Far too often in public discussions, self-identifying “allies” in regards to the struggle for racial equality try to make the fight for equality about them. Instead of supporting Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), they’re pulling focus, and this needs to stop. There are three important things to remember that, from one white man, I see being widespread problems from well-intentioned, but woefully clumsy white people.
You don’t get to decide what’s racist and what isn’t.
Far too often on social media, a BIPOC will point out that a word someone is using or a perspective they are sharing is racially insensitive, while white people in the replies or comments are claiming that it isn’t racist. Whether or not the person in question is doing it intentionally is not important: if it gives a BIPOC pause, take their word for it. It is racist. You, as a white person, do not get to decide what BIPOC are offended by. In the same vein, men don’t get to tell women what is misogynistic or sexist and what isn’t. If you genuinely are not racist, you will listen to BIPOC and understand what they tell you about race, not try to tell them about something about which they will always have far more understanding. It’s okay to make mistakes if you genuinely want to improve and learn from them; combatting internalized prejudices is an ongoing battle.
Stop pulling focus or patting yourself on the back. It’s not about you.
If you have to go out of your way to call yourself an ally, the chances are very high that you’re not a very good one. Instead of trying to publicly pat yourself on the back, make who you are in regards to civil rights known through your actions — educate your fellow white person, call out your politicians, and amplify the voices of BIPOC. BIPOC do not need to learn anything about race from you, but there are definitely fellow white people in your life who can learn a lot.
On the same subject of pulling focus, you never, ever have to say “not all white people.” It’s not helpful. When a BIPOC is expressing a genuine concern about something that white people are doing, it does not mean that the speaker is implying that every single person who fits that description is part of the problem. Fight the urge to separate yourself; it pulls focus from the problem at hand when you know it is not about you.
If the only time you speak up is on the internet, you’re not doing enough.
There are far too many of us that can play the ally on the internet, but sit idly by in our day-to-day lives when horrible racism is around us. If the only time you verbalize your concerns about civil rights is when you’re tweeting, you’re not doing much to help. As someone who despises conflict and usually leans towards introversion, I understand that it is more than a little difficult to say something when someone is being racist, but nothing could be more important. The biggest chance white bigots have to actually change is to learn from other white people — they’ve already closed their minds to BIPOC.
It will always be far safer for us as white people to fight back against racism than it will be for BIPOC. This doesn’t mean you have to immediately be aggressive, but if you hear someone say something problematic, explain to them why it’s wrong. You’re not expected to pick fights and put yourself in physical danger, but if your uncle says something racist and you just politely ignore him, you’re validating his bigotry and encouraging it with your inaction. It’s not enough to just hit the retweet button. Nothing ever changes if white people who care don’t make it clear to racists that their views are not acceptable and that they will always be called out.
Update: 8/18/20 – When I initially posted this, I used the term “POC” instead of “BIPOC,” having at the time not been aware of the latter. In an interest in being more inclusive and acknowledging that different people of color face different levels of injustice, I have changed the text to reflect this.
Featured Photo Credit: Alisdare Hickson