Perspectives

On Being a White Ally for Racial Justice

Hello, white people. Yes, I’m speaking to you, as one of you. Yes, this is an article about race that is being specifically directed at you! Listen up.

Most of us are probably aware that people of color have different kinds of life experiences than we do—namely, those based in racism. Some of us have read about things like policy brutality, terrorist attacks, crime statistics, immigration, all kinds of social inequities. The list goes on.

In dark moments of anger, sadness, hatred, and fear, white people sometimes feel at a loss for what to do or say. We may believe racism isn’t our issue, or maybe we feel like there’s nothing we can do about it. We might even feel guilty, or remain silent out of fear that we’ll say the wrong thing. Sometimes, we might even go on the defensive. There are clearly times when we feel like we just don’t know how to be an ally for people of color in an ever-changing world. So for all of you who mentally agreed with what I just wrote, and for all those who didn’t, here are some tips on being a white ally for racial justice.

  1. Recognize others. Every person of color has a different lived experience. Each has a different identity that affects the way they live and how others treat them. Hear them out when they speak. Nobody knows their own experiences better than them. Listen more than you speak. Understand how different their daily lives and thoughts are. What do they deal with that you never have to think about? Examine your privileges. Do not dismiss words and terms you don’t know; just because you’ve never heard of a “microaggression” doesn’t mean they don’t exist. You are not here to negate anyone’s experience.
  2. Recognize yourself. Sometimes, we might go on the defensive and argue that we, as white individuals, did not cause slavery or racism. We separate ourselves from our ancestors. We say, “It’s over. I’m not involved.” Yet, often, people of color want white people to put themselves against a backdrop of white supremacy. They want us to imagine ourselves as part of a group that has, and continues to, perpetuate inequality and racism. It’s true that no one white person “caused” racism—but recognizing white people’s failures, as a whole, toward people of color is a great step. Recognize how this system has treated and affected you. Refer to #1.
  3. Become uncomfortable. Educate yourself. America, and the world, has a rich history filled to the brim with instances of white people creating and perpetuating systems that disenfranchise, lower, and negatively affect people of color. When you begin to see that these systems are in play, continue to dig deeper. Ask the tough questions about our dark past and see how dark our present still is. Comfort and complacency do not produce change. You cannot be an ally without being uncomfortable with our systems, our governance, our behavior, our laws, our biases, our society.
  4. Speak up, but not over. You have a voice and platform to speak about racism and inequality. So do many people of color, who have been speaking out about their lived experiences for a very long time. Their voices must be heard. Speaking OUT is acceptable and desirable, but speaking OVER people of color is not. You are not here to drown them out, even if you’re saying the same things they are. Silence is complacency and complicity with racism. Let your voice be heard, but not at the expense of other’s.
  5. Be aware. Be genuine. Engage in honest discussion with yourself and others. Hold others accountable for every word and action, but do not let mistakes and slip-ups define you. Being an ally isn’t easy and will require your moral strength at all times. Work to identify your personal privileges within your race, class, gender and sexual identities, socioeconomic status, education levels. Foster inclusiveness, meet others’ needs, form a coalition of allies, and educate others. Be critically self-aware; self-examination is of utmost importance to personal growth and to becoming a better ally. In all things, serve as a companion to people of color in the struggle for racial justice.

So white people: pay attention. Don’t let this issue pass you by because you weren’t aware, or because you feel that it doesn’t affect you, or because you don’t know what to say. It’s certainly never too late to ask what you can do to help shape a peaceful and prosperous future, in America and around the world. There is no better time than now.


This article was written by Kayla Finstein. Click here to see more of Kayla’s work.

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