When I started writing my previous blog post, I realized I had more to say about what I wish I’d learned earlier about white supremacy, as a white person. If you haven’t seen the preceding post, I’d recommend reading it before this one – you can find it here. Thanks for joining me for part 2!
Content warning: mention of violence against people of color.
7. Inviting people in is a strategic choice.
I’ve spent a lot of time being frustrated with other white people – more time than I’d like to admit. Like many white people who have awakened to the realities of white supremacy, I wanted to distance myself from other white folks, to show that I’m not like them (see #2, in part 1). When confronted with white folks who didn’t understand the things I’d already learned about how white supremacy works, I would sometimes unleash that frustration on them. As you might imagine, this wasn’t a particularly effective strategy, when it comes to getting people to understand something new and challenging to them.
I’ve found, time and again, that inviting white people into conversation is far, far more impactful than shaming them about what they don’t know. If my goal is to dismantle white supremacy, I need as many white people as possible to understand what white supremacy is and how it negatively affects people of color (and white people, too – but that’s a topic for another post). This is how movements are built: person to person, through building authentic relationships, sharing knowledge and ideas, and taking small, aligned actions together.
On the other hand, if my goal is to be right, to be the smartest person in the room, to be a “good white person”, or to perform allyship, then by all means, I can continue to shame and blame white people who don’t understand the things I’ve already learned. Since this isn’t my goal, I choose to ask questions and offer a different perspective, from a place of love – because I’m building a movement, not winning a contest.
Important note: This is not a critique of how people of color choose to interact with white people, in conversations about white supremacy. It’s 100% none of my business how marginalized people show up in these conversations – it’s not appropriate for me to critique how oppressed folks respond to oppression. This learning is specifically for white people speaking to other white people.
8. Anger has value.
Wait, what? Didn’t I say that my feelings don’t matter, in #3? And also that acting from a place of frustration isn’t an effective strategy, above? Yes, and: anger is a human emotion that comes up all the time. I get angry when I see people of color being oppressed, in highly visible, public ways and in smaller, more subversive ways. It’s unfair and unjust and deeply upsetting. I can’t pretend otherwise.
As I shared in #3, if I stay in that anger and don’t move beyond it, my focus stays on myself. But if I can use that anger as fuel to take meaningful action in solidarity with people of color, for their benefit, now we’re talking. Connecting this to #7: if my anger makes me more right, more of a self-proclaimed ally, or a “good white person”, is it really making a difference re: dismantling white supremacy? Nope, not even close. The focus is still on me, and not on the needs of people of color. I’ve learned (and let’s be honest, I’m still learning) to use my anger as fuel for action in solidarity with marginalized folks.
9. Dismantle systems, not someone’s character.
We are in a tense moment on the Woke Interwebz. Every day, white activists participate in the Woke Olympics: white people tear our fellow white activists down for using the wrong words, for sharing imperfect analyses, and for generally being fallible humans who are still learning. I’m all for holding ourselves and others accountable for our words and actions – it’s how we learn and grow together. But when white people start tearing someone’s character apart, and “canceling” them (read: exiling them from our communities), I’m out.
This isn’t always clear-cut. If folks don’t take responsibility for their actions, or refuse to make amends and change their behavior, it’s a different story. There’s no excuse for repeatedly causing harm in any community, activist or otherwise. I’m not advocating for compromising people’s safety or promoting toxic rhetoric. I am encouraging white activists to focus on what’s most important: the feelings, needs, and lived experiences of people of color in a society dominated by white supremacy.
If I’m focusing more time and energy on critiquing those whom I’m supposedly on the same team with, I’m spending less time and energy on actually dismantling systems of oppression. My time and energy is precious – just like yours. Let’s use it wisely.
10. Reparations make a difference.
I grew up with abundant access to resources: money, love, opportunities to experience new things, and all manner of material and immaterial supports. Working for nonprofits, and now for myself, has meant having far fewer material resources. I’m still incredibly lucky to receive love and emotional support, and an emergency financial safety net from family, if absolutely needed – but I don’t have a lot of money.
I know that money is tight for a lot of us. Late stage capitalism sucks, and unfortunately, it’s the reality we live in. For this reason, it’s really, really important to ensure that people of color have access to money. I could give you a ton of statistics about average household income and savings for people of color vs. white people, and how employment rates differ by race, but you can Google that info, if you’d like it.
For my non-Googlers, I’m going to ask you to trust me when I say that on average, people of color have significantly less wealth, both generationally (read: passed down from family) and individually (i.e. earned) than white people do. One of the simplest ways to support people of color is by giving them money. Whether it’s through crowdfunding campaigns, buying from POC-owned businesses, or making regular donations to POC-led organizations, financial support matters. In fact, it can make a huge difference to someone who doesn’t have access to it – sometimes a life or death difference.
White folks, I want to invite you to join me in financially supporting people of color. We don’t have to wait for our government to provide reparations – we’ll be waiting a long time, if we do. Let’s take this into our own hands.
11. Commitment and consistency speak volumes.
One of the privileges we have as white people is the choice to act in solidarity with people of color. We can choose – day by day, moment to moment – to support people of color with our words, actions, and resources. The flip side of this is that we can choose not to engage with this work, whenever we want. Because we have this choice, our commitment and consistency mean much more than the self-proclaimed label of “ally”.
White people, what can we commit to?
- First, we can commit to educating ourselves about what people of color struggle with and need. This is an ongoing commitment, because as society changes, marginalized folks’ struggles and needs change. Also, if we’re asking people of color to educate us, we need to pay them. People of color don’t necessarily want to provide information about diversity, equity, and inclusion to white people; if people of color choose to do so, they should be compensated. Ideally, white folks should self-educate or learn from other white people, so as not to ask people of color to provide labor (emotional or tangible) to us, unless they are explicitly offering to do so.
- We can commit to showing up and putting our bodies on the line for people of color at protests and demonstrations, if we have the physical ability to do so.
- We can commit to providing childcare, cooking, or cleaning services to people of color, or to other white activists, so that they can engage in activism we’re unable to engage in.
- We can get involved with local POC-led efforts, or with organizations specifically geared towards empowering white people to address white supremacy (like SURJ).
- We can support people of color directly through giving money, as I described in #10.
- We can offer services specific to our areas of expertise – maybe you’re an amazing accountant, or an experienced handyperson, or great at writing copy – to POC-led initiatives.
- We can commit to having hard conversations about white supremacy with other white people (while not tearing apart their character, like I talked about in #9).
- We can amplify the voices of people of color, on social media, and in the media we consume.
- We can speak out when we see an injustice against people of color, both in person and online.
- We can check in with people of color, when another person of color is harmed publicly.
- Most of all, we can commit to listening to people of color, believing them, and following their lead when they ask white people to act in solidarity with them.
If white people do these things consistently, we can make a real impact, both individually and collectively. And impact trumps the label of “ally” any day.
12. Everyone isn’t where I’m at.
It’s can be hard to encounter folks (primarily white folks, but also some people of color) who don’t understand what white supremacy is and why it matters. The frustration and anger I wrote about above are real reactions to this. We’ve already covered why focusing on and staying in those emotional states isn’t effective, unless they’re used as fuel for taking action in solidarity with people of color.
On one hand, I can’t expect everyone to know and understand what I know and understand. Also – hello – there’s a LOT that I don’t know and understand about white supremacy. I’m still learning. I need to continue cultivating humility, both for myself and as a means of extending compassion to others.
On the other hand, when white supremacy isn’t named and understood, there is a very real impact on people of color. Individual people of color are held responsible for systemic issues. People of color are murdered, and blamed for their own murders. Cultural norms go unchallenged, and white supremacist business goes on as usual. This isn’t okay.
I hold this paradox: everyone is not where I’m at, and that’s simultaneously okay and not at all okay. I know some things, and am ignorant of other things. It’s unrealistic for me to expect everyone to be where I’m at, and the tangible impact of that is unacceptable. This isn’t a problem to be solved; it’s a contradiction to be acknowledged.