Jemar Tisby is the author of Page Chaser's Book of the Month, How to Fight Racism. In this blog post (and excerpted from How to Fight Racism), Jemar speaks about how we can start tackling the problem of racism by employing the ARCs of racism...
I have been publicly speaking and writing about racial justice for over a decade. From the Pacific to the Atlantic, from college students to clergy members, the most frequent question I receive about fighting racism is “What do we do?”
A growing swell of people recognize the “fierce urgency of now” when it comes to fighting racism. Maybe that’s you. How to Fight Racism You realize racism—a system of oppression based on race—is a problem nationwide and worldwide. You understand that everyone is either fighting racism or supporting it, whether actively or passively. You want to be part of the solution. But you need guidance about what exactly you should be doing as an individual or within an institution to push back against the current racial caste system.
How to Fight Racism is one response to the how-to question of racial justice. While there has been a proliferation of books on race in the past several years, there remains room for more works that focus on the specific methods and actions that can promote racial equity. This book prioritizes the practical.
How to Fight Racism is structured around a model I created called the ARC of Racial Justice.
ARC is an acronym that stands for awareness, relationships, and commitment. Racism uses an array of tactics to deceive, denigrate, and dehumanize others. As fighters for racial justice, we need to become familiar with racist strategies to effectively counter them. That’s where awareness comes in. It is the knowledge, information, and data required to fight racism. Awareness is the “head” portion of the head-hands-heart triumvirate. In this book, you will discover ways to increase your awareness by studying history, exploring your personal narrative, and grasping what God says about the dignity of the human person.
All racial justice is relational. What sparks the desire for people to see change? How does someone develop a burden to combat racism? Often it comes through relationships with other people who are most adversely impacted by racist ideas and deeds. It is through knowing others that those we previously viewed as “problems” become people.
It is by knowing other people, developing friendships and collegiality, that we can form the coalitions necessary to take on a society rife with racial bigotry.
Think of relationships as the tender heart of racial justice. But often people stop there. “I have Black friends,” they boast. We will address the shortcomings of such views later, but misapplications aside, you cannot pursue true racial justice without authentic relationships with people who are different from you.
Besides building awareness and developing relationships, what truly enables broadscale change on the racial justice front is a commitment to dismantle racist structures, laws, and policies. There is no amount of books you can read that will reduce the disproportionate rate at which people of color are incarcerated. There is no amount of probing coffeeshop conversations you can have that will shift the racial segregation present in our public schools. To enact society-wide change, people must commit to deconstructing laws that have a disparate impact on people of different races and rewrite the How to Fight Racism rules so they lead to greater equity among people of all races and ethnicities. Think of commitment as the “hands” aspect of the head-hands-heart metaphor.
The ARC of Racial Justice provides helpful shorthand for a comprehensive approach to race reforms. Many of us gravitate toward one area or one component of this fight. Some love to devour books, articles, and documentaries about race to increase their knowledge. Others do admirable work forging relationships with people from a wide spectrum of backgrounds and experiences. Still others are activists on the front lines of protests and leading campaigns for radical change.
These are all admirable steps, but a holistic approach to racial justice includes all three aspects: awareness, relationships, and commitment.
Awareness, relationships, and commitment need not exist in perfect balance. The point of the model is not to practice an equal number of actions in each area. Rather, the goal is to keep all three areas in conversation and tension with one another. For instance, a college student can certainly build relationships and commit to racial justice, but college is an especially opportune time to build one’s awareness through reading, writing, and learning from experts on campus. If one or two areas receive less attention due to your specific circumstances, that is fine. Just be sure to periodically assess where you are putting your energy and think about how your focus may need to shift from time to time. Keeping the three areas in tension and conversation ensures that no person or organization focuses on one area to the exclusion of the other areas. Rather, the three categories interact in a dance that changes cadence and rhythm according to the music of the moment.
The ARC of Racial Justice does not proceed in linear fashion. One does not progress from awareness, to relationships, to commitment—like following the steps to a recipe. Rather, you will grow in each area simultaneously, and sometimes one practice will build your capacity in multiple areas. For example, in the months leading up to an election, you may How to Fight Racism 7 commit your time to helping potential voters get registered. During this season you may build your awareness of particular policies and platforms under debate in the election while also building new relationships with people in the community.
The process of growing in awareness, relationships, and commitment never ends.
You will always be learning, you will always be developing relationships, and you will always be discovering new ways to commit to a life of racial justice.
Start listening to the How to Fight Racism audiobook: