3 WAYS TO BE A BETTER WHITE ALLY
by Terra Cooper
Looking back, the shooting of Tamir Rice was my moment, my breaking point, that I finally started to wake up and not only see that a lot of things needed to change in our country, but I felt a burning desire to find out what I could do to change myself so I wasn’t complicit in these systems that oppress and kill others. If you haven’t had your moment yet, I hope that you can start researching social justice movements and become actively involved in making positive changes. We need you.
Before I give you my 3 things you can do to be a better white ally, I want to make it very clear that I am still learning and will always be learning. I also understand I will never fully understand what it is like for those in marginalized groups and will never pretend to ever fully get it. Most of what I have focused on is the Black Lives Matter movement, so I will be gearing my advice to this particular topic, although these tips can be used with other causes and should be, as we believe in practicing intersectionality. These are just a starting point.
1. Listen & Learn
The best advice I could give someone who is starting this process is to get ready to do a lot of listening. Get ready to be uncomfortable. Do not make it about you. Leave your fragility at the door. You might feel offended. Ask yourself why? Are they talking about you? Do you do things they are talking about? If so, you need to learn what to change to not cause harm. By listening to People of Color (POC) you will hear many perspectives and lived experiences. Listen with the intent to hear, rather than with the intent to comment. Instead of inserting your view on the subject, just let them know you hear them.
How many Black people do you follow on Twitter? How many Black friends do you have come into your home? How many Black authors do you read? I have made an effort to increase these numbers so that my views are not limited to my very white neighborhood. With social media and the internet, we have access to voices all around the world-use this as a starting point in your learning. Do not seek out token Black friends or ask your Black friends to teach you about racism and social justice. There are plenty of resources online you can learn from while you are in these early stages. Things I would look up are: Redlining, Sundown Towns, Jim Crow laws, the New Jim Crow, mass incarceration, preschool to prison pipeline and affirmative action. Learn the definitions and usages of common words and phrases as well as language that is inclusive.
Here is a list of just a few of my favorite people I follow on Twitter that you can check out as a starting point: Khaled Beydoun, Son of Baldwin, Ava DuVernay, Malala, Colin Kaepernick, Jesse Williams (@iJesseWilliams), Hend Amry (@LibyaLiberty), Bernice King (@BerniceKing/Be A King), @DrBHotchkins (OnyxScholar), Samuel Sinyangwe (@samswey), Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith), Joy Reid, (@JoyAnnReid), Trevor Noah, @Angela_rye (Cousin Angela), Clint Smith (@ClintSmithIII), Tom Morello (@tmorello), Christiane Amanpour, Deray McKesson (@deray), Shaun King, and Susan Kelechi Watson (@skelechiwatson).
2. Speak Up
The best way to dismantle white supremacy is by one, acknowledging its existence in every facet of our society, and two, recognizing that by being white, you are part of this system which is why you must actively and openly dismantle it. Once you are able to do those two things you can start educating your family and friends and confronting those who are practicing racism, discrimination and intolerance and call it what it is. You most likely will lose family and friends for doing this. Some ideas are when you hear or read something that falls under once of these categories ask the person “Why do you think you can say that?” Make them explain their racism. If you are witnessing actual discrimination, first, stand between them. By doing this you are creating a physical barrier between the attacker and the marginalized person. Stay there until you are able to diffuse the situation or call security or police (only call police with the consent of the person being attacked). If you want others to feel safe, do so by not only your words, but your actions. This is called being an accomplice, not just an ally.
When Malcolm X was asked how white people could be allies and accomplices with Black people in 1964, he responded:
“By visibly hovering near us, they are ‘proving’ that they are ‘with us.’ But the hard truth is this isn’t helping to solve America’s racist problem. The Negroes aren’t the racists. Where the really sincere white people have got to do their ‘proving’ of themselves is not among the black victims, but out on the battle lines of where America’s racism really is — and that’s in their home communities; America’s racism is among their own fellow whites. That’s where sincere whites who really mean to accomplish something have got to work.”
I have had a few situations that I have had to do this. I’ll briefly tell you about one, just so that you know it can happen anywhere and you need to be ready.
I was at the doctor’s office waiting room with my son a local hospital when a white woman came in screaming to call security. She said that she had almost hit a child in the parking lot and “those” people weren’t watching their kids and didn’t even speak English. Right away I knew I needed to do something. I walked out to the hallway where she was berating a young Hispanic dad and his small children and asked her what the situation was. I stood in between her and this father and children who looked terrified. (Those who have had to watch small children know that they can disappear very quickly, so I wasn’t judging this father on not seeing one of the five sneak outside-it really could happen to anyone.) The woman kept saying racist remarks, especially about them not speaking English. I asked her if she spoke Spanish and she said no. I said, “neither do I - learning another language is really hard, isn’t it?” I kept trying to diffuse the situation by humanizing this young father and telling her I was staying with them because they didn’t feel safe. She finally gave up her quest on having security come or calling the police. In the end, she asked me to apologize to them (apparently she thought I could speak Spanish suddenly, but that’s besides the point) and left. I stayed with them until security came and explained the situation to the security guard. After, my son said, “Mom, what that lady did was wrong. I’m glad you said something.”
I am not one that likes confrontation, in fact, I end up shaking badly and trying not to cry in situations like this. Just know that even if you are afraid or that isn’t your personality, you need to make sure you do something to help someone in need.
Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Make your side visibly known to others.
3. Get Involved
Use your privilege to support marginalized groups. Some things you can do are attend marches, rallies, community groups, etc. A few things I have done is join my local Black Lives Matter group which, in my opinion, has the greatest leader, Lex Scott. She is doing some amazing things in Utah, so you should check out her groups online. She meets with various police departments and has created change that protects the community and the officers. Contact your local police department and see if they hold CAG meetings (Citizen Advisory Group) and attend them. Make sure that when you are at any of these meeting or events you are always there to listen and support, not to lead. Your job is to follow the POC leaders and be a support in whatever they need. If someone from the media comes up to you and wants to interview you, let them know who the leaders are and they should speak to them. Give your time and/or money to these groups to show your support. Vote. Help register others to vote. Help campaign for POC in your area and others who are marginalized so their voices can also be heard.
Diversify your life by going to events, restaurants, churches and activities that you normally wouldn’t. In Utah we have a FB page, “Diversify your Events Utah”, that lists local events/marches. See if there is one in your area and if there isn’t, create one, even if it is just for you to find local events to go to. Read books, watch movies and documentaries that will broaden your world perspective. If you have children, make sure you are reading them diverse books and teaching them through your actions and words what you are learning so they can also be allies. Someone told me that when white people first start this process, they tend to listen more to other white people. I have found that very true, so I would recommend looking the works/videos by Tim Wise and Dr. Robin DiAngelo. By doing this I promise you that your perspectives will change and you will be able to help dismantle white supremacy instead of being complicit in it.
Here are a few books/documentaries I would recommend looking up:
13th (Netflix), Poverty Inc (Netflix), The Kalief Browder Story (Netflix), I Am Not Your Negro (rent or buy online) The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (PBS), “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn, “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “What Does it Mean to be White? Developing Racial Literacy” by Robin DiAngelo, “White Like Me” by Tim Wise, “Affirmative Action in Black and White” by Tim Wise and “Unequal Childhoods” by Annette Lareau.
I’ll leave you with this quote from the man who I credit to making me think outside my bubble. Be brave. Start now.
“If people could see that change comes about as a result of millions of tiny acts that seem totally insignificant, well then they wouldn’t hesitate to take those tiny acts.” – Howard Zinn
If you are looking for more ways to be a better ally I recommend click here to view this article.
Terra is the mom of two LEGO loving boys and a princess loving girl who keep her very busy. She is a professional photographer based out of Utah, runs an adoption non-profit and donates whatever spare time she has to various charities and causes. She is a lover of all things Harry Potter, eats Ben & Jerry’s everyday, is a Netflix marathon champ and has always adored anything French, especially the pastries, cheese and bread.