Racial injustice is deeply woven into the fabric of society including movements to build social justice for other marginalized communities. Black, brown, Asian, Indigenous, and other racialized communities are often excluded from feminist, LGBTQ+, socio-economic, and other equity, diversity, and inclusion work. These spaces are then dominated by white perspectives where that social justice work is targeted towards white concerns at the expense of racialized people from these marginalized communities. Social justice movements that ignore the perspectives and needs of racialized people are not good movements. They’re deeply flawed and can’t succeed in their goal of achieving true equity and respect for everyone regardless of who you are, what you look like, or what you believe.
How is racism embedded in social justice work?
Throughout history and today, members of marginalized groups who are white have more power and sway over the direction and decision-making of these communities. White women, white Queer people, white poor/working-class people, etc. have intentionally and unintentionally benefitted from their white privilege and risen to leadership positions as leaders of feminist, LGBTQ+, and socio-economic, justice organizations. White people also tend to have better economic and educational opportunities than racialized people, which means they have more time and resources to allow them to participate and lead in these social justice movements.
For example, first wave feminism and the women’s suffrage movement were predominantly organized and defined by middle-class, educated white women, and concentrated mostly on issues mattering to that community of women. Notions of white supremacy were so heavily entrenched that it was exceedingly rare to find a white suffragette who included black, brown, Asian, Indigenous, or other racialized women in her vision of equal voting rights for “all women.” This exclusion of racialized women has laid a foundation of discrimination that continues in many feminist movements to this day.
Another example of this exclusion can be found in LGBTQ+ equity movements. Even though racialized Queer people have made huge contributions to securing LGBTQ+ rights, most of the attention and power has been concentrated in the hands of white people. A black Trans woman, Marsha P Johnson, threw the first brick at the Stonewall riots fighting for Queer liberation, but in the 2015 film Stonewall she is literally whitewashed out of existence, replaced instead with a white gay man character. Indigenous Queer people in particular have always felt unsafe and unwelcome at Pride celebrations, in LGBTQ+ bars and other Queer spaces. They have also faced significantly higher rates of harassment, violence, and murder than white Queer people. But these barriers often go unrecognized and unaddressed by the overwhelmingly white leadership of Pride associations and LGBTQ+ community groups.1
How are movements harmed by centering whiteness?
When social justice movements are dominated by one group of people and serve the interests of only one group of people, they become less effective in achieving true equality for everyone they say they’re fighting for. These movements lose support and allies by intentionally or unintentionally excluding racialized people. They lose out on the diversity of perspectives and fresh ideas that arise from having a diverse group of people involved. These exclusionary movements also become self-defeating, where their failure to recognize the ways in which race intersects with their work allows systems of patriarchy, homophobia, class oppression, and other forms of discrimination to continue.
How can we integrate racial equity into social justice movements?
In order to have an inclusive and holistic approach to social justice that gets us to where we want to go – we need to center race and racial equity at the heart of this work. We need to see racial equity as both an outcome and a process. As an outcome, we achieve racial equity when race no longer determines one’s socioeconomic outcomes; when everyone has what they need to thrive, no matter where they live. As a process, we apply racial equity when those most impacted by structural racial inequity are meaningfully involved in the creation and implementation of the institutional policies and practices that impact their lives.
When we achieve racial equity:
- People, including racialized people, are owners, planners, and decision-makers in the systems that govern their lives.
- We acknowledge and account for past and current inequities, and provide all people, particularly those most impacted by racial inequities, the infrastructure needed to thrive.
- Everyone benefits from a more just, equitable system.2
How Can I Help?
Help make sure that the social justice movements and spaces you participate in center race and racialized people. Here are 3 places to start that conversation:
1. Talk about race
You can’t discover that there’s a problem if nobody is aware of it. If you’re discussing any form of equity, diversity, and inclusion and you notice that nobody has said anything about race, politely bring it up. Consider saying something like, “It’s my understanding that this problem can impact racialized people differently than white people, have we thought about how our project might include black, brown, Asian, and Indigenous people in this work?”
2. Leadership capacity
People leading social justice projects need the knowledge, skills, and capacity to include a racial equity lens in their work. Suggest that the leaders of social justice organizations you’re involved with are connected with support and resources to engage with racialized communities and understand their unique needs in your organization. If possible, try to have them connect with the on-the-ground knowledge and expertise from racialized community leaders.
3. Research and policy
Identifying the unique needs of racialized communities within your social justice organization and creating a policy to address those needs is necessary to understand the scope of any problems and to give people confidence that your organization is taking this work seriously. Setting up qualitative and/or quantitative methods of receiving feedback from racialized people, and then creating a plan to address that feedback is an excellent way to move forward.
You can also check out this link: Ten Tips for Putting Intersectionality into Practice for a deeper dive into how you can promote opportunity for communities who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination including race.
For more information contact:
Vice President Equity
 White gay privilege exists all year, but it is particularly hurtful during Pride, George Johnson, nbcnews.com/think/opinion/white-gay-privilege-exists-all-year-it-particularly-hurtful-during-ncna1024961, June 30, 2019 What Is Racial Equity?, Center for Social Inclusion, centerforsocialinclusion.org/our-work/what-is-racial-equity/, January 27, 2021