By Michelle Noehren, Age 34
(Image from and of Franchesca Ramsey (@chescaleigh on instragram) with Cipriana Quann and Tk Wonder at MillionsMarchNYC.)
If there’s anything I’ve learned during the past few years of personal exploration of my own privilege, it’s that white people should never speak for people of color, that issues that dis-proportionally impact communities of color should be grounded in the voices of those community members and that we, as white people, shouldn’t have to ask people of color how we can help them.
People of color have experienced racism in our country since its beginning. Police brutality against black people isn’t new, even though to many of us it seems like something that’s only come about in the past several years. When we perpetuate the myth that racial violence is a new problem that’s our white privilege talking. Communities of color have been (rightfully) fearful of the police forever.
So, to my white friends, I’m here to offer a few suggestions for ways we can be better allies in the fight against racism and police brutality. Instead of commenting on Facebook posts shared by your friends of color asking what you can do (because they shouldn’t be responsible for educating us, especially considering there’s a little thing called Google), check out the ideas below and pick one, or do them all. Then share this post with your friends, on your own social media accounts. But please actually do one of these things before suggesting that your friends do. Being an ally is more than just posting a supportive message on Facebook.
- Educate Yourself
Do some internet research about what white privilege is. We benefit from our white privilege every minute of every day. Did your pantyhose run and you have to go quickly grab a new pair from the drug store? No problem – they’ll definitely have your color and no one will follow you around the store to keep an eye on you. Did your child get a cut and needs a Band-Aid? No problem – they’re flesh toned, which according to our society automatically means white. Did you get pulled over for rolling through a stop sign? No problem – you’ll probably just get a warning, not even a ticket, and in no way will need to fear for your life. Want to raise a family in a healthy and safe environment? No problem – you don’t have to live in fear each time your child leaves the house because they’re not considered targets (white skin = nonthreatening).
These are just a few of the millions of way our white privilege warps our perspective and gives us advantages in life. To be true allies in the fight for racial justice we must check our privilege on a daily basis. We must be willing to look at our own thoughts and behaviors with a critical eye. This means we will be uncomfortable at times, yes, but how fortunate we are to be able to examine our privilege while not being afraid to go to the store, drive our cars or worry about our children being shot. White friends, we can handle the discomfort that comes from self-reflection.
To get you started, here are a few articles you might be interested in reading:
- Donate to Black-Led Organizations
Educating ourselves is a life-long commitment and will require constant attention and learning. If you’d like to do something to make an immediate impact, like today, a great place to start is by donating money to black-led racial justice organizations. Others have already made this very easy, check out this list and take out your credit card.
- Stand Up for Racial Justice in White Spaces
Did you hear a racist joke from a white family member, friend or co-worker? Don’t just sit there in shock, say something. There’s a phrase that I say to myself often – “Your silence is a luxury.” We must remember that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. While we need to be hyper-vigilant that we are not speaking in spaces where the voices of people of color should be centered, we can speak up against racism when we see or hear it in our own white communities.
- Join Your Local Affiliate of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ)
We have two branches here in Connecticut, one in New Haven and one in Hartford. I found the information below on their website:
SURJ Connecticut- Hartford and New Haven, CT
Cathy Rion Starr, Hartford
I’ve been following these groups on Facebook and they post a lot of great content. Start reading what’s posted. Find out if you can attend in person meetings. I can do better in this area and I commit to doing so. While following them on social media is a good start, it’s not enough. I’ll be looking into the Hartford Chapter and figuring out how I can personally be more involved.
The moral of the story, do not be afraid to take action, to do something more than post a Twitter message. As people that benefit from white supremacy, we need to be willing to look at our own lives and figure out how we can work, as co-conspirators, to dismantle oppressive systems. We must be willing to listen to communities of color and not swoop in to “save” them. Checking our privilege, educating ourselves, supporting black-led organizations and getting involved in local racial justice work are a few easy ways to feel less helpless and actually make a difference.