[This is PART V of the WMM Anti-Racist Filmmaking blog series. Visit wemakemovies.org/blog for the previous FOUR parts.]
So you've left the meeting. You were attentive and taking notes. You digested all the ways in which we are all complicit in racism, have educated yourself on the unspeakable atrocities endured by Black people in this country, and are beginning to understand how far-reaching racial injustice extends itself, embedding itself in every facet of American life. But you're left still not knowing what to actually do. Like every diligent person who ever walked away from a meeting, you want to know, what are your action items?
Well, we found some ideas from experts who have devoted their lives to the fine work of racist education and and have shared them below.
Go out in the world and switch up what you notice. Don't take anything for granted. Ask different questions than you have before. Diversity Educator, Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. from (America & Moore) suggests you begin with these questions.
Who is and is not represented in ads?
Who are your ten closest friends? What is the racial mix in this group?
As you move through the day, what’s the racial composition of the people around you? On your commute? At the coffee shop you go to? At the gym? At your workplace? At the show you go on the weekend?
What percentage of the day are you able to be with people of your own racial identity?
Notice how much of your day you are speaking about racism. Who are you engaging with on these issues? Who are you not? Why do you think this is?
What are the last five books you read? What is the racial mix of the authors?
What is the racial mix of the main characters in your favorite TV shows? Movies?
What is the racial mix of people pictured in the photos and artwork in your home? In your friend, family, and colleagues’ homes?
Who is filling what kinds of jobs/social roles in your world? (Who’s the store manager and who’s stocking the shelves? Who’s waiting on tables and who’s busing the food?) Can you correlate any of this to racial identity?
Who do you notice on magazine covers? What roles are people of color filling in these images?
If you’re traveling by car, train, or air, do you notice housing patterns? How is housing arranged? Who lives near the downtown commerce area and who does not? Who lives near the waterfront and who does not? Who lives in industrial areas and who does not? What is the density of a given neighborhood? Can you correlate any of this to racial identity?
Enter the process to learn and bridge knowledge gaps and cultivate habits that are in alignment with your new consciousness.
Work to stay engaged even when your mind and body start sending you signals to shrink or walk away.
Ask clarifying questions.
Acknowledge what you don’t know.
Validate others by listening closely and believing the truth and importance of what they are sharing.
Share airtime so that multiple perspectives are shared.
Step Up Step Back. If you are generally quiet, step up and practice speaking more. If you are generally a talker, practice stepping back and listening more.
Notice your biases and judgments as they arise. These are gold for you to excavate your subconscious.
Notice when you are uncomfortable. Reflect on why you’re uncomfortable and think about what you can do to build more emotional stamina in this area.
Honor confidentiality. Though you can share what you are learning in general terms, do not repeat stories in a way that can be traced back to the person who shared it.
Take on issues of racial injustice as your own. As Ta-Nehisi Coates states, “abandon the phrase “ally” and understand that you are not helping someone in a particular struggle; the fight is yours.
Being a co-conspirator requires consent. One cannot call themselves a “co-conspirator” — this has to be determined by the community one is seeking to be in solidarity with. It is also not a fixed label, as it depends on the action one is taking at any given moment.
Speak up if you witness racism. If you see someone being mistreated and it feels safe to do so, speak up for the person being harmed. It could be as simple as saying “leave them alone” or telling the aggressor that their behavior is “not OK”. If it doesn’t feel safe to speak up, tell a nearby adult what’s happening and if you can, stay next to the person being targeted.
Promote safety for Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Color (BIPOC). If a Black person, Indigenous person, or person of color is being harmed or at risk of being harmed, stand next to them, or in between them and the aggressor. Remain with them until they are safe and check in after about how you can ensure their continued safety.
Avoid calling the police, especially on Black people. Create a list of hotlines, resources, and supports you can call instead of calling the police. Include the phone numbers of family, friends, and/or neighbors you can call during moments of crisis.
Engage in your own ongoing education about race and racism. This includes learning the true history and contributions of BIPOC in the United States and globally, and understanding how racism has impacted communities of color historically and currently.
Acknowledge your own racism and racial bias. Because you live in a racist society, you hold racist ideas and biases. You cannot opt out of systemic privilege and racism. The more aware you are of the ways in which your ideas and behaviors are shaped by race, the more effective you will be at reducing harm. Learn all the ways that overt and covert white supremacy show up.
Believe people of color when they say that something is racist. Do not gaslight or punish people for sharing their experiences with racism.
Take up less space. It’s important to show support for racial justice without detracting from marginalized voices. Be aware of how much space you take when speaking out and make sure that Black voices and voices of color are being lifted up, heard, and centered.
Understand what microaggressions are and how to avoid them. Microaggressions are daily slights and insults to marginalized groups or individuals. They can be verbal or nonverbal. “Where are you really from?” “I don’t see color.” “You speak so well.” These are all examples of microaggressions.
Document and bear witness to injustice. If you witness injustice and it is safe to intervene directly, do that. If you have a cell phone, record as much as you can, even if you can only record the direct aftermath of an incident.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. If you are not used to talking about race, it can be uncomfortable. It’s not only okay to be uncomfortable, it’s necessary to growth and change.
Do not be silent about race and racism. The more you speak out about racism and have open and honest conversations about race, the easier it will get. Remember not to spotlight or put this burden on people of color about topics of race. If you have authentic and trusting relationships with Black and Brown peers, these topics will emerge naturally.
Seek out examples of white and non-Black people throughout history and currently who have put their lives and livelihoods on the line to disrupt racism and violence against BIPOC.
Listen and learn from Black people and people of color, without expecting them to educate you. Your life and social media feed should be full of Black and Brown voices and perspectives. Always cite and credit the BIPOC who contribute to your learning.
Be accountable. Do not act in isolation, but alongside and under the direction, oversight, and lead of BIPOC, and Black/Brown-led organizations.
Acknowledge that you will make mistakes. That’s inevitable. Whether you get called out, or called in, the best way to respond is to apologize, repair the harm caused, and change your behavior moving forward to not repeat harm.
Understand and resist the “white savior complex” and the idea that white people are “rescuing” people of color. Being an ally is not about making yourself look or feel good, or otherwise benefiting, profiting, or playing the “hero”. As Teju Cole (who coined the term) states, white saviorism is “not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.”
Be critical. Be aware of the social justice efforts you align yourself with. Ask yourself, "Who is profiting from the cause, what community is being supported, what is the interest in this community, who controls the narrative when speaking of marginal communities and, is there a savior narrative surrounding marginal communities?" Social justice efforts can quickly turn in cultural and/or financial appropriation if we are not aware of who benefits and maintains power.
Steer clear of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is when someone takes someone else’s cultural expressions, ideas, history, or practices on as their own to further personal interests. This is often done without credit, permission, or compensation. This includes wearing someone else’s culture as a costume, and non-Black people using Black language (AAVE), Black reaction GIF’s and/or Black emoji’s.
You may be new to this work, but this work isn’t new. Understand that just now acknowledging and confronting issues that have existed for years (read: centuries) is a privilege and your “shock” indicates that you have not been paying attention. Learn what existing efforts there are that you can support and be aware that your new sense of urgency can feel burdensome and self-interested. Especially if we don’t know you are going to stay around longer than a week or month.
Do not center yourself and make the fight about you. Remember that this work is to reduce harm and increase the safety and well-being of BIPOC.
Do not put labor or emotional labor on BIPOC. You are not entitled to anyone’s time or pain and it is not the job of Black people and people of color to make you feel comfortable or help you understand things you can learn yourself. If you are requesting the expertise of Black people and people of color, always compensate them for their time.
Understand intersectionality. According to Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw (who coined the term), "Intersectionality is a prism to see the interactive effects of various forms of discrimination and disempowerment. It looks at the way that racism, many times, interacts with patriarchy, heterosexism, classism, xenophobia — seeing that the overlapping vulnerabilities created by these systems actually create specific kinds of challenges.” Racial justice work must acknowledge and critique homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, transphobia, etc.
Image created by @socialclub406
Honor and respect Black spaces and spaces of color. While it is inappropriate for white people to have white-only spaces, affinity spaces for communities of color are often important sources of resilience to inequity. Every situation is different, but it’s important to be aware that sometimes the best way to show up is to step back.
Recognize and call out stereotypes. Be intentional about seeking out and sharing counter-narratives that push back against them.
Engage in your own self-reflection. You should not be relying on Black people and people of color giving you feedback and checking you on your behavior. Check yourself.
Be open to feedback from BIPOC. If you do get feedback, don’t get defensive or shut down. Black people and people of color often give feedback at great social risk and consequence to themselves. Be grateful that someone cares enough to let you know how you can improve and use it as a valuable opportunity to do better.
Care about us in life. Do not just hashtag our deaths. You should not be talking about Black issues or caring about Black lives only when there’s a viral video of a Black person being killed.
Show up and support the work of BIPOC. This includes projects, businesses, and media by and about people of color. This not only helps to sustain our work, it demonstrates a need for, and valuing of, our work.
Be aware of the way inequity and racial injustice shows up in your own life and what you can do to change it. Who is centered in your curriculum at school? Is your school segregated? What are the suspension and expulsion rates by race? What can you do to challenge and change things?
Don’t accept the status quo. Never stop questioning why things are the way they are. If they are unfair, inequitable, or racist, how do you think they should change? How can you play a role in this and start now?
Advocate for more representation of BIPOC in books, TV, and films. Push for representation that is positive, empowering, and affirming for BIPOC and created by BIPOC.
Advocate for more representation of Black people in leadership positions in all professions. Support businesses that recruit, retain, and support Black employees, including in high-level leadership positions (and not just D&I positions).
Respect the bodies and humanity of Black people and people of color. This includes not touching Black people’s hair.
Use social media to amplify issues of racial injustice and people and organizations doing work to address it.
If you are not Black, you should not be using N-word under any circumstance. Not when reading aloud from a book like To Kill A Mockingbird or quoting someone else’s words, not when singing along to lyrics, not when “joking” around with friends. Speak up if you hear other non-Black people saying it, even if it’s a teacher or family member.
Know the difference between equity and equality. Support responses to racism that are rooted in equity. Equality is treating everyone the same, with access to the same opportunities. Equity means people get what they need to succeed and survive, and this may look different for different groups due to systemic racism.
Understand what systemic racism is. Racism is not limited to individual assumptions, beliefs or behaviors. It is structural and embedded in all aspects of society, including laws, public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms.
Donate money, time, resources, and/or networks to racial justice organizations run by and for Black people and people of color. If you don’t have money to give, volunteer, make connections within your networks, or attend protests or events put on by racial justice groups or organizations.
Commit to doing this work in an ongoing way. This work is a marathon, not a sprint and has to be a daily practice and lifelong.
The Infatuation has done an exemplary job of curating (and regularly updating) their lengthy list of Black-owned restaurants in Los Angeles, broken down by neighborhood. Other similar lists can be found for various types of commerce. You just have to look it up. The information is out there. A commitment to supporting the "little guy," and in this case, the underprivileged guy, is one major way to put your wallet where your priorities are and do your part. Vimeo also released a Black-owned business campaign through the lens of filmmakers in support of them.
The following is a list of organizations that are working within the field of racial equity, specifically for the fight of Black lives and liberation. Some are grassroots efforts, while others are academic institutions, and many are national or local advocacy organizations. All provide resources on how to support the various causes locally and nationally. The list is by no means complete.
Sapna Gandhi is an actor, singer-songwriter, and content creator. In addition to TV credits such as BOSCH, SHAMELESS and SCANDAL, she has appeared in numerous shorts, features, and series, including festival darlings IN ABSENTIA (Raindance) and THUMPER (Tribeca). Gandhi has produced several series and films under the umbrella of her production company Elegant Grotesque (most recently SCRAP, starring Anthony Rapp and Vivian Kerr, and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ STRANDED ON THE EARTH, directed by Mike Bruce). She is also 1/2 of the musical duo, VATAVARAN, was born in England, raised all over the states, studied English and Women’s Studies, and trained at the American Conservatory Theatre in SF.