on real and tangible levels. For example, how does a documented or undocumented farmworker from Guatemala or a Sudanese refugee experience a hospital or school or city hall when they walk through the door? In addition to changing receiving community members’ hearts and minds about immigrants (i.e.: help people see immigrants as contributors rather than “drainers”), we need an antiracism analysis grounded in the historical context of race and racism in the U.S. These two forms of resistance together can create a more inclusive, equitable, and welcoming country. 

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About the writers:

Lillie Wolff is one of two Co-Executive Directors of ERAC/Ce (Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality) and a Core Organizer/Trainer for Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training. Prior to working with ERAC/Ce and Crossroads, Lillie spent seven years organizing around farmworker and immigrant rights and inclusion. Lillie is passionate about the intersections of social justice, ecological justice, and art, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art, and Natural Design (ISLAND) since 2009. She earned a BA in Human Development and Social Relations from Kalamazoo College in 2004. Lillie enjoys dancing, biking, gardening, spending time in nature, and preparing and eating communal meals with her wonderful anti-oppressive community.

Jo Ann Mundy is one of two co- Executive Directors of ERAC/Ce (Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality), and a Core Organizer-Trainer for Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training, a national partner working collaboratively with ERAC/Ce toward the institutionalization of racial justice in public and private institutions throughout southwest Michigan. Currently Jo Ann serves on the boards of Crossroads and the People’s Food Coop. As a founder mentor of the NIA Project, Jo Ann encourages the celebration of identity, purpose and sisterhood in adolescent women of color. Additionally, Jo Ann is a founding member of the Three Rivers Area Faith Community (TRAFC), an ecumenical faith-based social justice network of churches striving to build a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-generational anti-racist faith community in Three Rivers, MI where she completed her doctoral thesis Sacred Actions to Bring Racial Reconciliation. Enjoying over 25 years of pastoral ministry, Jo Ann currently serves as pastor of On Common Ground of Three Rivers Michigan. Jo Ann enjoys reading, music, her guitars and computers and, most of all, the young people in her life.

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Engaging Our Humanity

Lillie Wolff is one of two Co-Executive Directors of ERAC/Ce (Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality) and a Core Organizer/Trainer for Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training. Lillie is bilingual in English and Spanish and prior to working with ERAC/Ce and Crossroads spent seven years organizing around farmworker and immigrant rights and inclusion. Lillie is passionate about the intersections of social justice, ecological justice, and art, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art, and Natural Design (ISLAND) since 2009. She earned a BA in Human Development and Social Relations from Kalamazoo College in 2004. Lillie enjoys dancing, biking, gardening, spending time in nature, and preparing and eating communal meals with her wonderful anti-oppressive community.
Lillie Wolff is one of two Co-Executive Directors of ERAC/Ce (Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality) and a Core Organizer/Trainer for Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training. Lillie is bilingual in English and Spanish and prior to working with ERAC/Ce and Crossroads spent seven years organizing around farmworker and immigrant rights and inclusion. Lillie is passionate about the intersections of social justice, ecological justice, and art, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art, and Natural Design (ISLAND) since 2009. She earned a BA in Human Development and Social Relations from Kalamazoo College in 2004. Lillie enjoys dancing, biking, gardening, spending time in nature, and preparing and eating communal meals with her wonderful anti-oppressive community.

As a white antiracist organizer and trainer, I am on a journey toward understanding my relationship with privilege and oppression. Privilege and oppression are two sides of the same coin. In Privilege, Power, and Difference, Allan Johnson explains that the “isms” – sexism, heterosexism, ableism, racism – affect more than women, LGBTQI people, people with disabilities, and people of color.  They affect everyone. It is impossible to live in a world that generates so much injustice and suffering without being inextricably linked to it. Everyone has a race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability status. We all figure in the differences that privilege and oppression are about.

Johnson suggests that the greatest barrier to change is that dominant groups don’t see the trouble of our society as their trouble, and as a result, don’t feel obligated to do something about it. This may be because we don’t even know the trouble exists, we don’t have to see it as our trouble, because we see it as a personal rather than systemic problem, because we’re reluctant to give up privilege, or afraid of what will happen if we acknowledge the reality of privilege and oppression.

Systems of privilege make privilege invisible and those who are part of the dominant white culture in the U.S. are taught to deny and minimize oppression. White people are taught to be “colorblind,” to believe that since Barak Obama is president we must be “post-racial.” Those of us who are white are socialized to blame the victim, call it something else, assume everyone prefers things the way they are. We mistake intentions with consequences, attribute oppression to others, and balance the oppression of others with our own (note: the goal is not to play the Oppression Olympics).  While it may feel good in an anesthetic kind of way to believe that we are “post-racial,” the truth is that we have all inherited a material reality based on 500 years of shared history.

What if we all started thinking about the trouble of systemic racism as everyone’s responsibility and nobody’s fault? What if we told each other and ourselves that it’s not about blame and that feeling guilty about racism is actually not helpful. It’s easy to fall into the trap of guilt, as many of us have been taught to see the world through an individualistic lens that reduces everything to individual good or bad intentions. We all want to be good people. A powerful and liberating alternative lies, however, in the fact that we’re all always participating in something larger than ourselves — social systems.

To understand our relationship to privilege and oppression, we have to look at what we’re participating in and how we participate in it. For example, if a white male professor takes the students in his class who look like him more seriously, he isn’t necessarily being intentionally sexist or racist, but may be participating in and perpetuating patterns of white and male privilege. He doesn’t have to be a bad person to participate in an education system that produces oppressive outcomes – it’s simply how the system is set up to function.

The only way to change oppressive outcomes is to change our systems and institutions. If we have a vision of what we want the world to be, we have to create paths that lead in that direction. We have to do more than just hope, dream and pray – certainly more than simply take the path of least resistance. We must become aware of our biases, which we all have, and we must understand that racism is about more than just prejudice. It’s about power and privilege – it’s about who gets access to and who has control of the systems and institutions that distribute the resources necessary for life.

If racism is not about individual actions or beliefs, and is about systems and structures, the solution must be systemic and structured. If privilege is rooted in systems like families, schools, places of worship and employment, change isn’t simply a matter of changing people. The solution also has to include entire systems whose paths of least resistance shape how we all feel, think, and behave as individuals, and how we see one another and ourselves.

Thankfully, there is a growing national movement in which people of color and white people are gaining an analysis, a language system, organizing tools, and a more complete understanding of history – the history of oppression and the corresponding acts of resistance.  Since racism isn’t just a trouble of the past, resistance, like that of the Underground Railroad, requires broad base participation here and now. We must resist the path of least resistance. We must find our way to the path of greatest resistance — the path of dismantling racism. It’s a big task, a generational one, which can feel overwhelming. But things can change, they have and will continue to change, and none of us are alone. There is room for everyone in this movement.

Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training, along with its regional organizing partners like ERAC/Ce (Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality) in Southwest Michigan, are facilitating trainings and building transformation teams to help people of color, white people, and entire institutions claim an anti-racist identity.  A growing number of people around the country are learning how to honestly and accurately name our troubles. We are learning new ways of being in relationship with each other and ourselves, which are grounded in anti-oppressive, life-giving values. We are committing to a life-long journey of reclaiming and engaging our full humanity in ways we never dreamed.

Antiracism and the Reparation of Community

Neurobiologists – and others – are suggesting that the human inclination to form relationships is an expression of our neuro-architecture. We have a deep cellular bias for forming relationships. Along with this bias is a capacity for empathy. We are human in the context of complex relationships. This is what makes us human. This deep inclination is the basis of human community. We are a communal species.  One helpful resource in exploring this topic further is a short RSA produced video called Empathic Civilization based on the work of and narrated by Jeremy RifkinAnother is Social Intelligence: the New Science of Human Relationships by Daniel Goleman.

The multigenerational impact of systemic racism in our nation’s history compromises this fundamental bias. Racism distorts our attempts to shape communities. It produces communities that are, in the final analysis, unsustainable. White supremacy (the social architecture that generations of racialization have produced) has not and cannot position us for survival in a time of dramatic climatic, ecological and social transition. It may well be the case that if our species is to make it, we need to be about the work of repairing the fabric of community. We need to shape human communities that are sustainable. We need communal fabric that can serve as our bridge into a dramatically different future. This is the work of antiracism. It is the strategic interventions in the processes of racialization that repair and restore community – whether geographically or institutionally defined.

Many organizers that focus on shaping sustainable communities suggest that the word resilient is a helpful way of thinking about the meaning of sustainable. When we explore the practical meaning of community resilience there are three features that especially stand out for me (there are many features and dimensions of sustainability). Sustainable, resilient communities are diverse, adaptive and regenerative.

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DIVERSE. When the FHA crafted a model restrictive covenant in 1938, it was presumed that racially homogenous communities were more stable and peaceful. This model was one of the tools that guided the shaping of the American suburbs. Such apartheid has always been one of the features of communities in the United States. The architecture of white supremacy requires living spaces divided by walls and barriers: railroad tracks, thoroughfares, canals, rivers and streams, etc. Entire sections are effectively reserved for particular racial, ethnic and income groups. Consequently, racial homogeneity has been our default in neighborhood and community development. This social default setting impedes the development of genuine multicultural/multiracial communities. Our history is a stumbling block! When we pay attention to natural ecosystems it becomes clear that diversity is a fundamental feature – and, is key to eco-resilience. Healthy, self-sustaining ecosystems are diverse. In similar fashion, a healthy, resilient community is diverse in every way we can imagine: demographically, economically, socially – even culturally.  Human communities are not distinct and apart from natural ecosystems. We are part of them. The insights of bio-mimicry suggest that we need to pay attention to the ways communities are constituted in the ecosystems around us.

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ADAPTIVE. Ecosystems that adapt to changes in their environment survive and thrive. Those that do not wither and die and are replaced by others. Similarly, human communities that are adaptive have moved beyond imposed insularity and change in response to their social and environmental context.  New immigrant groups are woven into the fabric of community. Economic distress in the larger society is met with new patterns of sharing and connecting.  Local viability and livability is directly related to a community’s adaptive capabilities. The pillar institutions of a community are key to its adaptive capacities. This includes churches, synagogues, mosques, community organizations, fraternal organizations, sororities, small businesses, etc. They are the connectors that anchor communities to the larger society. They can also gather information and interpret for the community the changes on the horizon that will impact community lifeways. Eventually, adaptive communities have to transcend the historic boundaries of community life and create new rules. White supremacy in all its social and spiritual expressions resists such change. It simply cannot countenance fundamental change.

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REGENERATIVE. Sustainable, resilient communities have inculcated deep regenerative capacities. They are marked by cycles of renewal. They recycle the necessities of life. Writing in the Permaculture Activist, Mark Morey points out that we live in a “broken culture;” “the culture of empire and the culture of the machine can never be regenerative.” “Healthy culture can trump the messages and patterns of modern life.” He envisions local communities as “a place of reclaimed and renewed culture.” [1] “Cultural repair has many aspects, but all involve remembering, restoring and reinventing the invisible fabric …permaculture derives its power from understanding the regenerative capacities and logic of nature.” [2] Like a plant that returns nitrogen to the soil – thus enriching it even as it takes its nourishment from the soil – regenerative communities create patterns of renewal that vitalize individuals, families, local institutions and the surrounding ecosystems. This assumes there can be a deep regenerative logic in human communities and their relation to the living systems around them.  White supremacy subverts this deep logic. These three features are sustained in a community skein of mutual accountability relationships. The synergy among them fosters a dynamic, ever changing equilibrium. The discussion of accountability must wait for another occasion. [1] Mentoring for the Earth, Mark Morey from the Permaculture Activist; reprinted in the Utne Reader, March-April, 2014. [2] Ibid

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About the R. James Addington

R. James Addington is a training and organizational development consultant with Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training. Previously, he was the co-director of the Minnesota Collaborative Anti-Racism Initiative (MCARI) – a long-time regional partner of Crossroads. He has 30 years experience in community development, leadership training, organizational development and strategic planning. He also serves as a service-learning consultant with the Institute of Cultural Affairs-USA. James spent ten years in a variety of international local and regional development projects including in Jamaica, Venezuela, India, the Philippines and Nigeria; he directed the Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy in Minnesota (an advocacy and public policy education arm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) for nine years; and served as adjunct faculty at Luther Seminary.

What does Antiracism have to do with Racial Equity?

Joy Bailey has been the Director of Organizing and Training for Crossroads since 2011 and has been a Core/Organizer Trainer since 2008. She has her Bachelor’s degree in Spanish Education and her Master’s in Socio-cultural Studies in Education, both from Western Michigan University (WMU). Formerly, Joy taught high school Spanish for six years in Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) and also taught courses on race and racism in education at WMU. Joy has been doing local antiracism organizing in Kalamazoo Public Schools since 2001. Although originally from North Dakota, Joy currently lives with her spouse in Kalamazoo, MI.

Joy Bailey has been the Director of Organizing and Training for Crossroads since 2011 and has been a Core/Organizer Trainer since 2008. Formerly, Joy taught high school Spanish for six years in Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) and also taught courses on race and racism in education at WMU. Joy has been doing local antiracism organizing in Kalamazoo Public Schools since 2001.

I was recently asked what I thought the difference was between antiracism and racial equity.  Frankly, I often use these terms interchangeably and don’t see much difference.  If I had to parse them out, I would say racial equity is about creating policies, practices, and structures that deliver equitable, not necessarily equal, treatment to all. It means actualizing shared power and decision-making that is just and fair. The Center for Assessment and Policy Development defines racial equity this way:

Racial equity is the condition that would be achieved if one’s racial identity no longer predicted, in a statistical sense, how one fares. When we use the term, we are thinking about racial equity as one part of racial justice, and thus we also include work to address root causes of inequities not just their manifestation. This includes elimination of policies, practices, attitudes and cultural messages that reinforce differential outcomes by race or fail to eliminate them.[1]

I would say that racial equity is a component of antiracism.  The term antiracism encompasses a systemic analysis of racism that includes historical, sociological, economic and political frameworks.  It includes a response to racism that involves action and organizing strategically.  For us at Crossroads, it means applying a systemic analysis of racism to our institutions and then organizing collectively to transform them into more racially equitable and multicultural institutions.  We understand that for a single institution to be transformed, we will have to transform all other institutions and systems with which it is interconnected as well.  The interconnected web of institutions and systems producing racist outcomes is often called structural or systemic racism, which antiracism seeks to eliminate.  As defined by National Antiracism Council International Perspectives: Women and Global Solidarity, “Anti-racism is the active process of identifying and eliminating racism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices and attitudes, so that power is redistributed and shared equitably.”[2]

Now, some people Crossroads organizers encounter will ask why we use the term antiracism when, “it is so negative.” We might hear, “It turns people off and sounds like you are blaming individuals, ” or, “Why not say what you are for rather than what you are against?” While it is true that we must say what we stand for, providing hope and vision, and not simply point out what is wrong and unjust in the world we do not think that the term antiracism is negative nor individualistic.

If we think about other uses of the prefix anti-, e.g. anti freeze; antibiotic; antiviral; antiparasitic; antifungal; antimalarial; antipsychotic; antidepressant; antiviolence; etc., we see that this prefix is especially common in the practice of medicine and that it points to an intervention aimed at curing or preventing systemic conditions.  This is a clue regarding the way Crossroads uses the term antiracism. It suggests activity that is curative and preventive in relation to the systemic damage wrought by racism.

Crossroads organizer James Addington likes to say, antiracism as an intervention includes the reparation of community. The term antiracism is especially relevant in reference to collective, collaborative action. While individuals can certainly be antiracist, their antiracism is especially relevant in common cause with others.  Antiracism in this sense is about the reparation of the fabric of community and the role that institutions can play in that process. It is about calling institutions into an accountable relationship with communities. It is about restoring and shaping sustainable community life; life that is diverse, resilient and regenerative. It is about healthy, life giving community.