Thursday, August 31, 2017

Topic #23: White Allyship 101: It’s a Process, Not an Identity

“It’s the responsibility of Whites interested in ending racism to sacrifice their comfort, ask questions, and take cues and orders from Black people [and other people of color or marginalized groups] without relying on us to show you and tell you how.” (Collier Meyerson)

Many folks interested in anti-racist activism want to do more but are concerned about "doing it wrong." This is a legitimate concern, and even shows a great amount of awareness from aspiring *white allies that they should tread carefully if they don't want to make race relations worse. In fact, folks who aren't concerned and contemplative about the tendencies for white people to misstep during anti-racist activism are really the ones to worry about! So, you're in the right place. The following list of Dos and Don'ts for aspiring white allies interested in racial justice is not meant to be comprehensive or definitive, but rather a conversation starter from which we can be motivated to learn even more. This list is for people interested in doing more and doing it better. Please continue to seek out additional information on this topic as part of fulfilling the first item, below!

Self Work
Take responsibility for your own education. Do read links/books referenced in articles and discussions by people of color, and seek out your own resources for learning. It is not the job of marginalized groups to provide the information you need. “Do your own heavy lifting” when it comes to your anti-racism education. (Karnythia)

Think deeply about your motives. “If you’re doing work as an ally as a means of earning capital to counterbalance your White guilt or as a way of seeking accolades for how not racist you are, stop taking up space at the table.” (Clodfelter). “I think a White person can only be a true ally if she works from the desire to dismantle White supremacy instead of merely being fueled by White guilt.” (Katrina L. Rogers)

Eliminate allegiance to "colorblindness." One of the greatest barriers in dismantling racism is white people's insistence that "we all bleed the same color." Insisting on a colorblind approach to the world is a privilege only white people have, and is a blissfully ignorant and dangerously ineffective way of addressing racism. Racism exists, it has a real impact and severe consequences for people of color, and suggesting that you as an individual "don't see race" not only discounts the unique and positive things about other cultures, races, and ethnicities, but also attempts to minimize the reality of race-based prejudice and discrimination that are a daily part of the lives of most people of color in the United States.

Working With Communities of Color
Listen.  When collaborating with marginalized communities be aware of when you are taking up “space” with your words and ideas.  Err on the side of caution by keeping your comments brief and to the point, and make sure you are not asking to speak more frequently than others. “There is nothing more obnoxious than someone (however well intentioned) coming into the spaces of a marginalized group and insisting that they have the solution even though they’ve never had [the actual] experience. You can certainly make suggestions, but don’t be surprised if those ideas aren’t well received.” (Karnythia)

Hear criticism, and apologize. You will use the wrong terms, you will make erroneous assumptions. Apologize and then make a change without needing to fully understand or agree with why. “You’re going to get things wrong. Because no one is perfect. But part of being an ally is being willing to hear that you’re doing it wrong.” (Karnythia)

Eliminate white tears. “White tears” is a term used to describe our tendencies to refocus discussions about race toward addressing our white feelings and responses. For example, expressing that you feel “attacked” or “unsafe” in race discussions is shedding white tears. Expressing guilt or apologies about white privilege to people of color is another manifestation of white tears. Process your feelings about racism yourself, and with white friends, but do not put the burden of your emotions on people of color unless you have specifically been asked to do so.

Donate. Since racism results in unequal access to both education and the jobs resulting from that education, being born white means you experience fewer barriers to wealth than does a Person of Color, even if you are a woman, came from a poor white family, or have other traits that you believe have caused a disadvantage. If you claim to be interested in a more fair distribution of resources, you need to be regularly donating money to organizations led by people of color and causes that are making progress in this area on a large-scale level. Do some research to find out which ones are most effective. If you don’t have time to do the research right now, just click here to set up a recurring monthly donation to these two organizations: The Movement for Black Lives and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Working Within Your Race Group
Be vocal within your race group. “Do be willing to stand up to bigots. Even if all you do is tell a friend that the thing they just said about X marginalized group is unacceptable, you’re doing some of the actual work of being an ally” (Karnythia). Expect to have difficult conversations regularly with people you care about, with strangers, and with people you don’t even like. Avoid the temptation to cut ties with people who are not like-minded. These are the exact people we need to engage with and try to reach. Be mindful about the fact that shame and blame are not effective in changing minds. If the goal is to be effective, come from a place of respect and curiosity, while being unwavering in your commitment to speaking up.

Give credit to original sources. Throughout history white people have consistently plagiarized people of color across every topic whether it be science, literature, music, or even cooking. We did not invent this movement, so please do your best to properly acknowledge the people who did when you are seeking ideas to cite and share. Cite people of color as often as possible to counterbalance the disproportionate number of white voices being credited, cited, read and heard.


Don’t confuse "doing no harm" with "doing the right thing." It is not enough to be a non-racist. You must be an active anti-racist or you are part of the problem. White people are organizing and acting to promote racism, so if you are a not organizing and acting to fight racism then you are neutral about racism, not against racism.

Don’t strive to prove you’re an ally. Resist the temptation to try and create credibility by mentioning your diverse group of friends or people of color with whom you have relationships. Instead of trying to prove your allyship to others, just keep showing up and doing the work.

Don’t think that claiming you are a white ally makes you one. “Ally” isn’t a label you can take on. It’s a process that takes work every day. And don’t expect people of color to care if you consider yourself an ally (see safety pin issue). Just do the work!

Don’t try and use the ally card. Sometimes you will not be invited into particular spaces, and that’s okay. “Your privilege didn’t fall away when you became an ally, and there are intra-community conversations that need to take place away from the gaze of the privileged.” (Karnythia)

Don’t say you understand how someone feels when you couldn’t possibly. When listening to someone else’s struggle, don’t make comparisons to your own challenges as, for example, as a woman in a sexist world. Trying to relate instead of just listening can be very invalidating to the other.

Don’t make it about you. See all of the above.


*Choosing not to capitalize "white" and "people of color" is intentional. The debate about whether or not to do so is unsettled, leaving it up to the stylistic and philosophical choice of the author. I leave all quotes intact to maintain their author's preference, but I choose not to capitalize race labels because I believe doing so perpetuates the legitimacy and authority of socially constructed race labels that were created as tools for oppression.

This working list is curated, in part, from some of the following sources:


  1. Carrie,
    Glad to review your Notes on White Allyship 101 today.
    Even gladder to hear Amy Goodman's Democracy Now today.
    She reported on the striking increase of professional athletes and others making a physical statement during yesterday's pro-games and the verbal violence coming in response from Mr. Trump.
    Thank you for what you do !
    Dr. Matt