So You Want to Be Anti Racist — Part 3: Decolonize-Your-Mind to the Doll Test
A Growing Glossary of Terms Allies Should Know
1. Decolonize Your Mind: This is another one which is in flux between its casual usage and academic origin. First popularized by Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o in his book Decolonising the Mind, it has spread to indigenous communities and become shorthand for doing the internal work of purging oneself of internalized racism and/or implicit bias. The term “colonizer” has morphed into shorthand for “white people.” The term really burst into the mainstream in the 2018 Black Panther scene when Letitia Wright’s Shuri dropped the label “colonizer” on Martin Freeman’s character.
2. Defund the Police — In recent protests this has become a deeply misunderstood and maligned rallying cry. Most supporters do not want to eliminate police departments all together (although the depth of corruption in some departments would merit such a complete overhaul). Defund the Police advocates call attention to three major problems: (1) the over-militarization of police departments; (2) the under-funding of social services (in some cities the police department budget is orders of magnitude larger than the combined budget for all social services — health, mental health, housing, child care, education, etc.); (3) the unrealistic demands put upon police officers who are being asked to respond to problems better suited for social workers, mental health experts, and housing advocates. Defund the Police is short hand for, “Fund-police-departments-less-and-fund-social-services-and-commuities-more-that-way-cities-wont-need-as-many-police-officers-in-the-first-place”. But it is hard to fit all that onto one sign. One model working in Oregon shows what this would look like.
3. Diversity (vs. Inclusion) — We hear these terms a lot these days, sometimes abbreviated as “D&I,” in the context of trainings H.R. departments are doing across the nation. The terms are not interchangeable and a pithy way to understand the difference is as follows: “Diversity is who is in the room. Inclusion is who in that room has power.”
4. Dog whistle — Obviously, you blow a dog whistle and only dogs hear it. Politically speaking, this refers to language that carries implicit meaning that only specific portions of the electorate might understand, while others won’t pick up on it at all. An example of this is the phrase “law and order.” This phrase does not read as racist per se, but it has long been viewed as coded language targeted towards whites who find increasing diversity and racial justice reforms as threats. Even “Make America Great Again” can be interpreted as a dog whistle that harkens back to an era of greater white dominance and the suppression of people of color, tantamount to saying, “Make America White Again.” The oft repeated use of Barack Obama’s middle name Hussein and even the deliberate mispronunciation of Senator Kamala Harris’ first name by Fox News hosts also amounts to a type of dog-whistle, trying to paint both politicians as more foreign than they truly are.
5. Doll test — This groundbreaking experiment performed in 1947 by Professors Mamie and Kenneth Clark uncovered the extent to which black and white children had internalized racialized concepts even at a very young age. With a white doll and a black doll in front of them, white and black children were asked to point to the doll that: was the nice doll; the bad doll; the doll they would like to play with etc. . . The videos of subsequent studies are heartbreaking as white and black children point to the white doll as the “pretty, good doll they would want to be friends with,” and the black doll as the “bad, ugly doll they would not want to be friends with.” The study was used to help win Brown v. Board of Education and end segregation in schools. It was also one of the earliest studies of implicit bias.
Ted Neill, MPH, is a writer based in Seattle. He has written extensively on HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Greatest Generation. His recent novel, Reaper Moon, examines the intersection of faith, politics, and racism during a global viral pandemic. His YA novel, Zombies, Frat Boys, Monster Flash Mobs does the same, except with zombies, frat boys, nerds, and ninjas. His illustrated kids’ series Mystery Force features kid protagonists saving the world despite (and sometimes thanks to) the visible and invisible disabilities they live with.