There has been a lot of discussion surround “white allies” and “white allyship”. Most of the mainstream discussions about the topic do not really take into account what people of color need in an ally. This is one woman of color’s take on what White people need to do if they want to be an effective, anti-racist ally.
Step 1: Acknowledge that Being White Gives You A Distinct & Tangible Advantage!
Before a White person can even consider joining the fight for the liberation of Black people or any other racial or ethnic minority, that individual must acknowledge that because our society is rooted in White Supremacy and the belief that people of color are inferior, being White is a distinct and tangible advantage.
When racial and ethnic minorities try to communicate on online platforms, during protests/rallies or to White people directly that White privilege exists, we are usually met with extreme hostility or the question “How can I have White privilege when I am ______ or ______ has happened to me?”. One concrete example of this was when a White student in a class of mine told me that he could not have White privilege because he has been stopped by police before because he lives in a low income neighborhood in Philadelphia and was assumed to be in possession of marijuana. My response to that White student was “Do you understand that if you were an 18-year-old Black boy that you would not be alive to tell me this story? Do you understand that if you were a Black boy who reached into his pockets to show an office that you had no marijuana, that you would have been shot at least a dozen times because officers assumed you were pulling out a gun?”
White privilege does not mean that White people cannot experience societal disenfranchisement or experience hardships throughout their lives; white privilege means that if a White person is the target of discrimination or is disadvantaged in certain situations, it will never be because of their Whiteness. For example, my best friend is a White transgender woman. During our senior year of high school she was both verbally and physically assaulted and experienced discrimination because of her gender identity; the aggression and disadvantages she faced during high school and will face in the future have nothing to do with her Whiteness. According to FBI statistics, of all LGBT homicide victims in the year 2013, two thirds of them were transgender women of color. It has been found that across all classes of people, it is more dangerous to be Black and a member of another disenfranchised group than it is to be White and a part of that same disenfranchised group.
Step 2: Learn & Understand the History of Racism & How Racism has Evolved.
Another privilege of being White is that the history taught in classrooms is Eurocentric and told in such a way that White people are always the heroes and never the perpetrators of wrongdoing. In order to destroy White supremacy and to support people of color in the fight for liberation, White individuals need to acknowledge that the history that has been taught is extremely biased and really just history through the White perspective. This means that most White people’s understanding of racism and its presence is 2016, is one that serves to support White supremacy rather to truly educate individuals on what racism is and how this country is built on the backs of its victims.
Because students are not taught unbiased, honest history, we are put in a position where we must teach ourselves and others the truths about racism and its existence throughout history. Every year the holiday known as “Christopher Columbus Day” is celebrated. From the time we are in kindergarten we are told “In August 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. October 12th they sighted land; they set their feet upon new sand”. Teachers never point out how odd it is that Columbus is credited with discovering America even though there were already people living on the land he discovered. I’d like an explanation from my elementary school teachers explaining to me how one can discover something that someone else already knows exists and is actually in possession of? If Tommy went up to Jane and stole a toy from her hands and said “I found this lego man”, no adult would praise Tommy and congratulate him on his discovery. An adult would intervene and inform Tommy that the lego he has in his hands belongs to Jane and that because she had it first, he needs to give it back. Understanding that this is the most logical and responsible response, why do we then spread that Columbus discovered America even though indigenous people had been living on these lands long before Europeans had even thought about exploring it? It is because everything we know about the world is shaped around a White supremacist narrative. The history curriculum teachers must follow and students must learn was created to serve White supremacy and its interests. To be an ally, we must expose that fact and begin to spread accurate, unbiased information about the past.
Along the way of becoming enlightened, we must not forget that the past is not the only place in which racism exists. Society has spread the misconception that we are living in a post racial society and that whenever accusations of racism arise in 2016 it is simply Black folks pulling “the race card”. This is not true and do not let anyone tell you differently. Racism impacts every opportunity, or lack thereof, presented to people of color and every decision people of color make. Obviously I am not picking cotton on a plantation is Alabama or Georgia as my ancestors did, but I have been subjected to racism countless times throughout my life. For example, I was forced to finish my senior year from home due to the hostile environment school became due to the retaliation I experienced at the hands of my former high school’s administration for speaking out about acts of racism, such as administrator’s calling Black students “colored” and confederate flags being allowed on campus, occurring within the school. Just because Africans are no longer being sold on an auction block or forced to work in plantations across the country, does not mean racism is over. Slavery evolves as time goes on, just like technology, medicine and everything else. The Equal Justice Initiative in collaboration with artist Molly Crabapple a video titled “Slavery to Mass Incarceration“, visually expressing the progression of racism from slavery to the era of mass incarceration. One of the best things White allies can do is to know and understand both the history of racism and the presence of racism today.
Step 3: Ally is Just as Much of a Noun as it is a Verb. Participate!
Having all of this newfound knowledge and greater sense of social consciousness means absolutely nothing if you are not using it to push for equality, whether that be through educating others, organizing events on your school’s campus, attending marches and protests, writing letters to elected officials or other means.
Ally is as much of a noun as it is a verb; to be an ally you must be active. Being an ally is more than just being aware of racism and the ways in which it is perpetrated against people of color, it is to disrupt and to destroy the presence of White supremacy and anti-blackness in society. You are not an ally if you do not actively draw attention to racial injustices, educate others on racism and how to be effective allies in the fight or participate in movements centered around liberation. There are plenty of ways to be active! Some individuals use social media and other online platforms to educate and raise awareness of race issues in America. Others host workshops to aid other White people in seeing their privilege, as was shown in Jose Antonio Vargas’ documentary White People. There are local organizations and chapters, such as Black Lives Matter that you can get involved with that are working to promote racial justice. Remember that if you are silent in the face of injustice, you are consenting to its perpetration in society. The simplest and most effective way of articulating this fact is through the use of the two quotes below.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” – Desmond Tutu
“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” – Rev., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
It is completely understood that the level of activism one can be involved in depends upon the resources available, where the individual is growing up, how supportive their family or loved ones are of the cause and how much the individual can handle mentally and emotionally. Fighting for social justice presents a number of risks to one’s physical well being and can also negatively harm one’s mental and emotional well being if one isn’t careful. Being an advocate for equality can become more dangerous that it already is if someone is living in a place with an especially ugly, deeply rooted racist past and in a home with people who are either racist themselves or do not believe that it exists. Many allies have had to sacrifice relationships to be apart of this fight. I’ve also seen many individuals who have fought for racial justice, including myself, allow their mental health to slip through the cracks because they were so dedicated to the fight for Black liberation. Please, do not feel that you are a “bad ally” or that you are letting anyone down by taking a break if being an ally and fighting for equality becomes too much. There is never shame in taking a break and focusing on rehabilitating your mental health. Being an activist requires you fight for the rights of everyone and to support disenfranchised classes in the fight for their liberation; it is very difficult to do that when you are not healthy in every sense of the word.
Step 4: Destroy Your White Savior Complex!
Amidst your journey to being an effective anti-racist ally and pushing for equality, do not speak over the people you are supporting. The job of an ally is to help amplify the voices of the unheard not to speak over them. If the microphone people of color are using is not loud enough, your job is to find them a megaphone; your job is not to begin speaking through a megaphone because people cannot hear what is being said through the microphone.
Do not speak over the people you are an ally to, help our voices ring loud in the ears of White supremacy and ensure that our stories are told accurately. Do not allow our movement to be bathed in bleach and whitened before being put in history textbooks. Do not allow our revolutionaries and militants to be painted as “reverse racists” because reverse racism does not exist and the intent of this movement is racial equality not superiority. Do not allow the misconception that pro-Black is equivalent to anti-White or that Black Lives Matter means that no others lives do. Recognize that because of your White privilege, people are more comfortable and more likely to listen to you speak about racism than they are to listen to people of color. Recognize that because of this the general White population will try and make you the face of the movement and silence people of color. Do not let them. You are not anyone’s savior. The fight for liberation began without the consent or assistance of White people and the fight with continue regardless of your approval of it or participation in it. Fight and destroy the White savior complex in yourself and in others.
Step 5: Understand that You WILL Make Mistakes! Listen to What People of Color Have to say and Change.
I’d like to conclude this article by saying that you will make mistakes. You are going to make racist comments, go about addressing racism in the wrong ways, accidentally speak over people of color instead of amplifying their voices, be made uncomfortable in discussions about Whiteness and so on. Do not think that because you have done any of the above steps or that because you have made it a priority to listen to people of color and are extremely careful about what you say and do that you will never make a mistake or fall back into racist behaviors. Being an ally does not mean that your implicit bias will disappear or that you will no longer feel racist impulses. We are trained to believe certain things about people of color to justify acts of racial hatred and violence and the fact that the United States is built on mass genocide, slavery and exploitation. We are trained to ignore the oppression of people of color in the U.S. and to be angry and respond violently whenever race is brought up. The major difference between just being a White person living in a society rooted in White supremacy and being a White ally living in a society rooted in White supremacy, is that now, you know better, you will change and you will help others see the error in their ways and help them to change as well.
Organizations To Keep Up With:
- Black Lives Matter (BLM)
- The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)
- The Counted
- Dream Defenders
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
- Emerging US
- Define American
Accounts to Follow:
- Samuel Sinyangwe (Black activist, Data Scientist and Policy Analyst)
- Michael Skolnik (Entrepreneur, Activist and Board Member of The Trayvon Martin Foundation)
- Marcus Hassan Johnson (Writer and Political Scientist)
- Very White Guy Drew (Activist, Writer and White Ally)
- Oliver Willis (Researcher at Media Matters for America)
Films/Documentaries to View:
- Ava DuVernay’s 13TH (Netflix)
- Jennifer Newsom’s Miss Representation (Netflix)
- Lee Daniel’s The Butler (Netflix)
- Ava DuVernay’s Selma (Amazon Prime)
- Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station (Netflix)
- Jose Antonio Vargas’ White People (MTV and YouTube)
Other Articles To Read: