So often, white allies ask me, “What can I do? What can I do?” I get it. They are overwhelmed. They want to do something but don’t know where to begin. I get it.
But sometimes, I just want to scream, “I. Don’t. Know.” I don’t know, dammit, because really, sometimes, I just don’t have a clue. I wake up some mornings and I read or hear a story that gives me hope. A story where a crime was interrupted by some kindhearted stranger or some child steps up and stops a bullying situation. Those stories make me believe in humanity. Those stories make me feel like maybe, just maybe we can figure out this thing called Life.
But then there are other mornings when I wake up and I think, “We are screwed. We are so screwed.” Sadly, I’ve been feeling that last emotion more and more. More and more, I find myself focusing on the names and the faces of those cut down by the bullets and the hands of those who were hired to serve and protect and I wonder, where is the love? Where is the kindness? Where is the humanity? I think about Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Kajieme Powell. Rumain Brisbon. Akai Gurley. John Crawford. Yvette Smith. Miriam Carey. Johnathan Ferrell. Rekia Boyd. Shereese Francis. Aiyana Jones. Sandra Bland. Tamir Rice. And the names go on and on and on and on and on and…On. I ask myself, what can white allies do to help right this ship? What can they do to help stop this madness?
I grapple between wanting to say, “Figure it out yourself,” to wanting to have something concrete to offer up. So, below are just a few suggestions that you can do if you are feeling helpless like so many of us:
- Stop arguing about whether or not racism exists. And stop asking people of color to “prove” racism to you. It exists. It never stopped. The end of slavery slowed it down a bit. The Civil Rights Movement slowed it down a bit. But it never stopped. Not for a second.
- Stop acting like you don’t benefit from your privilege. You do. Don’t feel guilty about it. Just own it. I own mine. You should own yours too. The point is – how are you going to live your life knowing that you are viewed differently and treated differently because of those privileges?
- Educate your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews (and any other children you encounter on a regular basis) about this world we live in. Tell them the truth about our history. Not the “prettied up” stories we try to pass off as history, but the real thing. Tell them the good, the bad and the ugly. Teach them about cultures other than their own. Buy them books that tell them about the world they live in. Look for opportunities for them to interact with other cultures. If your children only see and engage with other children who look like them, act like them and sound like them, they will never understand that they are no better or no worse than any other child.
- Teach your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews (and any other children you encounter on a regular basis) how to be humble. How to be loving. How to be caring. Give them opportunities to practice those skills. Stop making everything about them and show them that they are in this world to serve others too. Allow them to give back. And it doesn’t matter if you are “poor as Job’s turkey” there is ALWAYS a way to give back.
- Provide yourself and your children with multi-cultural experiences. Allow your children to see that there are other cultures worthy to be engaged with besides their own. P.S. Taking them to the local Chinese or Ethiopian Restaurant is not truly engaging with other cultures. That is consumerism. Allow your children to take up a hobby that involves learning about someone else. (Hint: A language class, a cooking class, an arts and crafts class, etc.)
- Do not allow your friends, family, neighbors, and/or co-workers to get away with racist comments and behaviors. I can’t go across the street and safely talk to the white family with the confederate flags flying on their porch about how divisive and threatening those flags are to people of color, but perhaps, just perhaps you can. Simply strike up a conversation and ask the person, “Why do you have that flag on your porch, Joe. What does it mean to you?” Then, see where the conversation goes from there. Who knows, you might be able to shed a light on this issue where I, with all of my passionate, educational rhetoric, fail. When your grandfather tells a racist joke at the holiday table, tell him (respectfully), how that joke makes you feel and why you wish he would stop telling them. Don’t argue, just have a conversation. When your cousin uses racist terms to describe another culture, explain to him why that type of language is divisive and hurtful. Don’t preach, just have a dialogue.
- Talk to your pastors/preachers/clergy and DEMAND them to address issues of race and racism in the pulpit. Demand that the spiritual classes being taught at your church/synagogue/mosque/etc. focus on ways to improve race relations and then urge, no DEMAND, that your church/synagogue/mosque/etc. do more than just exist in the community. DEMAND that it becomes a part of the community it resides in and resides around.
- Talk to your school systems and make sure they are teaching an accurate representation of the world, both past and present. Force them to adopt curriculum that tells a TRUE account of EVERYONE’s history/story (the good, the bad and the ugly). And if the schools won’t, then supplement your children’s’ studies with what they are not getting in school. Don’t trust nor require the schools to do everything.
- Actively become engaged with local politicians. Find out what those politicians stand for and support the ones who value ALL lives.
- If you witness a person of color being detained by a police, stay and be a witness. Take pictures. Take a video. Call the police and file a complaint if you feel you have witnessed a crime being done by the police.
- Work with local activists in your community. March. Send letters/emails/texts.
- Donate money to help local activism in your community.