This summer, the Center for Sustainable Development’s summer interns and staff read Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to be an Antiracist. I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Wanda Ebright, Associate Professor of Dance and the Associate Dean and Director of Graduate Studies for the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Winthrop University. She and I discussed the Black Lives Matter movement as well as vocabulary used throughout Dr. Kendi’s book.
The BLM movement is controversial, only because so many people automatically think of it as violence instead of what it really is, a fight for the protection of black lives. Dr. Wanda Ebright describes BLM as a movement “making it possible to stop the violence, both physical and socioeconomic, against black lives”. It’s not a movement out of hatred, it’s out of fear.
In Ibram X. Kendi’s book, he defines an antiracist as “One who is expressing the idea that racial groups are equals and none needs developing and is supporting policies that reduce racial inequity.” I asked Dr. Ebright how we can be antiracist in today’s society, especially when addressing groups or people who do not understand the BLM movement or the social justice issue at hand. She suggests that it’s important for people to realize that, “change can happen on an infinite number of levels”. Dr. Ebright asserts that the BLM movement is not about giving handouts to people of color, that it is instead about taking away the barriers that allow everyone to work and live.
Dr. Ebright says asking questions is a big part of being antiracist and that we need to challenge schools and companies that do not actively work to address a lack of diversity and racism within their walls. We discussed how often textbooks don’t include diverse perspectives and that people can make a difference by asking why they don’t. Why do we only spend time with or interact with people who look and think as we do? Does it have to do with our background or location? In school and in your own neighborhood, you aren’t getting as many perspectives as you may want or think you are getting. Dr. Ebright encourages us to try to recognize these things and take action and make an effort to meet and get to know people who are different from us.
When discussing the movement and racism, there are three common terms that need clarification:
The word privilege alone has very different meanings for people. Dr. Ebright reflects on her own classroom, discussing how everyone defines privilege differently and white students often feel that when students of color use the term they are assuming they are rich and come from money. She says that often this is not the case, and the reason that students get confused about this term is that they don’t hear each other out and realize that it was not defined the right way. Dr. Ebright stresses that in communities of color, people are saying “that if you get pulled over for a taillight that is out, you are not struck with fear”. Rightfully, Dr. Ebright claims that “if you have never had that feeling, that is a privilege…there are not enough of you being killed to make you feel that way.” During our interview, I got chill bumps when she said this. For those of us in positions of power or privilege, it is important to use it to listen, speak up, and speak out.
In his book, Dr. Kendi defines a racist as, “One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea”. In Dr. Ebright’s words, “racism isn’t owned by any one race”. She says that as an educator, she has realized that “anyone can be racist and have racist thoughts and belief systems”. We need to challenge these belief systems, even if they are our own, and try to have a conversation about it and what we can do to stop racism.
Although people often see the BLM movement as violent, this is not the case. When I met with Dr. Ebright, we discussed how the BLM movement is about nonviolent protest. It’s not about the riots, but people hear the words BLM and automatically think of it as violent.
Dr. Kendi says that racism is “not always about ignorance and hate, it’s about self-interest” and Dr. Ebright echoed this same sentiment when she stated that “keeping people upset keeps people in control”. She points out how “fairness always seems unfair to people who had a privileged position of power before.” We need to have conversations about inequality in order to understand one another and to take away the barriers that hinder people of color. During the interview, I asked Dr. Ebright about some of the positive changes she has noticed that have come out of the BLM movement, and we came up with quite a few.
Activists supporting the BLM movement are stepping up and attempting to foment positive, long-lasting change. Peaceful protests have taken place in neighborhoods and cities across the country and across the world. The movement itself is very diverse and people are supporting each other by calling out institutions and companies for their lack of diversity and support for people of color. Dr. Ebright emphasizes how people are having conversations and are allowed to disagree and still love one another. Dissent is patriotic and now is not the time to stand by.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, challenge others, and reflect on your own beliefs. I’ll leave you with a few points that Dr. Ebright made that I believe she articulated beautifully:
“Reach out and make sure your friends of color are okay.”
“Make it okay to have the conversation, don’t shut it down.”
“This is not a phase, this is not a fad, this is a movement.”