Using Your Privilege for Good: What it Means to be a White Ally

Are you able to find shampoo or ”skin”-colored products suitable for your hair type and skin tone? Can you flip open a magazine or switch on your TV and see people of your race represented? Have you ever had a teacher who looks like you? Do you feel safe in the presence of police? Have you ever been the only person of your race in the room? Has anyone ever discriminated against you because of the color of your skin?

Congratulations, you have white privilege. 

Systemic racism runs deep in the United States. People of color continue to be oppressed and discriminated against in our education, healthcare, employment, and criminal justice systems. This systemic racism ranges from microaggressions like dress codes that deem Black hairstyles “unprofessional” to outright physical violence, as we have seen most recently with the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other victims. The Black Lives Matter Movement has steadily gained momentum in recent years, led mostly by youth activists and people of color. If you are a white person/person of privilege like myself, you may be wondering how you can help. It can seem daunting at first, but we all must actively take a stand against the gross injustice that is racism in our country.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned in becoming an ally:

1. Not Being Racist is Not Enough.

Being an ally doesn’t just mean confronting your own personal biases, judgements, and actions regarding race (although that is a good first step and something we must all continually strive to do). It is not enough to not say the n-word or to have Black friends. You have to be actively anti-racist. That means confronting racism and using your privilege to help protect people of color (POC). Whether using your privilege means calling out racist comments made by family and friends or standing between POC and law enforcement at protests, being anti-racist is the first step in becoming an ally.

2. BLM is Not a Social Media Trend.

Performative activism is one of the most sickening trends of our time. Protests are not a photo op. Before you post something, reflect on whether your intention is to share meaningful stories, resources, and news about the movement, or if you are just virtue signalling. That being said, social media is a powerful tool. Use your platform to amplify the voices of POC and disseminate important information to educate your peers.

3. It is Your Personal Responsibility to Educate Yourself and Others.

It is not the responsibility of POC to educate racist and/or ignorant white people. They are the ones who have to deal with the harsh realities of racism day in and day out, and we have all played a part in creating the systemic racism that is prevalent in the U.S. today. As such, it is our own responsibility to educate ourselves and share resources with those who may not know the history of the Black experience in America. There are plenty of great resources just a Google search away. I recommend the documentary 13th, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD., and the Netflix show Dear White People to start. POC are the only ones who have the authority to share their lived experience of racism, and it is our job to learn about the history behind their experiences. 

4. Remember That We All Have Room to Grow.

It is okay to be wrong. It is okay to change your mind about something when presented with new information or perspectives. A lot of white people are too scared to stand with POC as allies because they are afraid they are doing it the wrong way. It is better to try your best than to stay silent and be complicit in racism. Listen and be receptive to recommendations and criticisms from POC. Speak out against injustice, but know when to listen to the people it directly affects and pass the microphone.

5. Do Not Give in to Allyship Fatigue.

Allyship fatigue is becoming a common term in the BLM ally circle. Some white allies have grown tired of the social media posts and protests. To those allies, I say keep going. We cannot grow tired of demanding social change. We cannot give up on our Black sisters and brothers. Imagine how tired POC are of peacefully protesting and demanding justice, only to be faced with new forms of racism throughout the years. Imagine how tired POC are of being forced to face racism in their own lives–whether that means losing a loved one to police brutality, seeing Black men in their community treated unfairly by the criminal justice system, or facing daily racist comments and microaggressions at school or work. When you get tired of helping to fight this battle, remember that Black men and women have been fighting this war for hundreds of years. Giving up is not an option.