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On becoming an anti-racist white ally

Systemic racism has persisted in the United States and is, indeed, written into the fabric of our nation. Evidence of that racism is has been seen most violently and recently in the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and so many others. While police present an immediate and violent threat to Black persons, the insistence and persistence of white people policing Black and minoritized peoples in every aspect of their lives (see Amy Cooper, for example) is also a form of violence; the police are just one very violent form of the policing that pervades American society. This policing, violence, and the racism at its core must be eradicated. Yet, for too long, white voices have dominated all political rhetoric, including the rhetoric on racism, and it isn’t my voice that needs to be privileged here. To be an ally, my job as a white woman is to listen, learn, and act in solidarity without creating additional labor for Black folx and without privileging my voice. As such, instead of telling you what to do, I’m going to tell you what I am doing to become a better ally, decenter my voice, and live an anti-racist life.

To start, last week I asked myself::

1. Do I understand the difference between racism and being anti-racist? and,

2. Have I done everything in my power to help those disempowered and disenfranchised (e.g., Black, Brown, and Indigenous persons)?

For me, despite being committed to social justice, the answer to both was no. I have a lot of work to do. As such, my task today and every day is the following:

1. Learn the history and present state of disempowerment, disfranchisement, and violence against Black, Indigenous, and minoritized people(s).

2. Learn how to support and contribute to systemic and structural change.

3. Do those things.

1. Learn the history and present state of racism, colonialism, and disempowerment of minoritized peoples

According to activist Austin McCoy,

“We also need more white folks to try to make their best efforts to understand the gravity of the problem. We need more white folks to try to grasp that, in many cases, the sight of police, and in all cases, experiences with white folks who want to police black and marginalized folks is an existential threat. And a threat that’s stacked on top of other threats—covid, poverty, environmental destruction, interpersonal violence, etc. Racism not something black folks “overthink” or “look for” in their everyday lives. And we need to disabuse ourselves from the idea that things will ‘naturally get better'”.

To start learning the history of and present state of disempowerment, racism, and colonialism, I need to do the work to understand the legacy of racism in the modern lives of Black Americans and better understand the past and present state of racism and colonialism in the United States without relying on Black people to educate me. Often, white people can’t easily see the impact of racism, for some because they willfully ignore it. For others, however, they fail to recognize racism and its impacts because racism is so ingrained into American society that discrimination and inequitable outcomes are viewed as “natural” and “normal” (and, often, failure to “thrive” is viewed as the fault of the individual, not the system that sustains it). Because of our (collective) blindness and willful ignorance, racism won’t naturally get better. It will take sustained, systemic change.

Some ways to learn about the past and present racism in the United States:

1. Robin DiAngelo’s resources page (author of White Fragility)

2. Read An Indigenous People’s History of the United States

3. Dismantle Collective’s resources for white allies

4. From Black Women Radicals, a reading list

5. Austin McCoy recommends the first chapter of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last book, Where Do We Go From Here.

This a short list; there are numerous resources and resource lists created by Persons of Color. I’m starting with these resources instead of asking and expecting that my Black friends will be my educators. The insistence that Black folx be responsible for educating white people about the trauma being inflicted on them by white peoples, systems, and structures, is an additional form of trauma.

2. Learn how to work toward systemic and structural change

1. Most importantly, listen and truly hear Black and Indigenous people. Follow what they recommend. Center their voices, because they know better than I ever will what they need and what should be done.

2. Become an anti-racist (Read How to be an Anti-Racist)

3. Be an ally

4. Donate to causes (such as Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block)

5. And again, listen, learn, center, and follow. This list organized by Jamila Prowse of Black-authored literature is a great place to start.

6. Educate my white family and friends

6. Protest: Quoting Austin McCoy: “We all need to be out in the streets. That’d be one way for white folks to show some solidarity.”

7. Support Black-owned businesses

Again, while it is important for white people to advocate for Black people to our white community and to explain systemic and structural racism to our white family and friends, the next step is to point them to resources where they can learn more. The list above is a good start.

3. Do the work

Becoming and anti-racist and advocating for structural change takes work, daily work. One of the ways that we, at Contemporary Spinster, hope to continue this conversation is through our next virtual book club read. We hope that you will join us for our discussion of Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy on July 6. Please note, the book is a 28-day workbook, so if you’d like to join us, purchase from an independent Black-owner bookseller soon.

Thanks to Austin McCoy for his guidance and input and to Monetta Wilson for referring me to many of the recommended resources listed here.

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