Hey, fellow white Americans.
It's been a week. Many of us are horrified by the murder of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans and are finally coming around to seeing how real the issue of racism is in our country. We hear our friends who aren't white asking us to take action. We may recognize that we have a responsibility to do more than simply "not be racist," but we may not be sure where to begin or what action looks like in practical terms.
Welcome to the world of anti-racism.
The goal here is to dismantle racism in our systems and institutions, as well as root it out within ourselves. As inheritors of a country built with the labor of enslaved Black people on land stolen from Indigenous people—a country whose systems were designed by and for white people—racism comes with the territory. None of us are immune.
Don't take it personally. We didn't choose our skin any more than anyone else, and this isn't about "guilt." But we inherited a racial legacy, and we have a responsibility to see where we benefit from it. We also have a responsibility to use our power and privilege to repair the damage that racial legacy has done and keeps doing.
A simple definition of racism used in racial justice work is "prejudice + power." Most of us are fairly clear on what prejudice entails —stereotyping, profiling, discriminating, etc.—but many of us struggle with what the power part means for us. And that's the part that we can utilize to enact desperately needed systemic change.
We may not consciously realize it, but white Americans, as a collective, have more power than any other single group to either maintain or change things. And we also have individual power that we can wield for better or for worse.
Keep in mind that none of this is simple. Since we're trying to build an equitable and just society—which we've literally never seen in this country or arguably anywhere on this planet—we're all in learning mode. But a lot of work has been done by racial justice advocates and activists to determine how white folks can contribute most effectively to this work.
Though not an exhaustive list, here are some practical ways we can use our power to push for racial justice on an ongoing basis.
Use the power of PRIVILEGE to disrupt incidents of racial injustice.
White privilege means your skin color offers you a certain measure of protection in our society—and that privilege can be used as a tool. That might mean stepping in with your voice when you witness injustice happening, knowing that a fellow white person or person in authority is more likely to listen to you than a person of color. Sometimes it means physically standing between a person of color and someone who is trying to harm them. We may not think it makes much of a difference, but it does. White folks are less likely to be viewed by other white folks as a threat or a suspect or a potential criminal, and we can physically disrupt racial injustice simply by placing our white self in front of it.
Here's an example of disrupting injustice with your voice:
Here's an example of stepping in to shield a person of color with your body:
I will never forget this moment.— Shomari Stone (@shomaristone) June 1, 2020
A young black man jumped the gated barrier in Lafayette Park near the White House.
Then a white girl jumped the barrier and put herself between the young man & US Park Police to protect him. #historicmoment May 31, 2020 #GeorgeFloydProtest @msnbc https://t.co/4xrGNqo9Mk
Use the power of your WALLET to support the work of people of color.
The economic disparity between white and Black Americans is a vast and often overlooked element of racial inequality. From the lack of generational wealth stemming from nearly 250 years of slavery to laws and policies that specifically kept Black people from accumulating wealth, white power-holders in the U.S. created and maintained this disparity. That doesn't mean all white people are rich and all Black people are poor; it means there's an ongoing collective disparity caused by racism that needs to be redressed. We can help by financially supporting minority-owned businesses, as well as creators, artists and activists of color.
Use the power of CHOICE to defer to leaders of color in this fight.
We are free to choose how we take action and decide who we listen to. Some of us might feel compelled and eager to lead a movement or launch an initiative ourselves, because that's how we're used to taking action. But there are already leaders in this space—powerful, activist people of color who have been at this for a long, long time, whether we've realized it or not. This movement doesn't need us to sweep in as a savior and take over anything. Look into organizations like Color of Change or Showing Up for Racial Justice. Our role is to take direction from the leaders already here, to listen and learn, and to be of service alongside the people who've been doing this work in ways that they tell us are most helpful.
Use the power of your PLATFORM to elevate voices of people of color.
Social media gives us the opportunity to speak publicly any time we wish. Most of us have fairly homogenous social circles, even if we live in diverse communities, so exposing our mostly white networks to diverse perspectives helps voices that need to be heard reach further. Start following social media account of people of color (here's a list of Black thought leaders to start with) and share their posts. When you read an article by a Black author, pass it along. Use the public platform you have to amplify the voices that need to be heard.
Use the power of POLITICAL ACTION to contact lawmakers and demand change.
White people have massive political power. We have always held—and still do hold—a disproportionate number of seats in legislatures (and all governmental positions). And whether we admit it or not, we are the ones who the people at the top listen to first and foremost. We can use that power to push for reform. One place to start right now would be police reform. The Center for Policing Equity is a good resource to explore what kinds of reform to push for.
Use the power of your VOTE to elect anti-racism candidates.
Don't underestimate the power of voting at all levels—local, state, and national. White folks have always been the largest voting block in the nation, and historically we've used that power to elect a disproportionate number of white government officials. Supporting people of color as candidates and voting for candidates with a proven anti-racism track record is one way to shift that power to make our government more representative of the American people.
And local elections are particularly important, as in many localities voters elect sheriffs, prosecutors and judges—positions that directly impact racial justice. If you're not sure if you're registered to vote or need to know how to vote in your area, go here.
Use the power of ACCESS to resources to educate yourself.
One thing that becomes woefully clear to as you dive into anti-racism work is how abysmal most of our education on the history of race in our country really is. Like, it's so bad. I grew up in a household that actively valued education and worked to battle racial prejudice and was still baffled. Most of us don't learn the full history of white supremacy and how deep those roots run. We aren't taught that the Confederate states didn't want to keep slavery primarily because of economics but because—as they announced in no uncertain terms—they believed white superiority over the Black race was and always would be God's intended purpose. We don't learn about the bombing of Black Wall Street in the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. We don't learn the details of voter suppression, redlining, or the fact that MLK, Jr. and his activism was disapproved of by most Americans in his lifetime.
And that's just basic history. We also need to wrap our brains around the psychological, sociological, and economic impacts of racism. It's a lot, but it's vital. This link to Anti-Racism Resources for White People is a great place to start with that self-education.
** An important note here: While we need to listen to people of color, don't ask Black friends to educate you. It is not their job or responsibility to educate us on our own history and our own issues with racism. When we ask a Black person to educate us, we are asking them to do labor for us for free. When you think of it in those terms, it's pretty clear why it's problematic.
Anti-racism is everyone's fight, but we have a unique and vital role in it as white Americans. And if we don't use our power to actively push our nation toward equity and justice, we don't just contribute to the problem, we are the problem.