Self-Knowledge and Anti-Racism

What is Self-Knowlege in the Context of Anti-Racism?

Self-knowledge involves understanding your relationship with race and racism; this relationship will be different for Indigenous people, people of colour and white people. Often, racialized people (people of colour and Indigenous people) are more conscious of race and racism (and thus, connected to it) as it is part of their daily lived experience. For white people, or for those who appear white, race and racism are often invisible because they do not have to see it or deal with it in their daily lives. (See our definition of Internalized Racism/Dominance)

Understanding your relationship to race and racism is a complex, life long process that can be fraught with pain and guilt. Racial identity development models help us to understand how the process works and how it evolves differently for racialized people and white people (Cross, 1991Helms, 1995Tatum, 1992). For example, identity development for racialized people requires that they break from dominant culture in order to reconnect with their own group and find ways to re-establish a connection to the dominant group with their new found self-knowledge/identity. Even with the extent of racial and ethnic diversity in Canada, the prevailing cultural values are of European (Western) origin and are perceived as the norm. White racial identity development depends on white people distancing themselves from their own group so that they are able to re-evalutate what parts of their culture to keep and what to let go. With this new sense of self-knowledge/identity, they are able to reconnect to their group on the one hand and challenge their group's assumptions, beliefs and behaviours connected to race and racism on the other hand.

Example: As a white person, my self-knowledge usually comes about from outside sources. Just when I think I've got it and that I understand my white privilege, my liberal racism rears its ugly head and someone, usually a person of colour or an Indigenous person, and sometimes another white person, will point it out. From this, I will learn about another layer of my whiteness—my relationship to race and racism. White people cannot challenge their whiteness in isolation from Indigenous people and people of colour. The whole concept of whiteness has evolved out the the theory and practice of racialized people.

With this understanding of self-knowledge, the question that arises is: Why is self-knowledge important?

Click here to see our glossary definitions of Dominant Culture, Democratic/Liberal RacismRace, Racialization, Racism, White FragilityWhiteness and White Privilege/White-Skin Privilege