11 Ways To Be A Better White Ally

11 Ways To Be A Better White Ally

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

Popular Right Now

4 Times I Took A Punch From My First Career Job

You need to take a few punches before you learn their strategy.

I took a job that felt like the next best thing. It offered more salary than I’ve ever made, more responsibilities than I’ve ever held, and the opportunity to grow in skill and status. An excited novice in the company, I began with bright eyes and the highest of hopes. This was my first job in a career that I had dedicated my entire college education in. I was willing to continue to learn, even though I felt more than ready to start applying my textbook knowledge.

Life never hits harder than when we think we show up prepared. Here are four things that punched me in the face of perception and helped me realize my own potential and value in a new workplace.

1. You are your own boss of success.

Be your own worst critic. Evaluate yourself and be attentive and faithful to integrity. Make a conscious decision to act in benevolence, and practice honesty and principle. Instead of taking the energy to formulate excuses, own up to failure or flaw and build off of it. If you want to succeed, manage yourself closely.

2. Ask questions to learn your way up.

Ask Questions. While you are training (and even after!) be that kid to raise your hand and ask the questions the rest of the students pretend to know. Let your brain be a dry sponge: observe, and soak in. Learn the systems to start out. Be that as it may, also do not assume the processes and functions in use are always the best. Make notes and don’t be afraid to want to improve systems once you are familiar with the ropes. Take advantage of being the fresh eyes.

3. Workout and sweat the insecurities.

When we put ourselves in different environments with different stimuli, we learn about ourselves in new ways. We find out what makes us uncomfortable. We figure out how we work most productively. We learn our strengths and weakness. Weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and insecurities are like parts of our body we need to strengthen with exercise and good posture! If we want to grow out of them we need to start lifting the weights that will build mass and cultivate ourselves into willing, innovative, and confident workers. I’m learning my strengths, but more importantly, I’m learning where I’m weak.

4. Be appreciative.

Thank the people who train and challenge you. I’ve never heard of anyone disliking appreciation; let your gratitude be the buffer between who you are/where you’re at and who you want to become/where you want to go. After all, Gertrude Stein said “Silent gratitude isn't very much to anyone.”

It only took a few punches, but I believe I’m better for it. I was scared at first, because I was taking the next step in my career. Working a position in my desired career was a huge challenge because I had not yet learned to apply my education to the real world, which is forcing me to learn patience with myself. It’s new and exciting and I always look forward to what tomorrow may bring.

Cover Image Credit: www.pexels.com

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Foreign: A Short Story

As the water drips down my body, I lean my head back so the flow of the water can gently rush on to my face. I attempt to open my eyes but the water overtakes my vision. And then I hear it.

“MOM!!!” I take my head out of the shower and in a moment of panic, I shout

“What? Is everything okay?” When I don’t hear their voices call back, I turn the knob of the shower and finish getting out. Wrapping the towel around me, I rush into the room.

“What’s going on in here?”

“Mom, tell her to give it back.”

In a teasing manner, she mimics him “tell her to give it back.”

“Stop, it’s not yours!”

“Guys! Stop! I haven’t even left to go to work yet and you two are already arguing! How am I supposed to leave you alone? And whose is that? Where did you guys get it? We can’t afford anything like that!” And then they do that thing, where suddenly I don’t understand my own children.

“Es porque te lo rejalo la novia verdad?”

“Deja me en paz, Y damelo!”

“Como se llama? Pa-ula… verdad?”

And then I can’t take it anymore… “STOP! Give me the game. None of you are getting it, and for the last time, we speak English in this house, you guys know I don’t understand you!”

“But mom—“

“But nothing, now tell me whose is this?”

“Carl has a new friend at school and she’s a gir—“

“STOP! She just let me borrow her gamegirl, no big deal!”

I begin to calm down. “Carl, I don’t want you borrowing anything from anyone at school. If you break it, we can’t replace it, so please give this back to her first thing Monday morning, understood?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Alright, now I’m gonna go get ready for work, I want you both in bed by 10.”

And then I wait for it… In unison they begin their choir of complaints, “but mom!”

“But nothing! Bed at 10, and I’m asking Mrs. Fernandez from upstairs to come down and check on both of you to make sure you're asleep!” Defeated, they agree.

As I go back into the bathroom to get dressed, my steps seem to get more sluggish every time I walk. I look at the clock on the wall and it reads 5:15, 5:15 and then I plead asking the clock not to change and then 5:16. In a little less than an hour I’ll be back at the gas station, cleaning off the gum from the doors of the restroom. Watching as truckers pass by saying things that are supposed to creep me out but only leave me asking what the words they were saying meant, and then it’ll be 3am and I’ll be home again.

I kiss my kids goodnight, hopefully not goodbye, and they promise to behave. I go outside and see the landlord on the porch sipping on her coffee.

“Hey Susan!” She says in her thick accent

“Hi Mrs. Fernandez. Enjoying the beautiful day I see.”

“Yes of course, going to your second job already?”

“Yes, I told the kids you’ll be down to check on them to make sure they’re asleep by 10.”

“Of course! Don’t worry about it, you stay safe. What time will you be home?”

“Around three.”

“Ay, Dios I’ll be praying for you! Good thing there is no school tomorrow so you don’t have to go to work.”

“Actually, I have to be there at 7am. The janitors have to clean the kitchen at the school since the inspector is coming on Monday.”

“Ahhh well mija, in this world we have to do what we can to survive.”

“Don’t I know it! Well, thank you again Mrs. Fernandez. Hopefully I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Si gringita! See you tomorrow!”

I walk to my car, each step forward feeling as though I took ten steps back. As I approach my car, I see an officer hovering right over it and so I run.

“Excuse me! No, that’s my car! Please don’t give me a ticket!”

“Perdon? Es que senorita no se puede estacionar aqui, alli esta el rotulo”

“I’m sorry, No puedo- hablar.. esapnol.” He sees me struggle to get the words out and with a face of disgust, he looks at me.

“You no espeak Spanish? This isn’t America! Learn Spanish! I will let you out with a warning pero, the sign esays no parking okay?”

“Si senor, I’m sorry.”

And then he talks into his walkie and leaves. As I get into my car and turn on the ignition, I begin to drive as quick as I can. I look at the clock and it reads 5:45. As I turn into the gas station, I park the car in a secluded place and I close my eyes. As I feel the tears run down my face, I remember being back home in New York. The year was 2019, Carl and Kristin were only five years old at the time.

“Honey! Are you still asleep? I dropped the kids off at school, you should of seen their faces. They were so excited about their first day of kindergarten!”

“Babe, we need to talk.” It surprised me that he was already up and dressed. Usually he doesn’t get up until I have to leave to the clinic to meet my first patient of the day.

“Everything okay?”

“I got drafted.”

“What? But, I don’t understand I thought you weren’t likely to get drafted?”

“I know but there is so much going on and they’re trying to take anyone they can get.”

I took a deep breath. I understood that this wasn’t our choice and besides, he always comes back. He must have seen the worry in my face because then he adds, “but, don’t worry everything will be okay, I always come back.”

“Yeah, you better,” I say as lean my head on his chest.

“Can’t you take the day off? Let’s go do something just you and me!” He says

“Honey, I have a bunch of patients and you know I don’t get paid like I used to. We already lost our first house, we can’t lose this one too.”

“I know. Things are going to get better, don’t worry.” I laugh and then he laughs and for a moment it feels as though nothing is wrong. And then I look at the clock on the T.V. stand and it reads 10:00am.

“Well I don’t have my first patient until 1. What do you say I make us a big breakfast and we eat on the couch as we watch cartoons?” I ask in a convincing way

“This is why I love you,” he responds

As I’m cooking we’re both talking and laughing and he decides to turn on the radio.

“Let’s see if I can find any of the classics on here.”

“Honey, you could just put on Spotify or something.”

“Now you have been hanging out around the kids too long. Come on, the radio’s static noise brings back memories. Remember, when we used to hang out after school and listen to the radio until your mom called, yelling for you to get home?”

“Yeah, and that’s why my parents didn’t like you at first.”

And then our song comes on. As we’re singing along, we get interrupted.

“This just in. New attacks have been reported on parts of New York and New Jersey. We advise all residents of these two states to please remain alert of any attacks, and to not let anyone you do not know into your home. This has been a message from the U.S. federal government. Any further questions please visit us at www.-

And then he gets that call. “I have to take this, turn that off and try to relax before work.”

I nod, then go to the television and turn it on. I think about the twins, but then I remember they’re safe, the guards are all around the school. As soon as the T.V turns on, I regret ever looking. There were a lot of things I regretted that day. The gunshots on the television are so loud that it feels as though it’s coming from outside and then I realize it is…

My phone goes off and just like that, I’m back to reality. The days that followed were even more intense. My husband left and said goodbye for real this time and I kissed him on the lips not knowing it would be the last time. I took the kids to Texas to see my mother and even she told me that running away was the best option. We were always afraid to step foot outside and the kids had to stop going to school. I knew that if I left I would never be able to see my family again but I also knew that my children didn’t have a future there. We left, we left and seven years later we haven’t returned.

I scrape the gum off the floor and hear footsteps come closer and closer.

“Mira quien es, la gringa” I try to ignore him and then he kicks me.

“I’m talking to you, vieja tonta regresa a tu país, nadie quiere alguien de un país podrido”

And I knew this was just the beginning of our worries and this was going to be our new norm, because truth is I don’t belong but, I will keep fighting because my children do. As he walks away and goes back into his truck I release the tears and they gently run down my face. País podrido. Rotten country. The truth hits me and although I shouldn’t, I feel offended but what else can I do?

After that, the gas station is quiet and I hear the static noise of the radio and then our song comes on, but this time I don’t sing along.

Cover Image Credit: https://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/04/29/immigration-detention-center_wide-cee013baaa0e724d9f5c333e1bc458f305c1d303.jpg?s=1400

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