Celeste Headlee
6 min readMay 8, 2021
Art by Shepard Fairey

Yesterday, I was chatting with a white person in the park. (I meet and chat with lots of people while walking my dog twice a day.) We started talking about racism. They said: This is systemic. So, there’s not a lot I can do.

WHITE PEOPLE: There is so much you can do. There is so much. And not just going to a protest with a sign.

Do you want to do the minimum? Want to do the least and then get back to your life (no disrespect — life is tough). Write to your political reps about criminal justice reform, voting reform, reparations, etc.

Next, step up — speak up when you hear microaggressions. One person in my neighborhood said, “I don’t see color.” What if I weren’t the person pushing back on that? What if it were you? What if you did your homework and you were prepared to respond to this?

One step further? Expand your social circle and your circle of work colleagues. Don’t share job opportunities and contacts or networks with only white people. Actively become inclusive.

Another step? Anti-poverty work. The system has worked for centuries to keep people of color in poverty. When people have money, they spend it on food, on housing, on education. What amount can you give that might actually represent sacrifice? Not just how much you can spare.

Next: STOP AVOIDING THE CONVERSATION, please. I know it’s upsetting. I know you hate arguments. But, you know who has the best chance of persuading your racist Uncle Bob? A white person that he knows and loves. THAT’S YOU. Do the work. Talk to him and keep talking.

Next step: Make it more painful to be racist than to default to new norms that support equity and fairness. Create new systems and make them the default. You can’t realistically change someone else’s beliefs, but you can make it more comfortable to be anti-racist than racist. That’s just behavioral science.

YES, racism is systemic. But, you know what makes up social systems? Lots and lots of people. You are one of those data points. Be the one standing on the side of justice, with all your might. If enough people move (through action!) to that side, the scales will tip.

When racist comments are made at work, the people most likely to speak up are workers of color. They are also the most likely to be punished for speaking up. To get bad performance…