How to be anti-racist on campus (and beyond)

During the third speaker presentation in our Anti-Racism Speaker Series, Cicely Belle Blain, CEO of Bakau Consulting shared her experience as a Black, mixed, queer non-binary femme from London, United Kingdom now living on the lands of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh people. A recording of the session is now available.

A photo of Cicely Belle Blain on the right, next to a quote on the left that reads: People need to see real, structural, systemic change, which holds leaders accountable and drastically shifts and transforms, and puts money in the right places.

June 6th, 2020.

On this day, Black Lives Matter protests culminated with half a million people participating in nearly 550 places across the United States, making it possibly the largest movement in U.S. History.

The following weeks saw a resurfacing of White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and How to Be a Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi on the New York Times Best Sellers list. The next week, they were joined by best sellers Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race and Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy. Regardless of what the critics thought about these books, it was clear that society was ready to do the work to become anti-racist. But where to start?

There’s some irony in producing a blog article about an anti-racism speaker series at the University of British Columbia. After all, academic institutions in North America were built on Indigenous lands for the use and benefit of white men. As Cicely Belle of Bakau Consulting reminds us,“You can think about the history of slavery and the use of slave labour to construct, or at least create the wealth to construct, particular institutions as well.” 

While we may not be able to deconstruct the continent’s universities brick by brick, what we can do is dissect our own problematic views about race in an attempt to build them back up into a worldview that is truly inclusive. As Cicely Belle explains, “Being anti-racist is an action. Not just a value.” So it’s up to every individual to put in the work if they want to become anti-racist on campus and beyond.

Being anti-racist is an action. Not just a value.

How to be anti-racist: Tips from a diversity consultant

Educate yourself by looking outward

Cicely Belle is clear that colonial institutions can’t ever become anti-racist. “You can’t teach a system to be anything other than what it was designed to be,” they say. “So that's why you have to look to grassroots activist movements for inspiration and leadership, for example.” UBC Applied Science is just one organization of many that have reached out in recent years to diversity consultants for their expertise and advice (we are currently engaging with Bakau Consulting).

Be self aware about your impact on others

Historically, Cicely Belle says that an example of racism in universities is the discrimination and unconscious bias in hiring practices and the selection of course material. “I had only one or two women of colour as my professors in my whole time there,” says Cicely Belle, a UBC graduate. Additionally, there was “a lack of representation in the curriculum. With almost every paper I wrote, I really had to get beyond the curriculum to find the content I wanted to learn about in terms of Black or Indigenous history.” In this sense, decision makers are responsible for championing the people and materials that are going to point us toward the path of anti-racism.

Understand the different types of racism

Racism is not just a swastika sprayed on a garage or the assault of an Asian person on the street. It takes on many forms and can be very subtle. Cicely Belle uses the example of microaggressions to illustrate just how damaging these acts can also be. On being a Black student at UBC: “I definitely felt out of place. There’s obviously a very small Black population in Vancouver, and an even smaller one on campus. One of the most notable experiences for me was just generally being viewed as not belonging there, or questions or surprise around my presence among other Black students.”

Speak up against racism

If being anti-racist means acting on it, then speaking up against racism is a tangible action one can take. According to Cicely Belle that means to “use your position of power and privilege to drastically reverse the impact that racism has on marginalized people.”

Put your money where your mouth is

This idiom generally means to take action in a way that supports your beliefs. Extending that meaning to address actual money, Cicely Belle suggests investing or donating to groups championing initiatives led by marginalized people.  

Anti-racism starts with you

Even though Cicely Belle acknowledges a shift in society for the better, they caution against performative activism, especially by institutions. “The more they can appropriate or tokenize that knowledge to seem progressive and inclusive, actually becomes a performance,” they say. “And I think that's a really dangerous place that we're in right now. People need to see real structural, systemic change, which holds leaders accountable and drastically shifts and transforms, and puts money in the right places.”

So it’s cool and all that you have your nose buried deep in Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, but taking action in your daily life is when you’ll truly be able to call yourself anti-racist.

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