As protests continue across the country over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, Tony McDade, Mike Ramos and David McAtee (to name just a few Black community members who have recently been murdered by the police and systemic racism), it has never been more urgent to unite and fight against racism. Black lives depend on it. I’m sharing below some of the actions I’m taking as a white woman in the hopes they are useful for other white women and potentially others.
I’ll leave most of the explaining to the experts, but an overview is this: being anti-racist is not the same as not being racist. In fact, it’s sort of the opposite. According to Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to be an Anti-Racist,” anti-racism refers to accepting that we have been taught racism simply by living in a racist society and working to dismantle it, starting within ourselves.
I have found this approach to anti-racism to be extremely helpful in overcoming defensiveness. Once I accepted that everyone who grows up in the United States has been taught the tenets of racism just by being here, I realized there was no need to waste energy denying my racism and instead got to work undoing it.
We’ve been absorbing white supremacy since birth and research shows that children as young as five years old express racial bias. So, if you are a person who benefits from white privilege, who does not at any point feel uncomfortable or change some behaviors, you’re not digging deep enough. There’s no way to be raised in a white supremacist society without ingesting some of it, and working to be anti-racist is a continuous, life-long journey.
I’ve gathered a list of resources below, but nothing is more important than the inner work we do to dismantle the white supremacy we’ve learned. It is the foundation for everything, and without it, we run the risk of continuing to cause harm in both small and massive ways. There is always a risk of us behaving like Amy Cooper, so follow the lead of Black leaders.
I’ve learned everything I state or list here from Black leaders, especially Black women, and in particular Catrice Jackson. A workshop of hers I attended a few years ago changed my life and I highly recommend her workshops and books.
Learn about anti-racism and the history of race in the U.S.
If you’re like me, your “excellent” education failed to teach you that America is built on racial oppression — for example, I didn’t know that the origin of police forces in the U.S. are as slave catchers until two years ago. It is our responsibility as white people to educate ourselves on the history of racism in this country. It is not fair or appropriate to expect Black people or others to do that for us. That includes peppering already exhausted friends with questions, even if you’re close. As a rule, Google it first and save someone the emotional labor.
- There are loads of anti-racism reading lists, including this one from Ibram X. Kendi for The New York Times. Kendi’s “How to be an Anti-Racist,” Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow are great places to start. Additionally, Carolyn, a Juggle reader, said of Stamped from the Beginning, “I have learned more in the first 50 pages than I learned in all my years of formal education.”
- There is also lots to learn on social media, a particularly important space for Black women whose full voices have been excluded from other venues (though Black women talking about race remain subject to surveillance and censorship online). If, like me, you’re already glued to Instagram, you might as well be learning from incredible Black women. @amandaseales, @rachel.cargle and @laylafsaad are just a few I’ve learned a lot from to get you started. And pay the people who educate you by buying their books or supporting their projects. Some people have accounts specifically for repayment.
A note: you will learn things you weren’t aware of. That’s kind of the point. But it’s hurtful to share that you’re shocked by something you’ve learned with people who have experienced it. It’s the equivalent of saying, “I haven’t been paying attention to what your community has been experiencing and saying.” Imagine how you would feel if a man said, “I never realized so many women experience sexual harassment!”
Support the Black community financially
I try to support the people and institutions doing the work on the ground. And send comfort to those who need it. A few groups I donate to monthly are Black Lives Matter and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. In the coming months, I’m committing to donating more to racial justice causes than I ever have. Some companies even match regular donations so you can double your contribution.
Bail funds are a way to support protestors right now, and others long term. The U.S. is one of only two countries in the world where people have to pay cash to avoid imprisonment before their trial, contributing to wealth-based discrimination in the criminal justice system. Here’s a list of bail funds by city.
Other great organizations are The Loveland Foundation, founded by Rachel Cargle, supports therapy for Black women and girls. And Black Youth Project 100 is a movement to end gender violence that Black women, girls, femmes and gender non-conforming people face everyday. The Equal Justice Initiative is another important organization that is dedicated to ending mass incarceration, excessive punishment and racial inequality in our criminal justice system. And the Racial Justice Network is a multi-racial, grassroots organization, committed to fighting for racial justice and building bridges across racial, social, and economic lines based in Minneapolis.
In the case of specific tragedies (which are far too common), families often set up GoFundMe’s. You can donate to support the family of Ahmaud Arbery here, the family of George Floyd here and the family of Breonna Taylor here.
Finally, support Black-owned businesses. Here’s how to find Black-owned businesses in your community.
Talk to your friends and family
White people are notoriously uncomfortable talking about race — it’s largely where the term “white fragility” comes from. But Black leaders ask us over and over again to take responsibility for other white people we know. It’s on us to have difficult conversations with friends, family and colleagues. I learn something every time I talk with someone I know about race and get more comfortable doing it.
And don’t be afraid to talk to your kids. The Conscious Kid, a group that works to reduce bias and promote positive identity development in kids, recently shared this powerful information from Dr. Erin Winkler about the risks of avoiding talking with small children about race:
“When adults are silent about race or use ‘colorblind’ rhetoric, they actually reinforce racial prejudice in children. Starting at a very young age, children see patterns — who seems to live where; what kinds of homes they see as they ride or walk through different neighborhoods; who is the most desirable character in the movies they watch; who seems to have particular jobs or roles at the doctor’s office, at school, at the grocery store; and so on — and try to assign ‘rules’ to explain what they see. Adults’ silence about these patterns and the structural racism that causes them, combined with the false but ubiquitous ‘American Dream’ narrative that everyone can achieve anything that they want through hard work, results in children concluding that the patterns they see ‘must have been caused by meaningful inherent differences between groups.’ In other words, young children infer that the racial inequities they see are natural and justified. So despite good intentions, when we fail to talk openly with our children about racial inequity in our society, we are in fact contributing to the development of their racial biases, which studies show are already in place.”
Here’s a list of resources to help you talk to kids about race.
Mess up and keep going
I don’t share this information to try to paint myself as a good white person. I make mistakes all the time. The only reason I’m not sharing those mistakes here is to save those affected by them the exhaustion and insult of having to read about my self-centeredness and fragility. I hope this information helps empower others to take action. As white people, we have to accept that we will mess up and keep going.
As you wade through the process of unlearning white supremacy, expect to feel shame and defensiveness. Shame about things you didn’t know or ways you acted. Defensive if you get called out. I feel this way regularly. But I try not to let either of those feelings, which are ultimately self-centered feelings about me, overwhelm me and stop me from centering and supporting others. My shame and defensiveness are irrelevant and unhelpful to those who are dying.