As protests against racial violence in the country continue to escalate, many white people are asking, "Why are these riots happening?" and "Why are people so angry?" I've even seen: "I have feelings and I must share them right now!" and "All lives matter." While some of these thoughts might be well-meaning, more often than not, the comments are actually extremely harmful.
Questions about systemic racism are not bad or forbidden, and honest, open-minded dialogues about the resulting movements are encouraged, but only after you've done the legwork and research to learn about both. There are plenty of resources available to white allies to educate—remember, the BIPOC you're asking will likely have had to answer the same questions many, many times before. It's also important to realize that people of color suffer from prejudice and microaggressions that white people do not face, and recent events have only added to existing traumas and created new wounds.
So it is our responsibility as white allies to be as informed and educated as we can. Before we act, we must first investigate—especially since this moment is not about white people and our needs. We must make sure to do the work on the issue before coming with questions about race. And we must first check if the person we're asking has the mental and emotional bandwidth to discuss and share.
If you'd like to be supportive and don't know how, here are some good places to start.
Dr. Robin DiAngelo's Teachings
There's no better place to begin than with Dr. DiAngelo, who has been studying issues of race and engaging with white people about racism for decades. Her books, including the particularly relevant White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, are fantastic. And the video, below, is the perfect starting point if you're new to these concepts and conversations.
A few of her points that I've found to be particularly helpful:
- There are false assumptions that white people make about racism and racial tension: "I am a good person/I am not a racist myself, and therefore I can absolve myself of any fault/I don't have to engage on this topic/I'm not the problem."
- Having this belief, and being confronted on racial issues, can often manifest white fragility: "anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation."
- Racism is a system into which all people are born. White people cannot be outside the system—in fact, we are deeply embedded in it.
- This system of racism inherently benefits white people—this is backed up by immense statistical data. Many white people have been taught that the perspectives of people of color do not matter in our day-to-day lives. Large-scale societal segregation exists—including in housing and schooling (and subsequently in work and life)—in many, many parts of the U.S.
- We did not personally create this system (even though we may have slave-owning ancestors). Nevertheless, it is our responsibility to understand it, educate ourselves about it, cultivate relationships with people of color and really listen (more on that below), and work to dismantle systems of inequality that exist all around us.
It's worth isolating that last point: True allyship is not just talk. It is about the work. It is an active process. And that process belongs to everyone, regardless of whether we want to engage or not.
Sensitivity Readers and Educators
Many educators have made themselves available to people who want to do the work. They are the perfect people to follow if you're beginning to immerse yourself in this content. Writer, publicist, and sensitivity reader Mireille Harper, for example, has a handy primer about short- and long-term ways to be a better ally, which includes several anti-racism resources:
And as DiAngelo notes, if we're on the path, we're going to make mistakes as we go. But failure is the best teacher. We must be willing to screw up, listen to candid and respectful feedback from people who know better, apologize without getting defensive (or trying to "prove" we are a good person), and move forward with the lessons learned. I have personally done this—confronted my own biases, upbringing, and white fragility—and I promise it gets easier.
Bestselling author Kacen Callender summed it up beautifully in a thread about what a white ally can look like:
Filmmakers, Writers, and Creatives
Anti-racist authors and resources exist in abundance, and the vast literature on the topic extends over centuries. Just to name a couple: modern authors like Ibram X. Kendi, Michelle Alexander, Ta-Nehisi Coates, or icons like Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston, and James Baldwin. And educating ourselves about important but lesser-known figures in the struggle for racial equality, like Marsha P. Johnson and Bayard Rustin, can also be enlightening.
Director Ava DuVernay also tackles racial issues in her work—including the devastating but necessary miniseries When They See Us, on Netflix—and has provided context on why these issues are so critical to our country:
She's also providing resources in connection with her own works to answer the question, "What do I do now [that I've watched and want to help]?"
And keep an eye out for upcoming documentary Aggie which covers the story of Agnes Gund. Gund saw DuVernay's documentary 13th about racial inequality as it pertains to incarceration and immediately started the Art for Justice Fund to support prison reform and incarcerated artists.
BIPOC Organizations That Provide Support
Here is a list of resources that support and help those actively involved in the current protests regarding police brutality. Monetary support is one avenue, but you can also help by signing petitions, amplifying relevant causes, and—no surprise—educating yourself about the current political climate.
It's also important to note that developing one's anti-racist network does not, and should not, be isolated to this moment. This thread provides a good snapshot of non-profits that are doing particularly strong work right now but also what they are always striving for:
Other groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Black Lives Matter are good to follow since they share a wealth of resources on their websites and social accounts that you can draw from every day.
Remember that becoming a strong ally is a progression. It takes time and constant energy and isn't a fixed target. Make an effort to keep learning and growing.