11 Ways To Be A Better White Ally

11 Ways To Be A Better White Ally

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I have been privy to more than a few conversations with white people who are totally against racism and want to consider themselves allies though they don't really know where to start. I've been one of these people, too. And I've seen others, like myself, bog down every POC they know with questions about what we can possibly do to be less awful than all those other, awful white people.

But that's not a productive conversation to have, for reasons that I do not have the space to address in this article. Instead, here are eleven ways to be a better white ally. They're simple, and they're important.

One last caveat: as you will probably discover, I am not the first one to write all of this down. I did not come up with it, and I do not always carry out all of these practices perfectly. However, it is important to reiterate these concepts so that they reach as many people as possible. That's part of how we'll make progress.

1. Educate yourself.

Read widely and deeply to inform yourself. Google is your best friend here, as you are not the first person to ask questions about privilege, oppression, race, etc. The answers are just a few keystrokes away.

Remember: It is not the job of POC to continuously explain themselves and the entire social justice movement to white people who just don't get it, and we can not expect this of them. However, many people have already shared their lived experiences, and there is a lot of academic work done on systemic racism and other systems of oppression at work today. The best part: they have put many of these resources online so that you can learn, too.

2. When you get called out, change.

Part of the way that institutionalized prejudices work is that they are ingrained in the way we think, speak, and behave. We all will behave incorrectly at some point, and we cannot take it personally when we are corrected. It is not an attack on your character or when someone points out something racist you did, so try not to act like it is. Instead, it’s best to seek an understanding of how the behavior was offensive or otherwise appropriate and then not repeat that behavior. Simple!

3. Call others out. Try to do so kindly.

If we want to call ourselves allies, we cannot be passive. Micro-aggressions occur with startling frequency, and they perpetuate racism and racist thought patterns. Once you've done all the googling you want (a lá number 1), that new knowledge can be put to work. Challenging people on their backward thinking promotes their growth, and of course, we want the people we care about to grow.

Now let me explain the second part of this: try to be kind in your corrections. It is often difficult to be tactful, or even calm, in the face of blatant racism. My understanding is that it is even more difficult for POC, who are the direct victims of this racism. As someone who is not directly affected in this way, take a second to phrase things as kindly as possible. You'll catch more flies that way, you know.

4. Listen, when appropriate

Part of having privilege is not necessarily noticing that the privileged group receives more attention than other groups. In terms of gender, studies have been done that a room occupied by 50% men and 50% women will be perceived as being mostly women by the men in the room.*

The same sort of logic (well, really illogic) applies when white people enter conversations about race. When the representation of a topic becomes equal between POC and white people— or (gasp!) even dominated by POC— white people often begin to feel underrepresented or even silenced. For a reality check, take a look at number 8 on this list. And then remember that we need to listen and learn; we cannot know exactly what POC experience, and we can’t talk over them or ignore what they’re telling us. Instead, try trusting what you hear.

*This example is, of course, not inclusive of trans people. But that’s a topic for another article.

5. Speak up, when appropriate

On the other hand, people of color should not have to bear this burden alone. Silence is often unproductive, especially when something really needs to be said. We need to participate in conversations about race, as well as conversations that consider the way that race intersects with other identifiers. Groups with privilege should be exercising that privilege to call attention to those whose voices aren't amplified quite so loud.

6. Know the difference between #4 and #5

It takes time and finesse to understand exactly when it is best to step up in a situation versus when it is best to stand back. I definitely mess up when it comes to these situations though I keep on trying to do the right thing. And that's the only way to get the balance just right: keep trying.

7. Find a way to join others in this. There is power in the collective.

As we become more capable and informed as allies, it's often more productive to be around others (of all races!) who are striving toward the same goals. There are groups dedicated to social justice and activism on your campus, in your city, and even online. Most of these will allow you to just sit in at first and observe. And as you become more comfortable, you can take on a more participatory (or even facilitative) role.

Plus, we all need to be around people who will call us out when we mess up.

8. Remind yourself constantly of the way that these institutional imbalances affect your life.

This is me trying to rephrase and refocus the oft-repeated order to “Check your privilege.” Though this catchy phrase is often used as a snappy, dismissive response when someone is behaving in a way that obviously ignores others' perspectives and lived experience, it is also an important reminder of the way that privilege can blind us to our own ignorance. By stopping frequently to consider how our social conditioning and perceptions could be coloring our thoughts and actions, we become better equipped to think and act effectively.

9. Use your privilege and your passions.

If you've got privilege, there's no use denying it, ignoring it, or feeling guilty. Instead, you can use it to mobilize yourself and others. There are times when POC aren't being listened to or even allowed to talk, but white people saying the same exact things will be heard clearly. Take, for instance, this article I am writing. Everything here has been said by others, many of them POC, but it stands that I will be effective saying it again because not everyone has heard these ideas yet. Plus, I'm white, so I will automatically listen to more by certain people.

But it is also important to consider the other aspects of yourself. We all have talents and passions, and these can often be utilized as we make progress as anti-racist allies. Again, I'll reference myself writing this article. I write all the time, and I'm usually pretty good at it. So it makes sense to bring my identity as a writer into this work. We all have talents that we can bring with us-- what are yours?

10. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Sometimes, you will slip up. You’ll be too intimidated to stand up to that racist professor, or you’ll find yourself behaving in a way that. Rather than decide that this is all too hard and you’re just going to stop caring, remember that you’re human. We're all human. And we'll keep getting better at this the longer we keep at it.


11. Don’t quit. Because some people don’t have that option.

Now here's the correlative to my previous point: The fact is that you could, if you felt like it, decide to just pack it up and ignore the presence of racism and other forms of oppression. That is part of white privilege; we are not tied to the same level of racial implications in our every move.

But not everyone can decide to just throw away considerations about racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. And if we're really going to be allies, we can't throw these concerns away, either.


Cover Image Credit: Flickr

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An Open Letter to the Person Who Still Uses the "R Word"

Your negative associations are slowly poisoning the true meaning of an incredibly beautiful, exclusive word.
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What do you mean you didn't “mean it like that?" You said it.

People don't say things just for the hell of it. It has one definition. Merriam-Webster defines it as, "To be less advanced in mental, physical or social development than is usual for one's age."

So, when you were “retarded drunk" this past weekend, as you claim, were you diagnosed with a physical or mental disability?

When you called your friend “retarded," did you realize that you were actually falsely labeling them as handicapped?

Don't correct yourself with words like “stupid," “dumb," or “ignorant." when I call you out. Sharpen your vocabulary a little more and broaden your horizons, because I promise you that if people with disabilities could banish that word forever, they would.

Especially when people associate it with drunks, bad decisions, idiotic statements, their enemies and other meaningless issues. Oh trust me, they are way more than that.

I'm not quite sure if you have had your eyes opened as to what a disabled person is capable of, but let me go ahead and lay it out there for you. My best friend has Down Syndrome, and when I tell people that their initial reaction is, “Oh that is so nice of you! You are so selfless to hang out with her."

Well, thanks for the compliment, but she is a person. A living, breathing, normal girl who has feelings, friends, thousands of abilities, knowledge, and compassion out the wazoo.

She listens better than anyone I know, she gets more excited to see me than anyone I know, and she works harder at her hobbies, school, work, and sports than anyone I know. She attends a private school, is a member of the swim team, has won multiple events in the Special Olympics, is in the school choir, and could quite possibly be the most popular girl at her school!

So yes, I would love to take your compliment, but please realize that most people who are labeled as “disabled" are actually more “able" than normal people. I hang out with her because she is one of the people who has so effortlessly taught me simplicity, gratitude, strength, faith, passion, love, genuine happiness and so much more.

Speaking for the people who cannot defend themselves: choose a new word.

The trend has gone out of style, just like smoking cigarettes or not wearing your seat belt. It is poisonous, it is ignorant, and it is low class.

As I explained above, most people with disabilities are actually more capable than a normal human because of their advantageous ways of making peoples' days and unknowingly changing lives. Hang out with a handicapped person, even if it is just for a day. I can one hundred percent guarantee you will bite your tongue next time you go to use the term out of context.

Hopefully you at least think of my friend, who in my book is a hero, a champion and an overcomer. Don't use the “R Word". You are way too good for that. Stand up and correct someone today.

Cover Image Credit: Kaitlin Murray

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Chivalry Isn't Dead

You Just Don't Recognize It When You See It

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"Chivalry is dead!"

I've heard it, you've heard it, we have all heard the call. My generation knows nothing of how to treat a lady, on how to use manners, on romance or all sorts of other codes of conduct that have apparently been written in stone since the beginning of time. We have all heard that chivalry is dead.

I grew up in a small southern town. I come from a long line of southerners, and the concept of Southern Hospitality played a big role in my childhood. I therefore have heard every kind of accusation about how "kids these days" have forgotten how to be polite or how to show good manners - and, of course, it boils down to being chivalrous. For a long time, I assumed that the adults who made these claims were right, and therefore I worked especially hard to make sure that I spoke to authoritative figures in a formal tone, and even to my peers I would use "sir", "ma'am", and other such good manners.

As I got older and was exposed to more people, however, I realized that most kids my age had manners just as good as my own. Of course, while we hung out with one another, the pretense of formality is stripped away and we talk much more formally, but that is besides the point. The point is that we do have good manners, often displaying them with far more poise then that of our older counterparts.

If most of the people in my generation display good manners, then what are the older generations referring to when they say that chivalry is dead? It was my thought that in order to understand this question, I had to ask what they meant by "chivalry"? What exactly had died? In order to figure out this side of the question, I asked some of my older co-workers (ranging in age from twenty-seven to over sixty) how they might define chivalry.

I found that chivalry seems to have all manners of definitions, from holding open the doors for those behind you to letting a lady go before you in a line to offering your assistance when you see someone struggling. What chivalry seems to boil down to is to simply treat those around you - particularly those with less power - with respect, even when you are in a position in which you could be rude or otherwise harm the other party. Respecting and often caring for those who are too weak to fend or care for themselves - that is what an act of chivalry is.

Upon this conclusion, I realized that I was now faced with another dilemma, because it seems to me that standing up for the little guy is actually becoming more popular. So now, the question is not, "Why are we not protecting the little guy?" but rather, "Which little guy are we supposed to be protecting?"

The general answer to this question is that we are supposed to give two groups in particular special treatment; these two groups have for centuries been considered the weak and the invalid, and they therefore need more help. These two groups are the poor and - wait for it - women. While the poor are still in need of support and assistance from those with greater means and resources, the fact of the matter is that women - while still an oppressed group fighting for equity - no longer are considered weaker than men.

The world, when the concept of chivalry was initially created, was ruled by men because it was ruled by brute strength. Today, brute strength is no longer the sole source of power, and women are therefore more able to participate in the events of the world. They no longer have to be treated as delicate, breakable flowers. Most women, if you ask them, do not want to be treated this way. We are capable, and strong, and just as powerful as men. And it isn't as if we have just gained this strength. We have always been capable; the difference is that we are now demanding that capability to be recognized and acknowledged.

My generation does not treat women as fragile flowers needing to be shielded from the world and kept from "over-exerting ourselves". So what? We still hold doors open - for everyone. We still offer assistance to those in need - to all genders. We still feel a pang in our chest when we see a homeless person. We still donate money to charities when we can afford to - and sometimes even when we can't afford to.

In fact, the Millennials and Generation Z are statistically more likely to be accepting and supportive of those under oppression. Rallies and marches consist of higher percentages of Millenials and Gen Zs than any other generations. There are more marches and greater participation and coverage of those marches than ever before, and we are calling for the recognition of the need for basic human rights for everyone. Even the youngest of us are stepping up, as intolerance and awareness of bullying is on the rise. Statistics talk, and they say that, contrary to popular belief, my generation is more supportive and encouraging of the so-called little guy than any generation before us.

We still respect and stand up for the little guy. The difference is that the "little guy" does not mean the same thing that it did half a century ago. Today, the little guy is the one living under the poverty line, who works full time and still can't afford to feed their family. The little guy is the member of a minority race who knows that their resume is just as good as the white man's, but they still won't get hired. The little guy is the muslim whose hijab is ripped from her head, exposing her and violating her. The little guy is the woman who said "Me Too" and got written off as an attention whore. The little guy is the boy who got jumped in the restroom because he dared to hold hands with his boyfriend.

Chivalry hasn't died; if anything, it is more alive than ever. The only thing that is dying is the notion that only certain people deserve to be treated with chivalry.

That's a good thing.

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