(Photo illustration by Chava Sanchez/LAist)
(Photo illustration by Chava Sanchez/LAist)
George Floyd’s killing and the protests that followed changed how, when, why we talk about race. We produced Unheard LA: A Deeper Listen to provide a platform for these important conversations about race. We invited past Unheard LA storytellers to discuss their experiences with race in our community, and the talk got real. People in the comments section joined in with questions too, but we didn’t have a way to address everything that came up.
The answer was what became Racism 101. Our intention with this new project is to hold space for the community to safely ask questions and discuss race with us — and with each other.
Select a section to get started:
RACISM 101’S TIES TO RACE IN LA
Racism 101 is an offshoot of our Race In LA series, which has been publishing essays since June — from LAist staff and community contributors — each week about personal experiences related to one’s race/ethnicity. Race In LA was conceived following the 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. LAist staffers gathered and shared stories about being racially profiled; about being put in a racial or ethnic box; about feeling unsafe, daily; about never being "enough" of an American. Our newsroom realized there was more we could do to make sure more diverse voices were heard in our coverage.
2020 has been a wakeup call and our newsroom wants to answer that call in the most transparent way. KPCC/LAist is revisiting its style guide, addressing the increased need for diversity in our newsroom and is looking to engage a more diverse audience.
WHY WE CREATED RACISM 101
On Oct. 12, (fatefully timed to
Columbus Day Indigenous Peoples’ Day), we introduced Racism 101 on LAist. The project is a part of the Race In LA ecosystem, and was conceived as a community engagement follow-up to the Unheard LA: A Deeper Listen virtual event series. Audience members peppered us with insightful questions during the broadcast. And we continued to get feedback on social media after the event recording was posted. They also wanted to know how we were able to facilitate such deep, thought-provoking conversations about race and racial issues. We knew that it took weeks of prep to make our production look polished but organic. We knew that our audience didn't have our kind of research or resources. So we decided to give it to them.
Racism 101 was born. It began as a conversation “starter kit” to guide conversations about tough race-related issues. It was inspired by the discussion questions geared toward book clubs at the end of some novels. We also included a buffet of contextual resources to help guide and inform users’ conversations.
The project then became two-fold: We not only wanted the community to talk to each other; we wanted to hold space for them to talk to us too. Consequently, we created a callout for questions — any questions (so long as they’re civil and respectful) — folks might have for others from other racial/ethnic backgrounds or life experiences other than theirs.
Through the Deeper Listen series, we heard that fear, embarrassment and having no one to ask keeps many people from speaking up. We wanted to make the information accessible — about others’ ethnic dishes or hairstyles or experiences with microaggressions or overt acts of discrimination — to those who wanted to know from people who were willing to answer. We assembled a diverse 12-person answer panel of community members and several people from our newsroom who are willing to put in the emotional work necessary to respond to topics that might be triggering or traumatic. They’ll respond to inquiries in text, audio and video. We’ll post their answers online and on social media and give the community the opportunity to tell us how they would answer too.
The fine print: We’ll try to provide an answer to every question that comes in. Questions can be quirky, awkward or even silly, but we won’t respond to hate speech or offensive language. We won’t post any details about who asked the question, but we will be transparent as to who provided the answer.
HOW TO USE THE “STARTER KIT”
Racism 101 may sound like a formal learning experience to you. We promise — it’s not. It was produced to be approachable, contextual and self-paced.
The discussion guide is organized into five chapters. Each chapter centers around a racial issue that’s controversial and has multiple aspects to approach it from. There is no right or wrong answer, per se.
The chapters get increasingly more difficult and complex to discuss. Each chapter includes:
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND GETTING STARTED
There aren’t always multiple sides to an issue. Some things are cut and dry. For example, everyone is entitled to civil liberties and civil rights, and no one should be discriminated against because of their skin color. There are some basic truths and facts that we, the creators of this guide, assume that everyone is on the same page about. So, if you think Hitler was right or Black folks belong at the back of the bus, this guide is NOT where you should start.
First and foremost, your discussion space should be a space where ideas and thoughts are heard but can be challenged respectfully and civilly. In doing so, you help support the physical, mental and emotional well-being of every participant.
DON’T feel responsible for another person’s ignorance or racist attitudes. If they don’t “get” it because they’re ill-informed, and don’t want to be or choose not to believe any way but their way, you’re fighting a losing battle.
DON’T go into this conversation on a mission to change hearts and minds.
Gauge the type of conversation that you’re about to have. Trust us: Things are gonna get heavy. The conversation may get emotional. Tempers may flare. There might be tears. It’s not about who you’re talking to so much as how you’re talking to them and under what conditions. DO make sure you’re in a setting that is private enough and quiet enough for this type of discussion. You want to make sure that everyone can hear each other clearly and that no one is in a space where they’ll be hesitant or embarrassed to express authentic feelings.
DON’T spout off at the mouth just to have something to say. Hold those who do accountable for their actions, and if necessary, ask them to leave the conversation.
DO have a healthy discussion to engage and learn from others, especially those unlike you.
DO challenge ideas and back them up with supporting evidence or research.
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There has been much talk about how to be an ally, what the word itself means, what acts of allyship feel performative, what’s real. Perhaps most critical to being an ally is being comfortable having uncomfortable conversations as you try to better understand. If just talking about systemic racism is difficult for you, imagine what it feels like to have to live within a system rigged against you.
Don’t ask Black and Brown folks what you can do or to educate you; the onus is on you to put in the work. You’ve got the internet and all kinds of resources, like this handy website. Start taking action by asking these questions, reading articles, having tough conversations, speaking up when you recognize problematic behavior and you’re on your way.
RELATED TOPICAL RESOURCES
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Here’s the academic take on it: “Cross-cultural code-switching is the act of purposefully modifying one's behavior in an interaction in a foreign setting in order to accommodate different cultural norms for appropriate behavior.”
We do it all the time to some degree — using a professional voice at work and a more relaxed way of speaking with friends or family. Code switching for some people is as casual as that, for others it’s a technique to survive dangerous, or even deadly situations fueled by racial tensions.
RELATED TOPICAL RESOURCES
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“If you don’t understand cultural appropriation, imagine working on a project and getting an F and then somebody copies you and gets an A and credit for your work.” — Tenisha F. Sweet
Bo Derek’s freshly corn-rowed hair. Vanilla Ice’s early 90s rap. The Jenner and Kardashian women sporting braids, big lips and even bigger derrières. The #GentrifiedGreens that ignited Black Twitter.
There’s a difference between copying a culture’s elements — hairdos, clothing and accessories, traditional music and dance, religious rites, cuisine — to emulate them out of respect and in a context that credits the origins and being a “culture vulture.” Culture is closely tied to one’s identity. When a piece of that culture is used to turn a profit as a “trend” or is presented as something “new” without crediting the true origins, it marginalizes the people within that community.
RELATED TOPICAL RESOURCES
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This is a hot button issue that seems to be widely misunderstood. Simply put, many people, including some officers, agree that police are called to emergencies that they shouldn’t be covering: mental health crises, encounters with people behaving erratically because of drugs or alcohol, homeless outreach. Defunding the police calls for reallocating some funds from police departments to social services agencies who are better equipped to handle those types of calls.
The origins of American policing itself, from slave patrols following the Civil War, is also an argument in some circles for defunding the police to the point of nonexistence. For some, abolishing the police entirely as we know it now, an institution that they say is inherently racist because of how and why it even exists in the first place, is the only way to eradicate the problems with the system.
RELATED TOPICAL RESOURCES
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Colleges are renaming campus buildings to acknowledge a past tied to slavery; they’re issuing public apologies for their schools’ ties to slavery. Confederate monuments have been toppled across the South. We’re reconsidering sports mascots, team names and cheering gestures that, to some, insult indigenous communities. In this pivotal moment of racial reckoning, we’re having long overdue conversations as a society about how we frame historical narratives.
RELATED TOPICAL RESOURCES
While some people advocate for keeping Confederate monuments and adding explainer placards to remind people of the historical context, others want them removed entirely as they, as some have said, “honor the oppressor.” What do you think?
To talk intelligibly about these types of issues, you have to have a baseline understanding of what the issues actually are. To that end, We’re providing a buffet of resources to help you learn.
Anti-racism essays, books, videos and podcasts.
The 1619 Project from
“The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” (via The New York Times)
“New York Times best-selling author Wilkerson examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives today are still defined by a hierarchy of human divisions.” (via Amazon)
“Do you believe that your race correlates to your skin tone? Because that wasn’t always the case. So how did Americans come to believe that race equals certain visible physical characteristics such as skin color and hair? And why is it that certain ethnic groups that were once considered ‘non-white’ became reclassified as ‘white?’” (via PBS/Origin of Everything) (Available on YouTube)
“Eyes on the Prize” from
“Eyes on the Prize” is an award-winning television series, told in 14 one-hour episodes, that cover all of the major events of the civil rights movement from 1954-1985, including the Montgomery bus boycott in 1954 to the Voting Rights Act in 1965. (via PBS) (Available on Netflix and Apple TV)
Code Switch from
“Hosted by journalists of color, this podcast tackles the subject of race head-on. It explores how it impacts every part of society — from politics and pop culture to history, sports and everything in between.” (via NPR)Available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, NPR One, Pocket Casts and Spotify)
JUSTICE IN JUNE
Through a partnership with Justice in June, we have permission to republish their 30-day anti-racism read/watch/listen/act plans in their entirety as mobile-friendly and downloadable resource guides.
The holidays are just around the corner. Despite the social distancing challenges posed by COVID-19, you'll likely be connecting in some way with family and friends. We see these gatherings, albeit virtual, as the perfect time to talk about the tensions running high in this county, civilly and respectfully. And we want to help.
We'll be posting the materials from Justice in June on our Racism 101 site the week of Thanksgiving. That will give you plenty of time to do crash course before Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza and Eid with the 30-day anti-racism learning plan laid out in Justice in June.
FOR US, BY US
This section includes content produced by creators of an affinity group from the perspective of that group with an eye to speaking to that group. In creating this list, we worked diligently to omit narratives that perpetuated stereotypes or pigeonholed people or tokenized their communities. Yes, these writers and their characters and podcasters and poets address issues that adversely affect the marginalized. However, their depiction of adversity doesn’t define these people or places.
They grapple with poverty, violence, racism, exploitation. But they aren’t victims to be pitied because they’re brutalized or looked down upon as less than — less deserving, less intelligent, less ambitious — because of those circumstances. The contemporary voices highlighted on this list embrace, normalize, amplify the joy and pride and passion of what it means to be “other.”
Use the dropdown menu to filter by group. Click a content box to open a modal for additional details. Click anywhere outside the modal to close it.
ASK US ANYTHING
We've been posting short promo videos on social media to illustrate the kinds of things people have actually said to some of our answer panelists. Their personal experiences have been honest and have illustrated just how much we don't always understand each other.
Ask us questions. Panelists on our #Racism101 project will answer.♬ original sound - LAist - Voter Game Plan
What questions do you have about people from different backgrounds? Our Racism 101 panelists will answer. #racism101 #raceinla #LetsTalkLA♬ original sound - LAist - Voter Game Plan
Leave your questions in the comments. #racism101 #raceinLA♬ original sound - LAist - Voter Game Plan
So, don't be shy. Ask us what you’ve always wanted to know, no matter how awkward. Our amazing team of 12 is here to field any and all respectful questions so your friends (or strangers) don’t have to. Racism 101 is about learning and understanding.
So, let's talk, L.A.
MEET THE TEAM
We’ve assembled a small, diverse group of people with strong voices and opinions to answer your questions. Our panel is made up of 12 individuals, several from our newsroom, but mostly community members from around L.A. They are men and women. Some have kids, are single or have partners. They range in age from 30s to 60s. They identify as cisgender and queer. They identify as Native American and Asian American and Latinx, Black, mutliracial, Hawaiian and white. We tried our best to represent a cross-section of Angelenos’ multifaceted cultural, racial and ethnic diversity.
(Courtesy Brianna Lee)
She also consumed media voraciously, and was likewise affected by the centrality of whiteness in every book, movie, TV show and history lesson she came across — to the point that when she wrote fictional short stories as a hobby, all her protagonists were white. This all made her really interested in probing the structures that shape how we view race and what prevents us from recognizing ourselves as the center of our own stories.
(Courtesy Roseanne Carmen
(Courtesy Matthew “Cuban”
(Courtesy Roy Lenn)
Today, Roy works as the underwriting coordinator at KPCC, and he feels that it’s important for everyone to see representation in the media of people who look like them. At a young age, Roy felt a connection with the music group The Jets (eight siblings from the South Pacific island nation of Tonga, but that felt close enough) and the movie “Surf Ninjas” (about two L.A. teens who discover they’re Asian crown princes) which was hilarious and still holds up.
(Courtesy Donna Simone
(Photo by Paris Helena)
(Courtesy Pat Alderete)
(Courtesy O’Neil Cespedes)
(Courtesy Julian Fang)
(Courtesy Ahmed Youssef)
(Courtesy Debora Kamel)
YOUR QUESTIONS, ANSWERED
Here are the questions we've answered so far. We'll post the story links here as they're publisheed.
Chava Sanchez, Caitlin Hernández and Peri Wallent also contributed to this project.