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How Non-Black People Of Color Can Work To Be Anti-Racist

This isn’t only a whiteness problem.

Whether it’s the model minority myth or “mejorar la raza,” anti-Blackness has permeated and rooted itself deeply into non-Black communities of color — perpetuating a constructed proximity to whiteness that exploits us into upholding white supremacy.

A protest sign that says, "Filipinx for Black Lives. No justice. No peace," with an illustration of a fist
Ira L. Black - Corbis / Getty Images

As society finally begins to publicly acknowledge white supremacy, systemic racism, and their consequences, many resources on how to be an ally are coming to the forefront — a lot of them specifically for white people.

It can be easy to pass off anti-racist work to white people or assume that as non-Black people of color, we already understand the effects of racism. But after benefitting from our proximity to whiteness, we can’t now hide behind our non-whiteness. We have to focus on doing deeper work within ourselves, our families, and our communities to begin to truly dismantle anti-Blackness and address the roots of structural and systemic racism.

A protest sign that says, "Latinxs for Black Lives Matter"
Ira L. Black - Corbis / Getty Images

Of course, we can all donate and protest and sign petitions and contact reps — and these are valid and significant sources of support. But part of confronting anti-Blackness is educating yourself and doing the work — which can seem like vague calls to action when most resources are geared toward white people.

While “POC” is a blanket term, we have unique identities, histories, and experiences (as the newer “BIPOC” term begins to address). But there are still parallels between our experiences that can guide us on how to be anti-racist and non-Black allies of color.

A protest sign that says, "Eskimos 4 BLM"
Icon Sportswire / Getty Images

There’s a lot of ground to cover when working to be anti-racist. It's more than just an intention — it's an ongoing effort that requires showing up and doing the work of learning, unlearning, listening, speaking up, feeling uncomfortable, and self-reflecting. Some of that work involves educating yourself, so you're armed with knowledge that you can refer to and use to confront racism. Which is to say: This post and everything linked in it are just entry points to help you learn to be anti-racist and confront anti-Blackness. Truly achieving that goal requires more work than simply reading this or any one post and everything linked.

So here are some starting points that can help you begin confronting anti-Blackness and do the work:

1. Learn the true histories of non-Black people of color in the United States and the paths they took to enter and survive in this country — on top of Black history. Though every group's struggle is unique, our struggles are connected as they layer to support racism and white supremacy.

Mexican laborers from the Bracero Program leaning out the windows of a train
J. R. Eyerman / Getty Images

We know that history has been watered down and whitewashed to make it easier to consume, so it can be harder to find information — let alone be taught it in school. Maybe you've heard of Ava DuVernay’s popular Netflix documentary 13th, which examines how how mass incarceration grew out of the 13th Amendment and contextualizes how the American criminal justice system functions to control Black people. Like DuVernay, we need to contextualize the histories of our communities to understand how they have been leveraged by white American interests.

One example of many: The US Border Patrol was actually created in the ‘20s to restrict the flow of Chinese immigration and reinforce years of Chinese and Asian exclusion laws, including the Immigration Act of 1924 — despite a historical system of coolie labor that exploited East and South Asians in an effort to replace Black slave labor.

Similarly, the Bracero Program, which contracted millions of Mexican guest workers to work in the US, was initiated to prevent agricultural labor shortages due to World War II. But the result? Abusive labor conditions and Operation Wetback, a campaign that led to the mass deportation of Mexican immigrants using military-style tactics. It also had lasting effects on and perceptions of Mexico-US migration. Later, in 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was designed as a border control tool to reverse and limit Mexico-US migration.

Now, these are only a few examples from hundreds of years worth of history. But they highlight the manipulation of racial strategies that uphold white supremacy and define the presence of non-Black people of color in the United States.

Photo above: Mexican laborers from the Bracero Program in 1942

2. Recognize anti-Blackness within your community. While overt forces, like police brutality, continue to oppress Black people, white hegemony — the dominance and pervasiveness of whiteness, white perspectives, and white people as the cultural status quo — perpetuates anti-Blackness in communities and people of color and encourages them to strive for whiteness.

A large banner that says, "Black Lives Matter," held by protestors across the length of a street as a police officer walks in front of it
Kena Betancur / Getty Images

We are definitely no strangers to the model minority myth, perpetual foreigner syndrome, affirmative action, “pelo malo,” and skin bleaching creams. Anti-Blackness can be insidious, whether through positive stereotypes or normalized Eurocentric standards. Through mass media especially, colorism (which favors lighter skin tones over darker ones) and Eurocentric beauty standards can seem so natural. We internalize these things when we don’t want “bad hair” or to look “too dark.” But we can also be guilty of appropriating Black culture and cherry-picking certain aspects of it.

Beyond media and beauty standards, we see the politicization of Black hair — where kinky or curly hair is seen as less professional in the workplace or children are sent home from school for wearing braids. Similarly, Native American men were mandated to cut their hair in 1902 in order to receive rations or employment, because Eurocentric standards deemed long hair on men to be uncivilized.

On a socioeconomic level, a lack of data disaggregation (that means breaking down data into smaller units, like subpopulations) further hides disparities within racial groups, like the conflation of East, Southeast, and South Asians.

Because we learn to accept this thinking within our own communities, it's easy to believe that this (or any) racial hierarchy is natural — internalizing racism within ourselves and perpetuating interpersonal racism within our communities. So it’s important to question where these beliefs really come from and confront them.

Photo above: A protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in New York, 2016

3. Understand how race has been constructed within the US and how identities have been politicized to uphold systemic racism. Many laws clearly contradict each other and function simply to oppress. By pulling back this curtain, we can begin to deconstruct racism.

Two young Japanese boys with their family and suitcases are waiting for baggage inspections at an internment camp
Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In fact, racial definitions have changed throughout US history as race continues to be reconstructed. The “one-drop rule” established that any amount of Black ancestry makes a person Black. It originated during slavery and was heavily enforced during Jim Crow segregation to justify discriminatory laws.

On the other hand, blood quantum laws were imposed on Native Americans, requiring a minimum amount of ancestry to be legally recognized as “Indian” and receive tribal rights and federal benefits.

In 1924, Congress enacted the Racial Integrity Act that prohibited interracial marriage. In doing so, it defined "white" as a person "who has no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian."

However, the act included The Pocahontas Exception, which deemed anyone with less than 1/16th Native American ancestry to be white. This was because over two million white Virginians proudly traced "their ancestry back to the Indian girl," Pocahontas, and John Rolfe — including the prominent First Families of Virginia.

During World War II, the federal government incarcerated Japanese Americans in concentration camps. The state of California specifically deemed anyone who was at least 1/16th Japanese was Japanese enough to warrant internment.

Photo above: Japanese American children awaiting baggage inspection at the Turlock Assembly Center concentration camp, 1942

A flyer taped to a building in San Francisco that reads, "Instructions To All Persons Of Japanese Ancestry," and orders them to be evacuated to internment camps
Dorothea Lange / Getty Images

These arbitrary assignments of race led to whiteness being argued and performed in courts to legally determine a person’s racial identity — from enslaved people arguing that they were actually white, so as to be granted their freedom, to immigrants arguing that they should be considered white so that they could become citizens.

Prominent cases include George Shishim (who famously told the court, “If I am a Mongolian, then so was Jesus, because we came from the same land.”), George Dow (who convinced the court to conclude that “inhabitants of a portion of Asia, including Syria, were to be classed as white persons”), and Bhagat Singh Thind (who argued that he belonged to the Aryan, and thus Caucasian, race as a “high-caste Hindu” from northern India).

Shishim and Dow, who both argued that Syrians should be legally recognized as white (in 1909 and 1915, respectively), won their cases. In 1944, the federal government legally recognized peoples of Arab and North African descent to be white. However, they continue to face racism and xenophobia today — predominantly, Islamophobia, which conflates religion (Islam) and race (those perceived to "look" Muslim).

Notably, the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi, an Indian man with a beard who wore a turban, was the first post-9/11 hate crime. Despite being a victim of Islamophobia, Sodhi was not Muslim — he was Sikh.

While many assume Islamophobia grew out of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Islamophobia has been traced back to the Crusades (negatively depicting and othering the East), perpetuated through Orientalism, and weaponized to justify anti-Muslim violence and war. Once again, this all demonstrates how race and identity are forged and exploited for economic and political interests.

Photo above: Posted notice informing people of Japanese ancestry of imminent relocation rules during World War II, 1942

4. Acknowledge that we, as non-Black people of color, have directly benefited from Black struggles and resistance. The civil rights movement alone, through mass protests, civil disobedience, and legal strategies, secured many federal laws that protect our rights today. While some perceive the civil rights movement as only having helped Black people, these acts ended segregation and discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, religion, or national origin — therefore benefitting all people.

Black women marching in the March on Washington with signs that say, "We march for integrated schools nows," "We demand equal rights now," "We demand decent housing now," and "We demand an end to bias now."
Underwood Archives / Getty Images

Through the civil rights movement, reforms like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and anti-miscegenation laws (aka laws that legalize interracial marriages) came about. The momentum of the civil rights movement also helped pass the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 — which even helped non-Northern or non-Western European (like Italian, Greek, Polish, and Portuguese) immigrants enter the US.

Before the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, it was legal to racially segregate public schools (see Plessy v. Ferguson) — and that wasn’t limited to Black students. It applied to anyone who was “not a member of the white or Caucasian race,” as enforced by Gong Lum v. Rice; Lum had filed a suit after his daughter Martha, a natural-born US citizen of Chinese descent, was told that she could not attend an all-white school in 1927.

A turning point came in 1946, when Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez, with four other plaintiffs, fought Mexican school segregation in Orange County, California. Supported by the NAACP, JACL, LULAC, the American Jewish Congress, and the ACLU, the Mendezes won their case. Their ruling was limited to Mexican children in their school districts, but it helped lay the groundwork for Brown v. Board of Ed.

The NAACP’s amicus brief for Mendez v. Westminster, signed by Thurgood Marshall and drawn up by Robert L. Carter, argued that educational segregation implies “colored children” are inferior. And this brief became the basis of Thurgood Marshall’s argument when he represented Oliver Brown and four other plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education.

Brown filed his class-action suit in 1951 — after his daughter Linda was denied entrance to Topeka’s all-white elementary schools — challenging the constitutionality of state-sponsored segregation in public schools. Three years later, the court unanimously ruled in Brown’s favor and determined that segregated schools, for any race or ethnicity, are inherently unequal and unconstitutional.

While there were many people and parties involved in all of these cases, the ultimate win came from years of work done by Black people and organizations — both before (see: Black girls led the groundwork for desegregation) and after (see: the Little Rock Nine and Ruby Bridges, who turned 66 in September 2020 and has her own podcast) desegregation.

Photo above: The civil rights March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963

A young Black girl and boy marching with Black students, holding signs that call for integrated schools, voting rights, jobs, and civil rights
Wally Mcnamee / Getty Images

However, it’s important to acknowledge that Native Americans were not affected by the decision, because Native Americans were considered a federal responsibility and not the business of the states. Instead, Native American children were often “educated” through Christian missionary schools or “assimilation” boarding schools that forcibly separated them from their parents — the first of which was created in 1879 by Civil War veteran Richard Henry Pratt, who said, “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”

Throughout the 1900s, many assimilation boarding schools were closed or reformed. But it wasn't until the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 that Native American tribes were allowed to operate their own schools and negotiate contracts with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

But that didn't mean that Native American students could suddenly attend public schools. Some school districts refused to provide (accessible) public education to Native American students, claiming it was the responsibility of the federal government.

In 1994, Navajo parents filed a suit against the San Juan School District to build a high school for their community at Navajo Mountain, resulting in Meyers v. Board of Education. At the time, high school students had to attend the nearest federally run boarding school — 90 miles away.

The school district argued, among other things, that Native Americans are a political, not racial, group. But the federal court ruled in favor of the Navajo people, and a new high school was built at Navajo Mountain. Through this case, it was federally determined that Native Americans have a right to “an educational opportunity equal to all other persons,” as required by the 14th Amendment, and that the school district is obligated (this link opens a doc) to provide Native American students with free public education equivalent to the education received by other students in the district — 40 years after Brown.

While the Navajos fought for educational equality independently, their case still called the 14th Amendment into play — which was ratified in 1868 to establish citizenship and rights for former slaves who were recently freed and guarantees “equal protection of the laws” to all citizens. From housing to public schools, directly or indirectly, many of our rights today come from Black struggles and resistance.

Photo above: The civil rights March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963

5. Center Blackness. At the root of our society and racism lie anti-Blackness and white supremacy. As non-Black people of color, we need to recognize that though we have experiences with oppression and discrimination, the racial hierarchy we live in places Black people at the bottom.

A wall painted to say "Black Lives Matter," with painted signs that read the names of victims of police brutality and killings
Underwood Archives / Getty Images

We can never fully understand or appreciate the experience of Black people. And aligning ourselves with Black people under some people-of-color umbrella that conflates all non-white identities only insults and erases their unique struggles. Like white people, we have to check our privileges and acknowledge the differences in our experiences before we can call for true solidarity.

While many of us have faced racism or discrimination ourselves, we need to decenter ourselves. We can sympathize with Black people, but we shouldn't be comparing ourselves to them or lamenting who has it "worse" under white supremacy. We still have privileges simply from not being Black.

We have to be open to listening. We need to recognize our own biases and the anti-Blackness within our own communities. And when we research the histories of our communities, we must also take the time to learn and center Black history.

It’s also important for us to see how we have been complicit in a divisive racial strategy and used to reinforce anti-Blackness and white supremacy (as seen in numbers 1–3 above, for starters). Taking those steps means we can then can support, uplift, and protect Black people by centering Blackness and being anti-racist.

Photo above: Black Lives Matter sign depicting the names of victims of police brutality in New York City, 2020

6. Be anti-racist. Have difficult conversations and call people out as they perpetuate anti-Blackness. And, ultimately, stand in cross-cultural solidarity together.

A crowd of Black Lives Matter protestors in New York's Time Square
LightRocket via Getty Images

To quote Ibram X. Kendi in his book, How to Be an Antiracist, being anti-racist is "like fighting an addiction, being an anti-racist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination." It may sound intimidating, but as Kendi demonstrates through his own life, it's doable. It takes commitment, and we're not going to be perfect, but we cannot remain neutral. While many of us want to be allies, it's not just a title we can claim or decide to call ourselves — it's something we have to work at. We must actively be anti-racist.

Especially within non-Black communities of colors, these conversations can become complicated. Sometimes, we get caught in the oppression Olympics or internalized hegemonic thinking that accepts things as they are. But by better knowing the histories of non-Black communities of color, Black history, and how it's all connected and has led to today, we are more equipped to navigate these conversations, educate others, and stand in cross-cultural solidarity with Black people as allies against anti-Blackness and white supremacy.

Photo above: A demonstration organized by Black Lives Matter Greater New York at Time's Square, 2020

This is not the first time POC have stepped up or come together in solidarity to resist anti-Blackness and white supremacy, and it won’t be the last.

While these points explore certain historical and cultural experiences of non-white communities in the US, they are by no means a complete history. The depth of history isn't something you can learn from this one piece in single sentences. Rather, they serve as points of entry for confronting and fighting anti-Blackness within our own communities — especially because so much of our histories are excluded from the narrative, making it difficult to know what to even look for.

By educating ourselves and doing the work, we can begin taking the necessary steps to uncover and dismantle both anti-Blackness and white supremacy within ourselves and our communities, address the roots of structural and systemic racism, and actively work together to be anti-racist.

Here are some more incredible resources to explore:

Asian American Racial Justice Toolkit

Letters for Black Lives

Resources for Non-Black Asians on Anti-Blackness

Non-Black Latin@/x Resources on Anti-Blackness

A Growing List of Resources for the Movement for Black Lives

Anti-racism Resources

An Essential Reading Guide For Fighting Racism

History of Racism and Immigration Timeline in the United States

Overview and Timeline of the History of Racism and Movements in the U.S.

Racial Equity Tools

And, of course, if you haven't already — REGISTER TO VOTE! It's actionable work you can do right now. Registering takes no more than two minutes to do, but it can have a lasting impact on our democracy and people's lives.

@civilrightsorg / Via

As you can see from all of these court cases, acts, programs, and laws, our government and elected officials control so many critical aspects of our lives. And it's a privilege if those aspects aren't as tangible to you. So don't do it later, just do it now. Everyone can find two minutes of time. Find more voting resources here.

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