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Sasha Sarago: The (de)colonizing of beauty | TED

Visit to get our entire library of TED Talks, transcripts, translations, personalized talk recommendations and more. Beauty is about more than the body you inhabit — it’s a way of being that goes beyond genetics or societal ideals. Aboriginal writer and former model Sasha Sarago invites you to decolonize beauty, moving away from the monolithic…

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Beauty is about more than the body you inhabit — it’s a way of being that goes beyond genetics or societal ideals. Aboriginal writer and former model Sasha Sarago invites you to decolonize beauty, moving away from the monolithic Eurocentric archetype and towards a more essential, authentic understanding of self that belongs to everyone.

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Transcriber:

Today, I would like
to talk to you about beauty

and how we’ve got it all wrong when it
comes to our perceptions of women,

particularly Aboriginal women.

But before I do, I would like to
acknowledge the traditional custodians

of the land in which I stand upon:

the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation.

I pay my respects to the elders past,
present and emerging

and give thanks to our ancestors
who guide and protect us.

It was 1990, and I was pumped.

I was off to my first birthday party,

just before I hit the terrible teens.

No chaperone,

and no bratty sister to tag along
so she could snitch.

I had my cute little outfit on,

gift in hand,

and I was hoping that this little cutie
that I liked would show up.

And I was hoping that this little cutie
would ask me this one question.

You know that question that makes
your heart beat right out your chest —

Do you want to be my girlfriend? —

even though I had no business
having a boyfriend at that age.

But it didn’t matter,

because back then,
it was all about the rush.

I never did get asked that question.

But the question I did get asked was:

What’s your background?

And like any proud
Aboriginal child would declare,

“I’m Aboriginal.”

Given the reaction of the room,

being Aboriginal was clearly a dirty word.

And at the tender age of 11,

I was told by my best
friend’s adult sister

that I was too pretty to be Aboriginal.

By this time, my mouth is dry,
my blood is boiling,

and I’m trying so hard to fight back
what feels like an ocean of tears.

I calmly join my circle of friends

and begin to fake laugh
at whatever is funny

to mask my embarrassment,

as I clutch on to my newfound complex.

And this is why we need to change
our perceptions of beauty.

And how we do this is by learning
from Aboriginal women,

their stories and perspectives.

Because right now, “pretty” hurts.

Pretty hurts because you’re trying
to erase my Aboriginality,

to applaud my proximity to whiteness.

Pretty hurts because aimed
at an Aboriginal woman,

it is a weapon loaded in racism,

sexual exploitation

and cultural genocide.

You see, what this woman didn’t realize

when she declared that I was
too pretty to be Aboriginal

is that she took something
precious from me:

pride in my identity.

You see, I belong to the oldest
living culture in the world,

but that day, that legacy —

it was replaced with shame,

and it’s been this filthy stain
I’ve been trying to get rid of

for 20 years.

And this is where
my obsession for beauty comes from,

over the years,
trying to mimic it as a model,

advocating for diversity in fashion,

to launching “Ascension” magazine
to celebrate women of color,

whose beauty is still underrepresented.

With much pain and trauma behind one word,

“pretty” taught me,
through my indigeneity,

I could reclaim my beauty.

To Indigenous women,

true beauty came from
the traditional roles we upheld,

our kinship systems,

connection to country and the waterways

and how we pass this ancient knowledge
down to the next generation.

The way we express beauty

was never defined against
a Eurocentric ideal of beauty.

You see, in my culture,
our beauty is not monolithic.

It’s not measured by a thin waistline,
porcelain skin or slender hips.

It runs much deeper than that.

So what does indigenous beauty look like?

Oh, it’s fierce, defiant and proud.

And one ancestor who epitomizes
indigenous beauty is Barangaroo,

a powerful Cammeraygal woman.

Revered for her wisdom and independence,
Barangaroo, like the Eora other women,

took pride in their status as being
the main food providers for their tribe.

A skillful and patient fisherwoman,

Barangaroo would access Sydney Harbour
and its surrounding waters

for its abundant food supply,

only taking what was needed.

So you can just imagine
how furious Barangaroo was

when she saw British colonists
troll 4,000 salmon off the north shore

in just one day,

then gifting some
of this catch to her husband

and some of the other men from her tribe.

Barangaroo knew such a wasteful act

would threaten the Eora women’s
cultural authority within the tribe,

furthermore destroying
their traditional way of life.

So Barangaroo rejected
British laws and customs,

their food, drink and social etiquette,

even when her husband decided to conform.

When Barangaroo and her husband Bennelong
were invited to dine with Governor Phillip

and the British party,

Barangaroo stayed true to who she was.

instead of wearing colonial attire —

a tight corset and a gown layered
in silk finished with pearls —

she came sporting her traditional wares:

white ochre and a bone through her nose.

What Barangaroo illustrated was:
indigenous beauty is authentic.

Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo,
a respected Gamilaraay elder,

shared a story
with a group of women one day,

and she said,

“We all have a bit of Barangaroo in us.”

Later that evening, I thought about
Aunty Beryl’s message.

And what I received from her message was,

no matter our culture,

color or how we identify,

spirit is what we share.

It’s what connects us.

You see, if we indigenize beauty,

the meaning is transformed
from aesthetically pleasing

to a state of divinity;

beauty now becomes spirit manifested.

Not only is spirit found within us,

it’s in all things.

It’s in the landscapes,
it’s in the elements.

The Yolngu people
of northeast Arnhem Land,

they have a Dreamtime story:

Walu, the Sun woman.

They say Walu lights
a small fire each morning,

which creates the dawn.

She then paints her body in red ochre.

And as she does, some of it
falls onto the clouds,

creating the sunrise.

She then makes a torch
from a stringybark tree

and carries this fire across the sky
from east to west,

creating the daylight.

And when it’s time for her journey to end,

she descends from the sky.

And as she does, some of the red ochre
from her body falls onto the clouds,

creating the sunset.

Indigenous beauty can be seen
right across this continent,

each Aboriginal nation with its own
creation stories of how we came to be —

astronomy, medicine, agriculture,
architecture, education, innovation.

And when we had conflict,

we had lore, l-o-r-e, to restore order.

Like the seasons,
flora and fauna, night and day,

we are all interconnected.

One does not work without the other —

the very principles which binds
humanity together.

Over the years, my obsession for beauty,

it’s led me to this truth:

you cannot appreciate beauty

if you cannot recognize it in yourself.

So how do we change
our perceptions of beauty?

We have to get real with ourselves

and start by asking: Who am I?

Where do I come from?

The world that I live in —
how did it come to be?

And more importantly: Where to from here?

You may not like what you discover.

But sit with it, feel the discomfort.

Colonization has stolen from us

one of the greatest treasures
we can obtain:

each other.

This year alone, we’ve witnessed
pathological political and social unrest.

That is why healing
is the antidote humanity needs

because it leads us to unity.

When we decolonize beauty,

we are reintroduced
to our authentic selves.

I used to wonder whatever happened
to that woman from the birthday party,

you know, the one that told me
I was too pretty to be Aboriginal.

A moment that was so devastating
helped me to embrace my girgorou.

“Girgorou” means “beautiful” in Jirrbal,
my grandmother’s language.

I now know that my girgorou is mighty,

like Barangaroo.

And my girgorou, like Walu,

it’s everlasting,

from when that sun rises
to when that sun sets.

Are you ready to embrace your girgorou?

Thank you.

(Applause)

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108 Comments

108 Comments

  1. Dialectical Monist

    September 6, 2021 at 7:18 pm

    I was waiting for her to start her racist ramblings about “the white devil” etc, but she didn’t really do that.

    A decent, dignified talk.

  2. Twuan Dixon

    September 6, 2021 at 7:44 pm

    This is just idiocy at this point, IT’S YOUR blind assumptions that make this a “truth” negativity dressing up as positivity.

  3. Sly Pork

    September 6, 2021 at 7:54 pm

    She is clearly mixed, she’s not solely “aboriginal.” Disingenuous nonsense.

  4. Amir Feyzi

    September 6, 2021 at 8:09 pm

    I admire this reclamation of beauty standards.
    I appreciate that Sasha Sarago has made her lived experience available in such a way.

  5. Duece Lee Music

    September 6, 2021 at 8:10 pm

    Beauty is in the eye of the beerholder and no one is ugly at last call.

    • Drake Santiago

      September 7, 2021 at 12:41 am

      LOL!

  6. eezaak21

    September 6, 2021 at 8:13 pm

    Came just to leave a dislike lol.

  7. Necate

    September 6, 2021 at 8:57 pm

    Props to TED for not shutting down the comments and disabling the L/DL ratio ^^

    Interesting take on a oversaturated topic, but looking at the title … what did people expect? A talk about mayonnaise??

    Almost as if there are certain people who just click videos like this one to leave a dislike and retarded comment …

    • Ang Punks

      September 6, 2021 at 9:32 pm

      Exactly. Saying stuff like “what’s this it’s so stupid? I waste my time” Dude you click on the video that says it all in the title to begin with, who is really the stupid one here

      I’m so done…

  8. Mark Underwood

    September 6, 2021 at 9:11 pm

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    • dawhike

      September 6, 2021 at 11:35 pm

      And EVERYONE is entitled to their opinion and be able to express that opinion.

  9. chocomalk

    September 6, 2021 at 9:33 pm

    Stop with the whole “decolonize” thing. There are no white people in your home telling you what to like.

    • Joannot

      September 6, 2021 at 9:46 pm

      If you think that’s how she says it operates, you haven’t been listening, or you hear something and imagine another or whatever, one thing is sure, you clearly didn’t get it.

  10. J Briggs

    September 6, 2021 at 10:00 pm

    Stop talking like that weirdo

  11. Stephen Serna

    September 6, 2021 at 10:46 pm

    I truthly dislike these types of arguments. Your people and my people lost the race war. Get over it, Angelo people produced the best society. Stop being a victim, Angelo people are going to naturally be attracted to angelo decent. Just like you would with your own people.

  12. Email Services

    September 6, 2021 at 11:06 pm

    🤮

  13. kebakent

    September 6, 2021 at 11:11 pm

    Nobody cares how oppressed your identity group is.

  14. Wildlife Lover

    September 7, 2021 at 12:17 am

    The amount of hate here is saddening.

  15. A Casual Data Scientist

    September 7, 2021 at 12:22 am

    This was good, I too get up in the morning look in the mirror and think “DAMN!, I’m ugly”.

  16. Drake Santiago

    September 7, 2021 at 12:25 am

    While I appreciate the intention for inclusivity, words have meaning. We have words for all the laudable traits that the presenter calls “beauty”. To call individual qualities like fierceness, leadership, generosity, and the ability to provide “beauty” makes the term beauty meaningless. In order for a word to have meaning, it must be distinct from other words. Speaking from a purely aesthetic perspective, while it is true that global beauty standards have been shaped by European culture, a more empowering message is not that we should redefine beauty to be more accommodating to the physical traits of non-European cultures. The truly empowering message about beauty is that BEAUTY SHOULD NOT MATTER. If women are striving to have parity in this world, and they want to be measured by the power of their minds the strength of their character, THEY must relinquish THEIR fixation with beauty.

  17. Drake Santiago

    September 7, 2021 at 12:35 am

    The presenter is wearing lipstick, she is wearing eye liner, eye shadow, blush, possibly foundation, a bra that lifts her breasts, a dress that accentuates her slender waist ,and white high heels – all fashion conventions that very much express European sensibilities with regards to beauty. None of these fashion decisions are REMOTELY ABORIGINAL. Yet, she is advocating for us to liberate ourselves from Eurocentric standards of beauty!? This is like an atheist berating Christianity, while wearing a crucifix around his neck.

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    September 7, 2021 at 12:35 am

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    September 7, 2021 at 1:00 am

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  20. Atmosfears

    September 7, 2021 at 1:01 am

    So what kind of drugs were you doing at this birthday party?

  21. Lisa Love Ministries

    September 7, 2021 at 1:02 am

    Put your identity in God alone.
    Proverbs 9:10💞

  22. Soumya Bharadwaj

    September 7, 2021 at 1:08 am

    There will always be plenty of people who find even Ms Universe ugly but that’s their personal opinion. If people don’t see our beauty, that’s not the end of the world – we are still of great value.

    Nobody can stop us from owning our own beauty as her grandmother proved.
    It’s important for her to believe in the power and beauty of her people. Why wait for others’ acceptance and validation?

    We must raise our daughters to feel proud of much more than just their appearances and value the innumerable other admirable qualities in themselves and others and find happiness in worthy pursuits. Teach them not to care about those who cannot see beyond appearances

  23. Mike Majewicz

    September 7, 2021 at 2:40 am

    Ted went woke. They suck now.

  24. Jax von May

    September 7, 2021 at 4:43 am

    I remember TED talks as something better than a platform for wokism.

  25. Huong Nguyen

    September 7, 2021 at 4:56 am

    I learn more from reading the comments than watching the vid.

  26. zulfikri nurhasan

    September 7, 2021 at 7:22 am

    Good

  27. ‍🌈ƦIȤMA𝑡𝑟𝑎𝑣𝑒𝑙🇧ekasi⸽

    September 7, 2021 at 11:04 am

    TED
    TED
    Thank you very.

    O, TED
    O, Please
    help meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee .. !

    Thank you
    Thank you
    Thank you very much

    TED

    O, TED
    O, from my heart: I LoveYou.

  28. ‍🌈ƦIȤMA𝑡𝑟𝑎𝑣𝑒𝑙🇧ekasi⸽

    September 7, 2021 at 11:11 am

    O, TED
    O, Please !

    Just you | TED

    Yes, TED
    You
    areOne person who Understands me. .
    On the-INTERNET .

    O, TED
    Thank you very much

    TED, ,.

    Because, ” Love is stronger than hate . ”

    O, from my heart;
    I LoveYou so much 🙋

    TED.

    .

  29. Илья Костерин

    September 7, 2021 at 11:21 am

    As I thought – another 11 minutes of sjw-woke crap. It’s sad to see how leftist agenda poisons once a good platform. RIP, TED…

  30. Stefan Nagy

    September 7, 2021 at 12:55 pm

    ooh a new TED vid I can’t wait to watc…….annnnddd it’s woke trash again

  31. Joseph Turner

    September 7, 2021 at 1:25 pm

    when will i have enough money for me to have to think this kind of thing is important? probably never!

    • Justine Kim

      September 8, 2021 at 8:32 am

      Bit ironic coming from a man who has the whitest name in the world.

  32. Miraculous

    September 7, 2021 at 1:34 pm

    She is so beautiful🌹

  33. Jose Carlos

    September 7, 2021 at 1:39 pm

    Garbage

  34. Genius Pig

    September 7, 2021 at 1:59 pm

    where can I find transcripts for that?

  35. Davy Jones

    September 7, 2021 at 2:16 pm

    Even if I am against any form of colonization, some things said by Sasha Sarago seem questionable, to me.

    Please… enough… with the “dignity” of peoples, cultures, languages!
    Dignity, like various other “conceptual scams”, is a ballast of which intelligence must be freed.
    We are a single animal species and it would really be the moment that this becomes clear for everyone!

    But, above all, it is enough with superstitions like that “spirit” that would be contained by things and people!

    However, in order to be clear to the many assholes, racists, fascists and bitcoin sellers robots who commented before me, they seem much more questionable than every Sasha Sarago, to me.

  36. Noah Lederer

    September 7, 2021 at 2:34 pm

    i think i didn’t get what she wants to tell me. Maybe someone can explain? I feel like she spoke like it was a poem but also that she wants me to understand something. These two things are hard to combine.

  37. Wizartar

    September 7, 2021 at 3:26 pm

    To paraphrase “stereotypically aboriginal women are seen as ugly” that’s a racist idea since it’s based on a general notion that’s untrue. Physical attractiveness != Beautiful. Beautiful has many meanings; in English, words can have more than one meaning in context. While it would be nice if everyone found all people attractive, much of attacitivness is tried into lust and reproduction suitability. You can’t just demand other people find you attractive.

  38. totalfreedom45

    September 7, 2021 at 4:17 pm

    _Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it._ —Confucius
    *_Love_* is beautiful because it’s beyond death; hate is ugly because it’s afraid of death.
    💕 ☮ 🌎 🌌

  39. Nick Logoo

    September 7, 2021 at 6:50 pm

    i have no idea what this talk is about…i see a hot women complaining, thats all. and black chicks have been ultra hot forever…so what is this about? lol

  40. Ligia Sommers

    September 7, 2021 at 11:56 pm

    👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻🙏🏻💖🌹

  41. Pepe Stock is Soaring

    September 8, 2021 at 2:21 am

    Beauty, like morals, are not subjective

  42. Al Ferro

    September 8, 2021 at 2:25 am

    Many of the comments are oozing racism ☹️

  43. Sergio Real

    September 8, 2021 at 2:40 am

    As a person of color, this talk was very uplifting.

  44. Ruslan Vakhitov

    September 8, 2021 at 6:21 am

    Кто смотрит видео с переводом от яндекса-ставьте лайк

  45. Justine Kim

    September 8, 2021 at 8:32 am

    This was a beautiful talk – a topic that I could read for days

  46. Jirasak JT

    September 8, 2021 at 11:35 am

  47. chyoung

    September 8, 2021 at 1:53 pm

    where can I get the text of her speech ?

    • TED

      September 10, 2021 at 5:33 pm

      Hi! The transcript for Sasha Sarago’s talk can be found here:

  48. Bad Alice

    September 8, 2021 at 2:59 pm

    You should realize your own mistake; … judging yourself based on another races appearance norms and culture. What do you expect? (you can’t win)
    Now you are superior because you judge beauty based upon something much deeper than what “those people” do.
    You still have a huge problem obviously.
    Take “those people” out of all your equations and you will be less ugly real fast.
    This whole thing is still a comparison with obvious resentment and debasement of another race.

  49. Bad Alice

    September 8, 2021 at 3:35 pm

    Why are you comparing yourself and your concept of beauty to your precived concept of beauty of another race; …moreover one race in particular which you demean and chastise?

    Yes you are very beautiful very beautiful indeed.

    I can’t believe this got on Ted Talks. I guess people think it sounds good and reasonable but they don’t analyze what this woman is saying. It’s very racist
    What on earth does White people have to do with it unless you are trying to be white? Stop trying to be white.

  50. York Hunt

    September 8, 2021 at 7:11 pm

    By all means, remove all beauty standards just like we removed the education standard and the fitness standard. That always works well!

  51. Dark penguins

    September 9, 2021 at 1:04 am

    so she started hating society because a friend told her a joke and she took it the wrong way? what. when did ted turn into these talks.

    • Melissa Paula

      September 14, 2021 at 11:46 pm

      It’s amazing how Justin Robert on Facebook is helping people achieve positive results with trading..

  52. Nakoma Desreaux

    September 9, 2021 at 4:01 am

    Aboriginal means not original

    Ab in Latin is not and obviously original means original.

    So actually, you’re the original not Ab-original.

  53. The Big Dawg

    September 9, 2021 at 5:58 am

    Or…you know…just be normal.

  54. RM PEP TALK

    September 9, 2021 at 8:06 am

    I think it’s all with perspectives of the people. People do have different opinion about anything and everything in the universe. It’s good to know another perspective from this video.

  55. Nagata KITH

    September 9, 2021 at 8:46 am

    Congrats on 20mil

  56. Gallan ty

    September 9, 2021 at 11:09 am

    2000000!

  57. blvrzz

    September 9, 2021 at 1:57 pm

    “Roses are dead
    “Violets are dying”
    “Outside i’m smiling”
    “But inside i’m crying

    “I just wish people would notice my content and give me a chance”.

  58. Back Health 101

    September 9, 2021 at 2:23 pm

    I have a lazy eye, I’m short, bald and overweight… Beauty in humans (physically) is due to genetic traits that support reproduction.

  59. Emperor Schwab

    September 9, 2021 at 2:25 pm

    You will own nothing and be happy , You will know nothing and be even happier !

  60. Patavinity

    September 9, 2021 at 6:41 pm

    The use of the word ‘colonizing’ in this context is literally meaningless.

    • Hadi Hassan

      September 15, 2021 at 7:26 am

      how so?

    • Patavinity

      September 15, 2021 at 2:55 pm

      @Hadi Hassan One can’t argue a negative. That’s like asking: “why doesn’t ‘apple’ mean ‘tree’? It just doesn’t. If you like, you can make a case that it *is* meaningful, and I will tell you why I disagree.

  61. Y Liu

    September 9, 2021 at 10:24 pm

    Thank you for sharing the opinions with me.

  62. Kyiverdam

    September 9, 2021 at 10:41 pm

    Whiteness standards of beauty – golden-blonde hair, fiery-red hair, chocolate-brown/brunette hair, sky-blue eyes, forest-green eyes, silver-gray eyes, and chestnut-brown eyes. Pretty diverse and non-monolithic if you ask me. White people are people of colorS 😉

    Also, non-Europeans have practiced colonization, too.

  63. Abdullayeva Ramina 7G

    September 10, 2021 at 4:10 am

    If this topic doesn’t interest you the FCKING go, what’s the point of your comments

    • piñned by téd••

      September 10, 2021 at 11:53 am

      Plus..
      One..
      Nine..
      Two..
      Zero..
      Six..
      Five..
      Nine..
      Five..
      Three..
      Zero..
      Nine..

    • piñned by téd••

      September 10, 2021 at 11:53 am

      WH=AT=SA=PP☝️☝️…..

  64. Learn English with Maha

    September 10, 2021 at 5:36 pm

    Learn English with me

  65. Thomas De Quincey

    September 11, 2021 at 1:24 am

    Can someone explain the point (if there is one) of this Ted talk to me? Because it sounded like airy fairy nonsense.

  66. Chillychese

    September 12, 2021 at 8:58 pm

    I remember when Ted talks actually had real information

  67. ck_

    September 13, 2021 at 2:29 pm

    3:28 ‘oldest living culture in the world’
    Is she talking about natives in Australia? If that’s the case, I doubt if that’s true

    • Melissa Paula

      September 14, 2021 at 11:43 pm

      It’s amazing how Justin Robert on Facebook is helping people achieve positive results with trading.

  68. Hadi Hassan

    September 15, 2021 at 7:27 am

    ironic …. white ppl not getting her message

  69. Political Optimist

    September 16, 2021 at 11:47 am

    I smell bullshit on this one. Most people don’t know (including myself before I looked it up just now) what an Aboriginal person is. This feels like another Liberal wanting to be “A victim”. If you want to be a victim you will find a way to be one.

  70. BMF

    September 17, 2021 at 3:35 am

    Hey, people who don’t like this talk, not everything is for YOU.
    Damn, some people are crazy self-centered.

    Hearing stories of other’s lived-in experience is enjoyable and interesting to plenty of us. Thanks for sharing 🙏🏽

  71. Daniel Mcfarlane

    September 17, 2021 at 3:31 pm

    Annoying

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Transcriber:

When I’m out at the grocery store
or maybe a restaurant

or the park with my son —
he’s six and a half —

people will stop us and mention
that they think that he’s handsome.

I agree.

They’ll use that opportunity
to chop it up with him,

and often when they’re done
talking with him,

they’ll mention that they think
he’s a smart and engaging little guy.

When those people walk away,
the thought that comes to my mind

is that I hope they remember
meeting him as a child

when they see him again as a grown man.

This thought comes to my mind

because I’ve written two books about race
and racism in the United States,

and this kind of work
can produce feelings of pessimism.

One of the things that I’ve learned

is that Americans have
an orientation toward progress.

In this context,

what that means is that we often celebrate
the distance between where we were

and where we are now.

But that same orientation can blind us
from the gap between where we are

and where we could or should be.

The other thing I’ve learned
about Americans

is that we have a very,
very narrow understanding of racism,

mostly in the minds and hearts of people,

usually old people —

old people from the South.

And this really narrow definition
can constrain our opportunities

to produce a more
racially egalitarian society.

We like to hunt for races

and distance ourselves from people who say
mean things about whole groups of people

or who idealize the 1950s.

But the fact of the matter is that
we might just need to look in the mirror.

Now, I’m not saying
that everyone here is a racist,

but what I am saying
is that everyone here has the capacity

and perhaps even the propensity

to live their life in a way,

to make decisions,

to rely on biases

that reproduce racial inequality.

Some people say, “Well, you do all this
work about racism. What’s the answer?”

And I say that the first thing
we might need to do

is to come to a shared understanding

about what racism is in the first place.

History shows that racists
have had the upper hand

in deciding who the racists are
and what racism is,

and it’s never them
or the things that they do.

But maybe if we come together

and come to a shared and perhaps a precise
definition of what racism is,

we can work toward creating a society

where mothers like me aren’t in constant
fear of their children’s lives.

I’d like to dispel
three myths about racism

on our trek toward mutual understanding.

First:

it’s true that the South has done
its work to earn its reputation

as the most racist region.

But there are other states and regions
that are competing for the title.

For example,

if we look at the most segregated states
in terms of where Black kids go to school,

we’ll see, sure, some are in the South.

There are some out west,

in the Midwest

and in the Northeast.

They’re where we live.

Or if we look at states
with the biggest racial disparities

in terms of prison populations,

we see that none of them
are in the South.

They’re where we live.

My colleague Rebecca Kreitzer and I

looked at a standard battery
of racial attitudes of prejudice,

and we found that in the 1990s,

states in the South dominated
the most racially negative attitudes.

But this geography has evolved,
and things have changed.

By 2016, we found
that the Dakotas, Nebraska,

states in the Midwest, in the Northeast,

were competing for the “most prejudiced
population” titles.

Now, I’m not saying that one state
is more racist than another,

but what I am saying is that every state

might have its own
special brand of racism.

And it doesn’t have to be like this.

Most of the inequalities that we see in
our day-to-day lives

happen at the state and local level.

What that means is that we don’t
have to go all the way to Congress

to make change in our communities.

We can simply hold our city, our county,
our state legislators to task

to produce more equitable outcomes.

Myth two:

we’re not that good
at hunting for racists.

Remember that time when the governor
of Virginia did blackface,

and people were like, “Oh, that’s bad.
I need to get that racist out of here”?

I was giving y’all the side-eye,
and here’s why.

While people were going back to yearbooks

to look for things
that were obviously racist,

fewer people were looking into
the current-day policy stances

of legislators who probably did
blackface but didn’t get caught.

So, how many of us
might have supported a candidate

who is willing to let neighborhoods
secede from their district

so that kids could go
to all-white schools —

in the 21st century?

Or how many of us might have
supported a ballot measure

that systematically reduced
some groups’ chances of voting?

Or how many of us might have focused on
the behavior of Black mothers

rather than doctors or health care
systems and policies

when we learn about
the huge racial disparities

in maternal and infant mortality?

It doesn’t have to be like this.

We could do something different.

We could scrutinize the behaviors
of the rule makers.

We could orient ourselves
toward a more just society,

and on our way there,

we can’t mystify practical
policy solutions.

Myth three:

If you believe that when all
the grandmas in Mississippi die

that racism is going to go with them,

you are in for a big disappointment.

We like to think that young people

are going to do the hard work
of eradicating racism,

but there are some things
that we should note.

We know that young folks, young white
folks especially, like diversity,

they appreciate it,
they’re looking for it.

But we also know that they don’t
live diverse lives.

Research shows that the average white
American literally has one black friend.

And what that means is that most
don’t have any at all.

Sociologists like Sarah Mayorga show that
even when well-meaning white folks

move to diverse neighborhoods,

they don’t necessarily have
positive interactions,

no less any with their neighbors
who aren’t white.

My research with Professor
Christopher DeSante shows

that when we ask white millennials
their racial attitudes

and policy preferences,

that they’re sometimes,
just as in other times,

even more racially
conservative than boomers.

When we ask them about the things
that are important to them,

they don’t have
any particular sense of urgency

around questions of racial inequality.

How did we get like this?

Well, one of the things we might
think about is how we raise our kids

and equip them to solve the problems
that we want them to solve.

Research shows that
white parents in particular

will either choose to not talk
about issues of racism to their kids

in order to protect them
from a harsh racial reality

or they instill colorblind lessons,

and that can actually reinforce
negative racial attitudes.

So it’s kind of like

how some of your parents
might have given you books about puberty

so they didn’t have to talk about
the birds and the bees,

and then you tried to connect all the dots
and then you did it all wrong.

It’s like that.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

We can do better.

We can have hard
conversations with our kids

so that they don’t grow up
like many of us did,

thinking that talking about racism
makes you a racist — it doesn’t —

and so that we can prevent them
from making the same mistakes

that we’ve seen in the past.

Remember a long, long time ago in 2008,

when we were all pining to live
in a post-racial world?

Well, I say that it’s time for us
to think bigger and dream bigger

and think about what it would be like
to live in a post-racist world.

But in order to do that,
we’d have to come together

to have a shared definition of racism —

not just in the matter
of hearts and minds,

but in systems, policies, rules,

decisions made over and over again
to marginalize some people —

and agree to become anti-racists —
people who learn more and do better.

So we could ask harder
questions of candidates

about their stances on racial inequality

before we throw
our full weight behind them.

We could buycott or boycott businesses

whose practices don’t align
with our values.

We could talk to our kids about racism.

We could figure out our state’s
special brand of racism

and work to eradicate it.

People made racial disparities,
and people can unmake them.

And sure, it’ll be hard,

but the fact of the matter is,

someone is depending on us
to do nothing at all.

Thank you.

(Applause)

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