Not Sure How to Have a Conversation Around White Privilege and Allyship?
Disclaimer: This isn’t a “Don’t-I-deserve-a-pat-on-the-back?” or “Where-are-my-gold-stars?” kind of post — this is more of a “It-took-me-way-too-long-to-speak-out-and-here’s-how-you-can-do-it-sooner” type of cautionary tale.
Over the past decade, I’ve come to learn a pretty important lesson:
Whether you’re sharing a tweet or having a tough conversation, choosing the right words can make all the difference when delivering your message.
Like many other white people, I recently reached a tipping point where my fear of criticism for speaking out was outweighed by my fear of being on the wrong side of history (call it productive peer pressure).
I had been quietly fumbling down a path towards allyship and finally decided to turn it outwards so that others may come along.
This path started with a diversity and inclusion event at work. It was a conversation held at a co-worker’s house where we had the chance to discuss what it means to be an ally to people of color in a safe space that allowed us to share and learn from others.
As we got started, the facilitator handed out a sheet with vocabulary words and before I knew it, we were talking about “internalized superiority” and “implicit bias” and countless others I had never heard.
That night, I went home and for the first time, I had a nuanced conversation with my fiancé that went beyond someone being racist or not racist.
Thanks to another work-related event, I finally felt compelled to start using these words to speak up online.
On a virtual, company-wide call, we recently addressed and explicitly acknowledged our city's (St. Louis) role in racism, both past and present.
This included, but is not limited to:
- The Missouri Compromise
- The Dred Scott case
- The East St. Louis Race War
- Redlining, racial covenants, and the Delmar Divide
- Pruitt Igoe
- Michael Brown
We watched a clip from a panel discussion moderated by a black colleague in Chicago discussing all of the horrific acts that have happened, both past and present.
Members of our leadership then made a pledge that moving forward, the fight for equality would be our fight.
Once again, these words matter, but as most realize, they’re only the first step.
As someone who was raised to be empathetic and treat others the way I would want to be treated, I have struggled to define what it means to be an effective ally. That is, until now.
During the clip, the moderator mentioned that while talking with friends, he realized it isn't enough not to be racist - you have to be anti-racist.
There’s another word I hadn’t come across before:
As obvious as it might sound, I realized this was the missing piece to the puzzle. This is what it means to be an ally. It’s not enough to simply sign a petition or click "Share" on a post — these passive actions constitute the bare minimum.
I realized that, for me, being an ally means actively facilitating uncomfortable conversations with other white friends, family members, and followers so that we can educate ourselves instead of placing the burden on black people — it's not (and was never) their responsibility and they are already suffering more than we will ever know.
I learned that, in order to have a productive conversation, it helps to start with the right words.
I’ve acknowledged that, in order to be a sustainable ally, it will take continuously circulating these words while learning new ones.
To many of you, these may already be commonplace. If so, please pass them along to other white friends and family members so that we may all take the first step in creating a shared understanding around white privilege and how we can have better, more productive conversations related to allyship.
Here is a list of helpful words to learn and understand when having a conversation around allyship and white privilege:
(These come directly from www.racialequitytools.org)
Visit www.racialequitytools.org for more tools, research, tips, and ideas for people who want to increase their own understanding and to help those working toward justice at every level