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Interrupting our Whiteness: Practicing Anti-Racism as a Means of Ending Family Violence

The work of advancing equity and anti-oppression in the anti-violence movement is pivotal to ending the intergenerational cycle of violence.

Written by Jasmyn Brown, Aurora Smaldone, Rebecca Hoffman-Frances & Edited by Leiana Kinnicutt

White advocates, clinicians and providers who work with and on behalf of families impacted by family violence must recognize our role in undoing white supremacy culture within our personal lives, organizational policies and practices, systems and communities. The work of advancing equity and anti-oppression in the anti-violence movement is pivotal to ending the intergenerational cycle of violence; after all, racism itself is a form of violence. But, upending white supremacy and white privilege in our work has not been prioritized in the white dominated areas of the domestic violence movement. In fact, according to a recent report from the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV), “The gender based violence and childhood sexual abuse fields are guided by white women’s cultural norms which contributes to an overrepresentation of white women.” We must change this in order to both increase safety and wellbeing for survivors and to address racial disparities in leadership in the anti-violence movement. Read on to learn the role that white people can play in advancing racial justice, and how white people can strengthen their anti-violence work through dedicated and informed anti-racist practice in all aspects of our work.

Promising Futures believes anti-racism is a fundamental and an essential component of anti-violence work. If we do not intentionally practice anti-racism our programs, services and systems will continue to harm survivors. One of our Guiding Principles is Equity – which states, “Implement approaches that are responsive to the connection between family violence and other forms of oppression that impact people’s lives. Fostering equity in anti-violence work requires intentional and strategic approaches that utilize an anti-oppression framework. Individuals often proceed unconsciously to maintain the status quo without a critical understanding of the nature of privilege and each of our roles in maintaining it. Changing this paradigm requires examination and challenging what we think we know. Because domestic violence survivors have intersecting identities and face multiple oppressions simultaneously, responses must include strategies and activities that reflect these complex realities.”  Learn more about Advancing Equity & Undoing Racism.

“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

Angela Davis

Defining Solidarity and Allyship:

White people who actively practice anti-racism and work to prevent and address family violence show demonstrable support of those marginalized by injustice, and join them in securing their right to dignity, safety, and resources. White allies embrace anti-racism through actions, ideas, and reflections (Kendi, 2019). In doing so, allies often need to go challenge the cultural, historical, and political mainstream. In the words of Ibram X. Kendi: “To be an antiracist is a radical choice in the face of history, requiring a radical reorientation of our consciousness” (Kendi, 2019). Allies also strive to recognize and understand the full extent of white privilege and leverage sources of power to divest from white supremacy culture and affect change. Allies center the voices and leadership of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) survivors and advocates and work in solidarity with members of historically marginalized group(s). White allies commit to doing their own work to unlearn white supremacy habits, acknowledge and actively repair harm done, hold themselves and other white people accountable, and recognize the importance of not centering their own experiences or emotions in these efforts.

Why dismantling racism and systemic oppression is the work of white people:

White people experience the unearned privileges and access to power bestowed by structural racism and racial inequity. Everyone operates within a highly racialized society with a strong and unwavering legacy of prioritizing “whiteness” while cultivating injustice for BIPOC (The Aspen Institute, “Glossary for Understanding the Dismantling Structural Racism/Promoting Racial Equity Analysis”). White supremacy culture and systemic racism is the status quo – it is not an independent choice made by a few people or organizations (The Aspen Institute). Racial inequality is baked into our social, economic, and political systems and white people reap the benefits of this every day. It is the responsibility of white people to dismantle the intergenerational legacy of racism and disavow the unearned privileges and structural power tied to Whiteness (Morrison, 2020).

Strategies and recommendations for taking action:

A first step is to make a deep personal commitment to being anti-racist.  According to the Boston University Community Service Center, the term anti-racism means “the practice of actively identifying and opposing racism. The goal is to actively change policies, behaviors, and beliefs that perpetuate racist ideas and actions” (Boston University Community Service Center, “What is Anti-Racism?”). This effort can occur on many levels, including personal, organizational, and community levels. Here are some ways to move toward becoming  an anti-racist:

“To understand what it means to be white in America and break the silences that surround it requires arduous, persistent, and soul-stretching work.”

Melanie S. Morrison


  • Acknowledge your own privilege and power (Curry,Kamara, and Littleson, 2021).  Be willing to look at how white privilege has benefited you and identify strategies to unlearn White supremacy habits in your personal life and professional role and make efforts to shift power and resources to BIPOC communities.

  • Learn more about intersectionality to better understand your own identities as well as your identities in relation to the complex identities of BIPOC folks. This will help you better understand how various identities intersect with power and privilege.

  • Learn more about the historical context of the anti-violence movement and anti-racism.  Find reliable sources of information and expand your knowledge of anti-racism, racial justice, and white allyship. Learn about the historical legacies of oppression and racism within the anti-violence movement and in the US (and internationally) generally, current harm being done to BIPOC survivors and advocates, and how it shows up in our current service landscape. Do not expect people of color to spend their time and energy teaching you personally; do not seek knowledge at the expense of people of color in your life. Access the vast amount of media already available to you. Be your own researcher. Read an An open letter to white women in the movement to end gender-based violence, written by Arlene C. Vassell and this article, How the Mainstream Movement Against Gender-Based Violence Fails Black Workers and Survivors.

  • Create a community of support and accountability. Find other white folks doing the work to process experiences, hold each other accountable, and unlearn with. Involve yourself in organizations that support racial justice. Immerse yourself in knowledge and seek to understand the lived experiences of BIPOC and historically marginalized groups. Join rallies, protests, and discussion groups.

  • Reflect and change behavior. Begin making changes in your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Do so with intention. This intention, over time, will uncover and shift unconscious biases and habits. Set goals for yourself to shift these thoughts and actions with intention (Ivey-Colson and Kamara, 2020).

  • Begin holding loved ones and friends accountable for their words and actions in a relational way.  Help them to expand their knowledge. This takes courage and may be met with discomfort. This discomfort and the associated behavior has been labeled as the term white fragility by author Robin DiAngelo (Frey, 2020).  Stay calm and open. Being an ally means adopting the struggle of racism, taking risks, and feeling discomfort. Share about your own learning process, your own missteps. Do not portray yourself as better or more advanced than other white people. This is centering your own white comfort and ego, and does not actually help recruit other white people into solidarity with racial justice.

Personal Continued:

  • Make shifts to enable BIPOC communities to take the lead, have voice, resources, and power. Rather than leading the charge to racial justice, boost those who have been historically marginalized so that their voices are heard and they have power. Step aside and provide support and resources (The MSW@USC, 2020). No white person will ever be an “expert” on racism or anti-racism, as they have not ever been on the receiving end of racism. 

  • Do not set yourself up as an exception, a “good white person.” This is actually still a form of centering whiteness and the habits of white supremacy. As there is no end destination of completeness for white people in anti-racist practice (in fact, there is only practice), no white person will ever be “officially” anti-racist.

  • Do not “perform” allyship. Based in self-gratification and seeking praise; disingenuous. Done as “proof” you are not racist and typically involves superficial, self-congratulatory actions like posting on social media for the purposes of creating a perception of yourself for others (Blanco et al., 2021).

  • Do not set conditions for allyship; for example insisting on a “polite” or “safe” tone to conversations about race and injustice is another way to maintain your privilege.

  • Accept that you will make mistakes, for the rest of your life. Perfectionist Allyship: Attempting to get it right every time. Letting perfectionism (and fear of getting it wrong) immobilize or impede antiracism action (Dias and Hamill, “What is Allyship”). There is no perfecting anti-racism as a white person. You will always be in a learning and practice state, and no matter how much you learn, your whiteness will continue to show up in ways that may surprise you (but probably not the people of color in your personal and professional life). Accept this so that you can move more quickly out of the shame and retreat cycle, and more quickly to change and repair the harm done.

“Every white person who shows up and tells the truth–because it’s [their] duty as a member of our human family–is going to have [their] racism called out…[They] will need to learn to withstand people’s anger, knowing that … it is real and true and necessary. [They] will need to accept that one of the privileges [they’re] letting burn is [their] emotional comfort.” 

Glennon Doyle

Image of "Becoming Anti-Racist" Chart

This chart was adapted by Andrew M. Ibrahim MD, MSc from “Who Do I Want to Be During COVID-19” chart (original author unknown) and is re-used from Black Life Matters: Anti-Racism Resources for Social Workers and Therapists, June 2020,


  • Create an organizational culture of self-reflection and learning. Provide opportunities for staff/members to learn about race equity and liberation. Instead of providing a one-time training, offer information and space for ongoing dialogue. Delve into deeper topics like unconscious bias and microaggressions (Wheeless, 2020). Bring these topics into the discussion regularly. Consider creating race/identity-based affinity groups to provide safer spaces for discussion, learning and unlearning, and support. Change won’t happen quickly.  It takes time for staff to explore their belief systems. By making this an ongoing discussion, you are showing your commitment to the transformation as well.

  • Lead by example. This work requires buy in from all levels of an organization and a clear and visible commitment from leadership. White people must be bold and honest in their own efforts to become anti-racist.  Acknowledge and own your mis-steps and learning edges and seek to repair harm done. Share this with other white colleagues, and strive for a culture of humility in this work. Again, be mindful not to let learning for white people come at the expense of staff of color.

  • Center BIPOC voices and leaders. Shift your power in visible and intentional ways. We do this because centering whiteness does not and has not gotten us closer to a violence free world; in fact, whiteness perpetuates violence. We shift power because as a group, white people do not have the answers and expertise to end violence. This can happen through hiring and retention practices, ensuring opportunities for positions of power, or stepping aside (White, 2022). Ensuring partnerships are mutually beneficial, rooted in equity, and acknowledge and address power differences between mainstream organizations and culturally specific programs are essential. Creating realistic timelines, equitable compensation practices, processes to handle conflict, and address harm are fundamental.

  • Review current policies. Look for ways in which these policies promote racism and reinforce marginalization (Carnahan, 2021). Audit your practices and workplace culture to determine where there is a culture of exclusion or inequity (White, 2022). Set long-term goals (and short-term milestones) to change these practices in order to increase equity and racial justice.

“Mainstream communication does not want women, particularly white women, responding to racism. It wants racism to be accepted as an immutable given in the fabric of your existence, like evening-time or the common cold.” 

Audre Lorde


  • Find like-minded individuals who are interested in being allies.  Form or join a white ally group. Identify ways to educate the white community, initiate community change or protest against racial injustice. 

  • Work to fix the systems that are broken and build new systems that do not create more injustice or harm (Focused Community Strategies Team, 2020).

  • Campaign for, and elect BIPOC law makers (Focused Community Strategies Team, 2020).

  • Encourage the establishment of BIPOC-owned businesses in the community and frequent those businesses.

  • Hold the educational system accountable for their part in ending racism.  This enhances the likelihood that the next generation of changemakers will be anti-racist.

  • Look at existing racial justice efforts led by BIPOC community members, seek permission to ask how you can be in solidarity with their efforts.

  • When building community, reach towards the idea that our liberation is bound together. Do not attempt to set yourself above or beyond other white people, no matter how much more “work” you believe you have done. The community is in the shared experiences of being lifelong learners.

“For while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.” 

Amanda Gorman