In the wake of the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by Ferguson, MO police officer Darren Wilson, the never ending discussion of racism in America has reared its ugly head once again. This incident has led to a boom of social media reaction and activism; hashtags abound, Black voices loud, White voices noticeably silent.
I have a relatively diverse network of friends, family, and colleagues inclusive of all colors, cultures, class, and creed; but never has my Facebook timeline been so void of White people than in this last week. Where were the voices from White allies in the fight for racial justice and equality? Where was White outrage standing in solidarity with Black rage? Where was the public response from my White friends who so often accompany me in my social justice pursuits in private? Where?
After a text conversation with one of my closest friends, who happens to be White, it was revealed to me that my White brothers and sisters were standing on the sideline, because they feel they are ill equipped to line up on the field. So, I’ve compiled a list of 4 directives to assist White allies in dismantling systemic racism in America.
- See. See race, don’t ignore it. A common phrase I hear from White allies is, “I don’t see race; I don’t see color. I only see people.” In fact, Black America needs you to do exactly the opposite. We don’t want to be invisible. We don’t want to be neutral. We want to be Black, because our Black is beautiful, just as your White is beautiful. I believe God created us in all different shades and forms, not for us to ignore our diversity, but to celebrate it! We absolutely want you to see color but we need you to acknowledge it as equally beautiful and valuable and non-threatening as every other color. Likewise, see racial injustice, don’t ignore it. It’s not good enough to only see color; you must also see injustice against people of color. The two principles go hand and hand and one cannot be an ally without acknowledging both race, and racial injustice. So adopt a new phrase: “I absolutely see race; I absolutely see color. And I see them as being absolutely equal in beauty and in value; therefore all races should be treated as such.
- Listen. Hear the outcry of Black America. Listen to the stories. Hear our grievances without disagreement. Listen for understanding of what Black America needs from White allies to accompany us on this pilgrimage of racial justice. Understand what’s being heard not as an indictment of White America, but as an opportunity to reconcile the unfortunate past and present of this country, for a better brighter future. I frequently have conversations with my White brothers and sisters about the White privilege they enjoy that Black and Brown people don’t benefit from, and they often receive it as an opportunity for debate and defense. It’s not. It’s an opportunity to hear and learn of the Black lived-experience from a Black perspective, not to be challenged by unrecognized White privilege. If you aren’t willing to hear the voices of the oppressed, your deaf ears won’t absolve you of your role in oppression, your deaf ears make you an accomplice in it.
- Speak. Speak out against racial injustice. If racist White bigots are the loudest amongst White Americans (and they are indeed loud), the perception becomes that they speak for all of White America. Perception is reality. If we are to recognize that racism continues to be carried out by a very small minority of noisy bigots, the voices of White allies must be louder than those who continue to spew hate into the conversation. The investment of White allies to end racism in America must be larger than the investment of White bigots to continue it. My Facebook timeline should be inundated with loud, enraged White allies drowning out the noisy racists with cries of defiance, reaffirming that those hateful few do not speak for the compassionate whole. Utilize what you’ve seen and heard as tools to articulate the positive change you want to realize. In doing so, America – Black and White, will no longer be able to discern those few voices of discrimination among the many voices of liberation. Dr. King knew a thing or two about combating racial injustice and he said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” We should all be so wise as to listen.
- Act. See, listen, speak, and then act. Actions speak louder than words, and words without actions are meaningless. Act at ALL times of injustice, not just when it’s convenient. Black America doesn’t get to take a day off from being Black; White allies cannot take a day off from being advocates for racial justice. Act not just at rallies for Mike Brown or the next unarmed Black person to be gunned down by police. Act in your homes in the guests you invite over for dinner. Act in the schooling of your children in choosing the environment in which they learn. Act in deciding which church you will worship in. Act at your workplace where you have the authority to make decisions about personnel. Act as if your liberation is bound to that of Mike Brown, because it is. Act as if your life depended on it, because it does. As long as one of us is oppressed, all of us are oppressed. Act.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that no groups of marginalized people have ever overcome oppression without accompaniment from allies at the center.
The abolition of American slavery could not have been realized without the accompaniment of White abolitionists using their white privilege to enact change.
The end to South African apartheid would not have been achieved without the partnership of White South African allies willing to get behind Mandela and others to liberate S.A. from segregation.
The Holocaust would have been far graver if not for German allies willing to put their lives on the line for the sake of oppressed Jews.
The LGBTQIA movement for equal rights under the law would not be experiencing the success it has enjoyed if not for cis-heteronormative allies lobbying alongside them.
Women will not benefit from the gender equality they deserve without the accompaniment of male allies using their male privilege to fight for gender justice on their behalf.
Palestinians won’t be liberated from Israeli occupation without Israeli advocates, and Black America will continue to be victims of racial profiling and all its atrocious byproducts, without the eyes, ears, tongues, and the hands and feet of our White allies.
We need you. America needs you. Get off the sideline and get in the game.