None of this is new. Not the fear, the heartache, not the ever-growing list of unnecessary deaths in the black community. Not the undercurrents of fury, fear, or sorrow that are so palpable in our society at this time. None of this is new, and it needs to stop…but don’t take it from me.
If you’re a well-meaning white person who is shocked and saddened by the deaths of black citizens at disproportionate rates, you’re probably feeling: anger, outrage, sadness, guilt, shame, indignation, hatred, confusion…check all that apply. Those emotions are real and raw and powerful. Many of us are asking ourselves “What can I do about this?” We know that if we can just funnel all of those emotions into the right place, we can create a lot of meaningful change. So, we want to act now. And that’s a good thing. It’s good that we want to be allies.
But how do we take our good intentions and turn them into something helpful? We listen. We listen to the communities that are most affected by the real tragedies and injustices that are ongoing in our society. And then we don’t just act, we respond. This distinction between acting and responding is incredibly important, because one requires much more attention than the other. To act implies a swift and energetic response, a strong forward motion! But we can often be so blinded by the desire to act that we lose track of our foundation. When we respond rather than act, we are forced to maintain a conscious consideration of the problem we are out to solve…taking in the facts, planning out the best possible solutions, and adapting our plan when needs change in order to serve the cause effectively.
Listening and responding are the first steps in the process. But, as white allies, we have other very important work to do. And it may be the hardest work we do, because it means being confronted with the darker parts of ourselves. We need to check in with ourselves every step of the way. And I don’t just mean checking in on our effectiveness. I mean checking in on our motivations, our personal drives, and the mistakes that we make in the process of responding and helping. Are we continuing to act selflessly? Are we leaving behind the prospect of personal gain? Are we stepping aside when we know we’re not in a position to be expert? Are we truly listening when we’re told we’ve made a mistake? Being honest with ourselves and confronting our fallibility are crucial in being effective helpers.
We all know that the destructive patterns of racism in our country need to end. But please…don’t take it from me. Listen to those who are calling for change based on their lived experience, and respond where you are needed. We are much more effective when we avoid assumptions and wait for our course instead.
Links to explore (in no order):
- DoSomething.Org: “10 Young Racial Justice Advocates You Should Know“
- Huffington Post: “28 Organizations that are Empowering Black Communities“
- Showing Up for Racial Justice [Minnesota-based]: Website
- Black Lives Matter: Website
- Race Forward: Website
- Local and Regional Government Alliance on Race and Equity: Website
- NAACP Legal Defense Fund: Website
- American Civil Liberties Union: Website
- Black News Directory
- Amnesty International: Website
- Racial Justice Network Website [UK-based]: Website