My White Friends Want to Help—Here’s What I Tell Them
Being a better anti-racist requires a good heart and a tough exterior.
Having experienced my fair share of racism in both my personal and professional life, I’ve always been keen on who my white, anti-racist allies were and who did not fit into that category. The Caucasian people willing to stand up and speak out against racial bias in any instance (but especially when committed by another white person) have always had my respect and gratitude in the workplace and my love and appreciation within my inner circle. The ones whose deafening silence in situations of bigotry triggered my migraine headaches were placed on my expletive list. And that was that. My only expectation of the people in my life (aside from obviously not being racist themselves) was to condemn anyone who was racist, behaving racist, or exhibiting racist tendencies. I only graded their performance in anti-racism by a pass or fail. There were no levels of correct or incorrectness, or multiple-choice options offered, you either got anti-racism right or you got it wrong. Here’s why you should stop saying, “I don’t see color.”
The simplicity of my anti-racism scale was majorly challenged in May, actually by other Black people. The news of two Black men—Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd—being murdered, the horrific real-time video footage of both killings and the subsequent attempt to sweep both crimes under the rug by respective law enforcement sparked a wave of reactions and an underbelly of rage and discomfort. I witnessed perfectly understandable questions like “How could this happen?” “Why is this STILL happening?” and “When is this going to end?” ignite passionate, unifying conversations between the white people and Black people I knew. I also noticed that one question in particular, when posed by white people to Black people, began to divide us—leaving behind a magnitude of hurt feelings, insecurity, and frustration. Asking “What should I do to help?” when white, had morphed into an act of violence itself. Instead, here are 14 charities and organizations that need your support right now.
Why does asking how to be anti-racist offend Black people?
To be clear: Black people have every right to be offended and angry. We have been and continue to be oppressed, abused, and literally killed just for being Black—with no accountability or consequences for those responsible for our mistreatment and zero plans on the table to end any of it. Having to weather the difficult aspects of the Black experience every single day is grueling enough so the idea of explaining correctness and dutifulness to our white friends often adds to that exhaustion. Our needs are obvious to us. We need change. The unsavory truth about change though, is that it never comes easy.
The anti-racist correctness course needs Black teachers
Unfair as it may be, the heavy lifting needed for change often has to be done by those whose lives depend on it. My life, my son’s life, and the lives of all Black people depend heavily on this change. The battle for racial equality is a fight we can’t afford to lose, so when it comes to my white friends deciphering where and how to focus their energy, I’ll gladly provide a roadmap, even marching orders if necessary. Call me controlling, but I’d rather navigate willing soldiers than leave ill-prepared individuals (however well-intentioned) on the front lines of a fight this important.
I do recognize why some of my Black sisters and brothers don’t necessarily agree and consider having to explain or instruct a burden, but I only find it a problem if the curiosity isn’t sincere with the intent of productivity. For well-meaning white allies curious on how to fight against and dismantle racism, first you need to start here with these 15 essential books to help understand racism in America.
How can white people be better students of the Black struggle and ultimately better advocates?
Growing up, my mom always taught me that “it’s not what you ask, but how you ask” that matters. That poignant little philosophy should serve as ground zero for white people looking to educate themselves on effecting change for Black lives. Don’t make it a question of what should you do, instead ask your Black friends, colleagues, and relatives what they would like to see happen and how they think that change will come about. If you follow their answer with “how can I help advance your plan?” you’ll get the direction you need without coming off as insensitive or ignorant for asking. Educating yourself on the psychology of how we learn prejudice will also be useful in coming up with sensitive, tone-appropriate ways to breach the subject. I also recommend thickening your skin. If the response from a Black person to your seemingly helpful question was not amicable, understand that you are not the victim, we are.
Friendly fire is a knee-jerk reaction but not necessarily a helpful solution
Even prior to the uptick in curiosity about how to be an anti-racist, I’ve never had a problem giving interested white people assistance with their racial behavior. Although I completely understand why that feeling isn’t shared by every person who looks like me, I think it’s important as Black people, that we consider the source and evaluate the intent of any white people coming to us for direction. Despite how rightfully exhausted we are, the change will not happen unless we do all the necessary work…including the parts we shouldn’t have to do. A disinterest in teaching our white friends how to be better activists is one thing, responding with sheer vitriol is another. It is also unproductive. I think that as long as questions come from a place of genuine interest and express an authentic desire for self-improvement, they should be met with a similar spirit of benevolence. I also think we benefit from educating any unaware white people about our painful history. Ensuring that white adults educate the next generation on the aspects of Black history which they most likely didn’t learn in school, is an imperative part of advancing our goals for justice and equality.
The only wrong way to help the cause is to think you’ve done enough
Any sincere offer to help end racism is an offer Black people should never refuse from white people. I believe answering questions and even opening our ears and hearts to some of the difficulties white people are having with being better advocates is part of the work we have to do. However, what I personally close my ears to is the sound of white people listing how much they’ve done in the past and where they have already donated money. This fight is not a sprint it is a marathon and Black people need white runners in the race who are in it for the long haul but not looking for trophies at the finish line. Finding and enacting new, effective ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement should never be considered an accomplished mission. There is so much work to be done.
For more on this important issue, see our guide to the Fight Against Racism.
Editor’s note: The opinions here belong to the author. To submit your own idea for an essay, email [email protected].