A Few Thoughts on Being a White Ally

I didn’t sleep much last night as I fretted for the welfare of my fellow Americans. They were out in uncertain streets risking their lives and personal safety to fight systemic racism against a tide of armor. Everyone who went out there, that was unbelievably brave and I’m so thankful for your willingness to stand up for yourselves and others. I wish I were with you. Black Lives Matter.

I won’t be going out into crowded areas even with a mask, but that won’t stop me from lending a hand. On Twitter I see Black Americans asking White Americans to educate themselves. It is ridiculous that anyone must remind us to do our own homework, but there is a lot of ridiculous. I have done some work over the years toward being a better ally, and I have more to do. So why don’t we take this opportunity to deepen our understanding of ourselves and perspectives in order to be better allies?

I’ve put together some thoughts based on classes I’ve taken, experiences I’ve had, and a little research. But understand this is a process, not a destination, so please add resources that you think are worth considering.

Let’s get into it:

First, if you have never done this before I recommend taking the Implicit Bias Test(s). I think I learned about them in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink. These tests are helpful to see what your current unconscious biases are, which gives you a starting point. I think to be a good ally, I need to know what I am bringing into a situation.

Second, did you see anything in your implicit biases that you might want to change? If so, this is a time to look critically at the content you consume. Pay attention to who writes, directs, and acts in the television shows, movies, and YouTube videos you watch. Does your entertainment mirror your life experience, or does it provide other ways to see and experience the world?

In my experience, White people can become absorbed in the culture of whiteness and believe that their culture is the only right way to share space. They do all of this without being able to identify that this isn’t the right way, but the way they have learned in their cultural experience.  One example of this for me is dealing with the fact that in my cultural group ten-minutes early means on time; and for many of my friends an hour or more after the agreed time is on time. For a long time I thought my friends hated me, and I can only imagine they thought I rather enjoyed setting up for parties. That’s the cute version, but what if I was someone’s boss, or vice versa, how would that difference impact clocking in? That is when different cultural norms can clash. Pacific Lutheran University has a list of resources for anyone wanting to dive deeper into understanding their whiteness. If you haven’t done this before, please give it a go because we can and do make a lot of presumptions based on this identity. Furthermore, this is a great opportunity to learn more about yourself and examining your own identity. If you want a levity moment, I recommend checking out the Stuff White People Like blog.

The next part is rounding out your historical knowledge. Fill in your school history gaps. Some people get a teacher(s) or a school that provides a comprehensive history curriculum and some get military victories. History textbooks are a states opportunity to shape the American story and political identities of students who may become future voters. Perhaps that is why I didn’t learn about internment camps until I had a college professor who lived in one or why I learned that the Civil War was an economic issue. From my heart, I am telling you if you cannot think of great historical contributions in history from anyone that isn’t white you deserve to learn more, and more there is:

A quick reflection point, understanding your whiteness and studying history are two very powerful tools as an ally. First, by understanding your whiteness you can change your expectations and make spaces more welcoming for Black people and talk to other White people about their presumptions. Second, you will have an understanding of the long path Black Americans have taken to get their rights deferred and denied over and over again. By taking it on yourself to become more aware of the privileges you have and what the cost has been for others is huge. It is a level of awareness some White Americans never get because they didn’t have to. Being an ally is choosing to examine your privilege and to expand your own world. An additional consequence is that you can help make the world safer and a more welcoming for Black people by changing your actions and talking with other White people.

I want to say so much more and talk about all the things. However, this is one very basic blog post with links to great work that is out there. I hope you do some of these things and it gives you a desire to do more and be more for yourself and humanity. Maybe you’ll take a class or volunteer or talk to another White person. Below are links to some things I will be doing and reading this year as I increase my ally-ship because I am not sharing my voice enough in pushing for equity and justice for my Black brothers and sisters. Let’s grow together and show up for our neighbors around this country. It’s past time.

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