Dear Fellow White People,
We have to do better. As individuals, as families, and as a community. It is on all of us to be actively dismantling (hell, blowing them all up!) the systems of oppression, built for our own privilege, that have been killing Black Americans for centuries. When the protests first started in Brooklyn against police brutality and the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others, I really struggled knowing where my voice and presence should be. Was it at protests? Was it speaking out online? Was it collecting donations for black-led racial justice organizations? Was it within meetings rooms or talking with family and friends? Was it reading? or petitioning local and national lawmakers, representatives, and police chiefs?
Of course, it’s all of these forms of showing up, but it’s been important to learn how to do so mindfully and with the awareness of empowering, and not, detracting from Black voices in my support of Black lives.
Because whether intentionally or not, my presence as a white woman means that I get to go through my day without thinking of my race. Yes, the lens in which I view the world is tinted by my gender, but not the color of my skin. The color of skin means that I see empowering, diverse representations of myself on screens, in books, and in conversations. It means I feel safe in the majority of work spaces and public spaces, and am not being undermined or disempowered by others because they have their own prejudices against my skin tone. It means I can go through my day not thinking about the ways in which systems of governance and policing work because both have been tuned over centuries to protect my skin tone.
In that first week of protests, I would inundate my internet tabs with articles and posts from Anti-racism educators, trying to absorb as much information as possible, listening to as many experiences as possible, in perhaps the hopes that I would somehow learn exactly what to do. But standing back and asking, “What do I do? How do I help?” isn’t the answer for several reasons.
The first being that these questions are being directed by the white community at Black educators and activists. It’s putting the emotional labour back on the Black community to essentially teach those who are oppressing them how to not discriminate against them? It doesn’t make sense as I type it and it sure as hell doesn’t make sense in practice so please be mindful of the emotional labour you’re putting on others as you begin your anti-racism learnings. Instead, do the research yourself. Take this note from author Layla Saad below to heart and learn from it. Learn from her and Erika Hart and Grace F. Victory and Patrice Peck and Giselle Buchanan and Diverse Spines and Jessie from Bowties and Books and Rachel Elizabeth Cargle and the many other educators you actively seek out moving forward. Read this letter from Fadima Kamara and share it with your coworkers and together examine your work space and work culture. In what ways have you assumed certain systems and environments were working for everyone just because they were working for you?
Because we are not going to learn anti-racism work in a week or a month or ten years. The unrealistic mindset that this is how it works is deeply harmful because it means that when we realize this isn’t possible, we return to living our lives the way we were before, turning a blind eye to racial oppression. Unlearning racism will take a lifetime, that is a commitment we need to make and keep beyond this moment.
The other problem that needs to be addressed is that my voice and the voice of any other white person should not be being used to teach anti-racism work. There are Black activists and educators who have been doing this work for decades and to suddenly come in and co-op their work about a topic we all know nothing about is just another form of oppression. This doesn’t mean we should stay silent but instead we should be using our privileges to protect and empower Black lives and voices. On our Instagrams, in our fields, around our conference tables, and dinner tables. And in learning and listening from Black voices, it’s then on us to turn around and really begin talking about and dissecting our white privilege and the white supremacy it fuels. That is our biggest responsibility is understanding and giving up our privileges in order to protect and empower Black lives.
I read this post in early June from anti-racism educator Monique Melton and it’s really framed the way I’ve been moving through the Black Lives Matter movement. Melton talks about the word “allyship” being used as a title of accomplishment that white people place on their lapels to show they’re not one of the bad white people, that they’re different, that they’ve done all the work and reached this end goal of being awarded the distinguished title of “ally.” As Melton points out, anti-racism work is a commitment, it’s not an end goal someone reaches, it is not a self-improvement journey for white people. And this is a vital component for us to all remember.
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We know y’all like the term ally, but let’s explore why allyship is not the goal. We need u to do this of anti-racism, but not as an ally. So many people come into this work believing that the way to support Black lives is thru allyship. They even self-identify as allies. But allyship is not the goal of this work. Not even close. First, this implies that anti-racism is an identity that can be earned or perhaps even born into, which it is not. This would imply there’s a destination, a start & stop point that you get to in this work, when this is instead a life long journey. Anti-racism is not a noun or an identity, but it is instead a daily & ongoing practice of identifying and eliminating racism from the “inside-out” so that we can live fully in our humanity. Additionally, the goal is not allyship bc it comes with too many conditions (that you determine) & implies that this work for you is optional, aspirational, intellectual, for personal development; when it is actually ur responsibility & for Black liberation. Allyship disconnects u from the humanity of this work and keeps u insulated & protected by the white privilege you wish to “use for good”. But that’s also a myth…you can’t use your privilege for “good” bc that means there’s still an oppressive system that gives you that privilege. The goal is to dismantle the system that gives you that privilege, & being an ally won’t cut it. Allyship becomes performative far too easily bc not much is required to call oneself an ally—which means it becomes more about you, than Black lives. This is work u should be doing bc it’s your work to do…u don’t need a title, u need to get to work. Bc how painful is it that the folks who experience the oppression also have to be the ones to eliminate it. The burden & blame always gets pushed on Black shoulders. When will the white collective take responsibility for the work that is urs to do & w/o needing a title or badge to do it? We don’t need your self-proclaimed titles, we need your unrelenting commitment to ending the violence against us by doing the work to ensure we all can live freely in our humanity. No titles needed.
Because Fellow White Person, this is a moment that can’t just be a moment. This work to dismantle racism against the Black community has to be work that we continue doing everyday for the rest of our lives. We have to keep being uncomfortable. We have to keep talking about white privilege and police brutality . We have to turn around and look at our industries and see whose voices are missing and makes changes — not only to who is in positions of power, but to our work culture that put extra emotional and mental burdens on Black coworkers.
We have to call out racist remarks, portrayals, and stereotypes. We have to speak out and we have to listen. We have to call out the biased ways journalists write about protests and the Black Lives Matter movement, and the unjust ways local/state/national governments police and defund the Black community. We need to relearn the history of our country. We need to put our money towards Black-led organizations and businesses and authors and creatives.
We have to look for ways to support Black mental health, Black joy, and Black prosperity, and we have to stop putting our support behind individuals and corporations actively working against these three things. We have to take it upon ourselves to learn and advocate and call out other white people. And we need to be doing all of this all the time.
If your eyes weren’t open before, I hope — like mine — they’re now unblinking like Cyclops from X-Men looking for racial injustice and the ways our white privilege is hurting others. Now that you know the full extent to which racism festers in this country, there is no excuse not to speak out and fight against it because this can’t just be a trendy moment, it can’t.
So keep saying Black Lives Matter over and over and over again. Say it until it becomes the beat of the city you live in, the pulse of the conversations you have, and the torchlight of the work that you do.
Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter.
A Fellow White Person