Figuring Out How To Be A White Ally

This I know – I cannot expect people of color to educate me. I cannot step into their space and demand that they meet my needs. Not in this time and not really in any time.

Fortunately, that’s not an impediment to learning how to be an ally. Fortunately,  many people of color have created opportunities for those of us who are white to learn – if we are willing to listen and do that work.

I’m not talking about a quick listicle on Huffington Post or a meme on Facebook. I’m talking about the content created over the past decades which is accessible to us – books, articles, websites, videos, tweets and more. Content that was created perhaps not with the intent of educating white folks, but with awareness that white people would consume it. Unlike cornering your black coworker or neighbor to get their “viewpoint” on Ferguson or police misconduct, you can actively engage this content to better understand the world around you.

How do you find it? You look. You use Google. You listen. You follow people of color on Twitter who are creating content everyday and you listen. You click on the author links and learn what other content they’ve created. You revisit classic works of literature by people of color. If you don’t know what those books are, you ask the librarian whose job it is to help you find this information. You follow hashtags and add new people to your feed. You listen to what your friends, coworkers and neighbors of color are saying to you – you listen to them, not force them to talk with you. If they aren’t saying anything about recent events, think about that for a minute. Maybe it is you and you need to do a better job of listening overall.

This is our challenge and our requirement as allies – to do the work ourselves and do it with intention & care. I am not trying to put myself in the shoes of people of color in the United States, but I am trying to understand their experiences through their own content and narratives and discourse – I am trying to listen. I am listening.

I am not going to create a list for you or put up links to my favorite blogs or Twitter accounts. You have to do that work. You can contact me to ask and I’ll share what I can. But I invite you to do one thing first – go through your social media “stuff” and figure out who if any voices of color you hear. Who do you follow on Twitter and Facebook? What blogs do you read? What columnists do you read? What’s on your iPod? How about your television? What journalists resonate with you?

I’m not asking you to inventory your black friends. I’m encouraging you to consider the choices you make in terms of consuming content. That’s something you can change right now, today, and do so in a way that is respectful and appropriate. A few changes to Twitter and Facebook can dramatically alter the way you understand racial justice in the United States and the lived experiences of people of color. This includes queer and trans people of color, as well as women of color.

What I’ve learned by doing this is that it’s important that I ask you to do this. No euphemisms or analogies about journeys, destinations or so forth. Start by educating yourself. Start by doing the work of learning what you don’t understand rather than just saying that you don’t understand. Start by listening.

It is always a good first step.


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