The Racism 101 Project Is Over. How Has Talking More Intentionally About Race Moved Us Forward?
We created Racism 101 to help facilitate thought-provoking conversations around race and racism. The kinds of conversations with your friends, family, coworkers, neighbors that might be uncomfortable but felt especially necessary over the last year.
Dana Amihere was the editor of Racism 101. She and Giuliana Mayo co-produced the project with the help of several others from the LAist newsroom and a dedicated group of diverse Angelenos.
To do so, we produced a digital conversation "starter kit," and extensive anti-racism resource guides.
Then, we solicited questions from our audience – awkward, tough-to-ask, even silly questions – the kind of questions you might have wanted to ask someone from a different background, but have been too shy, embarrassed or afraid to ask a friend, acquaintance or stranger. To field these questions, we assembled a panel of Angelenos willing to answer.
And, we invited our audience to talk as a community with us and to each other on social media and through our audience engagement platforms.
Our mission was never to change the hearts and minds of hardcore racists. The Getting Started section of the “starter kit” explicitly states, “If you think Hitler was right or Black folks belong at the back of the bus, this guide is NOT where you should start.”
A Lackluster Movement?
“2020 was the year that forced Americans from all walks of life to pay attention to a movement and have some tough conversations about race.”
“Millions took to the streets last summer in some of the largest protests in U.S. history.”
“History that needs to be reckoned with as we search for a way forward.”
These are soundbites from the June 9 episode of “Code Switch,” a weekly NPR podcast started in 2013 which centers around frank conversations about how race impacts every facet of society. The episode, “The Racial Reckoning That Wasn't,” dives deep into whether the past year of protests and statements condemning systemic racism and diversity and inclusion audits have amounted to anything. Did it galvanize an authentic movement or was it all just lip service in the heat of the moment?
Well, you get an unequivocal sense of the hosts’ feelings on this from the episode title. At one point, host Shereen Marisol Meraji posits,
”We wondered, so what happens if Trump is no longer president and when folks can go outside again? Will these newly activated white people still be in the trenches, fighting for racial justice? Will they even be paying attention?”
What she’s getting at is continued engagement. Her co-host, Gene Demby, cites research that found people’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement, their “shock and anger,” is dwindling — especially white people — since the end of last summer.
So where does Racism 101 fit into all this?
We Stuck With You
Racism 101 launched on October 12, 2020 (adroitly timed to
Columbus Day Indigenous Peoples’ Day). We pushed the research and work past our initial end date of early November to the end of January, to get through the inauguration and the racist vitriol that accompanied last year’s presidential election.
And we have been publishing the answers from our panelists ever since, through Black History Month and beyond. The last post went up days after Juneteenth was celebrated for the first time as a federal holiday.
From the start of this project, we’ve never stopped trying to engage people. We never stopped trying to be active contributors to what has been called the largest movement in U.S. history, and the most significant movement for racial justice since the civil rights movement.
We were here in the wake of protests following George Floyd’s murder, and through his trial and the conviction of the police officer who took his life. We were here through the last months of the Trump Administration. We were here as voter suppression laws tried to keep Black voters away from the polls. We were here answering questions about renewed calls for reparations alongside our parent project, Race In LA, as we talked about the legacy of slavery.
And we tried our damndest to bring our audience here too.
Give Change A Voice
We tried to meet our audience where they were to capture their attention and to ask them to help us create content with their questions.. Our primary callouts for questions were online and on social media. Our panelists made short videos for TikTok and Instagram, and we experimented with “Now This”- style video for Twitter and Facebook.
They shared real experiences of being asked uncomfortable, ill-informed questions about race. We did this to encourage our audience to ask their awkward questions about race in a safe space rather than to unsuspecting friends and strangers.
The initial response was unexpected. Our LAist social media accounts were filled with comments from trolls about the project being non-inclusive because, despite our best efforts, we didn’t include every variant of racial and ethnic diversity on our answer panel. And, by having them in the first place, we “tokenized” their experiences.
We chose not to engage with the trolls and asked our panelists not to either. And as more questions came in, positive responses began to overwhelm the trolls. Then, our audience actively came for the haters in support of Racism 101.
People were talking to us — and more importantly, each other — on TikTok and Facebook and Twitter to comment on the project. It became a genuine, two-way dialogue.
People also reached out to tell us they liked our work.
I’ve thought a lot about what Meraji and Demby said. Maybe they’re right. The overall racial reckoning didn’t have lasting momentum. People have put down their picket signs and stopped hashtagging on social media about victims of police brutality and publicly decrying systemic racism in an overt way.
But I think one of the most important takeaways here, at least to me, isn’t what people are doing now. People will always revert back to their old ways over time. That doesn’t surprise me at all. But, having edited this project for nine months, cared for it and fed it and watched it grow alongside my collaborators, I see how people are thinking as more valuable. They’re talking and listening with more awareness and increased understanding and empathy. There are more conversations about intentional, unbiased language and how to be anti-racist. Now, are people doing more than just talking?
Yes, acts and words can be hollow. But, change starts with a conversation. To fix a problem, you have to first give it a voice. And, I see the only way to move forward, to galvanize real and lasting change, is to keep having these uncomfortable but vital conversations about race.