Pull Up a Seat at the AntiRacist Table
For most Americans, it’s either taboo or just extremely uncomfortable to talk about race and racism. However, we live in a society that is deeply segregated. So even though it is hard, talking about race is necessary.
Out of this need, sisters Kirsten Ivey-Colson and Lynn Turner created The AntiRacist Table. It’s a platform that started as a 30-Day Challenge to help people learn, unlearn, heal, understand, and develop into changemakers that make antiracism a daily practice. It includes actionable tasks and steps that help people develop antiracism as a muscle they can build up the more they use it, all in an effort to help participants become a change for good in the world.
Kirsten is an attorney with expertise in nonviolent communication and alternative dispute resolution and Lynn is an educator and activist who works with children and families. A passion project for both, they originally created the challenge for individuals but the work has organically grown into a community and as a way for the pair to “teach the teachers”: They have presented and taught workshops for the The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, The District of Columbia Public Schools Parent University, and Children’s National Hospital.
We recently spoke to Kirsten and Lynn about anti-racism, the AntiRacist Table project, and about how to improve dialogue in difficult conversations.
Blue Zones: What is the difference between being anti-racist and just being not racist?
AntiRacist Table: This is such an important question. In America, most people think they are not racist. Stating that you are “not racist” fails to accept that racism permeates all aspects of American life. The idea that because one is not actively engaging in culturally unacceptable racist activity or ideas, such as – being part of a white supremacist organization or blatantly discriminating against Black and BIPOC – gives people a false free pass. This “out” perpetuates racist ideas and enables the comfortability of the status quo of white supremacy to continue.
The clear difference in being “antiracist” is the active nature of antiracism. We see antiracism as a verb. To be antiracist is to “actively reject” anti-Blackness and white supremacy culture that is dominant in America and maintains inequities for oppressed racial groups.We see antiracism as a verb. To be antiracist is to “actively reject” anti-Blackness and white supremacy culture that is dominant in America and maintains inequities for oppressed racial groups. —@AntiRacistTable Click To Tweet
BZ: What is the most disarming way to connect with people with different viewpoints? How can we engage in open communication that continues dialogue instead of shuts it down?
ART: The best advice we can give is “friendliness and curiosity.”
Bring friendliness and curiosity to these conversations and accept that you are not having the conversation to change the person’s mind on an issue of racism.Bring friendliness and curiosity to these conversations and accept that you are not having the conversation to change the person’s mind on an issue of racism. —@AntiRacistTable Click To Tweet
Instead of trying to convince someone why they are wrong and your opinion is right, listen to understand. Try to hear where they are coming from and why they believe what they believe.
Ask questions in a friendly way, with a friendly tone and body language. Be curious.
Share why the issue matters to you. When you connect with each other from a place of understanding and accepting that feelings and needs are universal, you may find an opening for healing and repair.
If you can be open and vulnerable you will lead from an open heart space that invites love in and sends love out. Understand that you will likely need many conversations–this is a process. The deep-rooted problems of racism cannot be solved in one day, one class, or one conversation. As long as the door is open and you stay “in relationship” you can continue the dialogue and work towards acknowledgment, acceptance, healing, and repair.
BZ: What are some surprising things you learned from readers in your Challenge Community Space?
ART: Some of the things that have surprised us since we launched our Challenge in July 2020 is how many participants say our program has transformed their lives. Many say the Challenge has opened their eyes and minds to racism in ways they never thought possible. People describe a newfound passion to actively work to dismantle injustice and anti-Black racism in all aspects of their lives. Hearing participants share their personal experiences as they uncover their own racial stories is also pretty momentous.
For example, people from all over the country have talked about experiences during childhood that they now see were racist. We had one person who grew up near Stone Mountain but never knew the history. Those kinds of reflections and realizations are impactful. We see outrage and deep sadness. We see people reckoning with memories of close loved ones who they realize are racist, and how they are able to extend empathy and compassion. Witnessing the vulnerability, authenticity, and heart-opening of this work is incredibly powerful.
To see people embrace their own power to actively work to dismantle racism in themselves, their communities, workplaces, and schools, in connection with our work really feeds the underlying passion that drives us.
BZ: You’re both established in successful careers and have families, so what inspired you to create the AntiRacist Table 30-Day Challenge?
ART: We really feel we were called to this work—it is our way of doing our part to help move humanity forward. Our great-great-grandparents endured slavery. Although we come from a strong and resilient people, we learned as young children that life is not fair for Black people. Sadly, we had a resigned acceptance for a long time but, this summer changed everything.
We felt a pull, a force, like never before to use our voices in a way that our ancestors could not. We want a better world for our children and future generations. We know we have to use the power that we have to support the social unrest and demand for justice. As “regular” people who see injustice, we committed to do what we could using our combined skills and expertise to create something that would hopefully offer a path forward where diversity is celebrated and racial equity is a human right. Now is the time. We are building a better world—it is unfolding as we speak.Now is the time. We are building a better world—it is unfolding as we speak. —@AntiRacistTable Click To Tweet
BZ: Where do you both find purpose in your careers and in your work to create the Challenge?
ART: The AntiRacist Table is our passion. It is the most rewarding work we have ever done. We see our purpose in helping to create a just and fair America where anti-Blackness is dismantled and harm is repaired.
Our purpose centers around equity, love, and the belief that we are all human beings who deserve to be seen, heard, and valued. It is our divine right.
I (Kirsten) have always found purpose in meaning in fighting for others. I did that for many years as an enforcement attorney and now I work to resolve conflict and to help bridge the divide between people. I (Lynn) have always found purpose and joy in teaching young children. As an early childhood teacher, the work I do with children, learning to embrace others and celebrate difference are the foundations of love and empathy we so need in this world. Cultivating these soul qualities of warm-heartedness in young children will turn into ideas of acceptance, understanding, and inclusion in adulthood. Love, empathy, and courage are essential parts of our Challenge and the work that we do at The AntiRacist Table.
BZ: What do you hope people take away from the Challenge?
ART: We hope that people have developed the daily practice of bringing antiracism into daily life with our foundational course. We hope that people continue their activism to dismantle racism and become active agents of change for a better, more loving, and just world.We hope that people continue their activism to dismantle racism and become active agents of change for a better, more loving, and just world. —@AntiRacistTable Click To Tweet
If people walk away incorporating an aspect of antiracism into their lives, we feel like we have succeeded.
BZ: How can practices like mindfulness and journaling help Challenge-takers in their journey to become antiracist and changemakers for a better world?
ART: Race, white privilege, white supremacy, white fragility, and anti-Blackness are sensitive topics that bring up a lot of personal and collective emotion. This is personal, soul work and guilt, shame, anger, and blame are emotional barriers that keep people from moving through the pain and discomfort. We find centering mindfulness and journaling helps create a healing space within the individual for this work.
Self-discovery and self-healing are important parts of this work. Journaling and reflection are essential tools for this process. Mindfulness can also help disrupt explicit and implicit bias by helping people to be more aware and present. Getting in touch with our feelings and checking in with our body can bring awareness that helps a person show up for this work, it also helps us know when rest and healing are needed.
BZ: While studies do show that internal motivations can help people make lasting changes in their lives, at Blue Zones we help people changing their lives so that the healthy choices are easier or unavoidable. How can people set up their lives to support antiracism?
ART: Setting out to be AntiRacist and stepping into our “superpower” ten core principles is a purposeful first step. As part of our Challenge, we also encourage the creation of an AntiRacist Manifesto. Finding what is important to you and what you want to center in your belief system around the values of antiracism will serve as inspiration and motivation. This work is challenging and even harder when doing it alone.
Joining a community can provide important support. At its core, community and connection with others is at the heart of this work.At its core, community and connection with others is at the heart of this work. —@AntiRacistTable Click To Tweet