So you consider yourself one of those mythical “Good White People” that people of color often hear about but rarely encounter. More than that, you actually want to do your part in battling racism. Maybe you have PoCs in your life and you realize it would behoove you to educate yourself on the issues of race. Perhaps the Trump Administration has been a Come To Jesus moment that has galvanized you to take action in battling bigotry. Or maybe you just want to be a better person than you are now and want to do some good in the world. But you’re also scared because you don’t want to say or do the wrong thing and be seen as a racist yourself.
All very valid reasons.
Believe it or not, you are in luck. This is a great opportunity for white allies like you to be just that. One thing that is rarely (if ever) discussed is the mental health of PoCs who have to endure living in a society where they are discriminated against and dehumanized daily.
Let me guess. You’re scared of making a mistake. Worry not. The following are five easy steps you can do to help encourage, support and empower your loved ones of color. By no means is this a comprehensive list but it will certainly get you started on the path of being an ally.
Stop Conflating Ignorance With Malicious Intent
It’s well documented that blacks and other PoCs are often victim-blamed for the bigotry they’re forced to endure. A prime example would be Trayvon Martin who was put on trial for his own murder. Just as we as a society victim-blame PoCs for any racism they suffer, we just as quickly defend white bigots and make up any reason to excuse their behavior.
Don’t believe me? Even though he was unanimously convicted by a jury for raping a young woman, Brock Turner only served three months in prison because the judge felt a prison sentence would have “a severe impact” and “adverse collateral consequences” on the rapist.
The infamous debate between Al Roker and Billy Bush over disgraced Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte went viral. Bush attempted to “play devil’s advocate” and defend disgraced Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte who got drunk while in Brazil, trashed a service station and lied claiming he and his teammates were held up by a gunman.
The problem with conflating ignorance with malicious intent is that it ultimately implies that whites can do no wrong. Ignorance implies that once educated, white supremacists will be no more. That simply isn’t true. For PoCs this is also a form of gaslighting.
Utilizing their white privilege, many racists will lie, derail discussions or evade responsibility for problematic behavior by feigning to be naive of how their behavior caused harm to others. If it was truly a case of ignorance, then they would have gladly taken ownership of their mistakes upon being educated and take the initiative in making things rights. However, because it’s malicious intent many racists will claim to not know or understand something and still argue with the folks who are rightfully calling them out.
Ignorance isn’t the only excuse used to excuse racist whites. In many cases where violence is involved, the mental illness cared is played. Nevermind the blowback and harm that causes to those legitimately suffering from mental illness.
Unlike people of color, whites are aware of the fact that they can claim ignorance (like a 5-year-old lying that they didn’t know about a parental rule), and are usually absolved of whatever sins they committed. A textbook example would be Ethan Couch. Couch received 10 years probation after driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs (not to mention a revoked license) and getting into an accident which resulted in the deaths of four people. Couch’s attorneys successfully argued that their client suffered from affluenza and because of his affluent upbringing Couch didn’t know any better.
The sobering reality is that the injustices that exist in the world didn’t manifest by accident. Nor is it an accident that they still exist. The world is an evil place and most bigots engage in racism out of malice, not ignorance.
Dylan Roof knew exactly what he was doing when he walked into that church and murdered those nine innocent people.
Evil white people do exist in the world and pretending otherwise is a detriment to those they harm.
The other problem with conflating ignorance is that it feeds into the stereotype that bigots are only uneducated barefoot hillbillies who live in a trailer park or up in the mountains. Often that couldn’t be further from the truth. Some of the worst bigots on the planet are wealthy and college educated. Case in point, the majority of the Republican Party. Many of them graduated from Ivy League schools and lead privileged lives. More than that, bigotry has also been well documented among white liberal fauxgressives. A prime example being Bernie Sanders and his supporters during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. Among his numerous racist antics, Sanders lied about marching with Dr. Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights movement.
Just as we are quick to come up with any excuse to demonize and victimize blacks, we are just as quick to do Olympic-level gymnastics to justify the racism of whites and “prove” they can do no wrong. After all, “racially insensitive” infractions made by those “lone wolves” are simply the result of their upbringing, “white mental illness”, lack of education, and of course affluenza. In any event, we’re obligated to see the bigot as a three-dimensional person and recognize their humanity. In essence, do the very thing they couldn’t be bothered to do for people of color in the first place.
Call Out Your White Loved Ones
“It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but even more to stand up to your friends.”
White people are fascinating creatures. They can jump out of a plane and go skydiving, climb Mount Everest, serve in the armed forces, vacation in Chernobyl, and go skinny dipping in the arctic. Yet suggest that they stand up to a bigot and risk falling out of favor with other whites and these fearless daredevils are suddenly quiet as kept and afraid of their own shadows. They’re like Superman after being over-exposed to Kryptonite.
Whether it’s dogpiling a black man on a social media forum or harassing a Hispanic woman in the workplace, one of the reasons racists target people of color is they are banking on the fact that other whites will either turn a blind eye or actively aid them.
You actually have the power to shut down many bigots before they begin. A racist parent spewing bile about former President Obama, shut them down. A white co-worker “playing devil’s advocate” and defending Hitler on your social media page, shut them down. One of your conservative roommates sharing their views on black people courtesy of FOX News, shut them down.
I’m not even suggesting that you have to cuss them out or sever relationships (though don’t rule out those options). Bigots will listen to another white person like yourself, especially if you have a relationship with them. And if it still doesn’t take? Ask yourself, why is that person in your life again?
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
-Bishop Desmond Tutu
Evil thrives when people do nothing. And we’ve established that you’re one of the Good White People of legendary status.
And why should your non-white loved ones do all of the heavy lifting in fighting bigotry when you have the power to aid them? When a person of color knows that you truly got their back and know that you aren’t going to throw them under the bus when conflicts get critical, it will strengthen their resolve not to mention your relationship. Because they know have a Ride or Die watching their six.
Still need a reason take a stand against your fellow whites? Albert Einstein. Yes, Albert Einstein. Be like Einstein. In addition to being Nobel prize-winning scientist, Einstein was a champion of Civil Rights. He had the following to say about whites battling racism:
“The separation of the races is not a disease of colored people. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it.”
And this is why Einstein was one of the greatest minds in history.
Understanding Progress Not Perfection (Intent Isn’t Magic Only It Totally Is)
There’s the old saying that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. There’s also a popular expression in SJ circles that intent isn’t magic, Pagan and Wiccan beliefs notwithstanding.
Intent isn’t magic, and yet it totally is.
Being a Good White Person means understanding that you have screwed up and will probably screw up in the future. If you are called out on your racist behavior or realize that you have racist attitudes, your soul is not condemned for all eternity. You can change and do better. Because we live in a world that reinforces bigotry, there is much for us to unpack and unlearn. You have to put in the work to deprogram yourself from the isms that have been embedded in each of us as the norm. Said deprogramming and discovering that you are not as innocent as you thought you were is painful, difficult and humbling. But that’s how you evolve. That’s how you become better. That’s how you truly become a Good White Person.
Intent isn’t magic and yet it totally is. If your intent is to be a Good White Person, you’ll listen to understand, learn, and strive to do better. If your intent is to be a Good White Person, you will have no qualms about humbling yourself, taking ownership of your mistakes, learning from them and doing everything in your power to right the wrong and fix the situation.
How one handles their mistakes speaks volumes just as much as the mistake itself.
Google Is Your Sister In Christ
This may come as a shock to some of you but people of color have lives. In addition to sticking it to the man, fighting the power, and raging against the machine, many of us are in serious relationships, raising kids, obtaining graduate degrees, furthering our careers, pursuing entrepreneurial and/or artistic endeavors.
In short, we do not have the time, energy, mental, and emotional wherewithal to be raising caucasians to be home-trained Good White People and educating them on the intricacies of race when there’s this cool magical place called the world wide web. This isn’t to say that we don’t mind pointing white loved ones to resources but as far as spoonfeeding goes, Google is your sister in Christ.
Want to know what microaggressions are and the deleterious effect they can have on PoCs? Google Is Your Sister In Christ.
Why the tone argument is a logical fallacy and is often racially charged? Google Is Your Sister In Christ.
Not familiar with dog whistle politics and want to understand how they are a form of gaslighting? Google Is Your Sister In Christ.
The fact that you are reading this very article and learning what you can do to aid the mental health of your non-white loved ones is an an excellent first step.
A Little Encouragement Goes A Long Way
One of my closest loved ones, who we’ll call Clay, does something I’ve come to appreciate over the years. Whenever I eviscerate a bigot online for mag the mistake of harassing me and mine, Clay will often private message me and affirm that 1) I could teach Job a thing or two about patience. 2) I’m not crazy or angry or unreasonable for standing up for myself 3) Contrary to what bigots would have me believe, I am an amazing soul and the world is that much better for having me in it. More than that, Clay has no qualms publicly crediting me or praising my accomplishments. Which sadly is very rare for whites to do.
Clay doesn’t look at me as the black friend or their social justice street cred. We view each other as family; Womb to Tomb, Ride or Die.
For the Clays of the world, it was never about gaining the title of being one of “The Good White People.” It was simply about being good and doing good. As a result, that makes them the best. My mental health (as well as the rest of me) is eternally grateful.