Most of us, says Marlon James in a brief video essay published at The Guardian, are nonracist. That leaves us with a clear conscience, he argues, but it does nothing to help fight injustice in the world. In fact, we can pull off being nonracist by being asleep in bed while black men are killed by police. We need to stop being nonracist, and start being anti-racist, he says.
James, a Jamaican, is the author of the 2015 Man Booker Prize-winning “Brief History of Seven Killings,” published by Oneworld Publications.
Here is a complete transcript of James’ remarks:
So I have a question for you: Are you “non-” or are you “anti-”?
Several months ago in response to Ferguson, Baltimore, the killings of Freddie Gray and Tamir Rice, my friend Katelyn put up a Facebook post breaking down the difference between non-racism and anti-racism. Most of us are non-racist. Because racism is looked upon as some moral lapse, we feel quite self-assured by simply not being racist. “I’m not a bigot. I don’t sing that ’n’ word when my favorite rap jam comes on. I didn’t vote for that guy. I’m not burning any crosses. I’m not a skinhead.”
“I don’t. I won’t. I’m not. I’ve never. I can’t.”
What you end up with is an entire moral stance, an entire code for living your life and dealing with all the injustice in the world by not doing a damn thing. That’s the great thing about “non-”: you can put it off by simply rolling over in your bed and going to sleep.
So why are you sitting at home and watching things unfold on TV instead of doing something about it? Because you’re a non-racist, not an anti-racist.
Now, do this for me: take the “c” out of racist and replace it with a “p”. “I’m not a rapist. I’m not friends with any rapist. I didn’t buy that rapist’s last album.” All these things that you’re not doing.
Meanwhile, people are still getting raped, and black boys are being killed. It’s not enough that you don’t do these things. Your going to bed with a clear conscience is not going to stop college students from getting assaulted. You thinking climate change is terrible is not going to stop climate change. You being so assured that you’re not anti-black, anti-[M]uslim, won’t stop the next hate crime. And it’s wonderful that you recognize how brave gay people are when they’re facing persecution. But they aren’t the ones who need to be brave. We need to get active. We need to hold people accountable. We need to accept that what hurts one of us hurts all of us. And we need to stop thinking that injustice going on in the world isn’t to an extent our fault.
We need to stop being “non-” and start being “anti-”.
To do that, concerned people must organize themselves and seek to influence the political process.
—Posted by Roisin Davis and Alexander Reed Kelly.