Anti-Racist Self Defense

Anti-Racist Self Defense

By Kayla Berry


Where do you feel safe? Right now. At this moment. Could it be in your home? With a person? Doing a certain activity? Wherever you feel safe, imagine how your body feels in that place. Does it feel calm? Do your muscles feel relaxed? Is your heartbeat slow? What if this feeling could be something that we live with in our bodies? What if our physical and mental selves could be a realm of safety for us? A place where we had autonomy, where we honored and valued its well-being, a place that we defended. 

Maybe a better question is, why don’t we have that right now? Self defense at its very core is about being able to defend yourself against forms violence that are perpetrated against you. It is the ability to claim your safety. But what does that look like in a world that justifies violence

Impact Women's Basics
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against specific people? Feeling safe is a privilege that not everyone has. 

In my first self defense course, with IMPACT Personal Safety of Colorado, I remember walking away thinking that everyone should get the opportunity to have this kind of power. It made sense to me to unlearn the idea that women had to be weak. Of course, we were built to defend– no one messes with the Mama Bear. By the end of the class, I knew, without a doubt that I could verbally and physically defend myself. I had fought full force (and won) multiple times, and there was no doubt in my mind that if I had to, I could outside of the classroom as well.

It’s an incredible feeling to step into that power, but it’s also an incredible privilege. I’m at a huge advantage knowing that I don’t have to jump through hoops for people to celebrate me defending myself. As a 5’4”, white woman, if I ever find myself in an altercation, no one is going to look at me and see the perpetrator. 

We find ourselves, albeit a little late to the game, at the crux of witnessing the extremity of violence that is being taken against BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities throughout our world, and especially here in the United States. As people who have seen and experienced the benefit of self defense, we need to ask ourselves: Where do we sit in the role of being anti-racist? How do we transform the realm of self defense so that it doesn’t only benefit middle-class white women, but radically proclaims that all bodies are worth defending, physically, mentally, and spiritually? 

Empowerment Self Defense works from the body out to help people recognize the power and worth that they hold in their own being. However, we also work from the outside in, to help people recognize the socialization at work that influences who is seen as “allowed” to be violent and who is not. It is  our ultimate goal to break down that socialization and teach people to lean on their intuition, rather than biases, to inform their safety. In an anti-racist self defense class, we also need to understand the implications and effects of Slow Violence, which is defined as “a violence occurring gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction . . . dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all” (Ward 304). Slow Violence is a credible form of violence that is used particularly against BIPOC people and is worth learning to dismantle.

We know that a person, the self,  is not only physical, but social. Chad Kautzer writes, in “A Political Philosophy of Self Defense” that, “the social nature of our selves guarantees that the conditions that enable or disable us can never be completely under our control, and those very same conditions render us vulnerable to both symbolic and physical harm.” If the self possesses these two qualities, physical and social, then the very act of self defense is both physical and social. Therefore self defense has the opportunity to either uphold or dismantle social structures. “Self-defense can help dismantle oppressive identities, lessen group vulnerability, and destabilize social hierarchies supported by structural violence” (Kautzer).The way that we teach self defense must uphold this socially transformative power.

We have the opportunity to participate in the movement towards racial justice right now. We can educate people to know the difference between their biases and their intuition. We can empower and support people in reclaiming their bodily and spiritual autonomy. We can openly stand in opposition of the idea that certain bodies deserve more violence than others. But most importantly, we can stand behind the BIPOC leaders that have known for years that the rights to self defense and safety belongs to everyone. 

Striving to be anti-racist? You aren’t alone!

(Read this article to Hear about The United StateS’ Anti-racist Majority!)

For the First Time, America May Have an Anti-Racist Majority by Adam Serwer



Kautzer, Chad. “A Political Philosophy of Self-Defense.” Boston Review, 23 Feb. 2018,

Ward, Geoff. “The slow violence of state organized race crime”. Theoretical Criminology, vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 299-314. Accessed 19 December 2018.