What Does Resilience Have to do With Racism?

Yale University students this week held a “March of Resilience” in response to recent events dividing the school around racism and inclusion. The participating students, of all races, chanted statements of belonging and unity.


Seeing the title of the march got me thinking: what do resilience and racism have to do with one another? How do they intersect?


Living as a person of color and facing racism is undeniably a struggle. And all struggles require resilience to manage and overcome. While I am a white woman, my own son is a young black man, and I see firsthand the struggle he faces to achieve acceptance (and sometimes even safety) in our society. My son has shown the ultimate resilience in the moments when he has to attend class with his head held high less than five minutes after being handcuffed by police for questioning because he “looked like” a suspect in a campus computer theft.


I wonder, however, if “resilience” is the solution to overcoming racism that we should be focusing on. Resilience is a necessary tool for anyone who is oppressed, but resilience is a one-person job. Resilience is a way to cope after the fact.


So I am grateful that my son is resilient, but I wish he didn’t have to be.


Those who face racism – or oppression of any type – need to be resilient in order to keep moving forward and making change. The experience of racism can in fact even lead to a profound resilience that motivates and inspires transformation. But resilience is not the only solution to racism, particularly not on a large scale. To eradicate racism, we need more than resilience. We need legions of resilient people of all backgrounds marching for change.