How to be anti-racist: Speak out in your own circles

Pictured are three women who joined hands and prayed around a makeshift memorial on May 26, 2020, in Minneapolis, near where a white police officer knelt on George Floyd's neck.

(CNN)In light of the ongoing protests after the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, some people say they want to become anti-racist.

Being anti-racist means more than ridding yourself of racist attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. It means you're also actively fighting that reprehensible trinity as it manifests in your life on a daily basis.
Donating to activist organizations and protesting injustices are definitely good starts to becoming an ally. But that's not enough. Actively rebutting prejudices in your own circles is key to lasting change, as those ideas and beliefs — unless challenged — are what our children absorb and are woven into the fabric of our culture.
"In order to interrupt systemic racism, we have to be working all the time," said Beverly Tatum, a psychologist, former Spelman College president and author of the classic books "Can We Talk About Race?" and "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?"
    What that means for you depends on who you are, where you live and who you're interacting with.
    Everyone has particular spheres of influence, in which we help shape the mindsets, and thus the behaviors, of others. Ask yourself what messages you're sending to your family, friends, workplace, places of worship and outside activities. What leadership are you providing or are you silent in the face of racism?
    "Unless I'm really being intentional and thinking about how to interrupt the racist policies and practices that are surrounding me, then my silence is supporting that," Tatum added.
    "People sometimes think, 'Well, I'm not calling anyone names or doing anything hateful, [so] I have no responsibility,'" she said. "But the system of this web that surrounds all of us is reinforced by silence. So you have to speak up against it in the places where you are."

    Individual actions equal collective impact

    It's easy to think the decisions you make are limited to how they affect your life. But individual decisions sparked by racism and prejudice have historically morphed into the collective psyches of many nations.
    How do everyday decisions lead to calling the police on black people for no reason, hate crimes and police brutality incidents?
    Every time you leave a smaller form of racism unchallenged, that bolsters your tolerance for racism, said Jennifer Harvey, a religion professor at Drake University in Iowa and author of "Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America."
    It's not only active white supremacy, racism and police brutality ending black and brown lives, said Harvey, who recently wrote "How to not raise a racist white kid" for CNN.
    "Collectively, white America has this really high capacity to tolerate racism," she added. "That grows from all of those many aggressions and hostilities that we allow to go unchecked in our environments."
    Many would never sanction what police officers did to George Floyd, Harvey said, but violence happens after tolerance builds up to lesser forms of racism. Failing to challenge racism and prejudice equals participation in a version of violence, she said, and it eventually leads to these devastating events.
    "Every time we fail to interrupt racism, we under-do our own capacity to sort of grow the kind of flourishing anti-racist world that everybody deserves to live in," she added.

    Shift your mindset

    Becoming anti-racist starts with shifting your own mindset, these experts said. This means, for example, that when you have a prejudiced or racist thought, you hold that thought and reassess it before acting it out.
    Dislodging prejudice in your mind can be hard because it's usually an unconscious bias, Tatum said. You can't filter out biases unless you're aware of them.
    Tatum likened stereotype exposure to breathing in smog in the air: "They're so pervasive in our environment that we're constantly breathing them in. And as a consequence of breathing them in, we should not be surprised that sometimes we breathe that out."
    Address the problem by asking yourself what you're leaking into the air, whether it's stereotypes or discriminatory behavior. Awareness is the first step.

    Educate yourself about racism

    It's time to start reading about race. Tatum's book can explain why black students find relief in hanging out together amid all the racism they experience at school. Harvey's book can help parents of white children talk to their children about race and racism.
    "So You Want to Talk About Race" by Ijeoma Oluo relays how race and racism affect every aspect of American life and how to talk about it with your loved ones. "The Souls of Black Folk," by late sociologist and activist W.E.B. Du Bois, highlights the experiences of black people in American society. It was published in 1903, but it still holds relevance.

    Learn about microaggressions

    Some white people know that to become anti-racist, they must start to listen and brush up on the history of racism in their countries.
    Some people are describing obviously racist behavior as the the tip of the iceberg -- calling people racist names or threatening people on the basis of race. Then there's the part of the iceberg that's not easily visible to people if they're not looking. This includes a range of subtle but insidious attitudes, behaviors and policies.
    Among these are microaggressions. They are brief and commonplace verbal, behavioral or environmental indignities, Tatum said.
    Microaggressions can be intentional, unintentional or even well-meaning, but they communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial assumptions to the receiver. And they have an insidious effect on a black person's psyche and continuing racist assumptions.
    "These racist tendencies are obvious to the person of color, but they are so ingrained in the non-person of color that they are believed to be socially acceptable," said Justice Horn, a social justice activist and protest organizer from Kansas City, Missouri.

    A list of common microaggressions

    Here are some common microaggressions, which you can avoid by not saying them.
    "You're so well spoken/articulate" or "You don't sound black." This remark sounds like a compliment, but it's offensive to a lot of black people because they usually don't have to be that articulate for someone to say that to them, Tatum said.
    When a white person says it, it usually implies they wouldn't expect to hear coherence from a black person. The black person didn't fit the white person's offensive stereotype, so the white person complimented them for not fitting the mold.
    "Don't blame me. I never owned slaves." This statement assumes that racism ended with the conclusion of the US Civil War, Tatum said, when really it has continued in new forms. Read "Just Mercy" by Bryan Stephenson or "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" by Michelle Alexander to learn more about modern slavery, racism and how white people still benefit from discrimination.
    "White privilege doesn't exist." Differences in racial privilege occur on a personal basis, too. White privilege also means not having to worry about whether your hairstyle will cost you a job or even an interview. It's not having to worry if someone is following you around a store because they think you might steal something because of your skin color.
    "All lives matter." Yes, all lives matter, but in this context it's black lives that are not being treated