I’ve been using Twitter a lot recently. I was deeply cynical about the platform when I first learned about it. To be certain, some of my cynicism was justified: there are a lot of people who do seriously just post whatever pops into their heads. I am sad to say that I am quickly becoming one of ‘those people’ in a sense, especially when I spend my Sundays on quiet introspection and wandering around. The funny thing is, whether by coincidence or as a function of how people use social media, my number of subscribers has increased since I have become a more frequent Tweeter
If you look at my description, I describe myself as (among other things) an “anti-racist”. I came across that term rather recently. Before I began seriously delving into issues of race and trying to engage with other people, I didn’t bother with trying to classify what was going on inside my head. Racism was, like history and psychology and philosophy and any number of other things, something that I was interested in thinking about. Of course, it had the added component about being relevant to my own day-to-day experiences.
It wasn’t until I started talking about racism that I began to cast about for useful ways of cementing my scattered thoughts on race into relatable, recognizable forms. Such forms required terminology, and the people who I found whose viewpoints were close to my own called themselves “anti-racist”, so I decided to run with it. Due to the diversity of approaches I’ve seen with this label, I have given little thought to what that term “actually” means beyond a very superficial definition. Generally, it is a critical stance on race and racism… and it doesn’t approve.
Of course it’s hard for me not to see the parallels between my ‘discovery’ of anti-racism and my similar ‘discovery’ of humanism. For a few years, I was a bunch of things that weren’t Catholic. I was Christian/Buddhist/Taoist/Existentialist/Blahblahblah for a long time, knowing that each of those individual traditions held some merit, but that none was holistically satisfying. It wasn’t until I discovered a bunch of people using the term ‘humanist’ that I recognized that what I was doing had a name and a heritage. I was very much like Christopher Columbus in that respect – arriving on a shore that already had a bunch of other people there who had been there forever, and then proclaiming it as my own land.
Adopting the term helped immensely, though. The mish-mash of thoughts on ethics and morality and how to co-exist with other people was suddenly crystallized into a much more concrete form. I was able to do more and learn new things more easily because a scaffolding already existed for me to build upon. As I explored the roots of the philosophical tradition that I had adopted, I simultaneously began sending out tentative shoots of my own. Some withered and died under the light of later reconsideration or newly-presented evidence, others simply due to neglect and disinterest as my thoughts took me along new avenues.
However, others took shape and grew as I began to see how they fit together. Some led me in directions I didn’t expect; others forced me to re-evaluate older ideas and, in some cases, repudiate them. Humanism wasn’t just a thing to follow, with tenets and orthodoxy and rules, but a thing in which I could participate. I was free to find ways to define it on my own – humanism wasn’t something I believed, it was the word to describe what I had been doing all along. Not only that, but there were countless others who I could share with, whose experiences and wisdom could fill in the gaps of my own understanding.
In the same way, when I use the term ‘anti-racism’ I can claim absolutely no authority or ownership. There are many different shades of anti-racist thought. I don’t know all of them, and it’s impossible to agree with everyone who shares a label, even if that label is self-applied. Describing myself in that way certainly puts me at risk of having to deal with a bunch of baggage that isn’t necessarily mine*, but it also helps frame my ideas in a context which can be occasionally quite helpful. All the while, I am helping craft my own view of what ‘anti-racism’ is, and (in my small way) equipping others to begin participating in the conversation.
This is a rather meandering way of getting to the point that when I use the term ‘anti-racist’, I mean it in the same way that I mean ‘feminist’ or ‘skeptic’ or ‘humanist’ – I am talking about a philosophical approach that allows us to see the social structures of race, gender, science and ethics, and use techniques to critique them. Just as we recognize the myriad of overt claims about the world that people make, it is of the utmost importance to see the implied claims that often go unverbalized. It is simply the systematic application of doubt to all claims made with great certainty. As long as we keep our humanist/skeptical/feminist/anti-racist/blahblahblah hats on, we can avoid the disastrous consequences of our otherwise unexamined actions.
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*There is a species of internet troll that uses the phrase “anti-racist is anti-white” with almost Borg-like repetitiveness. I don’t know what you call these people – anti-anti-racists?