How to be an effective white ally

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


I recently read Tim Wise’s excellent book, White Like Me. The book talks about Wise’s own path toward his understanding of race as white person and his subsequent work toward racial justice.

One of the chapters particularly caught my attention: one that delves into becoming a true white ally. It’s one thing to read about racial injustice, post articles on Twitter or Facebook or even have strong opinions about race in the US. It’s another thing to be willing to do the work of being an outspoken and active ally. Wise has some suggestions on the best way to do that:

- Be willing to listenBelieve people of color or minorities when they tell you their stories. Respect their perspective. Give them credit. One example he gives is to respect the way people want to be called: black, African American, Indian American, Native American, gays, queer? Whatever it is. If someone tells you what they want to be called, do it, respect it.
Call out racism (or any sort of negative -ism) when you see or hear it. Do not let family or friends make jokes that make you uncomfortable. Respond in love (attacks against someone has never made them change their minds!) but respond. As Martin Luther King, Jr said “in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” Take this at heart, and by doing so be a role model to your other friends, family members, and especially your children if they’re around you while you call someone out.
Find white role models. This is so important. You do not have to do this alone! Be part of a group if you can. Find someone who inspires you and follow their leads. 
Speaking of leaders, do your part under the leadership of people of color or minorities. Don’t create a movement when one already exists -follow their leads, their needs, their actions.
It’s scary to be a real ally. Do it anyway! The work will challenge you and the
system that is so good to white people, myself included of course. The bottom line is that justice comes with a cost and white people must engage in uncomfortable truths and envision a revision of the socio-economic and power privileges we're accustomed to. And that's ok -necessary even.
Finally, do not expect a pat on the back for your work from people of colors or minorities. Don’t do anti-racism work for people of color -they can do that for themselves. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.

     The task is daunting but white people have power from the simple and "lucky" fact to be born white. White people need to use this privilege to exercise leadership in dismantling oppressive systems. 
      If you are interested in joining a movement to end racism, you can check out your local chapter of SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) here. There is work to be done. Let's do this!

      (Photo by Jerry Kiesewetter)

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