How to stand against racism: A primer for white people

Virtually every day, people of color (POC) feel like we must defend our personhood, our right to participate in the so-called “blessings of liberty” that are supposed to be secured for us in this nation’s Constitution, and even our ability to engage in the most basic levels of self-expression. 

On 9/15/16, a federal court ruled that employers could deny employment to people who wear theirbhair in locs. Locs (pictured above) are an African/African-American cultural hairstyle


It’s tiring as crap when you have to do so much work just to live, and it’s doubly tiring when you can’t even get on social media without being confronted with this reality. 

I could write an entirely separate post about all of the different emotions and frustrations that I feel scrolling through certain social media feeds. There are so many people out there who say and post a lot of crap that is hurtful. What’s worse is that these people often get to spout their tripe completely unchecked. 

When I see such things I always have to count the cost of engagement. Do I want to get in to it with this person? Do I have time for my notifications and inbox to turn into Armageddon? Do I have the emotional capital to deal with the attacks and stupidity the will come from responding? 

More often than not, the answer to these questions is no. The cost of engagement is too high. I want to help someone become less ignorant, but I also need to protect my mental and emotional well being. Oftentimes, I’m already engaged in a conversation on my own social media channels and don’t have time to put another iron in the fire.

The cost of engaging people and their racist nonsense on social media is too dang high


The question/comment that I receive most often from white people is, “I feel strongly about the injustices you’re talking about, but I have no idea how to help or even how to talk about it. What can I do?” 

If you are a white person who loves a person of color, there is a lot that you can be doing. We need people out there fighting wth and for us. 

Yes, it’s emotionally tiring.

Yes, it’s controversial.

Yes, it can be a lot of work. 

But here’s the thing: as a black woman, I don’t really get to tap out of this conversation because it’s not really a conversation; it’s my reality. Sure, there are POC who bury their heads in the sand and don’t ever engage with this issue publicly or otherwise. You do what you have to do to cope. But for those of us who are paying attention, there is a perpetual grind of dealing with this country’s race issue. 

And that grind takes its toll. 

An artist rendering of every black person who says they don’t experience racism


It’s imperative for white people to step up and do some work. 

As a white person, you can help by doing the following things: 

1) Call people out on their nonsense. Don’t let the people in your world say, post, or otherwise perpetuate ideas that are damaging to POC. 

You are in the best place of authority to call out and correct the problematic things your close friends and relatives say and do. Your silence makes you complicit in my oppression. 

Some of your friends and relatives may be problematic faves. Gently and kindly call them out on their nonsense.

I understand that you have to live and interact with your relatives and confrontation can be awkward. I understand that you want to eat Sunday dinner in peace. You don’t have to act belligerent. Simply challenge their views in a kind and gentle way.

Is it really ok for the kids in your family to hear Aunt Kimberly and Uncle Dustin’s racist musings? Should Grandma Carolynn get a pass on freely using the n-word in 2016?

Racism is learned. In order for it it be learned, it has to be taught. Children, teens, and even young adults absorb their family’s values. What values are the young people in your family absorbing?

Racism is taught. Famlies transmit their values to their younger members. what values are you allowing to be passed down?

Stop making excuses for your family members’ prejudice. It’s not quirky. They’re not a product of their time. It’s toxic. If you can’t speak up directly, show your displeasure in other ways, such as excusing yourself from the room or conversation. Giving disapproving looks goes a long way also. 

Building an arsenal of disapproving looks is essential for when you can’t openly voice your disdain for someone’s out of line comments.


2) Educate yourself. A lot of black people have written a lot of stuff about our experience. Read it. 

You have to make the effort to educate yourself. People of color can’t sit down and tell you or post about every little thing. Besides, you are only getting a very small cross section of the entire black experience. 

Educate yourself. It’s way too many books outchea for you to stay ignorant.

It’s important to read different authors with different viewpoints. It’s important to read from different time period. Reading is an investment, but it’s well worth it. 

Besides books, there are also lots of articles, blogs, and videos that cover just about every conceived topic.

It’s important to understand that the black experience isn’t monolithic. For just about every idea there is a different, contrary idea. As wth anything, there’s a lot of nuance to the black experience. As you educate yourself, ask questions.

(I’ve talked exclusively about the black experience in this point, but the same can be said for other groups)

3) Don’t allow other white folks to weaponize a POC who shares their views against POC they disagree with. 

POC have different views on the issues in our nation. If you ask a black person and a Japanese person about their experiences, there will be lots of overlap and lots of differences. Even people in the same group have different views. 

A tactic that racists have used from the beginning has been to hold up someone from the group they’re trying to demonize as an example of being “exceptional” or “smart” because that person conformed to their standards of behavior. 

Dr. Ben Carson (pictured above) has often been weaponized against black people because some of his views vary from the mainstream of black thought. This weaponization of his views is detrimental to him, black people who share his views, and black people who disagree with him.


This is a very damaging dynamic because it silences those who feel oppressed and puts the person who is being held up in the position to feel they have to choose sides. As a tactic of white supremacy, it can further ingrain internalized racist ideas in the ‘model’ and further stigmatize and oppress everyone else. It also causes division within the minority community in question. 

A concrete example of this is when people use Dr. King’s words or discuss his tactics in a way that is intended to dismiss and silence the activism of other black people. 

STOP QUOTING DR. KING OUT OF CONTEXT!

We can and will have differences of opinion amongst ourselves. It is hurtful and unfair for those differences to be exploited in such a way that they silence people who are processing pain. 

4) Tell your own stories on your own time using your own dime. Don’t make this conversation about you. 

Don’t be that person who is so thirsty for attention that you suck all of the air out of the room.


Yes, as a white person, you have life experiences and a story that is worth sharing. Yes, your life experiences have value. 

However…

One of the biggest, most annoying, most discomfort inducing, faux pas that you can commit is to center yourself in this conversation. 

Several years ago, a friend who wanted to know more about my life experiences as it pertained to being a black woman invited my husband and I out to lunch. When we got there, we ended up running in to some more friends so we invited them to join us. 

The friend who invited me out started asking me questions, and the other two people, who were white, took up most of the space talking about their experiences. 

If that weren’t bad enough, they actually interrupted me at times to do so. The worst part of it was that they actually had very little of substance to contribute.

Me politely waiting my turn to answer the question I was asked

If you’re still uncertain of what I mean when I say don’t center yourself, here is a list of common faux pas: 

•Saying that you’re not racist- you don’t need to say that you’re not racist. Let your words and deeds confirm that. 

A lot of times when people say they aren’t racist, they end up saying something completely ou of line.

•Listing your non-racist resume- You don’t need to list all the things you’ve done for POC. You may think that it gives you credibility, but comes off as self-congratulatory if you’ve not been directly asked. POC don’t owe you their time or attention simply because you’ve been a good person. 

You don’t have to prove how not-racist you are by telling all of the good things you’ve done for POC. We don’t owe you our time or attention because you’ve “done so much” for POC. You don’t get a medal for doing thr right thing. Seek to build genuine relationships.


•Talking about how you were teased for being white by black kids growing up- don’t use a conversation about someone else’s pain to bring up your own stuff. 

This particular thing feels like you’re silencing or minimizing the experience of POC. It’s also very rude. If you have racial trauma that you need to process, do so on your own channels and not on someone else’s back. 

•Talking about how your Irish, Italian, German, etc. family experienced oppression- once again, these are valid and important narratives. These are stories that need to be told. 

But as much as you may think you are expressing empathy, it can come off as silencing. Instead of taking up space by talking about yourself, amplify another’s voice by asking questions. 

• Talking about the experiences of POC you know (or parent, or are related to) to the point of silencing the POC in front of you- it’s great if your spouse, grandkids, friend, sibling, aunt, etc. is a POC. It’s great if they’ve said things to you that are worth sharing. It’s awesome that you love them and are enthusiastic about sharing their story. 

You can share, advocate, whatever, but don’t take up so much space that you shut down the person of color sitting in front of you because you’re sharing second hand knowledge. And if your loved one is present and able to speak for themselves, LET THEM SPEAK. 

•Playing the martyr- once again, your life experiences are valid and important, but it is not always appropriate for you to take the time to share those experiences. You might have an awesome resume. You might have POC loved ones. 

Whatever your story, POC are not obligated to give you any amount of time or attention on their channels. Not everyone desires the ‘help’ or ‘service’ you feel that you’re providing. 

You might not like everything that’s said. Your feelings might get hurt. You may realize that your presence is not desired or required in certain spaces. Take a deep breath and realize it’s not about you. Don’t make it about you by playing the martyr.

POC may not want the ‘help’ or ‘service’ that you feel you can provide. You may experience rejection. You might catch the wrong end of someone’s pain and grief. You have to grow thick skin and avoid making it about your feelings.


5) If you are the spouse, sibling, parent, grandparent, etc. of a person of color, USE YOUR VOICE. Don’t make them fight this fight alone while you sit in the wings. 

You are in a unique position to be able to speak to other white people about these issues because you are a white person with close and often intimate proximity to the experience of a POC. As a result, you have the opportunity to communicate about issues of injustice from a perspective that many people don’t have. This perspective is especially valuable when you make the effort to educate and inform yourself about the issues within your loved one’s culture. 

As a white person, you have the opportunity to leverage your voice for POC. White people will often be more receptive to what you have to say.

As a white person, you have the experience of having to grow in or change your perspective. You understand white people’s sensibilities. You know what it is to be a white person interacting with issues of race. As a result, you have the ability to speak to other white people about these issues in a way the POC can’t. 

6) Speak up about injustice. Whether it’s writing, social media posts, or art, use whatever platforms are available to you to speak up about the injustices that are happening. 

Take some sort of action. Don’t just sit on your internet connected device absorbing information and forming opinions without putting that knowledge to good use. 

Being afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing isn’t a good enough reason to stay silent when people like me are carrying the weight of this every day. 

You will make mistakes. You will say the wrong thing. You will offend people. You will be frustrated. Dust yourself off and learn from the experience. 

Racists aren’t silent about their views, and their views are dead wrong. They’re wrong, but they seem to have no issue with being loud and proud about it.

Silence gives consent. When you’re silent in the face of racism you give it power. Speaking out, no matter how feeble of an attempt it may seem, broadcast to those around you that you are a person of integrity who won’t stand for nonsense. 

Be confident that you are on the right side of things. Racism/prejudice/discriminiation is never justified. Don’t be afraid to speak boldly.


***

Racism is the ugly, not so hidden sin of our nation. Every generation has had to deal with it in their own way in varying degrees and measure. 

We’ve entered a time in our nation’s history when race has become the issue of the hour. The conversation has been thrust into the public square in a way that hasn’t been seen in 50 years. 

Our stances on Black Lives Matter, the national anthem protests, and police brutality have become social litmus tests. 

As racial incidents, protests, and the aftermath thereof unfold, it is important for you to understand the different points of view. Minorities aren’t monolithic, and there is often a range of opinions. You dont have to agree with everything, but it’s important to listen. Your views may not change. You may not fully understand why people are hurt. But the act of listening and amplifying the voices of the oppresed is powerful, important, and much needed.


Whether you like it or not, we are at an important juncture in our history. Which side of history do you wish to be on? To quote the hit George Washington in Broadway musical ‘Hamilton,’ “History has its eyes on you.” 

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