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“If I am not on top, will I be OK?”…A Guide to Becoming a White Anti-Racist

By Karen Pandy-Cherry

Can you feel it? Can you feel this country pivoting away from the deadly sins of its past? The uncertainty of how it will turn out and whether we will remain intact after this necessary upheaval is causing paralyzing fear across this country. Like a ship navigating treacherous, icy, waters that just slammed head on into an iceberg, the murders of countless Black people at the hands of our country has finally stopped us all in our tracts. 

I have lost count of the number of people, from all walks of life, who have asked, what they can do to be a part of the solution. I’ve been wrestling for weeks to find the answer because my own agony, fear, and trauma clouded the path out of the mess we find ourselves in. I now realize that a part of the answer is to revert back to the only thing in my life I can control, Me. I think this kind of assessment may be helpful for you as well. 

To my Black family, my heart is hopeful for us all that this country gets it right. I am with you. To my white friends out there who are earnestly searching for a real way to make a stand against racism, I hope you find freedom and peace in following the path I have laid out here. 

Let’s get to work… 

1. Work on Yourself 

Prepare yourself for emotional labor (I recommend including time with a mental health professional). The foundational question that white people should ask here is, “If I am not on top, will I be Ok?” The importance of this question stems from the historical understanding of why racism was created. 

In the latter part of the 17th century the demand for labor grew enormously. It had become clear that neither Irishmen nor Indians made good slaves. More than that, the real threats to social order were the poor freed whites who demanded lands and privileges that the upper-class colonial governments refused. Some colonial leaders argued that turning to African labor provided a buffer against the masses of poor whites. Until the 18th century the image of Africans was generally positive. They were farmers and cattle-breeders; they had industries, arts and crafts, governments, and commerce. In addition, Africans had immunities to Old World diseases. They were better laborers and they had nowhere to escape to once transplanted to the New World. The colonists themselves came to believe that they could not survive without Africans. Source: Origin of the Idea of Race, by Audrey Smedley.

Racism is a construct of control and manipulation to ensure that white people remain on “top” in this country. You need to ask yourself if you are ok with not having the unfair advantages of a racist construct. Again, I recommend using a mental health professional to help you navigate this because “unplugging from the Matrix” will be an emotionally taxing process. I recommend focusing on one question after you have made the decision to advance in this work, beyond how you will survive when equity is achieved, and that is:

How are you showing up for Black people in your life every day? Here are some suggestions: 

1. Educate yourself on the real history and purpose of racism (a construct created to selfishly take the life source from Black people for the benefit and advancement of white people) 

2. Expect, and be prepared for, the emotional toll that will be caused by seeing the part you have played in furthering this country’s racist construct, whether consciously or unconsciously (I repeat that I highly recommend seeking help from a mental health professional. Hurting people, hurt people and it is your duty to ensure that the hurt that will certainly come from facing this country’s past doesn’t add harm to an, already volatile, situation.) 

3. Decide, and act on, how you will show up for Black people every day. 

a. Prepare your responses for when you hear a racial slur/ statement used 

b. Check and re-check your mindset and your privilege on a regular basis, like your life depends on it 

c. Invest your dollars into Black businesses and Black lives (do it every day until equity is achieved)

d. Listen, with your heart and make it your mission to be the best version of yourself you can be *This list is not all encompassing. Feel free to add to it* 

2. Work in Your Circle 

The question posed above applies here as well. How are you showing up for Black people within your circle of influence, specifically with your family, friends, and colleagues? While working on yourself is emotional labor, it is also your responsibility to ensure that you foster equity and an antiracist culture within your sphere of influence as well. Do not hide from the sins of the past and get comfortable with the fact that true change will only come when white people assume responsibility, and work to dismantle, the systemic racism that breeds within every institution in this country. 

Your Family: A couple years ago, while on vacation in Disney World, I had to explain to my children why we shouldn’t retaliate against a white family that made a racist comment as they hopped out the hot tub for of fear of being “contaminated”. The parents in this instance had spread their misguided contempt for Black people to their children. If you truly seek to make change, you should 

1) not breed more racists and 

2) teach your family how to be actively antiracist (I will include links to books at the bottom of this article that will help you get started). 

In the same way that Black parents must continually teach their children to safely navigate this system, you must teach your children to break it down by using their privilege to speak out against every injustice. What are you teaching your children about racism in this country? Are you teaching them that Black parents give their children specific instructions on how to stay alive during encounters with police? Have you told them that the history books they are reading in school only tells a fraction of the truth and erased the atrocities of this nation and trivializes contributions of Black people in this country? Start having these conversations and keep having them with your children and your children’s children. 

Your Friends: This one is simple. Don’t have racist friends! If you have a “friend” who uses a racial slur, contributes to the systemic oppression of Black people, or dismisses racism as a figment of our imagination. I recommend the following: rebuke them and offer to be an accountability partner as they educate themselves on how to become an antiracist. Remember that racism is insidious and, even a little is too much. 

Your Colleagues: If you are able, work with your employer to ensure that your workplace is an antiracist one. If you are the employer, immediately review every area of your work environment to ensure that you are hiring, advancing, and compensating Black people at the same rate as white people (and women at the same rate as men, for that matter), and that you are fostering an environment that is boldly antiracist. Don’t simply take your cue from the affirmative action playbook. If you are not sure how to do this, educate yourself. Black people don’t expect perfection, we expect vigorous efforts of understanding and acts of reparation. Racism is a cancer in our nation that poisons us all. 

3. Work in The World 

We all have our part to play in making the world a better, safer, and more equitable place. If you fail to plan for how you will show up in the world in antiracist ways, you plan to fail and that is no longer acceptable. Showing up at a protest is not the only way for you to stand against racism, although it is a good public declaration of your acknowledgment and decision to be a part of the solution. A more private declaration is to continually educate yourself about this nation’s history and seek to understand white supremacy in a way that allows you to recognize systemic racism when you see it. Here are some additional suggestions of ways you can show up in the world that can help dismantle white supremacy: 

1. Volunteer with organizations that are doing real social good in Black communities (I can help you identify some if you need help) 

2. VOTE for Black Candidates 

3. VOTE for candidates who support, and can show you an agenda that supports, Black people 

4. VOTE for laws and policies that dismantle the system and promote equity for Black people 

5. VOTE…you get the idea 

6. Invest your dollars with Black owned small businesses (ask me about Chef Kulture and Blocal Search) *Feel free to continue to add on to this list as you learn and grow* 

There you have it, a basic guide to becoming a white antiracist. I haven’t promised you that this work would be easy, but I can promise that it will be the most rewarding work you have ever done. You don’t have to be “on top” in order to win. 

Recommended Resources: Me & White Supremacy by Layla Asad; How to be Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi; The 1619 Project and podcast Just Mercy By Bryan Stevenson.

Karen Pandy-Cherry, Co Founder of Chef Kulture, community activist and advocate.

Karen Pandy-Cherry is an Award-Winning Entrepreneur, Speaker & Advocate. Karen is the Co-Founder of Chef Kulture, Inc., where she and her husband, Chef Chad Cherry, have built an eco-system model designed to create sustainability for Black food service professionals and challenge them to do social good in the communities where they live and work. She is the former Board Chair of the LA Lee YMCA and was a founding member of Communities of Promise Health & Wellness Solution Coalition, which was formed to address issues affecting residents in Broward County, FL. Karen is wife to Chef Chad Cherry and the mother of three, Kytana (23); Kyrsten (16) & Zyon (7). 

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