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Section 4. Strategies and Activities for Reducing Racial Prejudice and Racism

Learn how to help reduce discrimination and racism.



You're at a restaurant with a group of co-workers after work. You're telling them about your decision to buy a house in Western Heights and how excited you are. One of them says to you, "Are you sure want to move there? I hear that there is a lot of crime in that area, you know, robberies, drugs, and even murder. It's a Black neighborhood, you know, that's probably why. Did you consider Eastern Heights? You may fit in there better! It's a nice middle-class, white suburban neighborhood. Definitely no crime there, if you know what I mean." You're dumbfounded. You can't believe that someone is actually saying this. You start to tell her that she's wrong and ask her what made her think that way.

You think some more about what happened on your way home. You realize that your colleague is but one person; who knows how many other people out there think like her? It helps to change people's racial stereotypes and attitudes, but the only way real change can come about is if our institutions and systems implement policies that promote racial equality. You suddenly feel angry. What if redlining still goes on because real estate companies are filled with people who think like your colleague? What policies exist to stop such institutionalized prejudice?

The above encounter at the restaurant is an example of racial prejudice. Redlining (refusing to sell a property to someone based on his or her race), which is illegal, is an act of racism or institutionalized prejudice. It is important to understand the distinction between racial prejudice and racism because they are affected differently by issues related to power and, therefore, require different levels of involvement and effort to address.

There are many forms of prejudice and oppression, not just based on race, but on gender, class, sexual orientation, etc. This section does not attempt to deal with all the possible forms. The strategies and activities described here for addressing racial prejudice and racism can, however, provide ideas for dealing with other forms of discrimination. As you work on addressing such inequities, think also about ways to prevent them by encouraging and establishing inclusive practices right from the start. Imagine that this work resembles two sides of a coin. One side represents the negative values and practices you are against. The other side represents the positive values and practices you are for. In other words, start thinking about building inclusive communities while fighting the "isms" that exist in our society.

What is racial prejudice?

To be racially prejudiced means to have an unfavorable or discriminatory attitude or belief towards someone else or another group of people primarily on the basis of skin color or ethnicity. For example, John is prejudiced because he believes that the new Hmong refugees in his community are stupid and barbaric because they kill chickens in their backyard. He has reported this to the local police many times.

What do you think should be done in this situation? One possibility is to invite John and Cha (his Hmong neighbor) to a meeting to help John understand the Hmong culture and to help Cha understand the state laws and regulations about killing animals in your home. The meeting should be facilitated by someone who has experience with conflict management and is deemed credible by both John and Cha. This attempt could result in change at the individual level.

What is racism?

When racial prejudice is supported by institutions and laws, racism is present. For example, when the Hmong neighbor, Cha, is arrested and put in jail for killing chickens in the backyard and no attempt is made to understand why he did it or to explain the laws to him (because he does not speak English), racism is present.

What do you think should be done in this situation? One possibility is to invite the police chief and other officers to a discussion about how the newcomers to the community are affecting law enforcement. It is likely that they have tried to explain the laws to the newcomers so that these complaints can stop, but it's not working because of cultural and language barriers. You might want to try and work with the police and local Hmong leaders to develop a strategy for increasing the police department's cultural competence and, at the same time, increase the newcomers' understanding about the laws in this country. This attempt could result in change at the institutional level.

While we can never be entirely free of racial prejudice, we have to be able to identify and address racism because it perpetuates the unearned privileges of some and imposes undeserved restrictions on others. The economic well-being of a group of people is intertwined with racism and unless it is addressed intentionally and thoroughly, a community building effort will not reach its full potential.

Racial prejudice and racism have most been perpetrated in the U.S. by people of European descent against various other groups, such as Black, Latinx, and Indigenous group. However, because of the shifts in our communities' demographics in some parts of the U.S., racial prejudice and racism also lead to tensions between people of non-European descent, such as between Black and Asian Americans. As the U.S. becomes more diverse and the world's residents more mobile, we must be prepared to act in order to reduce the potential for hostility due to differences in our physical traits and other characteristics.

No matter what culture or part of the world you're from, you've seen the results of racial prejudice and racism, even if you've never directly felt it aimed at you. The results of racial prejudice and racism can be seen everywhere: stereotypes, violence, underfunded schools, unemployment, police brutality, shabby housing, a disproportionate number of Black men on death row, etc. Racial prejudice and racism can be found in many different areas of society: in the media, in service organizations, in the workplace, in neighborhoods, at school, in local government, on your block -- in virtually every area of daily life.

Why is it important to reduce racial prejudice and racism?

Here are some further reasons why racial prejudice and racism should be reduced:

  • They impede or prevent the object of racism from achieving his or her full potential as a human being.
  • They impede or prevent the object of racism from making his or her fullest contribution to society.
  • They impede or prevent the person or group engaging in racist actions from benefiting from the potential contributions of their victim, and, as a result, weaken the community as a whole.
  • They increase the present or eventual likelihood of retaliation by the object of racist actions.
  • They go against many of the democratic ideals upon which the United States and other democracies were founded.
  • Racism is illegal, in many cases.

Racial prejudice and racism feed on each other. If racial prejudice is not reduced, it could lead to racism, and if racism is not addressed, it could lead to more prejudice. This is why strategies to address discrimination on the basis of race should be thorough and multifaceted so that both individual attitudes and institutionalized practices are affected.

In addition, here are some examples of why racial prejudice and racism should be addressed in your community building effort if more than one racial or ethnic group is involved:

  • Every participant in your effort has his or her own understanding of the world and how it works. The European American residents in the neighborhood don't understand why the new immigrants from Guatemala have to stand at the street corner to get work (they are commonly referred to as day laborers). They think it is because they are either "illegal" or too lazy to find full-time jobs. Part of the problem is that the residents have not had the opportunity to debunk these stereotypes through direct interaction and contact with the day laborers and to hear their stories.
  • Every participant in your effort is polite, respectful, and empathetic towards each of the others, and understands that in order to address a common concern, they all have to work together; yet, they have not been able to engage a representative from the Black members in their community. It helps to understand why Black folx have traditionally been "left out" and how important it is to keep finding ways to engage them.
  • The board of directors of a local community center gets together to discuss ways to improve the center so that it is more welcoming to people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. They come up with ideas such as hiring more culturally diverse staff, posting notices in different languages, hosting food festivals, and celebrating various cultural events. It helps the participants to understand that even though they are taking the first steps to becoming culturally sensitive, their institutional policies may still be racist because they have not included anyone from the various racial and ethnic groups to participate in the strategic planning process, thereby not sharing their power.

Addressing racial prejudice and racism also means dealing with racial exclusion and injustice. Ultimately, this means that your community building effort is promoting democracy, a value of the United States and its Constitution.

In other words, there are both moral and sometimes legal reasons to act against racism. There are also strong pragmatic reasons as well. Racial prejudice and racism can harm not only the victims, but also the larger society, and indirectly the very people who are engaging in the acts. What's more, some important new research suggests that in some cases, racist actions can cause physiological harm to the victims. For example, a recent review of physiological literature concludes:

"Interethnic group and intraethnic group racism are significant stressors for many African-Americans. As such, intergroup and intragroup racism may play a role in the high rates of morbidity and mortality in this population." (Clark, Anderson, Clark, and Williams, 1999).

While we try not to moralize on the Community Tool Box, let's face it - racial prejudice and racism are just plain wrong.

How can you reduce racial prejudice and racism?

While we try in the Community Tool Box to offer easy, step-by-step instructions for community work, changing a group of people's prejudiced attitudes and an institution's racist actions isn't so simply carried out and it doesn't happen overnight. Reducing racial prejudice and racism is a complex task that varies from community to community, so it doesn't lend itself well to simple, 1-2-3 solutions that can be adopted and applied without having a thorough understanding of the context and environment. Something like this takes knowing your community well and choosing strategies that best fit your community's needs, history, context, energies, and resources.

With that in mind, we offer a variety of activities and strategies you can conduct in combating racial prejudice and racism so that you can decide which of these tactics might work best in your workplace, school, neighborhood, and community.

Note: None of these activities or strategies alone will lead to sustainable change at the individual, institutional, or community levels. In order for such change to occur, you have to take actions that will allow you to consistently affect the different levels over a long period of time.

Before you decide on the best activities and strategies, do the following:

  • Learn about your community (e.g., what groups live there, what has been the nature of their relationships, what incidents have occurred in the past due to racial prejudice or racism).
  • Document activities in your community that reflect racial prejudice or racism. Documentation will show proof that there is a problem, especially when the community is in denial that racism exists.
  • Invite a group of people to participate in the planning process, if appropriate (e.g., the advocates who always take action, the representatives of each group, the people who are affected).
  • Understand the depth of the problem (e.g., it's a new problem because of a group of newcomers, or it's an old problem that won't go away).
  • Identify and understand the kinds of policies that may need to be challenged.
  • Determine the short-term and long-term, if any, goals of your strategy (e.g., change people's attitudes and/or change an institutional policy).
  • Consider how far the selected strategy(ies) will take your community (e.g., as far as initial awareness, or all the way to electing officials from the under-represented groups).
  • Consider what existing resources you can build on and what additional assistance or resources you may need (e.g., anti-racism training, funding, or buy-in from the mayor).
  • Consider how much time you have (e.g., are you responding to a crisis that needs to be dealt with immediately, to the need to curb a festering issue, or to the desire to promote the value of diversity).
  • Review your strategies to ensure that they deal with racial prejudice and racism at the individual, community, and institutional levels, and they link dialogue to action.

Note: Appropriate structures and processes need to be set up in the community to implement these activities

Things You Can Do In The Workplace: From Reducing Racial Prejudice To Reducing Racism

Actively recruit and hire a racially and ethnically diverse staff.

While it's not enough just to fill your staff with a rainbow of people from different backgrounds, representation from a variety of groups is an important place to start. Contact minority organizations, social groups, networks, media, and places where people of different ethnic and cultural groups congregate or access information. If you use word-of-mouth as a recruitment tool, spread the word to members of those groups, or key contact people. Also, consider writing an equal-opportunity policy for hiring and promoting staff.

Actively recruit culturally and ethnically diverse board members, executives, and managers.

Racial prejudice can be reduced if the staff becomes diverse and raises the awareness of each other, but racism is reduced when power is shared by the leadership.

In order to move beyond racial prejudice and ensure inclusiveness, your organization’s board members and executives should reflect the communities or constituencies it serves. For instance, one group decided to reserve a certain number of slots on its governing board for representatives of the cultural and ethnic groups in the community.

Talk to the people of color on your staff and ask them what barriers or attitudes they face at work. Examine your newsletter or other publications and look out for negative portrayals, exclusion, or stereotypes.

Find out how you can improve your workplace for members from diverse racial and ethnic groups that work there. This will not only give you some practical ideas about what you need to work on, but it will also signify that the needs of every group is taken seriously. Look around at any artwork you have in your offices. Are any groups represented in a stereotypical way? Is there diversity in the people portrayed? For example, if all the people in the clip art used in your newsletter are European Americans, you should make an effort to use clip art that shows a bigger variety of people.

Form a permanent task force or committee dedicated to forming and monitoring a plan for promoting inclusion and fighting racism in your workplace.

Racial prejudice is reduced by developing relationships and ensuring that materials are culturally sensitive, but racism is reduced when there is a permanent task force or committee that becomes part of the governance structure to ensure inclusive and just institutional policies.

Things You Can Do In The Media: Reducing Racial Prejudice To Reducing Racism

Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper or contact your local TV and radio station when the coverage is biased or when there is no coverage at all.

The media plays a powerful role in conveying messages to the public. Racial prejudice exists in the media if, for instance, the reporters always reveal the cultural or ethnic background of a group of loitering youth when they are persons of color, but not otherwise. Writing a letter or contacting the local media stations will help increase their staff’s awareness about the implications of the prejudiced way in which they cover the news.

Organize a coalition of leaders from diverse communities and from the local media groups to discuss how they can work together to address the way people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds are presented in the media.

Having a long-term vision of how the community and media representatives can work together will help address racism at the institutional level. In order to do this, it is advisable to organize the community leaders and media representatives separately to discuss their issues and then facilitate a meeting between them. This will provide you and the facilitator a chance to know about the concerns and challenges before convening everyone.

Contact the local media and organize presentations.

You can contact and organize presentations to educate the staff about the values and traditions of diverse groups and help them understand the negative implications of their coverage related to race and ethnicity.

Pressure the local media organizations to develop and enforce policies for hiring staff from different racial and ethnic background.

You can help broker relationships between the media organizations and organizations that serve a specific cultural or ethnic group (e.g., NAACP, National Council of La Raza) so that networks can be developed to distribute job announcements.

In order to get information about how to cover different cultural and ethnic groups, media representatives can seek advice from the following:

Asian American Journalists Association

South Asian Journalists Association

National Association of Black Journalists

Things You Can Do in the Schools: Reducing Racial Prejudice to Reducing Racism

Form a diversity task force or club. Recognize holidays and events relating to a variety of cultural and ethnic groups.

This can be done in a school or university setting. Your diversity group can sponsor panel discussions, awareness activities, and cultural events to help prevent racism. Observing and conducting educational activities about events like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, Juneteenth, and other dates of significance to minority groups provides an opportunity for students to learn about the history of different cultural and ethnic groups and reduce misinformed or inaccurate perceptions.

Conduct field trips to historical places that represent struggles against racism or places that embody the values and traditions of another group of people.

Work to include anti-racism education in your school's curriculum. Develop a strategy to change racist policies in your school.

Recognizing the traditions of other cultural and ethnic groups and developing intercultural relationships will reduce racial prejudice. Examine and change school policies that perpetuate exclusion of some cultural or ethnic groups.

Develop procedures for dealing with racist acts and provide incentives (e.g., extra credits, special recognition) for efforts to promote cross-racial understanding.

Lobby your school board to make changes or additions to the curriculum to teach anti-racism and to provide seed grants to teachers or instructors to help them conduct research and activities about racism and to promote anti-racist values and principles.

Examine the recruitment, application, and admissions process for students, teachers, and staff from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Things You Can Do in Your Neighborhood: Reducing Racial Prejudice to Reducing Racism

Welcome all newcomers. Make "safe zone" signs or stickers.

Form a committee to welcome anyone who moves into your neighborhood regardless of what they look like. Send representatives from your committee or neighborhood association over to the new person's house with flowers, a fruit basket, or some other small gift and say, "We're glad you're living here. We welcome you." Some neighborhoods have made small signs or stickers for their homes that read, "We welcome good neighbors of all traditions, backgrounds, and faiths." These stand in contrast to the small signs in many yards that warn would-be intruders of the particular security system they've had installed.

Write articles about different cultures and their traditions in the neighborhood newsletter or newspaper. Place advertisements about different cultural celebrations.

Identify and change policies that are exclusive and maintain the status quo.

Making someone feel a part of your neighborhood helps to reduce racial prejudice. Addressing redlining (the illegal practice of a lending institution denying loans or restricting their number for certain areas of a community) reduces racist policies.

Organize a committee of lawyers, real-estate agents, lending institutions, and community and civil rights leaders to conduct a study and present the facts to the local government. If there is a neighborhood association or council, consider if it is representative of the neighborhood's demographics and diversity. If not, develop strategies for engaging leaders (formal and informal) from the underrepresented groups.

Things You Can Do in Your Community: Reducing Racial Prejudice to Reducing Racism

Organize a cleanup or rebuilding campaign to erase racist graffiti or eliminate vandalism. Put up "Hate Free Zones" signs in the community.

Doing something as a community to repair physical damage done by racism shows that the people in your town won't stand for such displays of hatred. It also can attract media attention to your cause and put a positive spin on a negative situation.

Organize a city-wide coalition of community leaders made up of representatives from the different cultural and ethnic groups, as well as different community sectors (e.g., police, schools, businesses, local government) to examine their existing policies and determine what needs to change.

Doing something as a group of residents demonstrates the individuals' commitment to reduce prejudice. Creating a governing body that represents institutional leaders helps to reduce racism at the institutional level.

Reviewing hiring and contracting policies in the city government will help change institutional norms that could be perpetuating economic disparities.

Identify and support new candidates from different racial and ethnic groups to run for city council and other community-wide governing bodies.

Conducting candidate forums and voter registration drives will increase residents' knowledge about the candidates and what they stand for, and increase the candidates' accountability to their constituents should they win.

St. Francis De Sales Central Elementary Cleanup Campaign
In Morgantown, West Virginia, a convenience store had been painted with racist skinhead graffiti. After their teacher showed them a video on how another town had fought hate, a 6th grade class at St. Francis De Sales Central Elementary decided that if the graffiti was left alone, it would give the impression that the community didn't care about racism. The kids got together and painted over the graffiti, earning them the thanks of the state Attorney General and publicizing their point.

Toronto Coalition Against Racism
In the summer of 1993, Toronto experienced a rise in increasingly violent racism, much of which was directed at Tamil immigrants. Much of the violence was being done by neo-Nazis. Eventually, a large protest was held, with 3,000 people led by the Tamil community chanting "Immigrants In! Nazis Out!"

The people who organized the protest went on to form the Toronto Coalition Against Racism. TCAR is a coalition of 50 community-based anti-racist and social justice organizations. According to its website, TCAR has been involved in many community actions since forming, including:

  • Opposing a ban placed on Filipino youth from entering a local mall
  • Working with the Somali community to oppose harassment by security guards and landlords at a housing complex
  • Mobilizing the public through forums and actions in defense of immigrant and refugee rights
  • Supporting the Tamil Resource Center as it struggled to rebuild its library and office after a firebombing in May 1995

Put together a community forum or town event on racism.

Give citizens a chance to talk about how racism affects your community can give you insight into how people feel on the subject, ideas on what you and others can do to combat racism, a chance to let people who share similar concerns to network with each other, and to publicly let racists know that your community will not stand for racism in its midst.

Create an intentional strategy that engages local government, business, education, media, and other leaders to demonstrate the commitment to eliminate racism in the institutions in your community.

Conducting public forums and events will increase awareness and reduce racial prejudice. Working in a coalition made up of cross-sector leaders and developing a clear plan will move your community towards a more sustainable effort to eliminate racism.

Bringing together leaders to create a strategy that deliberately, systematically, and explicitly deals with racism will enable your community to have a longer-term vision for a just and healthy community. Each institution should find a way for how it can contribute to eliminating racism in its policies and practices. The media should be involved to help get the word out. Credible leaders need to take a public stand to promote and validate the effort. Work to ensure that diversity is valued and included in the city government's mission statement

Make an effort to support events that celebrate the traditions of different cultural and ethnic groups.

This can be as simple as including such events on the community calendar and actively publicizing them. Your organization can also co-sponsor these events to show its support.

Organize vigils, anti-racism demonstrations, protests, or rallies.

If a racist group or incident occurred in your community, organizing a vigil, demonstration or public protest will not only give you and others some effective way to respond, but also help give hope to your community by having everyone come.

After September 11, various immigrant communities held vigils to express their sympathy for the World Trade Center and Pentagon victims and their families, speak out against anti-Muslim acts, and show their commitment and loyalty to the United States.

The Center for Healthy Communities in Dayton, Ohio hosted a community forum titled "Race, Ethnicity and Public Policy: A Community Dialogue" in the fall of 1997. This community forum gave a panel of local expert as well as members of the audience the chance to ask mayoral and city commission candidates questions about the impact of racism on the Dayton community and the role it plays in local public policy decisions. More than 150 people attended, including state and local officials, community organizers, clergy, citizens, and students.

South Orange/Maplewood Coalition on Race's long-term vision for an integrated community
The Coalition developed strategies at the individual, community, and institutional levels to foster and support an integrated neighborhood. The Coalition is planning to conduct study circles to provide residents an opportunity to build relationships. A community-wide activity was to invite Beverly Daniel Tatum to a community forum to talk about racism and how it affects our children's education. The Coalition worked with local bookstores to first sell Ms. Tatum's book at a reduced cost and to publicize the community forum. During the community forum after Ms. Tatum's presentation, small group discussions were held by facilitators that the Coalition provided. At the institutional level, there is loan program for homebuyers that is designed to encourage and improve neighborhood diversity in particular areas of the community where one race is underrepresented. They also worked closely with the school district to "reinvent" a school to become a "Lab school," which has attracted a more diverse student population to the school, and increased demand among people of different races for the neighborhood around the school.

Things You Can Do As An Individual: Fighting Racial Prejudice to Fighting Racism

You don't have to form a group to do something about racism. As an individual, there are many steps that you can take to reduce another person's prejudice, including:

  • Make a commitment to speak up when you hear racial slurs or remarks that signal racial prejudice.
  • Take advantage of events and other informational materials during Black History Month or Hispanic Heritage Month and make it a point to learn something new about different cultures.
  • Think about ways to improve your workplace to promote racial understand and equity. Be proactive about making suggestions.
  • If you are a parent, give your child opportunities to attend events about other cultures. Integrate different traditions about parenting and children's festivals into your parent teacher association and your child's school. Work with the teachers to coordinate such opportunities.

Changing people's attitudes and institutional practices is hard but necessary work. A commitment among individuals, organizations, and institutions to valuing diversity is essential for healthy communities. Changes will not happen overnight, but you can begin to take small steps towards making a difference, as suggested in this section. These small steps build the foundation for more organized, deeper, and larger efforts to build inclusive communities, a topic that will be discussed in the next section of this chapter.

Chris Hampton
Kien Lee

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