The responses to a recent article asking what happened to all the White allies brought up a better question: what are allies doing?
In my antiracism work, I often expose how and when White people and the people in my own community (the Cuban American diaspora) regularly act to uphold white supremacy. Yes, it’s unpopular and not very rewarding but I’ve always done this. I often discuss how everyday normal behavior can sometimes uphold racist stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. From micro- to macro-aggressions, minorities, particularly Black emerging adults, experience several instances of racism every day resulting in traumatic stress and it must be properly addressed.
A recent article of mine titled, “Where the White People At?” was met with a whole lot of White people declaring “here I am” in my comments on social media. Which made me realize, maybe the better question is, “what are White people doing?” It’s obvious that most of the ‘look at me’ White folks who were responding to my article were reacting to the title and not the content — as is typical of these modern times. Had many of them read the piece, they would have noted the action steps they can take to help make a difference — something I offer frequently.
“Frequency of racial discrimination was positively associated with dissociative symptoms in regression analyses adjusted for demographics and other traumatic life events.” (Polanco-Roman, L., Danies, A., & Anglin, D. M., 2016)
To be honest, I think I’ve heard all the platitudes I can stand about racial justice. The time for action was long overdue even before White America decided to be outraged during the summer of 2020. Look, Black people and anti-racists have been sounding the alarm about the escalation of violence from police. We’ve warned of the growing incidents of police brutality towards the Black community. We’ve even warned how police violence is bolstered by federal dollars used to militarize police departments. The alarm bells have been ringing for decades. The silence in response to them has been deafening. And yet, here we are again.
Crickets in White America’s front yard.
Since the summer of 2020, many White allies have retreated to the comforts of their privilege and the invisibility whiteness affords them. So what are they actually doing in the fight for racial justice? There are three sides to this story. First, are the obvious racists and white nationalists who are still working unabated and keep growing. Second, are the White folks who are actively trying but are too few in number. Third, and arguably the worst of the bunch, are the “woke” White folks. You know the ones. They use photos from their one day of protest and poach the work of Black and Brown creators to validate their “wokeness” to their white friends. Yeah, those.
Even worse, some of them are monetizing their “wokeness” at the expense of antiracists that actually do the work. Not only is our work being stolen for White people’s profit, but the gatekeepers of many platforms (along with countless media outlets) prefer to boost White people instead of Black and Brown creators. And they’re boosting some of the very same White writers who live off of the work of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). From having words plagiarized to having intellectual thoughts harvested for profit, the complicity of white-owned platforms is unmistakable.
If White people are the gatekeepers of content from which White America can learn, then how are BIPOC supposed to teach if they suppress our work and allow white “allies” to steal our work for profit? Their inaction and silence are equal to the participation in the theft of intellectual property from BIPOC and most White people shrug their shoulders at it. So what then are White people doing if not taking the simplest of measures to fight inequality?
What is White America actually doing to stem the tide of inequity and injustice?
Low-Impact Social Justice
The low-impact social justice warrior is the new armchair quarterback. They’re the same people who advertise their anti-racism by rubbing it in the faces of Black people whom they disagree with as if they’re owed something. It never fails. We see white anti-racist “influencers” who have a largely white audience back themselves into a corner by saying something racist and denying the implications of what they said. When they get called out, they act like victims.
Then there are the White folks who pop into the comments sections and our mentions on Twitter acting more “woke” than the BIPOC who are the victims of White oppression. We see this happening to Black women more than anyone else. Not only is their work disproportionately stolen by White folks, but they are also talked down to and treated as if they’re playing victims. Nothing about social media pisses me off more than how Black women are treated.
There are far too many White people who get close to Black people only to inevitably say or do some hateful shit. The environment doesn’t matter. Whether it’s an office or a fast-food joint or a social setting, White people will act in a way that is detrimental to minorities — especially Black people. For people of color, finding comfort and safety in any environment is difficult. For Black people, even feeling safe at home can be challenging when police may just kick the door down and start shooting. For White people, these things are all too easy — most simply can not understand the trauma.
I don’t expect White people to be out in the streets protesting every day. While it does have a tangible impact, the real work is done elsewhere. It’s done at city council meetings, school board meetings, voting in local and state elections, and in some cases, running for office or supporting BIPOC who are running for office. There’s plenty of work for everybody to be doing something to help bring forth much-needed and long-awaited racial justice in America. Some of the best places to start are volunteering at existing organizations that are doing good work.
I also understand that Coronavirus makes doing all of these things difficult and they come with great risk. But what about when things become a little more normalized? Will White people take the time to back BIPOC up at city council meetings, etc? Or will they go right back to fighting against the services needed for low-income families? Are they going to stand up to police violence at these meetings and town halls or will they go back to their silence and comfort?
I often wonder.
There’s no question we are in a unique time and situation. But we also can’t deny that we have some momentum to build on. I and many of my colleagues intend to build on that momentum to help force needed change. The help of allies is of vital importance — as it has always been — but I’m looking forward to seeing how many White people come through when it’s time to challenge the status quo. Many are already challenging it and White people don’t like it.
“Asking peaceful people to respect the disrespectful racists is asking for victims to be disrespected more. Evil doesn’t respect kindness. Kindness is seen by evil people as weakness. Racism works the same way. Racism is evil.” (Marley K., 2020)
No Impact Social Justice
Countless corporations made commitments to racial justice. However, instead of taking internal measures to ensure they’re doing their part, they threw money at the problem. If we are to rely on corporations to ensure equality and justice, this is all we’ll ever get. Capitalism can’t exist without the exploitation of labor. Period. So what makes you think corporate promises are going to make the slightest difference? It’s also worth noting, like corporate America, White people have a tendency to step in, talk, and act like they want to fight for racial justice without actually making an effort. Which makes sense since White people own and control corporate America.
Sometimes I wish there was a way we could find out just how many White people who attended Black Lives Matter protests went back to their comfort and fought against low-income housing close to their own homes. Maybe they voted against school bonds that would have benefitted low-income schools. After school programs, help for the homeless, Pre-K, I really want to know just how many White “allies” turn their noses up at such programs. I mean an actual number.
We already know most White people vote against social programs that benefit BIPOC (which also benefit poor White people) otherwise we’d have more of them. It’s also worth noting that racial injustice, systemic racism, lack of social equity are all issues that poor White people should concern themselves with. The fight for racial justice and equality also involves ensuring poor people are treated with dignity and are given an equal opportunity to advance in society.
Yes, even poor White people.
In order for systemic racism to work, it has to have an element of classism. This is where poor White people become collateral victims of white supremacy. The war against minorities by the white power establishment is inherently classist keeping poor White people, like BIPOC, from participating in civil society. So what then does anyone expect America’s corporate overlords who depend on the exploitation of poor people’s labor to actually do to fight racial injustice?
“What really happens in our economies is this. Capital takes what Marx called a cycle. The banks and hedge funds and whatnot lend people exorbitant amounts just for the privilege of affording the basics. No, not designer wardrobe and luxury cars. Just the basics — healthcare, retirement, education, utilities, right down to having a place to live — are had on debt. And they charge a fortune for the privilege, too. So capital takes this cycle: from the bank, to you, back to the bank — and all the while, you are going nowhere, more or less, while the banks and hedge funds are getting colossally richer, precisely because they charge you a fortune for being perpetually indebted. (Haque U., 2021)
If the white power structure that runs corporations and controls 99% of the wealth in this country is willing to sacrifice their own (White people) on their quest for dominance, their money and their platitudes mean nothing. They’re just words being used for budget-friendly marketing. Slapping some letters in the end zones of NFL football games costs nothing. Amazon patting itself on the back during the commercial breaks of your favorite shows costs pennies to sear that messaging into your brain. Corporations want us dependent on them. They need us dependent on them.
Big corporations have no interest in doing any actual work to bring about systemic change because they don’t immediately financially benefit from it. But they do benefit a great deal by not doing anything. As long as they are allowed to continue exploiting labor and directing politicians how to act (see: the minimum wage battle), they’ll continue to exponentially grow their wealth at the taxpayer’s expense. Even during a pandemic that promises to leave tens-of-millions of Americans poor and/or homeless, politicians approved trillions of dollars in emergency corporate aid resulting in billions of dollars in shareholder profits.
Poor people? Well, they took their time haggling about whether you deserve a measly $600 or $1,200 or $1,400 as they watched a pandemic kill more than 500,000 people and counting.
Since White people typically react to headlines and not the actual lessons being taught, maybe I can hook them with this one to tell us what they’re doing to make a positive impact in the lives of BIPOC around them without pandering. White folks need to understand that blindly apologizing to random Black people is distasteful self-gratification and it shows. Also, Latinos don’t want apologies for what the evil White man has done to immigrants (immigrants in cages aren’t all Latino). None of what White people think they should apologize for is new.
As White people keep trying to validate themselves by using the work of BIPOC and running out and creating yet another anti-racism non-profit that only benefits White people, BIPOC just want allyship. We need our communities to have the same opportunities and resources that white suburbia has. It starts within your own communities, families, and how you raise your kids (yes, there’s a wrong way to raise anti-racist kids).
“I want to blow the whistle on the conversations that happen among white people in nonprofit and social impact spaces. I know that it’s not a surprise these were said, but people like me need to stop being groomed to uphold the status quo. We need to hold our leadership accountable. One voice, like mine, will be deemed as “not a good culture fit,” but all of our voices would demand action. This is my attempt at that.” (Avitia M.M., 2021)
When White people get involved backing already existing organizations, volunteering, and getting more involved with local and state politics to bring about the changes needed in American society; when White people stop lifting themselves up and centering themselves as anti-racist superheroes — efforts that should be used to uplift more marginalized people; that’s when things will happen that will allow us to begin the journey to real racial justice.
Until then, it’s all monotonous pandering.
The questions I pose to White people are these: What exactly are you doing outside of what you say on the internet in the fight for racial justice? Are you making changes at your workplace? If not, why not? Have you brought up the diversification of your workplace? If your workplace is diverse, have you witnessed any bigotry? If so, did you let it slide, or did you call it out/report it and address the issue? What about within your own families? Are you talking to people about why their bigotry is wrong? Do you hear it and let it slide because that’s just how Uncle Grandpa Jim-Bob is? Or do you try to have a conversation with them and correct them of their bigotry?
There are so many things White folks could be doing and maybe they don’t realize it, but perhaps we should advise them that we can see when they’re full of shit. We can tell when someone is actually doing work instead of just talking about it and clout-chasing online. Sadly, the people doing real, very difficult, and extremely dangerous work aren’t treated as the influencers they are. Society has decided that the pretty blonde White girl who steals from Black and Brown creators is the influencer they want to see. Which is why they’re all still racist.
Because that White girl who rarely gets it right is usually racist too.
Polanco-Roman, L., Danies, A., & Anglin, D. M. (2016). Racial discrimination as race-based trauma, coping strategies, and dissociative symptoms among emerging adults. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. https://doi.org/10.1037/tra0000125
Umair Haque. (2021). How the Economy is Designed to Keep You Poor and Powerless. https://eand.co/our-societies-are-failing-because-their-economies-are-broken-72bb3d378351
Mindy Morgan Avitia. (2021). Things White People in Nonprofits Say When No One Else Is In the Room. https://aninjusticemag.com/things-other-white-people-have-said-to-me-in-the-social-impact-marketing-space-f43a9198a127
(Featured photo credit: Jacob Bøtter via Creative Commons)