I've been thinking a lot this week about what it means to be a white, anti-racist ally to people of color. Though I try to live everyday in a way that reflects my values about ending racism, as is the case for most whites, on a typical day I do not have to leave my comfort zone around race. Every once in a while my mettle as a white ally is tested, and I have to reflect on how well I am really doing. I have done some training, read some, and thought a lot about what it means to be a white anti-racist ally, but it is something different to have to put those values into practice in real time. Here are some ideas that feel alive to me right now around this topic: It's Easy and It's Hard It's easy because often it is just as simple as reaching out and connecting with another person in a human way. Checking in with a colleague or friend of color, showing support and acknowledging what feels challenging.
It's hard because it requires that we stand up in a public way that feels uncomfortable. Racism is perpetuated, in large part, by the silence of whites. Saying something that calls attention to our whiteness, and acknowledges our connection to the legacy of white racism in this country can feel risky. It can also alienate us from other whites, which can feel painful.
It's Not About Being the Good White Person One thing that many whites feel is the need to be viewed as "The Good White Person." Especially prevalent among liberals, this syndrome is driven by an extreme fear of being perceived as "racist." The Good White Person couldn't possibly have any racism in her heart because she is so enlightened and anti-racist. The Good White Person really gets it and wants to make sure people of color and other whites know that. The Good White Person often ends up making every race conversation about himself. This stance is not only unhelpful, it is dishonest. None of us is without racism in our hearts. We cannot be so tied to appearing innocent or evolved that we make the conversation all about us.
It's About Making the First Move and Not Having the Last Word A common white person behavior is to sit back and not talk about race until a person of color brings it up. Then, we expect the person of color to educate us about racism and tolerance. This puts all of the burden and risk on people of color, allowing white folks to disengage until we are presented with the subject in a way we cannot ignore. To be an effective white ally, we must be willing to take on the risk of talking about race in a real way and not always leave it up to others.
White allies must also learn that we cannot always have the last word. When it comes to race, most white people wish that the issue would just resolve itself and go away. In heated dialogues, often we try to have the last word in an attempt to "solve the problem" so that we feel better. One way we do this is by focusing on trying to resolve the individual conflict ("If the two of them could just talk and resolve their issues, everything would be fine") rather than addressing the messier underlying issue ("My colleague is feeling the pain of racism and I can't solve that"). Being an effective white anti-racist ally means listening to, and sitting with, the uncomfortable realities of racism and realizing that no amount of our talking is going to tie everything up in a neat little bow.
Interested in your feedback in the comments. Thanks.