Well-Intentioned Allies Need to Talk to Their Families
In 2011-2012 I had never heard of the phrase “white privilege.” But I knew there was something wrong even in social justice spaces where white folks are expected to be allies.
I’d notice that executive directors, boards, and foundations in charge of making sure non-profit organizations could stay open were usually composed of white men or women. I’m not saying this led to Donald Trump’s win, but it’s a problem.
Fast-forward to 2016. I was living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Almost every ex-pat I was friends with was white and said they didn’t vote for Trump. But then he won. After this, a lot of people asked what they could do to help people whose lives were meant to get worse under his administration.
On and offline, people would suggested conferences, rallies, and other events. They’re nice, but these are defensive responses. The true way to play offense if you’re a white ally is to talk to the white people you know won’t listen to a person of color: your boss, relative, or friend.
No one mentions that it’s the job of even the best-intentioned people to confront white supremacy and privilege.
I’m not saying this is true of all white people, but it seems that everyone has that relative. An aunt, uncle or grandparent that sends chain emails with the latest conspiracy. That relative who voted for Donald Trump. You know who I’m talking about.
Whenever a white person asks me for the best way to help the marginalized, I always say the same thing: it’s your job to educate other white folks people of color don’t have access to.
As soon as I say this, I see the same look of despair. “How am I supposed to help out if you won’t educate me? What if I have questions?”
You do this the same way the oppressed learn to navigate the white world without asking you for your questions, your opinion, or the permission to “pick your brain.”
Maybe some people who have a disability, are LGBT, or who identify with any of the many oppressed groups suffering because of Trump will be okay with educating you. That’s their right. We’re not a monolith.
These pointers are not the end-all-be-all of answers for How White People Can Help Us All. They’re a starting point.
First, check yourself before challenging someone in your inner circle. Maybe the reason why racists are so comfortable spewing fake facts or discussing their vitriol is because you’ve done something to show them you agree. Ask yourself:
- When a person of color is in a professional setting with me, do I interrupt or talk over them?
- Do I expect people of color* in personal and professional settings to be subservient to me?
- Do I expect a person of color to clean up after my mess or be happy to be in a situation where they’re the only person with some melanin?
- When was the last time I read a book or watched a film or TV show that doesn’t center on whiteness?
- When was the last time I patronized a business owned by a person of color?
- Have I appropriated someone else’s culture in some way or made jokes at the expense of someone else’s culture?
- If a person (especially woman) of color doesn’t smile, do I ask them to do it so I can be more comfortable?
- Do I expect people of color to justify their existence? (Examples of this include asking the dreaded where are you really from? I just want to get to know your background better).
(* Insert any other marginalized group here)
Examining your behavior and changing it is the first step. You can’t confront someone else on their racist beliefs if you’ve relished in white privilege without challenging it.
Now let’s get to the more awkward part. Confronting others about racism isn’t about winning an argument. You have to change hearts and set boundaries.
Don’t focus on a battle. It took a lot to create the systems in place today and they’re not going to leave quickly. You’re priming for a sustainable lifelong change here.
Family gatherings and special occasions are always awkward for white people who say they want to help. The reason why it’s so crucial to begin in the home or even at work is because most people of color can’t even access these spaces.
You’re only truly an ally if we can count on you when we can’t see you.
The goal here isn’t to win an argument; it’s to let people know who you are and what you’re willing to do to help those who are oppressed because it’s what you believe is right:
- Use humor or sarcasm to make your points known.
- Appeal to the person’s positive emotions and allay their fears. Studies show that conservatives respond to threats and liberals tend to seek out adventure. Ask the person why they fear something and find a way to show them there’s nothing to fear.
- Use someone else’s story of change. The Guardian provides examples of former racists who now work on racial reconciliation. People sometimes stick to racial biases because “it’s tradition.” They fear losing their support system if they let go of unchallenged notions. You have to show them this won’t happen.
- Take control. Interrupting someone in the middle of a racist sentence or senseless judgment has never hurt anyone.
- Argue for. This is easier done with younger relatives, but it can be done with anyone. Take your younger siblings, cousins, and relatives
to that museum exhibit or that film. Expose them to different ideas.
- Get help from someone else. You’re bound to have yet another white relative who also wants to dismantle the system. Make a pact to have each other’s
- If you know facts, use them. This is when keeping up with the news counts. Explain what the White House did this week that doesn’t serve anyone. Mention the many Trump followers who are upset at paying more taxes and being scammed. Sometimes a good-natured prod won’t work. You’ll have to take the nuclear option, but everything you do will have made a dent.
Ingrid Cruz is a freelance writer and independent filmmaker/musician. She loves coffee, beaches, and sushi. You can follow her musings at http://ingridcruzwrites.wordpress.com or say hello on Twitter/Instagram: ingridiswriting.
All views and opinions expressed in this essay are those of the author.