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Anti-Racism: a Learning Guide

This library guide aims to share resources about the movement against racism and anti-racist action/consciousness


The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution explicitly protects citizens' rights to assemble (gather in groups), speak out, protest, and believe in and practice their chosen religion (or absence of religion). Closely linked to these freedoms are the guarantees of a free press. Protest is a time-honored tradition in the United States. American schoolchildren are taught the stories of the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, and other events leading up to the American Revolution, many of them subversive protests against the ruling regime.

Protest is often difficult, however, because oppressed people understand the harsh consequences their dissent draws from the powers-that-be. People put up with a lot of injustices out of a sense of hopelessness, futility, fear, intimidation, and internalized oppression. Government repression of protest and activism was seen in the American labor union movement, the antislavery movement, the women's suffrage movement, and the early years of the civil rights movement. Governments can damage themselves, however, if they brutally repress a non-violent, sympathetic protest movement, as the British learned in India from the nonviolent civil disobedience movement led by Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi.

Ideological hegemony, a form of internalized oppression, is one of the most powerful barriers to protest by oppressed and aggrieved people. "Inequalities in power have their most insidious effect when the dominant group has so much control over the ideas available to other members of society that the conceptual categories required to challenge the status quo hardly exist" (Mansbridge, p. 4). Marxist theory of "false consciousness" similarly asserts that the poor are indoctrinated to believe in the justice of a system that harms them.

Citation in APA 7th Edition

Woliver, L. R. (2005). Political Protest, U.S. In M. C. Horowitz (Ed.), New Dictionary of the History of Ideas (Vol. 5, pp. 1835-1838). Charles Scribner's Sons. 

Political protest involves attempts by individuals or groups to address or stop perceived injustices within a political system, without overturning the system itself. Unlike revolutionaries, political protesters maintain some level of conviction that the political system is capable of correcting and improving itself. Yet, political protesters do not rely exclusively on traditional ways of political participation, such as voting, either because they have no right or access to them or because they do not consider them effective.

Political protest may take various forms. One major distinction is between non-violent and violent protest. Nonviolent forms include petitions, newspaper articles, works of art, sit-ins, strikes, and peaceful demonstrations, while violent forms include destruction of property, bodily harm, and acts of terrorism. Although violent means mainly target agents of a regime, they also may be random and occasionally self-inflicted, as in the case of Jan Palach, the Czech student who in January 1969 set himself on fire to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Nonviolent protest may turn violent, often as a result of government responses to protesters.

Responses to political protest vary, ranging from the harsh enforcement of bans on political protest, to attempts to calm it down by making partial concessions, to tolerance of the phenomenon. Any of the responses, whether harsh or soft, may or may not be sanctioned by law. Democratic thinkers often have called for the constitutional enshrinement of the right to protest as a way to guarantee those excluded from the polity to reenter it. Indeed, both democratic and non-democratic countries have recognized the advantages of allowing some political protest as a way to release economic and social tensions and avoid revolution. However, in many cases police or army forces facing legitimate acts of protest have used excessive power to subdue them, especially when the protesters belonged to minority races or ethnicities.

Citation in APA 7th Edition
Keren, M. (2006). Political Protest. In C. N. Tate (Ed.), Governments of the World: A Global Guide to Citizens' Rights and Responsibilities (Vol. 3, pp. 303-307). Macmillan Reference USA.

What is Activism?



Activism refers to action by an individual or group with the intent to bring about social, political, economic, or even ideological change. This change could be directed at something as simple as a community organization or institution or as complex as the federal government or the public at large. In most cases, but not all, the action is directed toward the support or opposition of a controversial issue. Such issues range from basic human rights (see Blau and Moncada 2005) to the rights of gay men and lesbians (see Hunter et al. 1992) to antiwar or prowar sentiments over the Iraq War.

Activism can take many forms, including such actions as civil disobedience, rioting, striking by unions, government or institutional lobbying, verbal or physical confrontation, various forms of terrorism, and the use of music and the media to draw attention to particular issues. The rise of the Internet has allowed new forms of activism to emerge and has also allowed many small, local issues to gain a wider audience and in some cases worldwide attention. Activism is a necessary vehicle for progressive and social change (see Bonilla-Silva 2006). Major movements such as the civil rights movement represent examples of what large-scale activism can accomplish given the right historical conditions and group collectivities.

In addition to individual or group-level activism, there are centers and organizations whose sole purpose is to promote social change through awareness and the bridging of theory and practice. Examples of such organizations include Loyola University–Chicago’s Center for Urban Research and Learning, a public sociology center that promotes research addressing community needs and that involves community organizers at all levels of its research process. Similarly, Project South, a leadership-development organization located in the southern United States, works with communities in bottom-up activism over issues pertaining to social, racial, and economic justice.

Citation in APA 7th Ed.

Activism. (2008). In W. A. Darity, Jr. (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (2nd ed., Vol. 1, p. 18). Macmillan Reference USA.



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