It seems that everyone is writing lists. I must admit; I have scoffed at these lists, while also reading them. And then one day I thought I should write my own list.
It’s not as simple as I thought. I apologize for all the scoffing.
The work of dismantling white supremacy is not easy, but it is certainly not as difficult as being targeted by white supremacy. It takes effort and focus for white folks to really understand and address white supremacy. It’s not done with reading a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. and deciding that black folks deserve equality. Nope. That is barely the beginning.
If you have made that crucial step of recognizing that ending racism is something white folks must do, then this list is for you. It is not complete. It is not exclusive. Hopefully it will provide at least a little guidance for fellow white people wanting to wake up.
There are plenty of people talking and writing about racism. Listen to them. But really dig deep to listen, and not to formulate a response. Put aside all your beliefs about racism and hear what is being said. And most important; listen to the people impacted by racism. Who better knows what racism looks like, feels like, sounds like, and tastes like than People of Color?
Understand the difference between prejudice, discrimination, and racism
No, don’t go to Webster for this one. The dictionary does not do an adequate job of defining these differences. Try these instead;
- Prejudice – A state of mind; a set of attitudes held by one person or group about another, tending to cast the other in an inferior light, despite the absence of legitimate or sufficient evidence; means literally to “pre-judge”; considered irrational and very resistant to change, because concrete evidence that contradicts the prejudice is usually dismissed as exceptional.
- Discrimination – The denial of equal treatment, civil liberties and opportunity to individuals or groups with respect to education, accommodation, health care, employment and access to services, goods and facilities. Behavior that results from prejudiced attitudes by individuals or institutions, resulting in unequal outcomes for persons who are perceived as different. Differential treatment that may occur on the basis of race, nationality, gender, age, religion, political or ethnic affiliation, sexual orientation, marital or family status, physical, developmental or mental disability. Includes the denial of cultural, economic, educational, political and/or social rights of members of non-dominant groups.
- Racism – A mix of prejudice and power leading to domination and exploitation of one group (the dominant or majority group) over another (the non-dominant, minority or racialized group). It asserts that the one group is supreme and superior while the other is inferior. Racism is any individual action, or institutional practice backed by institutional power, which subordinates people because of their color or ethnicity.
This is vitally important. When you use the word “racism” in place of “discrimination” the words will make no sense. Also, understanding the difference will help you to understand what being white means. I can’t emphasize enough how important this basic understanding is. Without a firm grasp of these three words, you will have no foothold for deeper understanding and action.
Read works from People of Color, especially Women of Color
When white folks write about race, we are writing from our understandings as white folks. This can be important, but it is more important to read from the folks who are resisting racism on the daily.
And reading works from Women of Color is most important. The multiple intersections of oppression are best illuminated from the people experiencing the most intersections. Google is your friend.
!!!!WARNING!!!! Best practice while reading from people impacted by racism is to keep quiet. Why, you may ask? Because educating yourself is your job. Folks have put so much information on the interwebs for you to read, there is no need to ask them for more effort in your own personal education. People of Color have been asked (not to mention; forced) to help white folks long enough. You can use Google. You can ask a white person. You can simply read and re-read until you understand. Take what is being offered and leave people alone. If someone is open to your questions, they will usually say so. If they do not invite a dialog on the subject, don’t ask for one. And that goes for declarations of support too. If you want to show your support, read further down this list.
Understand your privileges, prejudices and blind spots
Do this alone or with friends who have indicated they are willing to be in conversation with you. Make a list of your privileges. Add to your list. Listen closely to those voices in your head that pop up with prejudice. Make a list of those. Try to think of all the things you have heard about, but have trouble really seeing. Make a list of those things.
Then use your lists. Watch as you walk through life when your privileges, prejudices and blind spots appear. As you catalog them, they will become more visible. As they become more visible, you will understand them more. This will help you with the next step.
Now when you listen, more things are going to make sense. Opening your eyes to oppression takes effort for most white people. But like all efforts, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Before you knew that racism = prejudice + power, the word could be confusing and agitating. Now, with that little piece of understanding (and hopefully much more from your commitment to educate yourself), the conversations about race will take on more depth and nuance. Keep listening with a beginners mind.
There are so many places where folks are calling for support. Show up. When you show up, remember the steps above. Listen for what is being asked. Do that. If a local group is looking for people to demonstrate at the courthouse; go demonstrate at the courthouse. If they need more people to wash dishes; volunteer to wash dishes.
Showing up is being ready to participate in the ways that are being asked. If you are not asked to give your opinion, then don’t. When you enter into spaces created by impacted communities (assuming first that those spaces are open to white folks), you must show up willing to stand in the back and take notes. Your role is in the margins. It is possible, but not guaranteed, that through this you will form relationships with people from these communities. Assume nothing.
!!!!WARNING!!!! There are spaces where white folks simply are not wanted or welcome. Stay Away. Your willingness to show up does not give you permission to enter any space that is not for you. There is a time and a place to be helpful, and a time and place to stay home and watch Netflix. Know the difference.
Talk with other white people about being white
We need each other for this. No single one of us will be able to end racism alone. We need to do this as a group. SURJ is a place to find other white folks to talk with. There are probably other places you can find like minded white people.
But don’t just talk with folks who are already in action. Talk with the ones who are struggling, just like you are. Just like I am. Use that education to speak with white people who still don’t understand how racism works or what being white is all about. These conversations are difficult. Be prepared for hot flashes, nausea, headaches, and despair. This is really a minor sacrifice in light of how racism impacts People of Color. You might find yourself becoming angry. Good. Use that anger to fuel your continued education and action.
Look for more blind spots
When you start showing up and talking with other white people, you will be faced with a growing list of blind spots. Look into them. Whiteness has insulated us from understanding whiteness. Read this piece by Robin D’Angelo about white fragility. Keep looking for those blind spots. You have them, I guarantee it. We all do. Shining light into them will only deepen your understanding of how to end racism.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, listening needs to become a regular practice. Better yet, it needs to be the default setting. We all know that you have many opinions about a huge variety of subjects. And certainly there is a time and place to express them (like in a blog…). But listening needs to be the first thing you do and the thing you do most. With so many people out there, you can only benefit from listening to as many points of view as possible. Being white, we are taught to assert our opinions and fight for them. When addressing racism, we need to turn this on its head. Our white opinions have been projected loud enough and often enough. We need to be listening to People of Color in order to end racism. Make it your mantra.
Respond when called upon
It’s not convenient. Who cares. Remember; there are times when watching Netflix is your best option. But there is so much work to be done. We need to be ready to respond when called upon. If you are showing up, you will be asked to show up. Show up again.
Of course, no one can show up every single time. Everyone has commitments. But exactly at that moment when it is not convenient, you will be doing the most to dislodge your whiteness. It is difficult. Expect it to be difficult. Do it anyway. People of Color have no choice when it comes to the (deadly) difficulties of racism. White folks always have the choice to retreat into the comfort of not confronting racism. Resist this urge.
Find the places you can leverage your privilege to benefit others
Some of them will be small. Some of them will be large. Some of them will require no great effort. Some of them will come with deep sacrifice. This needs to be done.
Your privilege was not simply bestowed upon you by some benevolent being. It was taken from other people. You have privilege at their expense. These privileges belong as the birthrights of all people. Look for ways you can use those privileges to give back.
!!!!WARNING!!!! There is no need for any white saviors in the struggle to end racism. If the ways you come up with to leverage your privilege end with you gaining more privilege, then try again. It is vitally important how your leverage results in centering people who find themselves in the margins. This is not about you. This is about giving back that which was stolen.
Leverage your privilege
Just do it. Especially when you are called upon to do it. You may lose face with other white folks. You may lose access or influence. Do it anyway. Do it when no one is looking.
Begin listening and end listening. Learn this. It must become second nature to listen rather than speak. Never stop listening.
This is not a list of everything we must do to end white supremacy, and I hope that you, dear reader, realize this. This is for white people trying to find a way to get started. Call it, Basic Racial Fitness for White Folks. This is a beginning point.
The heavy lifting still needs to happen.