3 Circles

If you are familiar with what is now considered traditional ELT theory, you will remember the 3 circles, inner, outer, and expanding. Now, it’s nonsense (because language and nationality aren’t the same thing), but I want to overlay the concept onto something else.

When we talk about antiracist work (and especially for white folks), I think there are three ways to go about it, two that are necessary, and one that is basically counterproductive yet by far the most common.

First of all, there is deep, challenging internal work, genuine transformation that never really ends, where you understand how prevalent racism is, and you acknowledge how you’ve benefited from it (even if you’re otherwise marginalized – poor, female, LGBTQ, etc). This doesn’t mean that those other forms of marginalization don’t matter, as true antiracism is necessarily intersectional, but they don’t cancel each other out or something silly like that. This is, for an individual person, extremely important.

Second, there’s of course public policy – whether in a home, school, organization, locality, state, or nation-sate – that must be changed to depower white supremacy. This is the work we must all do. Part of my research seeks to interrogate whether, if policy was codified in Master’s program to include antiracist work, more teachers would be able to engage in the transformative work above, or if that work is truly random and intrinsically motivated.

And then there’s the third thing, the place where everyone seems to get stuck. Basically, this is believing that antiracism is an individual competition, where you don’t have to change internally or change policy for the many. For teachers, this means just, I guess I’ll throw some more black people into my curriculum (which you should do), but not challenging the structures around you and within you. Or, it’s bashing Trump and that style of overt racism without challenging policies that have had discriminatory impact around you. It’s going online to laugh at dumb racists (and there are plenty) without actually changing a single thing in your life aside from being glad you’re not that dumb.

Antiracism requires change (in this case, not just for white folks, but for anyone engaged in it). I know I get frustrated because I always realize I have so much more work to do, but that’s the point. In this society, the work is centuries from being finished. For someone like me who likes to be DONE with things to feel comfortable, I’m always going to be a little unsettled trying to do this work. And you should be too.

So if your antiracism is basically a series of memes and jokes about the Real Racists, you’re not helping. Do better. Push for policy – again, in any shared context – and do the work on yourself.