June 24, 2024

the right way

passengers in a bus
photo caption: people crowded on a bus in Sri Lanka. my dad took this photo 23 years ago on a family trip. one boy, seated against the window, slightly smiling, looks back towards the camera. i’m in a van headed in the same direction, but where he and i ended up is completely different.

I don’t remember a sudden shift in how I felt. I had hardened into a cynic when I was in high school. Those feelings threatened to stay with me into adulthood. I knew racism and bigotry existed. I tried to call attention to them. I tried to internalize them. I tried to avoid them. And then one day, I started to change them.

As a queer man of color, I’ve spent my life listening and learning. In school: how can I avoid getting punished? What will or won’t get me made fun of? At work: what approach will work here? How do I find the right way to phrase what I have to say? Who will take me seriously and who’s already made up their mind about me? I’m used to navigating spaces that were not made for me. I realized a long time ago that other people had it harder than me. I enjoyed immense privilege compared to friends who didn’t make it into the spaces where I was. Those early privileges compound like interest and put me on the trajectory I have now.

I remember scraping by. I remember keeping the heat too low so I could afford the bill. That same winter, I remember my cheap bagged salad would freeze in the mini-fridge where I lived. I remember begging the manager at a Jiffy Lube for a discount on brakes that I needed. I waited all day for brakes they installed wrong. My truck lurched dangerously to the right every time I braked. It took a week before my mom could convince me that it wasn’t normal.

I am thriving these days. I can afford to buy what I need. I can still afford to give something back to the people around me. I know that I never want to go back to the days that came before. I know that no matter how secure I am, there’s always a chance—no matter how small—that I might have to.

I don’t remember what radicalized me. I only know that I am now. I’ve lived my whole life in a world that can be cruel. My instincts tell me it’s not enough to say, “the world is cruel.” Not everyone can follow my trajectory, or do what I’ve done in the way that I did it. Not everyone wants what I have. But I still want everyone to thrive in whatever way that they desire. I want that success to come without harming or dehumanizing anyone else.

Practicing antiracism is like practicing medicine or law. The field changes and modernizes. What you know can quickly become outdated. People have different perspectives and experiences. Your way of seeing the world will shape how you practice your… practice. It’s a skill you can improve. It requires thoughtfulness and collaboration. The practice can cause discomfort in the moment, but it’s always something worth doing.

Unlike medicine or law, there is no one right way to practice antiracism. There’s no script or workflow that converts racists to antiracists. There’s no one book or podcast that can change a bigot’s mind. But we know that minds can change, and we keep trying in spite of the ones that don’t. The right way forward is the one that’s right for you. And you. And you. And you.

photo of josh martinez

my name is josh martinez. i have always loved trying to understand systems, and the systems that built those systems. i spend a lot of time thinking about how to get there from here.

i own and operate a consulting practice, Future Emergent.

say hello: josh[at]bethefuture.space