Happy 2016 everyone! Here is the second installment of the Ally 101 series. This piece will focus on white and light skinned folks, anyone with white privilege and how to be an ally to Indigenous, Black and other racialized peoples.
First things first. If you are white, light-skinned or have white privilege you are a beneficiary of Canada’s racist, colonial and white supremacist society. It doesn’t matter whatever other ways that you may be marginalized (such as you’re a woman, you’re queer, you grew up poor or lower income). White privilege is what it is. Yes, it’s mediated by other factors such as gender, sexual orientation, class and gender identity (and more factors) but the fact of white privilege is non-negotiable. This is my starting point as an educator, activist and as a light-skinned mixed race person who has white privilege.
I’ve found it interesting how hard it is for white and white-looking folks to get past this point. Most men can acknowledge male privilege, most straight folks can acknowledge straight privilege. Class privilege is a bit challenging, and I’ll tackle that next time. But some white folks, especially white progressives and white feminists, have a huge problem with white privilege.
So, taking that as a given, let’s talk about how white folks can be anti-racist allies.
“When liberal whites fail to understand how they can and/or do embody white supremacist values and beliefs even though they may not embrace racism as prejudice or domination (especially domination that involves coercive control), they cannot recognize the ways their actions support and affirm the very structure of racist domination and oppression that they wish to see eradicated.” — bell hooks
Similar to all other allies, being an ally isn’t an identity (such as saying “I’m an antiracist ally!), it’s actions you do, hopefully all the time, and every time you encounter someone or something that is racist. This list is going to look a lot like the list for men wanting to be feminist allies (link).
- Speak up. Name and blame, name and shame (where necessary). Yes, challenge Uncle Fred at family dinners when he goes on and on about immigrants. Yes, speak up in a work meeting when your idea is given the credit when a colleague of colour said the same thing 10 minutes ago. Yes, speak up when there are only white people in the room and nobody would notice if you say nothing. This is in fact the most important time for you to speak up. Speak up when nobody who “gets it” is in the room. This is the action of a true ally.
- Know when not to speak up. Don’t wait for a person of colour or Indigenous person in the room to speak first, but step back if asked. White folks are used to being the centre, being the ones who “know everything”, being the “expert”. White folks are not the experts on racism. Ever. Learning to be a good ally will put you in the learner’s seat forever. Acknowledge that and move forward.
- Educate yourself. This means do not expect every racialized person to educate you kindly and patiently whenever you want to talk about this stuff. This includes not asking any racialized or Indigenous “friends” what you should do when A-B-C happens. There are free readings and courses online. There are paid workshops you can and should attend. But if we want to be anti-racist allies we must try, we must struggle to be allied with folks within a system that kills and harms people of colour and Indigenous people every day. Being an ally is a tangible thing in a world that despises people of colour and Indigenous people. It’s the least we can do.
- How many people of colour and Indigenous people are in your friendship circle? When you go to events, to work, to school, how many people of colour and Indigenous people are around you? Are they in leadership positions? In public, on the streets, on public transit, watch, notice, think. I once observed a TTC bus driver (white man) let every white person with a pass or transfer on, but stopped every person of colour to check their passes/transfers. Yes it’s a small thing, but living under scrutiny everyday, also known as microagression is daily racism, it wears people down and it needs to stop.
- Learning to be an ally means making mistakes, and getting back out there again and again. It means feeling embarrassed, having racialized folks tell you you’re doing it wrong, having racialized and Indigenous people tell you to step back and let others speak and take the lead, it means giving up power, giving up white privilege.
- Some people aren’t using the word “ally” anymore, as it’s been misused too much. Some people are talking about being in solidarity with groups that we’re not members of. For me, it’s best to think less about what you are (ally, etc) and more about what you do (how you act, when do you stand up for others, how you hear criticism).
If we are to achieve social justice in Canada, it begins with trying to be allies to folks who have lived lives that we have no idea about. More and more social media is recording and holding accountable actions and words that are oppressive (racist, sexist, homophobic, classist and more). This is a good thing. We need more people engaged in this struggle. Make it a New Year’s resolution. Be bold, be an ally.
Image credit: Instagram/Tumblr/bbstard