Via Showing Up For Racial Justice.



Political education is the collective process of study, research, analysis, and storytelling that helps us understand our situation and what we’re up against and what we can do about it.

The purpose of political education is to build a shared language about our situation, a shared framework for understanding our situation, and a shared understanding of our history so we can better understand how we got here and what we can learn from those who went before us. We engage in political education to sharpen our skills in taking action for movement building for solidarity and social justice.


We need political education because we are swimming in a sea of misdirection and misinformation provided to us on a regular basis by the broader culture. We are, for example, consistently taught that racism is a thing of the past, that we live in a post-racial world, and that any racism that does exist is simply a reflection of a few misguided individuals. We are taught not to see the ways in which institutional and cultural racism impact all of us every day, including the policies, practices, and cultural beliefs that systematically target People of Color while benefiting white people and groups (at great cost to individual and collective humanity). If we want a more just world for all of us, and we do, then we need to develop the habits and skills that make it possible for us to see what’s really going on and to vision a different way.

SURJ has a goal of mobilizing 7 million white people to show up for racial justice. We do political education with each other in service of this goal, to support better understanding of why we’re in the mess we’re in as well as how we’re going to move steadily and surely forward with a focus on racial justice and its intersection with all forms of liberation and justice.


There are all kinds of ways to politically educate ourselves.

A political education session is more than a discussion about differing views.

A political education session is grounded in shared wisdom (research, experience, knowledge) about an issue, led by facilitators holding experience and knowledge, whose role is to help the group achieve the goals of a shared language, shared framework, and shared understanding of history.

While differences in viewpoints can and do occur, these differences are based in both lived experience and research and are expressed in order to advance learning or raise questions (not to compete about who is “right”).

Done well, political education builds relationships among the participants while sharpening our ability to understand what is happening in the world.

The goal is to use new information to deepen our understanding so that we can make informed and thoughtful decisions about how to build our movement for social justice in accountable ways.

SURJ offered four political education calls in the spring of 2017 and each call was supported with both readings and action steps. The February call focused on Racism 101. The March call focused on Call to Action: What, Why, How. The April call focused on Interrupting Patterns of White Feminism. The May call focused on White Nationalism/Fascism 101. Keep an eye out here for our schedule of 2018 calls!


We define racism, also referred to as white supremacy, as the pervasive, deep-rooted, and longstanding exploitation, control and violence directed at People of Color, Native Americans, and Immigrants of Color that produce the benefits and entitlements that accrue to white people, particularly to a white male dominated ruling class. Click on the topics below to learn more about how race, class, gender and more intersect and contribute to oppression.


Racism is a word that is widely used and yet often carries many different meanings depending on who is using it. If we want to work together effectively for racial justice, and we do, we need to be clear about what racism is, how it operates, and what we can do to end it.

We define racism, also referred to as white supremacy, as the pervasive, deep-rooted, and longstanding exploitation, control and violence directed at People of Color, Native Americans, and Immigrants of Color that produce the benefits and entitlements that accrue to white people, particularly to a white male dominated ruling class.

Cartoon of

Often white people think of racism as prejudice, ignorance, or negative stereotypes about People of Color. This definition often leads to the assumption that the solution to racism is to challenge misinformation about People of Color or other marginalized groups or to convince white people to be more tolerant or accepting.

In fact, prejudice, ignorance, and stereotypes are the result of racism, not the cause. Every one of us in this society, growing up with the lies, misinformation, and stereotypes found in our media, textbooks, and cultural images and messages, carries deep-seated and harmful attitudes towards many other groups.

It is our responsibility, as people with integrity, to unlearn the lies and misinformation we have learned and to replace them with more truthful and complex understandings of the peoples and cultures around us.

Racism operates on three different levels and it is important to understand each of them and their interconnections:


Questions for discussion:

  • What are a couple of examples of interpersonal racism that you have seen personally or heard about from the media recently? What harm do they do?
  • What are a couple of examples of institutional racism in our society? What harm does institutional racism do to people of color? How does it benefit white people? 
  • What are examples of structural racism—the interplay between different forms of institutional and interpersonal racism?
  • What are examples of cultural racism that you have seen recently? What do you imagine is their cumulative impact on people of color, Native Americans, and immigrants of color? What do you see as their cumulative impact on white people—what attitudes and expectations do they produce in us? 
  • What do you think needs to be addressed to stop these and other acts of violence against people of color, Native Americans, and immigrants of color?

Graphic of cultural, institutional, and personal racism

From dRworks workbook –
The 3 Expressions of Racism: Another way to think about racism as more than personal is to understand that personal racism (individual acts of meanness) occurs within institutions. The policies and practices of those institutions in their turn are disproportionately serving and resourcing white people while underserving and exploiting People of Color. This institutional racism reproduces itself within a culture that tells us that white people are smarter and more qualified while People of Color are undeserving.


Resources that go deeper into the history ​of race, racism, and the fight for racial justice:

  • Click here for a short article on the history of race-based slavery in Virginia.
  • Click here for a longer article on how colonial Virginia created slavery and race.
  • Click here for an informative review of Theodore Allen’s book “The Invention of the White Race.”
  • Click here for an even longer article on “The Birth of Race Based Slavery.”
  • Click here for interactive timeline on The History of Racial Injustice.
  • ​Click here for a civil rights chronology.
  • Click here for the article “1667: The year America was divided by race.”
  • Click here for a video on “The west was built on racism. It’s time we faced that.”


The longer you swim in a culture, the more invisible it becomes

What is culture?

Culture refers to the knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.Culture is the knowledge shared by a group of people.Culture is communication, communication is culture.

A culture is a way of life of a group of people–the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.

Culture is a collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.

Person at a rally, holding sign illustrating cultural racism

What is cultural racism? 
Cultural racism is how the dominant culture is founded upon and then shapes norms, values, ​beliefs and standards to advantage white people and oppress People of Color.
Cultural racism is how the dominant culture defines reality to advantage white people and oppress People of Color.Cultural racism uses cultural differences to overtly and covertly assign value and normality to white people and whiteness in order to rationalize the unequal status and degrading treatment of ​People and Communities of Color.

What is white supremacy culture?
White supremacy culture is the idea (ideology) that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions.White supremacy culture is an artificial, historically constructed culture which expresses, justifies and binds together the United States white supremacy system. It is the glue that binds together white-controlled institutions into systems and white-controlled systems into the global white supremacy system.
​[from Sharon Martinas and the Challenging White Supremacy Workshop]

Cartoon of people with blindfolds on, decorated as the American flag

Image of book titled

White supremacy culture is reproduced by all the institutions of our society. In particular the media, the education system, western science (which played a major role in reinforcing the idea of race as a biological truth with the white race as the “ideal” top of the hierarchy), and the Christian church have played central roles in reproducing the idea of white supremacy (i.e. that white is “normal,” “better,” “smarter,” “holy” in contrast to Black and other People and Communities of Color. For one example of the role of education in reproducing white supremacy culture, read below.

For a more in-depth discussion on “Why Black Lives Haven’t Mattered: The Origins of Western Racism in Christian Hegemony,” check out Paul Kivel’s blog here.

For a more in-depth discussion on “The Doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, and American Exceptionalism,” check out Paul Kivel’s blog here.


Additional Resources About White Supremacy Culture…
For an article on white fragility (which functions to preserve white supremacy) and “why it’s so hard to talk to white people about racism,” click
 hereFor an article on 10 insidious ways white supremacy shows up in our everyday lives, click here.


This slideshow was created for the “Interrupting White Feminism” webinar:

Below are additional resources from a variety of partner/comrade organizations:

  • This original blog piece by the White Noise Collective names common  ​themes and patterns of white feminism historically and currently. 
  • The White Feminist Savior Complex by Anne Theriault explores how patterns of white feminist saviorism show up internationally.
  • The Problems with the White Savior Complex by Toi Scott presents a more local/domestic context for analyzing white saviorism.
  • In this article on The Struggle of the Veiled Woman, author Yusuf Jailani speaks to the assumptions underlying the bans of hijab and burqa and the importance of rooting liberation in our choices rather than the assumptions about those choices.

Many kinds of feminists flexing bicep under text

Stamp with word

Robin DiAngelo writes about
white fragility.

Quote from Audre Lorde

Shadow in shape of Christian cross

Paul Kivel writes about
Living in the Shadow of the Cross:
Understanding and Resisting the
Power and Privilege of
Christian Hegemony.

Poster with

Drawing of a labyrinth



​It is not necessarily a privilege to be white, but it certainly has its benefits.
That’s why so many of our families gave up their unique histories, primary languages, accents, distinctive dress, family names and cultural expressions. Giving these up seemed like a small price to pay for acceptance in the circle of whiteness. Even with these sacrifices, it wasn’t easy to pass as white if we were Italian, Greek, Irish, Jewish, Spanish, Hungarian or Polish. Sometimes it took generations before our families were fully accepted, and then it was usually because white society had an even greater fear of darker-skinned people.



Privileges are the economic extras that those of us who are middle-class and wealthy gain at the expense of poor and working class people of all races. 
Benefits, on the other hand, are the advantages that all white people gain at the expense of people of color regardless of economic position. Talk about racial benefits can ring false to many of us who don’t have the economic privileges that we see others in this society enjoying. But though we don’t have substantial economic privileges, we do enjoy many of the benefits of being white.


We can generally count on police protection rather than harassment. Depending on our financial situation, we can choose where we want to live and choose safer neighborhoods with better schools. We are given more attention, respect and status in conversations than People of Color. Nothing that we do is qualified, limited, discredited or acclaimed simply because of our racial background. We don’t have to represent our race, and nothing we do is judged as a credit to our race or as confirmation of its shortcomings or inferiority.

Picture of a backpack with text

For the classic article by Peggy McIntosh on Unpacking the Knapsack of White Privilege, click here.

These benefits start early. Others will have higher expectations for us as children, both at home and at school. We will have more money spent on our education, we will be called on more in school and given more opportunity and resources to learn. We will see people like us in textbooks. If we get into trouble, adults will expect us to be able to change and improve and therefore will discipline or penalize us less harshly than children of color.

These benefits accrue and work to the direct economic advantage of every white person in the United States.

First of all, we will earn more in our lifetime than a person of color of similar qualifications. We will be paid $1.00 for every $.60 that a person of color makes. We will advance faster and more reliably and, on average, accumulate many times as much wealth. A white family will, on average accumulate $116,800 in assets, a Black family $1,700, and a Latin@ family slightly more. The gap for single women-headed households is even more stark – in 2007 a white female-headed household had on average $41,000 in assets, a Black female-headed household $100, and a Latina-headed household $120.

Cartoon illustrating pay gap between white man and man of color

There are historically derived economic benefits too. All land in the US was taken from Native Americans. Much of the infrastructure of this country was built by slave labor, incredibly low-paid labor or prison labor performed by Men and Women of Color. Much of the housecleaning, child care, cooking and maintenance of our society has been done by low-wage-earning Women of Color. Today Men and Women and Children of Color still do the hardest, lowest-paid, most dangerous work throughout the US. And white people enjoy plentiful and inexpensive food, clothing and consumer goods because of that exploitation.
We have been carefully taught …We have been taught history through a white-tinted lens that has minimized the exploitation of People of Color and extolled the hardworking, courageous qualities of white people. For example, many of our foreparents gained a foothold in the US by finding work in trades or occupations that Black workers, who had begun entering many such skilled and unskilled jobs, were either excluded from or pushed out of in the 19th century. Exclusion and discrimination, coupled with immigrant mob violence against Black people in many northern cities meant that recent immigrants had economic opportunities that Black people did not. These gains were consolidated by explicitly racist trade union practices and government policies that kept Black workers in the most unskilled labor and lowest-paid work.
It is not that white Americans have not worked hard and built much. We have. But we did not start out from scratch. Much of the rhetoric against more active policies for racial justice stem from the misconception that all people are given equal opportunities and start from a level playing field. We often don’t even see the benefits we have received from racism. We claim that they are not there.



We were joined for this call by Chip Berlet, who maintains a website with loads of helpful resources: ​

​Chip created a set of slides for the call that can be found here:


We’ll be adding more resources to this page soon. In the meantime, Political Research Associates has additional research and analysis of white nationalism and neo-fascism here:


Via Showing Up For Racial Justice.