My social media timeline has been a strange mix of politics, technology (WordPress in particular), and vampires lately. Yet there is one theme emerging from all three communities: Systemic racism is alive and well. 

On literally every platform and in too many real-life situations, white people have done enough shutting up for eternity. (Our) silence has allowed racists to maintain hold of spaces, policies, and cultural practices and forced the burden of combating racism onto the very individuals who experience oppressive systems. 

This silence shit needs to stop. 

I know that it can be difficult to recognize and speak against racism when you have grown up in such a position of privilege that you haven’t had to focus on or even think about the implications of structural oppression. I know that some people to this day are not in a good place to take on such deep-rooted, historical pain, and maybe need to fight in their own time. And while that’s okay (to live to fight another day) please also acknowledge that walking around in your white skin, untouched by oppression-at-first-glance, is a privilege in itself. It specifically is a privilege that people of color are not afforded. (As Robert Terry said, “To be white in America is not to have to think about [racism].”)

Over the last who-knows-how-many-years, the new tactic to convince white people not to combat oppression has been a very simple line that spread like poison throughout well-intentioned white thought. It goes something like, “I can’t speak up because I will offend someone I want to advocate for and could also potentially speak over a biPOC voice.”

This is a lie. 

It is a lie propagated by the same structures that exist to oppress and control black and brown bodies for the sake of power. Those fighting to maintain white privilege want white allies to repeat this line to themselves, their friends, and even biPOC so that 1. White allies will not speak up against racism 2. White allies might force biPOC to feel guilty when they express feelings of hurt for whites NOT speaking up against racism so that 3. whites won’t combat and participate in the movement to push toward equity for biPOC.

So, white allies, let me get to the point before you get totally overwhelmed. When you encounter racism, especially online where you have the chance to gather your thoughts and respond, then DO respond. If you don’t have experience discussing topics of race, gender, intersectionality etc then it can certainly be difficult to know what to say. 

As a beginner white ally, I offer the following phrases as suggestions: 

  • That is so freaking racist and gross
  • This is racist and unacceptable. Do better. 
  • (To friends you can DM) This is racist, and I want to talk about why you might think like this

You can then move onto phrases such as:

  • That is incredibly racist and unacceptable. You don’t seem to understand how racist systems have brought you to say something so awful. 

And eventually, with some practice, some reading, and listening to biPOC voices, you can say things like:

  • Your positionality, or the way that you experience life, is not the same as others. Your white privilege gives you the opportunity to ignore the racial structures that oppress people of color every day. In particular…

 [insert discussion on housing access, public education, police brutality, microaggressions etc … so many ways structural racism seeps into our cultures that you truly need to do some homework to try to understand even a smidgeon of what people of color go through on the daily.]

White allies, embrace the fact that you will never actually get it. As a white person, you will never understand what it is like to be a person of color. You can do your absolute best. You can read every article and book in existence. You can travel to a different country or even a neighborhood where there are fewer white people. You can have a black best friend or work with people of color or in some way spend the majority of your time in not white-only spaces. But you will never get it. Racism is a structure. Extensive elements go into place to oppress people of color. So looking at you and being like, “heyoooo that’s a white person” is absolutely nothing compared to a human being denied a job, safe place to go to school, ability to walk down the street without fear of slurs or even physical brutality, all because someone glances up and sees the color of their skin. White people, we can do our absolute best but will never actually understand what it is like to be a person of color. That being said, not being able to fully embrace the lived experience of biPOC does not mean that you stay silent and let racists feel comfortable.

As an ally, it is very important that you carve out space for biPOC voices (using a bulldozer if necessary) but you absolutely do not stay silent. Silence leaves space for racists to be comfortable; so get loud and void this space. Do not expect a person of color to come in and use their mental energy and well-being to fight against the system that you and I benefit from and that our ancestors created. So take a backseat with the white guilt and take hold of that wheel to try to change the course of our present and our future. 

I don’t think that white people can truly understand the cost of silence. When the Brock Turner case occurred, I was keenly aware of who spoke against the rapist, who defended the rapist, and who was simply silent. As the saying goes, silence is being complicit. So, every time you stay silent, you’re not only allowing a racist to be comfortable … you have no idea how many people of color might see your silence and have their trust in friends and the world around them eroded by the complacency in silence. (Provided there is any trust left after we/whites continue time and time again to fail in our allyship.)

When you do speak up (because I have true hopes that if you have made it this far into the blog that is your intention), then know you will absolutely screw up. You will say something that is meant from the heart to be good and accidentally reinforces some stereotype or oppression or just completely misses the mark. And you know what? That’s normal..  And at least you’re speaking up with good intentions. If you’re lucky, then some biPOC will use their personal energy and risk their well-being to try to help you understand how to be a better ally.  it’s not fair, and it shouldn’t have to happen, but no one gets to just wake up one day, shed their cultural encasings, and enter into a world of enlightenment.  This simply does not exist. So go forth and risk the fuck up… And hope that you have the privilege of learning from a person of color if/when you do. (Who, by the way, will likely be kinder in most cases than white people have been toward them.)  

BiPOC often risk their safety by performing daily tasks… let alone speaking up against racism. As a white ally, the least you can do is risk a little discomfort and a life lesson in an effort to combat racism. I can never go back and undo the hurt I caused when I was more concerned about self-preservation than speaking out for what was right. All I can do now is make a pledge not to stay silent.

Please join me. 

(Also, start/continue your education by reading the brilliant Sherrilyn Ifill’s article that discusses white people once again trying to blame people of color for our/whites’ failure to push for meaningful reform.)

Thanks to Campaign Toolkit for the creation of this featured image.