How White People Can Help Racial Inequality
Updated: Aug 17, 2020
Wednesday, June 3 2020
This week has been very heavy. As most you know, there are riots going on in protest to honor the deaths and rebuke the police killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
While I have heard some one-off comments rooted in ignorance, the message I am hearing more often is one of support and solidarity.
While this gives me hope, it is still not enough.
What about a month from now when the protests have died down? What then? More of the same?
Thoughts and prayers have good intentions and can make a difference but not enough.
Many white people are asking “what can I do?”
“I feel so powerless and guilty.”
“I want to help but I’m not sure how.”
Here’s what you can do:
1) Be quiet and listen -. People of color are [especially] mad right now and they have every right to be. Don’t miss the message in lieu of the violence. By comparison, there are only a few who are being violent and far more who are protesting or expressing themselves nonviolently. Not everyone wants to fight but they do want change. Listen to what they have to say. Don’t interrupt. Let them yell, scream, cry. And DO NOT tell them that everything is going to be ok. Let them know that you support them, are willing to listen, and ready to learn.
2) Educate yourself – consult reputable sources (NOT THE NEWS) to get educated on racial inequality both on a small scale as well as systemic (i.e. the privatization of the prison system and tactics used to ensure prisons are fully populated, affirmative action (previous and current forms), housing regulations, etc). I recommend the book White Fragility, I’m reading it myself right now.
Here is a list of documentaries you can watch as well
3) Increase awareness – look around the groups that you are a part of, professional and personal. How many people of color are there? What steps are being taken to include them? Are you including them? Why or why not?
The fact that this may not even cross your mind, or recognize your social responsibility to do so, is a form of white privilege.
The fact that you haven’t had to think about it is white privilege.
And because you haven’t had to think about it, it’s likely that you weren’t even aware of it.
That’s ok to admit to yourself.
It is ok if this concept is new to you. And it is ok to take a minute and allow yourself to feel whatever feelings come up with this realization.
Do you feel sad? Frustrated? Guilty? Enraged? Defensive? Whatever it is, just feel it.
However, with knowing comes responsibility. Ignorance (meaning not knowing, not stupidity) is no longer an excuse and it’s time to wake up and take ACTION.
4) Talk to your kids – they likely know or are aware of a lot more than you think they are. They very well could be simply waiting for you to start the conversation. If you have young children, find age appropriate books and read them to them. Have them draw, color, paint, dance, act out their feelings to demonstrate what they’ve learned. Young children do not possess the capacity to fully express themselves verbally, think of different ways they can express themselves non-verbally.
The point is get the dialogue going and keep it going but only after you’ve educated yourself first.
Further, children imitate and adopt values and views from their parents far more based on what they do versus what they say.
Be the example.
When you make connections with people of color and your child sees this, you are teaching them that this is acceptable and really, that it is normal. And on the contrary, when you are not, you are also teaching them that that is also acceptable.
5) Volunteer/get involved in your community – get involved in your local community either via soup kitchens, homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, churches, grassroots organizations designed to increase racial awareness and equality. And once again, get in the habit of listening. It is not your time time to talk until you are informed on the issues.
Get involved with policy reform, public demonstrations, attend town hall or city meetings, just start being a part of the conversation.
Ready to take action in a bigger way? Want to get educated on the issues and engage in policy reform?
Campaign Zero is an organization designed to educate and engage in policy reform to end police brutality and violence against those of color. They focus on community oversight, limiting use of force, community representation, the use of body cams, training, end for-profit policing, demilitarization, and fair police union contracts.
Check them out here
6) Vote – don’t like the current state of affairs? Ask yourself – are you fulfilling your civic duty to vote and put government officials who most closely represent your views in office? While this strategy might seem like a crap shoot, it’s the mentality that one person can’t make a difference that perpetuates stagnation in policy reform. When this opinion keeps one person from voting it translates to groups of people not voting, then communities, and so forth. Local elections count too, not just presidential elections. Grab your local paper and learn the issues on the ballot and vote.
7) Make connections – racism is rooted in ignorance (again, the not knowing definition, not the stupid definition) and it is lack of information and connection that keeps it alive.
Growing up in the South, I have been exposed to more potent and overt forms of racism compared to other parts of the country. And one of the things that I’ve found interesting is that some who hold racist views may make overtly offensive, racist comments while in groups but find them at the local fishing hole and you’ll find that same person having a friendly and enjoyable conversation with a person of color.
Because they share something in common. Because even the racist can recognize that the color of our skin is just a matter of shade even if that realization is not in full consciousness. Because, when it gets down to it, we have more in common than we don’t.
Talk to neighbors, peers, friends, co-workers, family members, distant family members who are people of color. Listen to their life story, about their job, their family, their life’s aspirations, their relationship (or lack thereof) with God. Just talk and be open to listening to them without judgment.
8) Stop saying we’re all the same/equal – there are a lot of well meaning white people who want to promote world peace, unity, connection, love, and harmony. While these intentions are good it can actually do more harm than good.
Because when you do this, you are whitewashing the situation. You are minimizing the fact that people of color have less opportunity and choice compared to their white counterparts (this is not an opinion, data supports this).
You undermine and invalidate their experience and their pain.
But Ashley, you just got done saying we’re all the same. Now you’re contradicting yourself, what gives?
Allow me to clarify – on a human level, we are all the same; however, culturally and socially we are not because racism exists. Slavery did and does exist. Affirmative action exists because racism exists. If these things exist [and persist], then we are not equal.
Instead, ask a person of color:
What’s it like living in this country? What was it like for your parents? Grandparents? Ancestors?
What disparities have you experienced?
What’s it been like to be passed over on opportunities to get ahead?
What’s it like in a room full of white people?
What’s it like when you pass a police officer in the street?
9) Travel – traveling gives us the opportunity to get out of our comfort zone and feel what it is like to be an “alien” in a foreign land. We have to learn how to navigate our way around, communicate, and get our needs met all while the terrain is unfamiliar which can feel scary and uncomfortable.
This experience helps us to have empathy for those who have sought asylum in a foreign country because staying in their home country could, and often does, mean death or, at the very least, poverty.
Being disconnected from family and support systems can cause overwhelming depression and anxiety making it difficult to make a life in a new place.
Traveling helps us to gain perspective that the world does not operate under one philosophy and paradigm; there are different ways of doing things, different ways of living, connecting, communicating, and compromising.
Not all countries take too kindly to those who are foreign and to have this experience is to empathize with individuals who can feel like foreigners in their own country. See life through their eyes. Walk a mile in their shoes. See what you discover.
As a white female in America, I have participated in the fight for racial equality in the past but I recognize that I’ve recently become complacent. I have not been doing my part lately and it’s time that I, too, step up and do more and do it consistently. It starts with admitting this to myself and getting honest with the ways in which I have practiced racism.
I do not have all of the answers. I have felt defensive. I have felt outraged, hurt, despair, sadness, turned a blind eye, felt that the problem was too big and I couldn’t make a difference.
I am guilty.
But I am empowered.
The time is now…no. the time was yesterday.