Our demographic does not have a great track record these days.
I used to defend the white racists who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution by saying, “Well, they didn’t live the words they wrote, but they built a government that made us better than they were.”
But that was obviously false, because here we are, 240 years later, and we’ve elected a white nationalist demagogue, pretty much for the sole reason that he’s a white nationalist demagogue.
We really blew it, and we won’t even be the ones to suffer the consequences.
Remember how, after the election, lots of white people started making themselves feel better by wearing safety pins? That’s called performative allyship, and it’s basically nonsense, but lots of white “allies” have been making it their bread and butter ever since.
But not you and me. We’re going to do things that will actually help the people we (as a racial cohort, anyway) have harmed. And we’re not going to congratulate ourselves on it or look for praise for being a “good” white person.
We’re just going to do these things because they’re the right things to do if you believe in fairness and equality and all those other tenets the white racist founding fathers wrote about but didn’t act on.
Here are some really easy ways we can take concrete action that will bear results:
Make it clear that racism, discrimination, and intolerance are values that we as a society will no longer value. That means confronting other white people. You have to stand up against friends, relatives, and even strangers when you hear them saying racist or discriminatory things.
It’s actually not that hard! You say, “What the hell is wrong with you?” and you walk away. If it happens often enough, eventually, they’ll change . Of course, if you witness an in-person attack or a person’s safety is in question, direct intervention is necessary. Read up on how to diffuse these situations, and practice doing it with your friends.
2. Seek out marginalized voices and perspectives.
Here’s a question: How many black people do you follow on Twitter? How many black authors do you read?
If you’re like many white people, the answer is not very many. I know I didn’t for a long time — I had to make a conscious effort to change that.
U.S. culture segregates by race, sometimes intentionally, but often as an unexpected consequence of our social habits. Social media makes this worse . We’ve all heard of the echo chamber effect at this point, where we only ever hear from people who agree with us and never have our views challenged.
The best way to break free of that is to proactively seek out voices you aren’t hearing from, especially from people who belong to marginalized communities.
3. Confront your racism and don’t be fragile about it.
If you start paying attention to more marginalized voices, you’re going to encounter some opinions that will upset you. Some might make you feel discriminated against. Some that might even make you feel like you’re the victim.
Don’t stop listening. Lean into your discomfort. Force yourself to consider other opinions, and understand why people might say something you find offensive.
You’ll learn a lot of terms you might not have encountered before — like, for instance, white fragility. This is a reference to the tendency among white people to get defensive when they get called out, instead of listening and examining what about their behavior might be problematic.
So don’t be fragile. Your feelings might be hurt, sure. But resist the urge to shut down. Only by listening can we learn to do better.
4. Use your privilege to support marginalized movements.
Your whiteness affords you privileges that can be a powerful asset for activists of color and from other marginalized groups. Police and politicians tend to take a movement far more seriously when there are white people participating. Consider the difference in the way last year’s largely white Women’s March were treated in comparison to black protesters in Ferguson, Missouri.
That said, you have to resist the urge to appoint yourself a leader. It’s not your place. Your job is to follow the leaders of the movement and do what you can to support them, even if you think you might know a better strategy.
Be prepared for the moment at a protest when a reporter with a camera will seek you out to be the spokesperson for the movement.
When that happens, here’s what you say: “I’m just here to support the movement because I believe in it. You should speak with the leadership; I think they’re over there.” Then point in the direction where the reporter can find group leadership.
Resist the urge to make further statements, because then it will be your face on the news that night, and not the people that the movement’s actually meant to benefit.
5. Give your time and money.
There are a ton of organizations that do good work protecting marginalized groups in the courts, through lobbying, public advocacy, education, and community organizing. Cash donations are always welcomed, but if you’d prefer to donate your time instead, volunteering is usually an option.
If you can’t volunteer for a large organization like one of these, you can find a food bank or other organization in your community that helps serve vulnerable populations.
6. Be proactive about inclusion in your daily life.
If you are in any position of authority — be it at work or for an organization or club — you have an opportunity to be more inclusive of people from other backgrounds and communities. Take proactive measures to invite people of color, immigrants, disabled folks, and other marginalized people into your space.
If you’re recruiting at work, don’t put your ads on the usual web sites and expect that to be enough. Seek out places where you can recruit people underrepresented in your workplace. Predominantly Black colleges and Black business associations can help you recruit. LGBTQ community centers have job posting boards, and your town or city may have organizations that exist specifically to connect immigrants, refugees, and minorities — racial and otherwise — with the community.
7. Avoid segregation.
American culture tends in many ways to self-segregate. White spaces tend to be very white — but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something to change that.
If you’re willing to put a lot of effort into it, you can move, especially if you’re planning to have kids. Growing up in a diverse community surrounded by people from different backgrounds tends to make people more accepting and open-minded, whereas growing up in homogeneous spaces (like most suburbs) can make people fearful and insular.
You can also find easier and cheaper ways to diversify your family’s surroundings. In many cases it’s as simple as going into the city nearest to you, and particularly neighborhoods that are not associated specifically with White tourism.
In New York City, which is famously diverse (but also strikingly segregated in many neighborhoods), you can eschew the Met or the Natural History Museum in favor of the New Museum or El Museo de Bario.
Most houses of worship are very welcoming to people who don’t share their faith, especially parents seeking to expand their children’s horizons. Find a local mosque or synagogue and participate respectfully. Join a community group in a community different from yours. Find ways to be around people who don’t share your background and privilege.
Most of all, take the time to actually do the work.
Have the uncomfortable conversations. Confront the racists in your life. Diversify the perspectives that you hear and read. Remember your place in the movement and show up.
All of these things go a long way to help include, support, and make life fairer for communities of color and all marginalized groups who have been harmed by our society.
Do the work and leave the empty performances for your community theater.