Much like a snake slithering through tall grass or an invisible, odorless gas leak filling up a room, the nature of systemic racism in the United States is insidious.
Roni Bennett, executive director of South Florida People of Color, wants to engage people of all backgrounds and identities in South Florida and beyond in critical conversations on race, racism, and antiracism, with the aim of building empathy and breaking down biases.
“We need to get people to understand that systemic racism and white supremacy form the DNA of this country and this world. It’s not just the shark in the water — it is the water,” she says. “You don’t learn this in school. Our mission is to wake up the consciousness of people by providing creative racial-healing education to dismantle racism so America can finally be who they claim to be.”
The Racial Healing Book Club, hosted by South Florida People of Color virtually via Zoom every two weeks through March 18, will provide an introductory-level education of critical race theory. The series next meets on Thursday, February 4, to discuss the first chapter of Crystal M. Fleming's 2018 book, How to Be Less Stupid About Race.
Francie Peake, a volunteer with the nonprofit organization and an organizer of the book club, says that unlike most book clubs that only offer large group discussions, Racial Healing Book Club participants will have the opportunity for more intimate dialogue in smaller groups of three to four. Thought-provoking discussion questions will be provided, and every participant is invited to share their personal history and perspective on topics such as how race is treated in the media, politics, pop culture, and the classroom.
“Through the course of the book club, we want to get everyone on the same page. We aim to activate people to take antiracist actions in their own lives, whether it’s among friends or family, in their communities, or through supporting antiracist policies,” Peake explains. “We want people to be educated, inspired, and feel they have some support from the people they met in the book club and through our organization.”
Peake believes How to Be Less Stupid About Race is a good place to begin an education in antiracism, a guiding principle espoused by other scholars like Ibram X. Kendi, who authored 2019’s How to Be an Antiracist. At antiracism’s core is a lifelong commitment to identifying, describing, and dismantling racism at individual and societal levels.
“In some ways, How to Be Less Stupid About Race is an antiracism 101 book," Peake says. "It’s a good introduction for people who want racial healing to take place but haven’t delved deeply into the subject. It introduces a common language and knowledge that help us to examine our own lives and behaviors.”
South Florida People of Color offers other social, cultural, and professional programming, including virtual film screenings, workshops, panel discussions, and speakers, as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion training for schools, businesses and organizations.
On Sunday, February 7, for example, the group has scheduled a virtual screening of When Liberty Burns, the 2020 documentary about Arthur McDuffie, a Black Liberty City resident and former U.S. Marine killed at the hands of Miami-Dade police 40 years ago. The screening will be followed by a workshop.
Bennett says the organization will remain devoted to disrupting racism one open dialogue at a time.
“I’m hoping what happened last summer doesn’t fade away,” Bennett says in reference to the nationwide groundswell of Black Lives Matter protests. “Being an antiracist is continually checking yourself and learning. It’s a call to action, a verb. Do something.”