Statement in Defense of Black Lives

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

See our statement here.

“In Defense of Black Lives” explained


What does “In Defense of Black Lives” mean?

A: The Movement for Black Lives called for a week of immediate action in defense of Black lives from June 1st to June 5th, 2020. We use the phrase “in defense of Black lives” in solidarity with this call to action. When we say “in defense of Black lives” we’re saying Black Lives Matter which, in action, looks like resistance, resources, reparations, and power. We’re saying we support the Movement for Black Lives and their demand to “End the war on Black communities” (one of their core policy demands). Defending Black lives against many kinds of violence—physical, economic, political, etc.—committed throughout history and presently is urgent and necessary.


Anti-Blackness defined


What is anti-Blackness? How is anti-Blackness different from racism?

A: Anti-Blackness is “overtly or unconsciously opposed to and/or hostile toward Black people and/or Black culture, especially in a way that negatively impacts the physical, emotional, and psychological health and well-being of people of African descent.” (Source: New Framings on Anti-Racism and Resistance) Ibram X. Kendi puts it this way, “I define anti-Black racist ideas…as any idea suggesting that Black people, or any group of Black people, are inferior in any way to another racial group.” 

“Racism” is a broader term often used as a catch-all that fails to really capture the Black experience. Using the term “anti-Blackness” specifically calls out the overt actions, policies, and marginalization of Black people. Anti-Blackness is global. It is present in dominant white supremacist institutions and culture as well as within communities of color.

Further reading & learning materials


Structural racism defined


What is structural racism?

A: Candice Wicks-Davis summarizes different kinds of racism as the “The 3 I’s of Oppression and Privilege” Her “3 I’s” are: Internalized, Interpersonal, and Institutional. It’s usually easier to talk about interpersonal racism, or racism directed from one person to another person. If someone uses a racial slur, that’s racist. A lot of times, it’s easy to identify interpersonal racism and sometimes white people use that as a way to claim they don’t benefit unfairly from racism (“I’m not racist!”). But the other two kinds of racism cause a lot of harm. Internalized racism describes the way that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color internalize “negative attitudes towards members of your own ethnic group, including yourself” and white people internalize a false sense of superiority. Institutional racism refers to the policies, procedures and practices that are built into our systemsfor instance, the health care system, education system, the criminal justice system, and the media. These systems do not rely on individual acts of racism because they are embedded in the institutions we all engage in and operate through. If we look at historical segregation for instance, white folks who were shop owners, bus drivers, and public officials didn’t necessarily have to be racist to enforce racial segregation laws. 

Structural racism is bigger than any one person, and so are its harms. It is the culmination of interpersonal and institutional racism which dictates different treatment and thus different life outcomes for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color when compared to the treatment and outcomes the systems guarantee for white people. This is clearly seen when we examine the school-to-prison pipeline which describes the undeniable trend where Black, Indigenous, and Students of Color are funneled out of school and into the criminal justice system. Along the way, students are subject to racism in school systems, welfare systems, foster care systems, and criminal justice systems which negatively affects the discipline and opportunities they receive from their education. 

Further reading & learning materials


Microaggressions defined


What are microaggressions?

A: Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions as “the everyday slights, indignities, put-downs and insults that members of marginalized groups experience in their day-to-day interactions with individuals who are often unaware that they have engaged in an offensive or demeaning way.” Yoon writes that psychologists liken microaggressions to death by a thousand cuts—one cut hurts but is sustainable, but a thousand cuts would cause a person to bleed out.

Some examples of microaggressions include expressing surprise that a Black person is articulate, asking to touch a Black person’s hair, asking a Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color where they are from (no, where are they really from), giving a Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color a nickname so as to not have to pronounce their name correctly, praising a Person of Color’s English fluency, and so on. 

Despite the terminology, the “micro” in microaggression doesn’t mean that these acts can’t have big, life-changing impacts. It is because they can have a huge impact that it is imperative to address them. For instance, there is a mental health toll when being on the receiving end of microaggressions as well as having to be the person to educate people with power and privilege. Microaggressions can also lead to life-threatening situations, however. For instance, assuming that a Black person is dangerous or violent causes people to move away and grab their purses or their wallets. The perceived threat could lead to the cops being called which puts the Black person’s life at risk. 

Further reading & learning materials


Anti-Black racial capitalism defined


What is anti-Black racial capitalism?

A: To understand anti-Black racial capitalism, it might be helpful to explain it as an equation: x + y + z = anti-Black racial capitalism. Capitalism (x) is the economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit rather than by the state. Racial capitalism (y) is the commodification of nonwhites for social and economic gain. Walter Johnson, author of The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States defines racial capitalism as a technique for exploiting black people and for inciting the hostility of working-class whites toward blacks, so as to enable white capitalists to extract value from everyone else. Consider how this country was built on land stolen from indigenous people using stolen labor from Black people. Referring to our definition given above, anti-Blackness (z) is any idea suggesting that Black people, or any group of Black people, are inferior in any way to another racial group. If we revisit our equation Capitalism (x) + Racial capitalism (y) + anti-Blackness (z) = anti-Black racial capitalism, you can begin to piece together what we mean by anti-Black racial capitalism

So when we’re talking about anti-Black racial capitalism, we’re acknowledging that the foundations of capitalism in this country are directly tied to the particular practice of chattel slavery built on the lie that African people were less than human and therefore property and/or capital. The institution of slavery, which the American economy was built from did not end but rather evolved (e.g., sharecropping, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, etc).  As a result, our economy continues to be driven by the historical and present exploitation of Black people to this day. 

Further reading & learning materials


Defund the police explained


Why are Black people and others fighting to defund the police force? Are there alternatives to policing?

A: Mariame Kaba, an organizer against criminalization,  provides a brief summary of the historical context for this movement. Kaba writes the following:

“There is not a single era in United States history in which the police were not a force of violence against black people. Policing in the South emerged from the slave patrols in the 1700 and 1800s that caught and returned runaway slaves. In the North, the first municipal police departments in the mid-1800s helped quash labor strikes and riots against the rich. Everywhere, they have suppressed marginalized populations to protect the status quo. So when you see a police officer pressing his knee into a black man’s neck until he dies, that’s the logical result of policing in America. When a police officer brutalizes a black person, he is doing what he sees as his job.”

Additionally, Mapping Police Violence, a research collaborative that collects data on police killings nationwide, showed the impact of police violence across the U.S. Their data shows Black people are 3x more likely to be killed by the police than white people, and 99% of killings by police from 2013-2019 have not resulted in officers being charged with a crime. The police do not keep all of us safe. Safety from violence and harm are very real concerns that we need to address. But what actually makes us safe? Housing, healthcare, food, education, access to economic opportunities, and so many other services to meet our needs that could be funded if we weren’t pouring billions of dollars into policing. 

As for alternatives, it is important to note that there is an ongoing debate between reformists and abolitionists. Abolitionists urge rethinking how that money and those resources can be better used rather than pouring money and resources into a police force that is reiterating violence and harm. For example, MegaBlack SF is asking Mayor London Breed to transfer police funds to “reimagine community safety by investing in communities themselves to determine what they need and to offer them support in executing those programs. Establish a moratorium on all nonviolent arrests and support harm reduction approaches. Employ properly equipped, non-violent, community care workers trained in restorative justice as neighborhood resources…” The reformist approach views policing as a solvable problem. Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, professor of African American studies and psychology at Yale University and co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity, proposes one reform idea wherein police are not called for things that don’t always require them, such as substance abuse or mental health issues. 

We recommend reviewing “Reformist reforms vs. abolitionist steps in policing” for a more detailed breakdown of the ways in which reformist reforms want to expand the reach of policing and the ways in which abolitionists seek to reduce the impact of policing. 

Further reading & learning materials


Schools cutting police ties


Why do you encourage schools to cut ties with police? How are schools in relationship with the police force, and how does that cause harm to Black students and their families?

A: The school-to-prison pipeline explains how schools funnel youth, especially Black youth, into the criminal justice system. The Movement for Black Lives’ demand to “End the War on Black Youth” summarizes the problem with police and school relations: “Schools, instead of serving as places of learning, nurturing, and growth, have become pathways to prison. Black students are more likely than white students to be suspended, expelled, subjected to corporal punishment, arrested, and referred to law enforcement while attending school, and are routinely denied the opportunity to fully participate in public education. Black students are twice as likely to be arrested or referred to law enforcement while at school.”  

While juvenile crime rates have been on the decline for years, the number of police officers stationed full-time within schools has increased. In a study conducted by Matthew Theriot, schools with police officers had five times as many arrests for disorderly conduct than schools without them. Police presence in schools is used as a fear tactic, especially for Black students. Presence of police teaches students, even subconsciously, that they are inherently bad, inherently criminal, and require constant policing to do something as simple and harmless as attending school. It also allows teachers and administrators to outsource discipline to said officers rather than adopting restorative practices in the classroom. 

Further reading & learning materials


“Uprising” vs. “riot” or “looting”


Why do you use the word “uprising”? What harm is done by using words like “riot” and “looting”? 

A: The term “riot” is a loaded term focused on the violent disturbance of peace. In a similar way, “looting” focuses on the damage to property as a result of this violent disturbance to peace. Time and time again, Black people have had to take to the streets to express legitimate anger about biased policing, laws, and systems. These “uprisings” are a direct result of not having their concerns be heard. It is important to make this distinction in terminology because it can affect what happens after these events. An uprising is a call for collective action and critical thinking in response to said events. Terms like “riot” and “looting” not only dismiss the very real concerns that need to be addressed but it often dismisses the harm being done to the Black community while centering other things, such as property, as more important than Black lives. 

Consider the American Revolution. Approximately $1 million worth of tea was dumped into Boston Harbor. Initially referred to as “the destruction of the tea,” by the 1820s, newspapers started to call it the “Boston Tea Party.” (Source: Time). Over time, looting took on a negative tone and wasn’t applied to the actions of those in power. As a result, the term has racial implications. White people are rarely remembered as looting and are written about as revolutionaries even when using force. Matthew Clair, an assistant professor of sociology at Stanford University, puts it simply: “The term is racialized and is often used to condemn political acts that threaten white supremacy and racial capitalism.”

Further reading & learning materials


Centering Black community needs


Why are you only focusing on Black students and Black people? What about non-Black Indigenous people and People of Color?

A: Since 2013, Black people have been 28% of those killed by police in the U.S., even though only 13% of the U.S. population is Black. Black people are 3 times more likely to be killed by police than white people, and about 1 ¾  times more likely to be killed by police than Latinx people (source: Mapping Police Violence). That doesn’t mean that Brown, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and all non-Black People of Color aren’t under threat by police. However, the horrifying number of Black people killed by police shows one way that systemic, anti-Black racism harms Black people specifically.

The Combahee River Collective, a group of Black feminists that worked together throughout the 1970s, writes: “If Black [trans] women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” Black people are the only people that will always show up in any community space and become the most oppressed in those spacesLGBTQ communities, disability communities, etc. Thus, ending the oppression of Black people, across identities, would mean an end to oppression of all people too.

Anti-Blackness also drives us to question centering Black people at any time, for any reasoneven as Black people experience very specific and heightened forms of violence and discrimination. To make sure the particular experiences of Black people are not erased, we need to name and root out anti-Blackness specifically within our anti-racism.

Further reading & learning materials


Not using “African-American”


Why do you not use “African-American”?

A: Not all Black people are African-American. For example, a person might be Black and Jamaican, or Black and British. Many people identify as African-American, or use both African-American and Black to describe themselves. We always take our lead from the ways people choose to describe themselves. But it’s not accurate to describe every Black person, even if they currently live in America, as “African-American.”


Capitalizing “Black”


Why do you capitalize the word “Black”?

A: Lori L. Tharps puts it this way, “When speaking of a culture, ethnicity or group of people, the name should be capitalized. Black with a capital B refers to people of the African diaspora. Lowercase black is simply a color.” Capitalizing the B in Black is not just grammatically or politically correct. It’s an act of respect for the people, culture, food, customs, etc., of Black communities across the globe. (By the way, capitalizing Black is also becoming the norm: the Associated Press and The New York Times made the switch in June 2020).
Further reading & learning materials


Not capitalizing “white”


Okay, but why don’t you capitalize “white”?

A: It’s complicated. There are lots of different ideas about whether or not to capitalize “white.” Alex Kapitan puts it this way, “…until equal treatment exists in our larger society, calls for equal treatment in language only serve to whitewash cultural context, identity, and history.” So we don’t think that capitalizing “white” just because we’re capitalizing Black is a good reason. And FYI, the Associated Press and The New York Times happen to agree with that—their updated rules on capitalizing Black also say not to capitalize white.

Then there’s what James Baldwin wrote. “No one was white before he/she came to America…America became white—the people who, as they claim, ‘settled’ the country became white—because of the necessity of denying the Black presence, and justifying the Black subjugation.” Capitalizing “white” might say that we believe whiteness is an identity that exists separate from white supremacy (e.g, Irish, German, or Jewish). But as Baldwin explains, the only purpose of creating a “white” identity is anti-Black racism.

Scholar Eve Ewing has a different perspective. She writes, “Unfortunately, this choice [not to capitalize “white] runs the risk of reinforcing the dangerous myth that White people in America do not have a racial identity.” That’s worrisome to us because we know that one of the things white supremacy is really good at is making whiteness seem normal and invisible. One example is the way Black people are often described as Black first—a Black artist, a Black tax attorney, a Black teacher. There’s nothing wrong with calling someone Black, because there’s nothing wrong with being Black. But do we ever hear white people described by their race first? A white artist, a white tax attorney, a white teacher? Definitely in BIPOC communities you might hear this, but not a lot on the news, TV, movies, etc. Because being “white” is upheld as “normal.”

Ewing also touches on the importance of language and race. “Language and racial categories have some important things in common: They are fluid, they are inherently political, and they are a socially constructed set of shared norms that are constantly in flux as our beliefs and circumstances change.”

Further reading & learning materials


White fragility defined


What is white fragility?

A: White fragility” is a term coined by Robin DiAngelo defined as discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice. White fragility prioritizes the feelings, comfort and well being of white people, especially when being confronted with or even made aware of their own racist and discriminatory practices. In White Fragility, DiAngelo says white people need to think about how they fit into racist systems if they want to be anti-racist and that they need take accountability for the ways they benefit from these structures. 

Columbia University professor and linguist John McWhorter offers a critical reflection of the concept of white fragility as it seems DiAngelo proposes “fix[ing] white people’s souls when in reality the place that people should look is at institutions.” When we focus on individual behaviors rather than root causes, we are failing to address the problem at its core. See our section on “What is anti-racism?” for more.

Further reading & learning materials


White supremacy culture and the workplace


What is white supremacy culture? How does it show up in workplaces?

A: Dismantling Racism Works defines white supremacy culture as “the idea (ideology) that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to [Black, Indigenous, and] People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions… It is the glue that binds together white-controlled institutions into systems and white-controlled systems into the global white supremacy system.” 

The workplace is not exempt from this culture. Professionalism discriminates against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color through workplace policies, hiring practices, and management practices. For example, this plays out in enforcing white standards of dress and hair including straightened hair and suits as well as standards of speech which discriminate against non-Western and non-white accents, word choice, and communication styles. 

White supremacy culture is damaging. American grassroots organizer-scholars Tema Okun and Kenneth Jones write, “Because we all live in a white supremacy culture, these characteristics show up in the attitudes and behaviors of all of us – people of color and white people. Therefore, these attitudes and behaviors can show up in any group or organization, whether it is white-led or predominantly white or people of color-led or predominantly people of color.” In Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups Okun and Jones provide a list of characteristics of white supremacy culture as well as some solutions. Some examples include: 

  • Perfectionism: It is more common is to point out either how the person or work is inadequate than to express appreciation 
    • Solution: Create an environment where people can recognize that mistakes sometimes lead to positive results.
  • Sense of Urgency: Funding proposals often promise too much work for too little money and funders expect too much for too little.
    • Solution: Write realistic funding proposals with realistic time frames.
  • Fear of Open Conflict: There is an emphasis on being polite.
    • Solution: Distinguish between being polite and raising hard issues. Don’t require those who raise hard issues to raise them in “acceptable” ways, especially if you are using the ways in which issues are raised as an excuse not to address the issues being raised.
Further reading & learning materials


Philanthropy and white supremacy


How is the field of philanthropy rooted in white supremacy? Where can I learn more about that history?

A: In an article for the Non-Profit Quarterly, Will Cordery highlights the fact that “anti-Black racism and white supremacy are the bedrock of every single social injustice we aim to address. Be it housing, education, wages, gender justice, civic engagement, LGBTQI freedom, immigration, hunger, poverty, culture, you name it.” Furthermore, white supremacy dictates the types of groups that are funded and the structures of said groups. It focuses on specific efforts that fit specific areas that they have identified as areas of need, often forgetting to center BIPOC. It also influences the grant work, evaluations, and staffing decisions—consider how staff members are often silenced or fired when speaking out against white supremacy in an organization.

The historical origins of white supremacist philanthropy are detailed in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. To summarize, before the 1860s, it was individual people rather than organizations that led charity work. Local organizations began to emerge in response to industrialization and the social issues that increased because of it—poverty, violence, labor struggles. These organizations were led by people who not only held economic and social power but were also the ones to decide who “deserved” help. As a result, philanthropic efforts addressed issues on an individual or case-by-case basis and not on a systemic level. For example, instead of fighting for higher wages, organizations end up throwing a band-aid on the issue by directing their efforts to decrease the impact of low wages on communities. 

In the early 1900s, new institutions were created that shielded earnings from taxation.  These charities were generally unregulated because few states imposed taxes on corporations which, in turn, provided an incentive for wealthy individuals and companies to create foundations. With this came a wave of organizations that could not only avoid taxes but also leave inheritances unaffected by estate taxes.

Further reading & learning materials


Performative allyship defined


What is performative allyship? What is positionality?

A: Performative activism is a pejorative term referring to activism done to increase one’s social capital rather than because of one’s devotion to a cause. It is often associated with surface-level activism, referred to as slacktivism (Source: Wikipedia). @RachelCargle gave us her equation for #allyship: “KNOWLEDGE + EMPATHY + ACTION = ALLYSHIP. Take out ANY of those additions and you are just being PERFORMATIVE.” Performative allyship requires action just as much as it requires continuous learning and empathy. It is not enough to read books that are trending. It is not enough to #SayHerName so as to not be silent and therefore complicit. It is not enough to post a black square on Instagram in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The issue with performative allyship is that it serves to excuse people from contributing to real change through critical thinking, discussion, and organizing in response to real-time events. Some suggestions for what you can do include making donations to local organizations, crowd-funding efforts, and mutual aid initiatives as well as calling out people in real life (versus online). 

In these efforts, considering one’s positionality is critical. defines positionality as the social and political context that creates your identity in terms of race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability status. Positionality also describes how your identity influences, and potentially biases, your understanding of and outlook on the world. This can affect the way in which we engage as allies. @MariejBeech on Twitter reminds us that “anti-racism work is not a self-improvement project. When you make it about you, constructive criticism feels like a very personal attack. When BIPOC are at the center of your antiracism work, constructive criticism feels like a welcome opportunity to learn and do better.”

Further reading & learning materials


Anti-racism defined


What is anti-racism? How is it different from not being racist? How is it different from equality?

A: We are born in an inherently racist society, which means we develop explicit and implicit biases. Anti-racism is the practice of opposing racism and promoting racial equity and racial justice. It is different from not being racist because it requires intention. Angela Y. Davis states that “in a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

Ibram X. Kendi argues that it’s not enough to say you’re not a racist. In his book, How to Be an Antiracist, he states that the problem with being “not racist” is that people take a neutral stance on racism: “I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.” Saying “I’m not a racist” is a term of denial. On the other hand, the term “antiracist” describes someone who has expressed ideas of racial equality or supports antiracist policy that leads to racial equity. 

Anti-racism work and practice focuses on dismantling power structures and policies that reinforce racist ideas. American author and poet Scott Woods puts it this way: “Racism is an insidious cultural disease. … So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe.”

To understand the difference between equality and equity, we recommend taking a look at the following comic: 

Equality aims to provide everyone with the same resources while equity involves assessing people’s needs and giving them resources that might meet their needs and address life challenges. While both equality and equity promote fairness and justice, liberation shifts the focus from the individual level to the systemic level—removing the fence altogether as seen in the comic above. 

Further reading & learning materials


Anti-racism in the classroom


How do teaching artists practice anti-racism in the classroom with their students? Does that mean they stop teaching their art to teach anti-racism?

A: Performing Arts Workshop’s Anti-Racist Partnership Framework explains what anti-racism in our arts classes looks like. “By naming racism and racial tensions, we are not ‘bringing race into the classroom’; it is already there. We are stepping into racist classrooms as a consequence of living in a racist society. As teaching artists, if we are not actively interrupting racism, we are complicit in perpetuating racism. It is not enough to ‘not be racist.’ We must practice anti-racism…It is true that anti-racism in the classroom is about content, but it’s also about pedagogy or the ‘way of teaching.’…By carefully examining our pedagogy, it is possible to practice anti-racism in the classroom and teach art at the same time.” We practice anti-racism by introducing students to BIPOC artists and sharing background about their experience in that art form—you can’t discuss Alvin Ailey without discussing the racism and homophobia he endured—, addressing and interrogating racist comments/actions by students, constantly evaluating our own racial biases, etc. 


Pre-K resources


How can I learn more about how to talk with very young children (e.g. Pre-K) about race? Are Pre-K youth able to understand and talk about racism and anti-Blackness?

A: Striking the balance between educating children about racism and protecting them from it can seem daunting, but it is not impossible. Research shows that children take note of racial differences as early as 6 months old. Children are also not exempt from experiencing racism first-hand. The idea of what is fair and unfair is accessible to Pre-K youth and presents one way to approach anti-racism conversations with youth. In June 2016, Sesame Street partnered with CNN’s Van Jones and Erica Hill Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism, a town hall for kids and families. The town hall provides updated resources—videos, discussion guides, caretaker Q&A—for empowering caretakers, educators, and children alike to engage in important conversations about racism and anti-Blackness. 

Additionally, there are many children’s books that celebrate differences (e.g., physical, skin color) and even explore topics like police violence. Educator and clinical psychologist Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum recommends exploring Social Justice Books for curated books pertaining to various topics including racism and anti-Blackness that can help caretakers and educators introduce these topics in an age appropriate way. 

Further reading & learning materials


Staying informed


I want to stay informed. Where can I learn more about police violence against Black people? Where can I learn about the movement to defend Black lives?

A: You can keep updated about police violence against Black lives at Anti-Police Terror Project and Mapping Police Violence. We encourage folks to explore our “Further reading & learning materials” as a starting point for learning more about the terms and topics in this FAQ. 
Further reading & learning materials