Michael Cowan in his July 30 op-ed piece about coalitions seems to me to be setting up a false dichotomy. In order to change policies and laws, he claims that anti-racist activists sometimes refuse to work with “a large majority of decent people [I think he means decent White people who] don't identify themselves as 'anti-racist' and never will.”

Anti-racism isn't a purity test, as Cowan claims. I see it as an accurate description of anyone who “accepts the full humanity of every child of God” (in Cowan's words) and works to challenge and abolish institutional and structural racism. Power and privilege can be an asset in this endeavor, not something to feel coy or guilty about.

The Undoing Racism Workshop of the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond has helped me understand this large definition of anti-racism. It doesn't mean just opposing someone who has racial prejudice. Growing up in this society, we all have some of that. Pronounced examples could be found in your mother or father or your best friend. If anti-racism were a purity test, we all would fail it.

Accepting a common broad definition of anti-racism is crucial right now because, as one of my mediation mentors said, a problem that is mutually defined can be mutually solved.

There was a time, not too long ago in warped COVID-19 time, when some White people had a hard time saying “Black lives matter.” I foresee a time, hopefully at COVID warp speed, when the important coalitions that Cowan writes about can wholeheartedly declare themselves to be anti-racist.


mediator and author

New Orleans

Guest column: Successful coalitions must dispense with purity tests