How to be a white ally without smothering black voices
By The Editorial Board
In the past couple weeks, white people have had an amazing realization; police do a lot of bad things. The frequent murder of unarmed black people, the police brutality, and the overt displays of white supremacy by police officers are finally dominating the public eye. And with a wave of protests has come a wave of concerned white people. White allies are important, and every voice speaking against racism is crucial, but white allyship can be difficult and confusing.
Lately, the protests have prompted us to do a lot of research about how we can be better allies, and the most important thing that we’ve learned is that we, as white people, are not supposed to be leaders of this movement. It’s a strange feeling in our white-focused world, but it’s not our place to organize rallies or even to raise money (by selling art, music, or clothing) to donate to civil rights organizations. Rather, it’s our job to listen, to amplify, and to support. Rather than organizing protests, we should attend them and tell our friends. Rather than selling our art or music to raise money, we should amplify and promote black artists and musicians. We don’t feel comfortable preaching about a lot of facets of these protests, primarily because we’re all white. We have benefited from privilege all our lives, and we will for as long as we live. We don’t feel comfortable leading the discussion about most of the issues surrounding these protests, because there are a million black voices who can say it better than us. The one thing we do feel confident talking about is white privilege and white allyship. Vashon is 91.8 percent caucasian according to Data USA, and while there are a lot of well-meaning white people, often the execution falls by the wayside.
Black Out Tuesday was perhaps the best example to date of good intention but bad execution. A plan to flood Instagram with solid black posts for a whole day spread across Instagram like wildfire. On the surface, it looked like a great idea; people could show support for black struggles by making a statement on social media. Unfortunately, the black screens flooded the “Black Lives Matter” hashtag, rendering it useless for activists and important messaging. Instead of symbolically muting white voices like it was intended, Black Out Tuesday filled our pages with a deluge of nothingness that did the exact opposite of what was intended. This comes down to our first rule of white allyship: use social media consciously. Before you post something about the protests or about George Floyd, ask yourself why you’re posting and if it will help. If you’re just posting to show other people you’re not racist, consider waiting a little bit and instead donating to charities, signing petitions, or having discussions with family members about racism. Like we said earlier, the most important thing to remember about white allyship is that it’s not about us.
One of the most important things we, as white allies, can do is educate ourselves and other white people. There is a huge breadth of topics to study, from how systemic racism is fostered in the police force to what a state without a police force at all would look like. The US history curriculum also skips over and minimizes a huge amount of black history, and getting educated on that is almost a necessity. There are countless books, articles, and even podcasts on all of these topics recommended by people far more knowledgeable than us, and every single one of them will help white people become better allies.
With increased knowledge comes increased responsibility, and the responsibility to vote is crucial in these crazy times. When it comes to police legislation, a lot of policy is made at the local level. Paying attention to local government races and voting for judges, mayors, and representatives that support the black lives matter agenda is a critical role every single one of us can play. Learn about candidates, educate your friends and family, and perhaps even donate to their campaigns.
It’s worth noting that a core tenet of white privilege is being able to pick and choose when you support a movement. It’s all well and good to post a picture of George Floyd on your Instagram story when everyone else is doing it, but it’s a whole different matter to fight against racism every day. This movement has been around for decades, and in several months, there will still be passionate activists and civil rights leaders. But the backing of a vocal majority will determine whether these protests maintain their momentum or turn into another Rodney King Riot.
Changing systemic racism doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. It takes protesting, voting, petitions, donations, and mass reeducation. As a white person who strives to be an ally, it’s easy to accidentally dominate the conversation or hurt things more than we help things. As beneficiaries of an oppressive system, we need to unlearn a lot of prejudices, and that takes time and effort. Fighting racism is uncomfortable, and as a white person, it’s far more convenient to ignore it. But if we want the world to change, we need to seek discomfort and fight racism everywhere we see it.
-The Editorial Board