Last night I tweeted that as White folks, we “must resist the urge to simply condemn the
#Charlottesville racists rather than see the work we need to do in our communities.” This morning, I had a number of White people who had reached out to me through private messages or Facebook or Twitter replies, asking that I provide actionable steps or resources.
I’ll be honest that my initial reaction was a bit of annoyance, as there is so so so much amazing information about this on the internet, and I have written about it quite a bit myself in the past, but then I realized that my annoyance was simple hypocrisy. If I lean into that annoyance, I am doing exactly the opposite of what I just tweeted that we as White people need to do: work in our own communities to move other White folks toward racial justice action.
I know that many of us as White folks for quite some time have felt moved, many by the #BlackLivesMatter movement’s calls for both systemic and interpersonal transformation and still more by a deep concern for the literal and rhetorical violence from which Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency has pulled the hood.
And we need to recognize that our shock and dismay and tears and prayers, while perhaps reflective of an important emotional concern, are not enough if we are not moved to action. While we are shocked, most people of Color know that this is simply how this country has always been.
So what would it mean for us to take action. Well, below are a few ideas. While in a numerical list, these ought not necessarily happen in any linear order. Instead, they ought to be a process of reflection and self work and action all bound up in complexity.
1. We must transform ourselves.
The moment that we decide we aren’t part of the problem, we are the problem. Thus, our work must always be bound up in praxis, that constant process of reflection, engagement with theory, and action. So here are a few ways we can work on ourselves:
- Understand how White identity development frames can help us move toward more accountability and growth. A great summary is included in Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
- Interrogate the ways that we are bought into Whiteness as a system of oppression. Recognize that Whiteness is different than White people and that we have a responsibility to change our relationship to this fundamentally oppressive and violent social construction so that we can act accountably.
- We need to educate ourselves differently. We need to commit ourselves to listening to people of Color’s truths about our country and ourselves, and we need to diversify our media consumption. There are literally tons of articles on the internet with people of Color asking quite specific things of us. There’s even a company that will allow you to support Black Femme leadership while learning what you can do to realize change!
- Reflect on the actions we take that contribute to racial violence, such as relying exclusively on police as the problem solvers of our communities when so many of our concerns are bound up in racially ideology.
- When we commit to changing ourselves, to addressing our own investments in racism, Whiteness, and White supremacy, we make it possible to act for racial justice in ways that reduce the unintended harm that comes from us simply acting without working to address our own racial baggage.
2. We need to invest in White people that can be moved.
Probably the most important thing that we can do is to find in-roads with White people who are not marching while chanting “blood and soil” but who also aren’t likely to be marching chanting #BlackLivesMatter. We all have those White folks in our lives who simply believe that having a “race neutral” ideology is how we will “get past all this division.” Those are the folks we must invest energy into, and we have the responsibility to be patient and loving (in the firm, agapic sense) in our response. I’ve laid out some steps for how to do that here.
There are also SURJ chapters that are doing fantastic work, and while some of them are sorely lacking in accountability, we ought to take that criticism as a call to further invest in accountability and in the work with fellow White folks rather than as a call to simply shut down. If our organizations like SURJ are doing the proper work of allying ourselves to people of Color, then we can follow the lead of local folks of Color in what is needed to resist the growing wave of emboldened, angry White racists.
As part of this, we need to forcefully and publicly be condemning the kinds of racist violence that are represented in last night’s march in Charlottesville, but we also need to recognize that we are not so very removed from that reality. This country is built on the racist violence of settler colonialism and enslavement, a violence which continues to this very moment. When we simply say, “Those White people are the bad ones,” we absolve ourselves of our own complicity in racist systems and in the need to take up difficult but vital conversations with other White folks.
3. Redistribute wealth.
The racist systems in which we live are designed around and built upon property ownership and trans-generational accumulation of wealth, which is why White high school dropouts have more access to wealth than Black college graduates. Thus, while giving money shouldn’t be all we do (philanthropy isn’t activism, y’all), we need to be willing to give (and give in amounts that make us uncomfortable) to organizations, ideally local ones, that are led by people of Color and are doing transformative and radical work to realize change. I’m not talking about giving to TFA because they “help poor kids of Color” or to a local United Way. I’m talking about supporting radical grassroots activism through direct payments and redistribution of wealth to those who are fighting for their very lives. If you’re not sure how to do that, talk to local activists to figure out who is leading the work in intersectional movements for justice and give there. IF you’re still not sure, reach out to me and we can talk.
What are you willing to risk?
Finally, we must recognize that we do not contribute to change when we simply sit in our comfort zone. We must have the courage to risk something. Sometimes that means risking arrest on the front lines of a protest, or sometimes that means risking tension in our relationship with our parents because we call on them to act on the supposed values they raised us with but that are totally out of alignment with how we act in the world. Not everyone’s risk is the same, but if we aren’t willing to risk and to push ourselves past the point of comfort, we aren’t willing to do the work.