Racial Justice Actions for White Folks

Racial Justice Actions for White Folks

I believe that everyone deserves to be safe and should be supported in attaining wellness — true physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Racism has been an ongoing problem in the United States since its inception, and racism makes it very, very difficult for Black individuals and communities to truly live well. I believe it is my duty to work to create a world in which safety and wellness is possible for all people. Therefore, I am a social justice and peace activist, in addition to being a therapist, teacher, and speaker. 

Now that we have a powerful window into the world through social media, we are being exposed to realities that, perhaps, were not as visible to us in other times, though those realities existed long before we got this new view into them. We have begun to see intense examples of racial injustice and racist violence played out across our screens, recently rising to a crescendo with Philando Castile's and Korryn Gaines' murders by police, both with young children in arms reach of them, the violence being played out on social media livestream around the world. Though unwarranted and disproportionate police violence against Black American citizens has been well documented for years, these horrifying moments seem to be grabbing the attention of White America in a way that is stronger and more potent than other examples of racism.

People are rightly moved by this violence - angered, saddened, frightened, overwhelmed. But there is a difference in how White and Black communities are experiencing these types of events. Black folks in America have known for years, hundreds of years, that racism is a serious issue in American culture that directly puts Black individuals, their family members and friends at direct risk for bodily harm and other injustices. These videos and stories of police violence targeting Black community members is not news to the Black community. But those of us with White skin, who have lived with White privilege, we have largely been more insulated from this violence and constant examples of racism in our lives. We might feel shocked to learn that the problem of racism is so severe. Some may feel mobilized, for the first time in their lives, to take action to work toward ending racism in the world and protecting Black lives. This is a powerful feeling, and I encourage you to harness it.

But the problem of racism can feel so large, so overwhelming, that many people do not know what to do to start making change towards a world that is just and safe for all people, and in particularly people of color. There is no one right way to take action. We need to change ourselves, our own attitudes, fears, and misconceptions, and we need to work together to create a massive network of positive action that will call out racist actions and make society gradually safer for Black lives than it is now. 

I have created this list of Racial Justice Actions for White Folks because I want to support people who are ready to do more to work against racism to understand some of the steps that can be taken. And, I created the list specifically for White folks because racism is mostly enacted upon Black individuals and communities by White individuals and communities, and it is the White community that needs to change its own culture to abolish the racism within it. This statement may cause some to become defensive - and learning to release feelings of defensiveness while addressing issues of race, racism, and restoring racial justice is one of the most important actions that White folks can take. Explore the list below, and I welcome your dialogue on how you see yourself involved in improving race relations and dismantling racist systems and racist culture in the U.S. today. 

Note: This post is focused on Black lives because there has been so much visible dialogue online recently on racism against the Black community and relationships between the Black and White communities. However, racism and other forms of oppression targeted at people of color and of different ethnic and religious backgrounds affect many more than just the Black community. You can fill in "Black" with Latino/a, Native, Indigenous, Muslim, or other communities, and this post is applicable to them, as well. White folks, it is time to clear White culture of prejudice against "other." Let's start here. 

Racial Justice Actions for White Folks

Listen to Black Voices. Do not argue with them. Do not minimize them. Do not ask them to share their experiences, opinions, and stories in a different way than they are offering them. Listen. Even when it is uncomfortable. Especially when it is comfortable. Retreating from hard news about Black lives is a White privilege, and you will be more motivated to work against racism if you refuse to participate in it.

Learn from Black speakers. Follow Black activists, artists, authors, political leaders, teachers, students, parents, everyone on your social media outlets. Click and read the articles they share. Look at the images they share. Learn about Black culture, Black perspective. Learn that there is no One Black Voice. Black lives are varied and valuable. By exposing yourself to many Black speakers you will learn many perspectives very different from White voices.

Read books by Black authors. Read Black history books. Take Black history classes. It has been an unearned privilege for you to read books, take classes, and be a student of teachings that strongly and inequitably represented your race, culture, and history. What you know is incomplete. Be willing to admit that and learn more.

Consume Black-positive media. Sociological research shows that our opinions and behavior are very strongly influenced by the media we take in. Mainstream media portrays Whites more often and more favorably than Blacks and reinforces racist stereotypes in our minds. If we only consume media that has a racist bias, we WILL have a racist bias. Learn about the positive work, accomplishments, successes, and achievements of Black people currently and throughout history to work against unconscious racist bias.

Seek Black role models. Same as above - notice, observe, respect, and appreciate Black community members, globally and locally, current and historically, who engage/ have engaged in positive work.

While actively listening to the Black Voices that are being shared with you, do not ask Black individuals to speak on behalf of their race. It is a White privilege to be able to offer an opinion without your singular voice being used to represent all White people. Black individuals are often asked to speak on behalf of “Black People” and this is an undue burden. Process your feelings, questions, and concerns about racism with public sources of information, with White allies, with friends, with representatives of racial justice organizations. Do not turn to Black individuals to get support for working against racism. Dismantling racist power structures is the work of those who put it in place, enforce it, and benefit from it, which is White people. Yes, none of us personally or individually created racist power structures, but our inaction to change those structures reinforces them. We need to take ownership for our responsibility in making change in White culture.

Allow the narrative about racial injustice to remain about Black lives and restoring racial justice, not about you. Racism is not about you. Truly, it is not. Yes, you may harbor unintended racist attitudes, and if your words or actions are called into question as possibly racist, this is a crucial time to listen, not react. It can feel very painful to have your actions pointed out as an example of racism, but if you take that moment to let your emotions overwhelm you then you are no longer in an open-minded space to learn how to change this part of yourself and you, once again, you make the issues focused on the needs of a White person. If you argue in defense of yourself or another White person when racism is called out or race-related conversations get heated, you are making it about yourself. If you make a scene about not being “that kind of White person,” or attempt to justify an action as “not racist,” then you are letting your needs come to the forefront of the dialogue. Stop. Listen. Learn. Breathe. Get support. You have and will make mistakes, we all will. Change happens when we are committed to learning from them, even when we are uncomfortable. Be willing to be uncomfortable.

Educate yourself about racism. Explore sociological research that demonstrates the ways racism has been identified and documented in our society, government, legal and health care systems, businesses, and social structures. Understand concepts like White privilege, microaggression, institutionalized racism, and race related stress. You must understand what racism is so that when you notice it within yourself or witness it being played out, you are able to take action against it.

Speak & act against racist words, behaviors, and actions every time you witness them. Every. Time. Yes, you may need to assess safety (though remember it is your privilege to already be safe in the social context of our society, Black people do not have that same privilege), and you will need to learn how to confront racism effectively. But imagine a world in which a White person spoke out or took action EVERY time a racist act occurred, from acts of invisibility, such as your company not including diverse images in your marketing materials, to racial slurs and racist jokes at a party, to racist violence. How long would these behaviors be able to continue if we always worked to stop them?

Engage in direct social action. What events are happening in your area? Racial justice rallies, vigils, sit-ins are happening everywhere. Join in. If you do not see action happening, plan and create an action of your own in conjunction with other White allies. Racial justice working groups and non-profit organizations always need more volunteers, more organizers, more fundraising. Get involved. Stay involved. Invite others to be involved.

Support Black businesses and organizations. What businesses in your community are Black-owned? What organizations are doing good work to increase racial justice? Spend your money there - shop, donate, start crowdsourcing campaigns when injustice has occurred to support those who are negatively impacted. Support cooperatively owned businesses with a large number of Black members. And learn about the social and political leaning and spending of any corporations you might support - and STOP supporting those who use your dollar to work against your values.

Vote for and support the candidacies of Black politicians. Learn about local political races and support candidates of color who share your values. Remember that NO candidate will share all of your values. You make exceptions to vote for White candidates all the time. Notice resistance to Black candidates - is it really about values or is it about race?  

Talk to the owners and proprietors of the businesses you support and work for about being more inclusive. Let them know that you actively seek diversity in your workplace and social settings. Explore what attitudes and infrastructure are present in businesses that are not welcoming to diverse communities. Offer to post a Black Lives Matter sign visibly at the business. Engage in discussion about it, offer education if resistance is met.

Talk to and teach children in your life about racism and racial justice. Especially if your kids attend segregated schools and if you live in majority White neighborhoods - make race visible to kids. Share books, movies and TV shows, toys  and dolls that represent Black and Brown children and lives. Provide positive imagery of Black lives.  Actively talk about what racism in society looks like, in a developmentally appropriate way for their age. Teach them assertive communication skills and how to speak up when they witness racist behavior.

Use your body language to support Black community members. One of the insidious aspects of racism is that people of color are silently judged in nearly every public space. How do you show through your body language that you are an ally? Smile, make eye contact, say hello, keep a relaxed body posture, be willing to get (appropriately) physically close (like sharing a seat on the bus), even when you feel confused or unsure. Is there a group of young Black kids nearby? Notice what thoughts come up for you as you witness their youthful behavior. Notice what happens if you smile at those kids and say hello - you are brought out of your bias and irrational fear and return to feeling human connection. Make the world welcoming for Black lives.

Consider intersectionality. Oppression occurs in many ways across many groups - sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ethnocentrism, ableism, religious and socio-economic prejudice, and other forms of oppression are real, and they do not occur in a vacuum. Be aware that conversations about racial justice will always relate to other forms of oppression and that many people of color experience multiple forms of oppression. It is crucial never to minimize one’s experience of racial oppression just because other forms of oppression are real, and it is necessary to also take into consideration the complexity of experiencing and working against interconnected but varying forms of oppression.

Get social support from other White folks engaging in racial justice actions. You cannot do this alone. In fact, you need to create networks so that more and more and more people are acting in solidarity with the Black community. But you cannot get so depleted, angry, or overwhelmed that you shut down. Talk to your friends and loved ones about your sadness, stress, and fear regarding racism, and stay active, rather than withdrawing because the challenge feels too big.

Engage in self-care. Same as above. If you become hopeless and burned out, you cannot work to save others’ lives. You have the privilege of NOT having to live with racism working against you and your family at every turn, therefore you must keep up your strength to fight against racism.

Do your personal work. You are not a bad person because you learned racism from a racist culture. You are human and imperfect and all people absorb unwanted teachings from their culture. You are capable of growth and change. If you seek to work against racism you must learn where racist tendencies and ideology exist within you and be willing to face it head on, even if it’s uncomfortable. It WILL be uncomfortable. But nothing you must face within yourself is as uncomfortable as living every day of your life as a person of color in a racist society that causes you stress, limits your options, and puts you and your loved ones in direct risk of harm every single day. Use that reminder to give you strength to get through the uncomfortable places as you look within yourself.

Understand what Black Lives Matter really means. Read the Guiding Principles of the Black Lives Matter movement. How do those concepts resonate with you? If you support those principles, then you support Black Lives Matter. Do not let media misinformation and biased articles influence your perception of a valuable movement. Look deeper. Go to the source. Get clear perspective on why the slogan “All Lives Matter” is a way of diminishing support for the racial justice movement, even though it is certainly true that all lives matter. We need a rallying cry in support of Black lives because in our current system so deeply entrenched with institutional racism Black lives are disproportionately at risk compared to others, and Black Lives Matter is that cry. Please, let it stand as a valuable statement on its own.