Greetings and salutations, my white (s)kinfolk!
Right now it’s Baltimore. Before it was New York, it was Ferguson, it was Florida, it was…everywhere. Thanks to camera phones and social media, the world has been placed on notice: #BlackLivesMatter. Police brutality is a ‘thing’. It happens quite frequently. Twenty-three years ago there were riots in L.A. after police offers beat Rodney King and thanks to advanced communication capabilities, we are finally aware of how frequently these events happen.
So let’s skip the part where you argue “Not all cops!”, #AllLivesMatter, or “White people experience racism, too!”.
Let’s go straight to the part where you say “I see there is a problem. It seems like a huge problem. I think I’m a good person. I don’t think racism is good. I’m white. But really, how am I supposed to do anything?”
You’ve come to the right place, my friend! We’re going to talk about what YOU can do, right now, as a white person, to do something about racism. Woohoo!
(For a TL;DR version, just head straight to this list “11 Things White People Can Do to Be Real Anti-Racist Allies“)
Understand what Racism/Privilege is: Racism is prejudice + privilege, as defined by Dr. Beverly Tatum. Anyone can be prejudiced to someone. But only white people have privilege based on skin color in the U.S., meaning only white people have societal power.
Shhh, cease your defensiveness, friend. I know. You probably don’t FEEL like you have societal power (I’ve been there!). Maybe you’re a woman, maybe you’re queer, maybe you’re poor, maybe you’re atheist in the Bible Belt. Or maybe you have a whole bunch of the privileged identities (white, male, Christian, able-bodied, etc) but are having a hard time finding a working wage to support your family in today’s economy. As Tatum said, “It is important to acknowledge that while all Whites benefit from racism, they do not all benefit equally.”
Honestly…Dr. Tatum’s work is a must-read to understanding racism, especially coming to the discussion as a white person. Here, take a moment to read some of her work. Then come back here. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
Acknowledge You Grew Up & Live in a Racist Society: Eeeek. The word “racist” is ‘scary’. But don’t tune me out just yet! We’re taught all the time that racism is bad and it’s awful to be racist, but we (society) barely ever break down what that means.So first, I want you to acknowledge our society is racist. Think about it…most of our media (TV, movies, etc) feature mostly all white people and most leading actors are white. Most of our political and business leaders are white…and I know what you might be thinking “Yeah, but that’s because people of color (POC) don’t work hard/don’t want to do those things/etc”. Nah. Now you’re instantly reverting to stereotypes about work ethic and interests. Have you ever considered that there are barriers at multiple intersections of life that prevent many folks who have been minoritized in the U.S. from certain jobs? Or consider our American lexicon – why are young black folks who ‘tear up’ a city called rioters but the it’s not a big deal when people are burning cars and creating general destruction after many sports games? We treat people of color very differently in America than we treat white people.
Understand what Systemic Racism is: This explanation will sound remarkably similar to the one above, but this is another way to explain why our society is so gosh darn racist:
Systemic racism is poison in our community well. It’s a big well – over 300 million people – and the poison has been diluted in the water. It’s still there, mind you. But in small amounts. Dispersed across so that you don’t even realize you’re drinking poison. In fact, drinking non-poisonous water tastes revolting at first because you’re not used to it. But diluted or not, this poisonous water is still there. You’re still being poisoned. Slowly.
So stop drinking the damn water.
In other words, our country was founded on racism (slavery, immigration restrictions on Chinese individuals in 1800s, the Bracero program where we used Mexican labor but barely paid for their salaries or kept safe working conditions, etc). It permeates every aspect of society. Numerous laws, policies, and leadership decisions have made it so that white people are more likely to succeed in the country – there is a system in existence.
Now, this may sound like a conspiracy theory. I doubt that, for the most part, there is not likely a real Illuminati chilling in D.C. making strategic decisions on how to make white supremacy continue every day. More likely, it is people who have been socialized (perhaps unconsciously) that white people are the status quo and they make tiny decisions that support white success. Every decision is a raindrop and eventually you get a flood until you’re drowning in racism.
Recognize You Contribute to Systemic Racism: I hate to break it to you, but you perpetuate racism. Your actions help keep alive our racist society. Guess what? We all do it. Honestly, pretty much everyone in America, regardless of race, perpetuates systemic racism/white supremacy.
Why? Well, most of us have cell phones (as one example). The very creation that leads to grassroots organizing is a result of oversees labor where people face terrible working conditions, low pay, and much more. Our smartphones are ‘inexpensive’ because children are working in factories, because people work long hours, and much worse. The U.S. has smartphones because people of color overseas are breaking their back for you.
Most of the media we consume (tv, movies) feature white casts – by watching we are supporting with our time and dollars and reinforcing that the country wants mostly only white actors. We vote for politicians who don’t support people of color through the legislation they create. We don’t say anything when a friend makes a racist comment. Our standards of beauty include mostly people who are white with smooth hair. We buy products that are made by people of color who are not paid fair wages, which contributes to poverty.
By acknowledging our role in systemic racism and our privilege of understanding we will never experience racism, we can finally move forward from examining ourselves to try to make a difference externally.
Educate Yourself: Switch up your sources of news and also read from media that is owned & operated by communities of color (try: The Root) since white-owned media sources will have bias – that’s the result of growing up white in a society filled with racism. Read about civil rights activists, both of the past and the present – and try to read about more than just straight men. There are many people of color who also identify under other marginalized identities (queer, trans*, women, disabled) that need to have their stories learned. Listen and learn from people of color. We need to learn about their experiences if we want to try to really understand.
PLEASE read more about MLK because, my darling white brethren, we LOVE TO QUOTE MLK without really knowing context and misusing his words. It’s like “Race Talk with White People” equates to a Mad Libs game where every blank space is MLK quotes.
Read Things that Smart People Say: Whenever racial issues arise, well-meaning white folk immediately ask “How can I help to stop racism?!”. We’re fortunate that many people of color have taken the time to educate us, even though that work is exhausting. So let me direct you to this great list of “11 Things White People Can Do to Be Real Anti-Racist Allies” because it is an excellent start!
Take Action: See the list above for great ways to take action, but if you don’t want to click the link: Challenge racist views, educate other white people, talk to other white people about race, change the way of doing things in whatever arena you have control of, etc. Take individual action BUT be mindful of systemic issues. Connect with others to make a larger impact.
There really is no conclusion. This work will never be done. As white people, we are going to consistently learn more about ourselves. We’re constantly learning more about different communities of color and their different experiences. Each day brings new issues we must get educated on. Every day brings new issues we must take action on.
We’ll never be perfect. Working to end racism is…work. Work on ourselves, work on our community. We’re going to screw up. We’re going to say the wrong thing. We’re going to do the wrong thing. When that happens, acknowledge it, learn from it, move on, and do better next time.
Ultimately, there’s a lot to do. And I’m already at 1,400+ words so….time to stop here. There’s a lot I didn’t cover so please consider this a starter list. Comment and add your own thoughts.