Lists are circulating: what white people can do about Ferguson, Eric Garner, Reneisha MacBride, about racism and white privilege. There are so many possible, powerful steps.
This is my list of seven essential actions for white people:
- Coming from a space of love and justice, own our racism. Get that we are the problem. We ARE racist! This doesn’t mean we’re evil or to blame; it doesn’t necessarily mean we run around committing violence against people of color. It means white people have been unwittingly and unwillingly co-opted by the racial oppression pervading our society. Like it or not, and whether we’re aware of it or not, those of us with white skin benefit from white privilege and structural racism. Plus we’ve been conditioned with unconscious attitudes, thoughts and feelings of racial superiority. So stop defending yourself against claims you might be racist. Love yourself, own your racism and work to undo it.
- Dump colorblindness. Colorblindness was a strategy developed to overcome racism by pretending not to see race. Not seeing race means we can’t see racism. Tragically, the strategy has backfired and is responsible for new abuses against people of color. One example: though we incarcerate people of color at a horrific rate compared to European Americans, those in power in the criminal injustice system insist they don’t see race, so they couldn’t be racist. See how that perpetuates racism?
- See racism – everywhere. We can’t stop what we can’t see. When a person of color talks about unfair treatment, listen. Watch for racism happening, and consider how you might interrupt it. Stop arguing Michael Brown was a bully and the Oscars overlooked good white actors too. Inform yourself about racism and you’ll find it permeates every aspect of life. Speak up about what you see.
- Find other anti-racist partners, both white and of color. You will burn out if you try to work alone, so don’t set yourself up for failure. Also you – like all European Americans – have been poorly educated about racism. Partners can help us to learn and act with a minimum of mistakes. Don’t burden partners of color with questions and problems; as often as possible, consult white allies.
- Learn the costs of racism, to people of color and to white people. The devastation covered by media is only the tip of the iceberg. Educate yourself about disproportionate hardships for people of color in all arenas: healthcare, housing, employment, education, legal system, social services… Go beyond that and find out how racism hurts European Americans, as individuals and as a group. People whose group is abusing others are themselves damaged psychologically, physically, emotionally and spiritually. As you work to end racism, you may find yourself healing in places you didn’t know were broken.
- Discover life is better without racism. Better for everyone. Frankly, most people will put up with a lot of discomfort, such as the psychic pain of living with white privilege, because it’s familiar and safe. To end racism, we need to take the time to find out how much more happiness and success we can enjoy when racism is behind us. How can we research this? For starters, we can learn the true history of the incomparable contributions to humanity made by people of color. Imagine for a moment how difficult life would be without these gifts. Next, think about the possibility that many of the complaints you have in your life today might be solved if it weren’t for, for instance, a potential inventor who’s in prison for life on trumped up charges. Next time you rail at one of the messed-up scenarios in your daily life, wonder if there isn’t wisdom from a culture of color that would solve that problem. Listen to your heart tell you all life is sacred and all of us humans belong together, creating a beautiful, joyful world.
- Do what you can to end racism. It’s not innate, it’s not impossible to change, and you can do something. Our humanity depends upon that. Start with Step One.