White people as allies

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Iman Gatti

How white people can be better allies and support their black friends. My intention for this article, is to challenge some of the ways you have been conditioned to think, and to also, use this as an opportunity to direct you, to the work of some incredible Black humans, who are powerfully educating and deconstructing current systems of oppression and racism.

As a first generation Canadian, I am extremely proud of my African heritage. While growing up in predominantly white spaces, I have experienced racism my entire life. I find it strange that while I have regularly been harmed by racism, I have yet to encounter anyone, who refers to themselves as being racist.

In fact, most people, absolutely, do not consider themselves racist. They think of racism in obvious ways, such as people wearing white hoods or using the, “N” word. Those blatant examples are vile and dangerous, but they are visible. It’s the people that are camouflaged with their own ignorance, that is the most threatening. 

If you are raised in a system of white supremacy and you are white, you benefit from that system. If you benefit, then you have the power to use that privilege, to create a diverse, equitable and inclusionary space for anyone excluded from that privilege. 

So, I ask you:

Are you racist?

If you answered, “no”, I would like to ask you another question:

Are you anti-racist? 

If you are unsure of the difference between being “not racist” and “anti-racist” and are already feeling some sort of discomfort reading this, I invite you to sit in that discomfort and keep reading. 

In my day to day, I find it very painful, to have these discussions, with my white friends and colleagues, because their first reaction is to get defensive. They will then go into a laundry list, of how life was unfair to them, and how they have also suffered and gone without. 

I kindly ask you to refrain from this reaction. Centring yourself when a Black, Indigenous or Person of Colour, is trying to educate you, and share their own lived experience, is harmful. 

It is important that white people understand, how benefiting from white privilege, does not make you immune to other forms of violence and injustice. In fact, benefitting from white privilege does not make you a bad person; but what you do with your privilege and whether you acknowledge it or not, does reflect your character and whether you are committed to being racist or anti-racist.

It is important to understand, that being white is not the root cause of your pain and suffering, nor a barrier to you, and in fact, it has perks.

In my experience, when a white person says they are “not racist” what they mean is, that they do not intentionally walk through the world, actively harming, and discriminating against, Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. 

Whilst not being deliberately harmful is, a bare minimum expectation of human decency, this is not the same as being, “anti-racist.”

There is no clear way to define, being “not racist”, while anti-racism is a positive term, used to describe people that are intentionally and actively learning to understand, deconstruct, explain and solve racial injustice and inequity. 

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, a professor, leading scholar of racism, and the author of, “How to Be an Antiracist” writes that, 

“The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’ What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.”

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

Racism is not solely about participating in racist actions, it is also about inaction, and how you not only benefit from white supremacy but how your inaction and passivity make you complicit in upholding these systems of oppression for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. 

One of my favourite educators and activists, Portia Burch, uses the term, “agent of white supremacy” to describe someone, who is not actively doing anti-racism work. I find this, to be very helpful and clear language, to understand the impact, of not actively and intentionally, learning how to deconstruct, and dismantle white supremacy. You are either an agent of white supremacy or you are an anti-racist; there is no neutrality.

You don’t have to go out of your way, to support racist policies, in order to benefit from the systems that they uphold, however, you do need to intentionally, go out of your way, to deconstruct, disrupt, and dismantle these systems. 

Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, experience the world through a far different lens than white people. We cannot opt in and out of racism, discrimination and the internal biases of those we interact with, nor can we eradicate racism from society. 

In order, for this work to be effective, we need white allies, to show up and continuously choose, to deconstruct systems of oppression and racism.  

Being an anti-racist, is a lifelong journey, and one you are invited to begin immediately and work on, continuously. 

Here are some ways to get started on your antiracism journey:

  • Acknowledge, that you have internal biases rooted in white supremacy, that shape your viewpoint, and that you benefit from.
  • Seek out, hire and support Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, who are providing resources and education on antiracism. 
  • Stop identifying as “not racist.” 
  • Begin to learn about and identify racial inequities.
  • Volunteer with and/or fund organizations that are fighting discriminatory policies.
  • Listen, learn and take action with the new information.

There is so much work to be done, to dismantle these oppressive systems, and the most profound place to start is within ourselves. 

Being anti-racist is a commitment we must make every day, forevermore. It is challenging, confronting, painful and deeply necessary. 

There are so many incredible, Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, actively doing the work, of educating people, on how to be anti-racist, and have far more knowledge, expertise and skill than I do. 

I encourage you to seek them out and support their work. 

Here are some resources I highly recommend:

1 COMMENT

  1. It would take a huge effort to comment in depth on this article which is illuminating and useful. It’s partly because the epistemology in this area of debate is so limited. Why do we use the binary description white/black when anyone with a trace of colour in their skin is defined as “black”? By this definition, I am black.

    One other problem area is using words like “race” when there is as much genetic variety within so-called racial groups as between them. Races do not, biologically, exist. The use of the phrase “anti-racism” merely prolongs misunderstandings.

    Another problem area is about cognitive awareness. Asking someone whether they are “racist” is a waste of time. Rationally, no-one is racist; subconsciously, everyone is. We all fear the “other” and if they have recognisable characteristics, it is easy to pander to deep prejudice.

    There is a cultural element to prejudice as well. I have less in common with Romanians than I do with those from the Caribbean.

    I would live a good discussion on this but…back to work!

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