This is not to belittle, but please know this is also not to beg. This is a helpful piece of direction that I find necessary to share and insist upon fellow white people implementing in their daily lives. Quick background: I have been lucky enough to live my life in a variety of places and get to know all kinds of humans. Although my current residence is located in Baltimore City, a beautifully diverse, majority black population, the beginning of my life was ruled by and in a mostly white suburbia in the Bible Belt of Augusta, GA.
I am sure you can imagine and assume what my public education, church (no longer affiliated with any religion), and overall environment looked like. You could be wrong about minor details and inevitable exceptions, but if you are thinking about a box-like atmosphere, with a lake that only goes by the name “the lake”, where sex education is spelled a-b-s-t-i-n-e-n-c-e, and have Chick-filas replace mile markers, you are on the right track. Unfortunately, this atmosphere is not isolated in becoming a cesspool for racist rhetoric, but it certainly wears proudly the cloak of white supremacy (sometimes literally).
My mother, being a relentless, strong woman from the Bronx, made sure that I would not bleed the red of confederate flags. I will never forget in fourth grade being one of three people in the class to read a report on the civil war focusing on a union soldier and being booed until I cried. Yes, I would call white people out for using the “n-word” and steer clear of the kids of families that were known/suspected Klan members. Please understand, it is fucking ridiculous to think that these small, even insignificant things made me a bit of a rebel. It MUST be recognized, especially in my younger years, every one of my attempts to resist white supremacy masked in “southern pride” were not even remotely enough and, sometimes, flat out wrong. I am happy to have learned and continue to learn how to actively disrupt racism within my country, my community, and myself.
So here is my point. If I was a rebel, a carpet bagger (yea, people still said that), a feminist nazi (ironic much?), a freak, and we know that the extreme opposite end of the spectrum of white people are literally KKK affiliates, then who were the silent ones? Some were friends of mine, maybe afraid to seem unpleasant or rude – which in southern culture can have devastatingly isolating consequences – or perhaps they slightly agreed with the racism being spewed and did not want to become anyone’s target. I can not say for certain who was what because most have never voiced opinions about anything involving race, at least not where it was on display. In the past, this has worked for them, but I am sure a lot of the silent ones are starting to understand that doing nothing is no longer an option.
Why? Because no analogy of slowly walking out of a room or covering your ears of others screams cuts it anymore. You are immersed in bloodied water, nearing 250 years deep, completely aware the only reason you can breathe is because your mask of privilege is giving you oxygen. At some point, you know exactly what is at stake, and at this point, silent ones, or worse, “white people have been slaves too” people, it is past time to do your part.
The education ship has not sailed, many people are willing to host workshops and post valuable videos online (watch DeCoded with Franchesca Ramsey), and there are gobs of think pieces written by people that don’t look like you and are essential to your growth as an ally. Speaking of, many speeches and articles of what an ideal ally is could be of use. Black Lives Matter has a great website that states their mission, and I highly suggest you read it as well as fully dive into what white supremacy means globally within every tangible and intangible facet.
In addition to these resources and resources that people of color, anti-racist authors and groups suggest, I have compiled some actions that you, and the VOCAL, VISIBLE ALLY you will now make efforts to become, to help along your journey.
- When Nana says racist shit, shut it down. Do you have to yell at her? Nah. Well, unless she is hard of hearing. You can stop the harmful speech, engage and educate her why it is harmful, making sure to call it racist when it is, and be prepared for her to be pissed for a minute. Especially if this a Thanksgiving style public shut down, points are made to a crowd of people who hopefully will follow suit at their next social gathering.
- Friends telling a racist joke? Don’t laugh. I presume that most laughs at these jokes are self-defense mechanisms for fear of hurting the oh so comedic individual’s feelings, but I could care less and neither should you. This is about bucking up to bullshit.
- Your job wants to know how they can do better? Tell them! They don’t wan’t to know? Tell them! And familiarize yourself with the missions of Black Lives Matter so you are prepared to voice concerns. If you have seen the show Insecure (if not, watch it, it’s so good), the scene where there is one black employee pitching an idea in front of a mostly white non-profit that claims to help black communities IS A REAL THING. Combat it with your professionalism and your well thought out opinion. There is true value in a diverse workplace, and paramount necessity for highly influential idea making spaces in the United States to shield themselves from becoming a bunch of white dudes (i.e. Pepsi commercial). Shit I hear all the time is “We are just not getting applications from people of color”. Well, breaking the white supremacist narrative starts with you. This video shows how Jon Stuart from the Daily Show recognized that his hiring process needed to be revamped to include different perspectives and the way he did it. > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1H7KxPlbQw (watch at 41:32)
- Break your routine. This is vague, I know. But I know a lot of people fall into the silent trap because their routines heavily assist them. If you frequent Bunko nights with Amy and Fran, happy hour with the Amy and Fran, and every once in a while a Dierks Bentley Concert with Amy and Fran, do that. But, DO NOT let a fucking outing with the ladies deter you from opportunities to help you grow as an ally. If they don’t want to go to an anti-racist workshop and/or rally, STILL GO. In fact, go, emphasize it’s importance and maybe we have two new allies named Amy and Fran.
- You will be wrong. Be in the moment, learn, quickly correct it. This is SO important. Above you see the ways in which you can disrupt racism. I promise, you are not exempt from being on the receiving end of others who will point out a piece of white supremacy you are inevitably carrying with you. Be open to dropping it and to UNDERSTANDING WHY. With good intention, I have been very off base in my allyship before. This is not to open a can of “Woops! You know, I can’t get anything right.” Nope, you have to own your mistakes equally as much as you own your progress. The point is to become a better human, to help achieve legitimate equity in this country, and that requires correction, not empty apologies.
- Get to know yourself outside of the name on your birth certificate. So they named you Bob after Robert E. Lee for goodness sake. That does not have to define you or the people who stamped that hateful legacy on you for that matter. This is to say that much of who we are has been assigned to us, and I won’t fully fly off on a tangent, but I should remind you that some of the values that reflect this fight for civil rights are ones of the core. Who are you? What do you want your kids, students, family to remember you by?
- Hold yourself accountable. I know that there are many ways and strategies to hold businesses and politicians accountable, but the only person that is going to remember you didn’t say anything when that white guy harassed the black woman on the subway is you. Sometimes people use the phrase, “Be the change” and I find truth in that. But personally, I have been able to relate more to my own voice saying, “You kidding me Daniele? You are going to let that fly? I think the fuck not.” A lot of what happens is about what we allow to happen.
It should be noted these points are a very small amount of things one can do, and they are not enough.
Now, I should address the title, how I came across this phrase “race stuff”. I remember in high school a teacher gave the class advice on how to be successful, in whatever way they considered the term to mean, and they said simply, “Don’t talk politics, religion, or race stuff.” I remember the word stuff as it paired with their third counting finger, bullet pointing the supposedly terrible topics. I have thought a lot about this, and I think this word jam was and is purposeful. “Race stuff” is a very harmful way to conversationally approach talking about race, like it can be shoved off to the side along with the shit in the garage. This is not something to blanket in front of the word stuff, deeming deeply rooted systemic racism to an ambiguous something.
Take time to think about the deeper meanings of situations like this example. Keep your vision clear to a path of a better world ahead, remember there will be no banners welcoming you, and there most certainly will be immediate push back from other white people you know. This path is one that deserves no applause. You are one more clap back to the white supremacists running this country and I can’t think of any better way to put my hands to work.
SIDE NOTE: This article was originally intended for white folks who are not usually on the front lines of this movement, but please, can white people that proudly wear their Doc Martins (like me) and clever Black Live Matter signs MAKE A BETTER EFFORT TO ADVERTISE / GIVE ACCESS TO USEFUL TRAININGS THAT ASSIST THE REVOLUTION TO SPACES THAT ARE NOT ON COZY GRANOLA AVENUE. There is much more to be said with this, I will save it for another time. I hope that the gist comes across for now.