How to Be a Racial Justice Hero, on MLK Day and All Year Long

Martin Luther King, Jr., isn't the only racial justice hero--you can be one too. Simply drill down on your daily routine, ask some basic questions about equity in the institutions you engage and deploy your own hero powers to fight for it.

By Hatty Lee, Terry Keleher Jan 16, 2012

Editor’s Note: The Racial Transformer infographic Terry Keleher and Hatty Lee created for last year’s MLK Day has been among our most popular. So we’ve brought it back today. Also check out previous King Day essays by Tim Wise, Barbara Ransby and Michelle Chen, all gathered in our MLK Day channel.

As we celebrate a new year and another Martin Luther King holiday, it’s a good time to reflect on how you can be part of some positive change in the year ahead. Rather than the typical resolutions, which can get a bit self-absorbed, why not resolve to step up your game in making social change?

The good news is that you already have everything you need, just as you are, to become a powerful force for racial justice. You can be a Racial Transformer.

What’s that, you ask?

No, it’s not a new toy. Nor is it some new flash-in-the-pan gimmick. We’ve seen enough of those, with political candidates crashing and burning by the day.

But it is, indeed, an action figure. In fact, it’s actually a superhero–or supershero–with an array of special powers that can be instantly deployed in the service of racial justice.

Racial Transformers don’t fixate on who’s a racist or whether someone intends animus. For they know that the deepest racism lies not just in the hearts and minds of individuals, but in the roles and rules of big institutions–like schools, courtrooms and corporations. That’s their primary focus of change–these familiar systems of power, churning out deep and deadly racial inequities by the day.

And that, my friend, can be you. Or, may already be you. You don’t even need to lose weight, start a new exercise regimen, or cut back on any vices.

All it takes is a little drilling down into your daily routine–examining what’s going on and what you can do differently. Begin by thinking about the institutions you routinely interact with–stores, banks, media outlets, health facilities, schools, your workplace, community or religious organizations, city government and so on. Pick one and ask:

  • Are the policies and practices, and their impacts, racially inclusive and fair?
  • Who are the stakeholders and how can they be engaged in making change?
  • What concrete equitable changes can you envision and propose?
  • How can you focus your collective power to influence the power-holders?
  • What purposeful action steps could lead to real change and when can you begin?

It doesn’t involve rocket science or supernatural powers. In fact, all it takes is to be simply, but fully, human. Indeed, it’s a full-body endeavor, involving an open mind, open heart, open arms, and often, an open mouth.

–Terry Keleher