Blog #1: What's this all About?
What's this all about?
I am not an expert, but that’s partially my point. In launching this project marking the 400th anniversary of the first Africans brought against their will to English American colonies, I know I will get things wrong. Good intentions, 5 years as a “diversity director,” and 25 years of teaching U.S. History do not inoculate me from error. Nevertheless I am compelled to address this grisly anniversary as part of my continuing anti-racism work.
This particular year-long commitment – which I am calling “The 400 Years Project” – is aimed mainly at people like me: people who identify as white, accept that racism gives them privileges, and want to confront systemic racism more consistently and constructively. Of course anyone can support the project, but my main hope is to encourage self-identifying whites who want to increase their efforts to confront racism and deconstruct white supremacy. I don’t intend on spending time trying to convince people who resist anti-racism activism. I want to help those who want to practice anti-racism to do it more often and more effectively.
The project consists of writing weekly 400-word blog posts (this being the first), offering 400 lessons drawn from history, creating a bibliography of 400 historical works, primarily by people of color, and collecting 400 commitments from 400 people to confront systemic racism more directly in their lives.
This project will focus mainly on how racism in the United States has hurt Africans and their descendants. While non-whites from Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East are often brutal victims of racism, I am most informed about the victims who happen to be black.
One dynamic that gets in the way of many self-identifying privileged whites is that they don’t know where to start in deconstructing racism. Some want to ask their friends of color for advice. But as many people of color have already told me, they are tired of being the victims of racism and asked to solve racism. Besides, many people of color have already shared their wisdom in countless writings from slave narratives to peer reviewed articles to award winning historical works.
So when asked by someone wanting to be more active in anti-racism, “Where do I start?”, I often say, “Start with the history.” For me, the weight of 400 years of race-based oppression fuels my commitment. Perhaps it will help you with your own efforts to deconstruct white supremacy.
Lesson #1: Read the words already published by people of color.