Simple Ways to Stand Up to Everyday Racism
Part of our journey as anti-racists is going beyond performative allyship and truly standing up against racism in our everyday lives. And that means having some “awkward” moments telling our white peers that they’re being racist or really leaning in on their white privilege.
A lot of times it’s completely unintentional and hard to hear. Even the most devoted ally will make mistakes along the way. Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to be an Anti-racist, says “We can be racist one minute and anti-racist the next. What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what – not who – we are.”
Derrick Clifton, writer and commentator focusing on the intersections of identity, culture, and politics, created 10 simple ways for white people to stand up to everyday racism. Below are his 10 steps, with some thoughts from us on how to act on them today.
1. Listen when people of color talk about everyday racism and white privilege.
White privilege shows up in crazy ways, and this is one of them. When white people talk about racism other white people listen, but that’s often not the case when listening to the experts – BIPOC. When a Black person is sharing their experiences with racism, listen! Their experiences are valid and are critical for us to understand in order to help create change. Avoid “debate club racism” and trust the people sharing their real experiences with you.
2. Honor the feelings of people of color in the discussion. It is not about your white guilt.
Are you a racism expert? No? Then let’s be great and don’t police Black people on how they “should deal with” racism. We will never understand the reality Black people in America live in. No amount of reading, protesting, volunteering will ever expose us to the systematic oppression Black people face in America. Even if you feel guilty about what you may have done that was racist, it’s not about you. We’re here to help BIPOC.
3. Ask plenty of questions. Earnestly seek to understand people of color before trying to have your viewpoint understood.
Following on the last point, white people and Black people in America have vastly different experiences in their everyday lives (hello, white privilege!). This applies to so many things, from racial profiling to being able to buy band-aids that are your skin tone. It’s important to bridge the gap and understand the experience of your Black friends, colleagues, classmates, etc. Hear their story before sharing yours.
4. Educate yourself about racism as much as possible before asking people of color for help.
High-five! You’re here and not currently asking BIPOC to help you on this journey. There are tons of incredible Black people sharing resources on how we can be better allies and anti-racists (including these 10 tips!). It’s important that we recognize that for Black Americans, this has been a lifelong struggle that has existed for generations. Our Black peers may be exhausted, emotionally drained, or dealing with a bevy of other realities from living in a racist society. So it’s on us to educate ourselves as best we can, listening to what Black people have shared about their experiences and how they need our support.
5. Challenge other white people in your life to think critically about racism — family, friends, coworkers, teachers and even public officials.
Having these conversations can be hard and uncomfortable. Talking about race, racism, and racial justice should be an opportunity to educate, not shame others. It’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment when someone says or does something you know is wrong, particularly if that person is a family member. Share your experience of how you became involved in anti-racism and know your goals. We can’t change everyone overnight, but with the right conversations, things will change.
6. Direct peers towards the perspectives of people of color. Becoming a “savior” is not cool.
Don’t be a white-savior. Instead, put the voices and experiences of Black people ahead of yours. Elevate the experts. Share your platforms with voices of Black people (#sharethemicnow). We’re doing the work to dismantle a broken system and to help educate other white people, but this isn’t “about us”.
7. Avoid conflating other oppressions with racism unless it’s directly relevant to the conversation.
If you’ve ever experienced any type of oppression as a minority, now is not the time to bring it up. Doing so is centering your experience in the conversation rather than showing that you can empathize with the racism the person you’re speaking to is experiencing.
8. If you make a mistake, ask people of color how you can fix it.
We’re going to mistakes. We’ll have those moments, but remember, they don’t define who we are. Avoid getting defensive and consider some of these responses instead:
- Thanks for correcting me, I didn’t realize that before.
- I was wrong about that, and I’ve changed my mind.
- I should do some more research before I discuss this further.
- I hadn’t thought of it like that. Thank you for showing me another perspective.
9. Adopt intersectionality as an approach to all aspects of everyday life and start taking it seriously.
Intersectionality is important because it allows us to acknowledge the various experiences and perspectives of others. We all have unique identities and experiences that affect how we are treated and navigate the world. Part of this is understanding how race plays a role in those experiences.
10. Openly call out and reject any and all white privilege you witness or experience.
White privilege isn’t “your fault” – but it’s your duty to call it out when you see or experience it. If we don’t reject and name it, it will continue as an invisible-to-us system that oppresses BIPOC. It will take practice to see it in action, but you’ll start to recognize it as you look for it. Black people in America deal with the constant discomfort of being racially profiled, marginalized, and terrorized. Certainly, we can handle some minor discomfort to call out the systems that have benefitted us unfairly.