For the past few days, I’ve really been pondering my place as a white ally. I’ve been scrolling through Facebook seeing my own friends and family condemning black protesters, saying they should protest differently, saying they’re disrespecting the country and those who fight for it, saying they should get up and go somewhere else. It made me consider how uncomfortable I was willing to get in order to stand by the black community. It made me think about how my whiteness in majority-white spaces is important because majority-white spaces often don’t give black people a seat at the table. I decided to compile some of my thoughts and main points about what it means to be a good white ally in the face of a racist country.
White allies are oftentimes the link between other white people and ideas of black liberation and anti-racism.
- When we step into majority-white spaces, whether it be with friends or family or in class or at our jobs, we need to understand that if we’re going to be good allies, we have to educate people, or, at the very least, call people out on problematic behavior. Every time we enter into a white space as white people, we have the privilege of being respected and listened to (this may change depending on other factors but generally, it’s the truth) and are thus given a platform because of it. We need to use that platform to talk about racism, to talk about our whiteness and its impact on the black community, and to introduce ideas of black liberation. This will almost definitely make you uncomfortable, and it may cost you a few friends, but that’s part of the job.
Being an ally is an important job, but not one you deserve anything in return for.
- This is simple. We are allies because it is the right thing to do. Do not be an ally for the wrong reason. We deserve no pats on the back, no “good white person” stickers, not even an appreciative “like” on a comment defending a black stranger on some facebook post. We deserve nothing. We are working against a system that we unfairly benefit from because it is our duty. That leads me to my next point.
White supremacy is not our fault, but it is 100% our problem.
- Nobody cares that we didn’t own slaves. Nobody cares that we didn’t lynch anyone. Nobody cares that we “don’t use the n-word.” Those things are all wrong in the first place and stemmed from a system that oftentimes violently oppressed black people. We continue to benefit from that system although some facets of it have changed. We don’t need to be the cause of the problem for the problem to be our responsibility.
You need to get uncomfortable.
- Being an ally means speaking out even when no one else will. You might feel alone. You might feel attacked at some points. You might be the kind of person who is really shy and doesn’t like confrontation. You might not want to disrespect your elderly family members. But being passive in the face of injustice is near as bad as openly contributing to it. When we are silent in front of racist people, we are essentially saying, “I’m cool with casual, open racism.” We as white people are privileged to be able to ignore these things without taking personal hits. Black people aren’t afforded that. Oftentimes, if they speak out they are verbally or even physically attacked. If they choose to stay silent, they are probably doing so because generational trauma has made them frustrated and fed up with constantly having to do the emotional labor that should be done by white people (go back to the above point.)
Acknowledging your whiteness isn’t a bad thing. It’s necessary.
- Acknowledging the impact and truth of our whiteness is important. When we discuss our whiteness with other white people, we are allowing them to think critically about the impact the choices they make as white people have, regardless of their intent when making those decisions. We give other white people a space to question their whiteness and what it means in the contexts of privilege, institutions, and power. We also might be able to help other allies start being more outspoken.
- When we talk about our whiteness in front of black people, we need to understand that they already know the impact of our whiteness. They feel the impact of it. But speaking openly about it might put them slightly more at ease and show them that they have an ally who acknowledges their racism and their part in an oppressive system, and is attempting to do something about it.
Do not separate yourself. There is no such thing as a “good white person” or a “bad white person.”
- We are white, plain and simple. Whiteness means inherent racism and automatically benefiting from a system that values our whiteness. We don’t need to be active in this system to benefit from it. Fighting against this system doesn’t make us good. It means we know the very basic concepts of right and wrong. We can’t separate ourselves from our whiteness. We can’t pick and choose what parts of our whiteness apply to us and which do not.
Always be listening, always get educated.
- The most important perspective as a white ally is that of the black person. But being that the black community isn’t a homogenous group, you’ll come across multiple perspectives that will all have important points. You may find yourself torn between conflicting theories. This is fine. Keep reading, keep listening to the diverse black perspectives, keep bringing these perspectives into white spaces to challenge hegemony.
Ask black people if they’re okay. Mean it. Listen to their responses.
- I went to a lecture last week, and the person speaking- we’ll call her person A- said that one of the most important things that had happened concerning a white ally- person B- was a simple exchange. She was a woman of color in a majority-white space at a time when race relations weren’t too great. She was feeling frustrated. A white woman came and sat by her and asked her how she was doing, and sat with her and listened to her frustrations and validated them. She didn’t try to tell person A how to feel or how to react to her feelings. She simply sat by in understanding. She connected on a human level and saw Person A as another person with feelings and fears and insecurities, and had compassion even though she couldn’t empathize, and even if a lot of the things voiced condemned white people.
This is a pretty basic list and outlines only a few things. Obviously, being an ally involves a lot more than asking people if they’re okay and talking about being white, but we all need to start somewhere. If you’d like to start getting educated, head over to the Reading Materials tab. I hope this as at least semi-helpful.