5 Things White People Should Practice Daily

How to be an ally.

Posted Jun 09, 2020

My guest blogger is my daughter, Clara Riggio, a psychology student at Evergreen State College.

This piece was initially written before the murder of George Floyd and the recent public outcry in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Many educators and activists are sharing the same thoughts and beliefs. I am not claiming to be the be-all and end-all of what anti-racist work looks like, but through my own education, I have come to understand the ways that my whiteness interacts with our society and the things I can do to ensure that I am not harming others because of my privilege. I have realized that, while there is not a hierarchical structure of oppression, I am advantageously privileged and am, therefore, unable to speak to many of the struggles that individuals in the U.S. and all over the world face.

I have recently begun to feel self-conscious about my role in society. I aim to bring awareness and attention to marginalized groups and the injustices they face, but where do I fit into these arguments? In a country and Western society in which white supremacy permeates our governments, media, and our internalized beliefs, there seems to be little that we, as individuals, can do to make a change. However, I’ve compiled a list of just a few ways white folks can become better allies:

1. Acknowledge your privilege.

White privilege is a hot topic in our current political conversations, and while many of us recognize that our whiteness is advantageous in the job market or when buying a home, we commonly fail to acknowledge the smaller, but just as meaningful, things we take for granted. When shopping, we often aren’t targeted or followed around by security guards. When interacting with a police officer, we almost never think of the likelihood of getting shot. And when interacting with strangers, white people are rarely asked if they speak English.

2. Communicate cross-culturally.

While many of us attempt to be “colorblind” in our daily lives, we can’t ignore that individuals from different backgrounds have experiences that are unlike our own. The first step is to work toward a level of mutual understanding instead of attempting to “put ourselves in their shoes,” which can sometimes allow us to “[superimpose] our life experience on theirs” (Ford, 2000). Communicating in a way that supports both sides and encourages cooperation allows for a more fair and pleasant conversation.

3. Recognize forms of oppression and speak up against them.

In Iris Marion Young’s Five Faces of Oppression, she addresses the primary ways that prejudicial beliefs are acted upon in our society. Young lists these five “faces” as exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. Not all of these are apparent to the white eye and often go unnoticed by even the perpetrators, but to people of color and other marginalized groups, these five faces are seen frequently. Victims are often unable to speak up for themselves in these situations, placing responsibility on bystanders to stand up for what is right.

4. Avoid feelings of guilt.

Collective guilt is defined as the distress members of a certain group experience when they accept that their ingroup is responsible for immoral actions that harmed another group (Branscombe et al., 1998) and is one of the primary reasons we shy away from taking part in difficult conversations. Once we are able to acknowledge the past and the mistakes of our ingroup, we are able to move toward what Amy Edgington calls “collective responsibility.” This includes taking a closer look at our privilege and how it affects our daily lives in comparison to those of the outgroup and how their lives are affected by prejudice and discrimination.

5. Look, listen, and learn.

The most important thing to remember is that whites make up the most dominant racial group in the United States. This is seen through the racial wage gap, the number of white folks in positions of power, and the lack of representation we see throughout media and culture. The most influential (and simple) task we can do is listen to others and their stories. The more willing we are to listen, the fewer questions we’ll have in the future. Listening to understand and take in one’s experiences, rather than listening to respond will help humanity learn to communicate in a way that is compassionate and accepting.

References

Doosje, B., Branscombe, N. R., Spears, R., & Manstead, A. S. R. (1998). Guilty by association: When one's group has a negative history. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(4), 872–886.

Edgington, A. (2000) Moving beyond white guilt. In Adams, M., et. al, Readings for diversity and social justice: An anthology on racism, antisemitism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and classism (pp. 35-49). Routledge.

Young, I.M. (2000) Five faces of oppression. In Adams, M., et. al, Readings for diversity and social justice: An anthology on racism, antisemitism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and classism (pp. 35-49). Routledge.