32 What Can I Do?
WHAT CAN I DO?
“Whiteness must shed its posture of competence, its will to omniscience, its belief in its goodness and purity, and then walk a mile or two in the boots of Blackness. The siege of hate will not end until white folk imagine themselves as Black folk – vulnerable despite our virtues. If enough of you, one by one, exercises your civic imagination, and puts yourself in the shoes of your Black brothers and sisters, you might develop a democratic impatience for injustice, for the cruel disregard of Black life, for the careless indifference to our plight.
Empathy must be cultivated. The practice of empathy means taking a moment to imagine how you might behave if you were in our positions. Do not tell us how we should act if we were you; imagine how you would act if you were us. Imagine living in a society where your white skin marks you for disgust, hate, and fear. Imagine that for many moments. Only when you see Black folk as we are, and imagine yourselves as we have to live our lives, only then will the suffering stop, the hurt cease, the pain go away.”
–Michael Eric Dyson
*Read and reread the content on this website.
*Practice humility, listening and learning.
*Seek out and read Black-centered news by Black writers, scholars and activists. Pay them for educating you.
*If you’re on Facebook, re-organize your newsfeed to read racial justice content by smart people. Pay them via PayPal, Patreon, etc.
*Speak up (see below)
*March or participate in Black-led, Black-centered protests.
*Re-evaluate your assumptions about money and how to spend it. If you drink anything other than tap water, you have some money to give to someone else.
*Help single Black moms of special-needs kids to pay for their emergency needs (contact me for more info about how to do that).
*Join smart Facebook groups like “Nice White Ladies Training Zone,” “White Nonsense Roundup,” etc.
*Read the rest of the suggestions in this section and other sections on this website.
*Pay reparations. Contact me about that if you’d like, after you’ve read this whole website. I love to share what I’m learning and doing about money.
*Read and learn more about Bread and Roses Community Fund. Make a monthly contribution to support real change.
*Read all the content on Equal Justice Initiative.
*Think about moving your current contributions away from white-centric organizations, and giving more to those run by and benefiting people of color. These latter have a much harder time finding funding.
*Get appropriate help for difficult feelings that may come up. Contact me if you don’t know how to find good emotional support.
*Take a break from criticizing or handwringing about the current administration, and spend at least equal time thinking clearly about your own position relative to the positions of systemically-oppressed people.
*Limit time spent on your own grief about racism. Be humble, listen, keep learning, accept criticism, and notice defensiveness. Take action.
*Practice noticing white-supremacy expectations you may have, especially when giving money to or working for anti-racism causes. Some responses we typically expect: gratitude, appreciation, admiration, kudos, being a “friend,” being understood, entitlement to explaining ourselves, perfection. We default to defensive, hurt feelings when we don’t get appreciation and even more hurt feelings when we make mistakes or are made wrong.
*Write to and boycott companies that use prison labor. (See more info and sample letter in the section on prison slavery.)
– Kara Tennis | Justice Jewelry
54 good suggestions of what white people can do for racial justice:
“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.” —Desmond Tutu
“Find out if there are immigrant children being held in your town and how you can help them. (Google it) Find out when your local and state elections are and who is on the ballot and where they stand on immigration AND incarceration. DONATE, VOTE, FIGHT.” –Graeme Seabrook
After the Charlottesville white-supremacy march and violence:
“‘Why can’t we all just get along?’ Because people, including you, keep ignoring the problems and not addressing them directly.
‘I just want life to go back to normal.’ Your normal was what led to this. Things cannot go back, I’m sorry that you’re uncomfortable now, but this is the reality that people of color have been living with forever. There is no normal.
‘I don’t want to say the wrong thing.’ Saying nothing is the wrong thing. You might mess up your wording, you might not be clear. But say something, say anything. Silence is violence.” –Erynn Brook
“They [Black women activists who are moderators in this group] need this help. They don’t need a bunch of white women on the internet talking all day about this stuff. They need help and support. And that’s what we’re here for. If you learn something here, that’s really awesome for me, it makes me feel great. I teach, I love the light bulb moments that people have, but that’s personally gratifying only for me. It’s not the goal. The goal is that you get enough interaction and enough education to start doing as much as you can to the best of your ability. That’s what we’re doing here.” –Erynn Brook, founder/admin of “Nice White Ladies Training Zone” on Facebook
“I’m not saying online activism isn’t activism….I’m saying that if it doesn’t translate into actual changes in how I walk through the world and how I engage in relationships with my family, friends, neighbors, schools, cashiers, realtors, and people I do business with then it’s like whistling through the graveyard: I may feel better but I haven’t really confronted the deaths that prompt the need to hear such a melody.
I’m saying interruption, disruption, and challenging dehumanization wherever it’s found seems to be a big part of what is being asked of us.” –Rachel Erickson Rice
Learn to recognize and admit your whitness and resulting privilege:
“So here’s what you can do — even if you can’t afford to donate money, even if you can’t attend marches due to disability, even if you’re also anxious, even if you don’t think you’re the most articulate person, even if you can’t risk being arrested, and even if you can’t personally punch a Nazi in the face:
– Think about the things that have helped YOU awaken to these issues, and try emulating those methods! Was your awareness spurred by posts by friends on social media? Share those posts. Did volunteering for a local grassroots organization change your perspective? Recruit others to join you, or at least talk about how volunteering has impacted your outlook. Did it help you to be reminded that your faith practice places an emphasis on social justice? Share that reminder.
– Share links just like this or any other you read and found so helpful. If it was helpful to you, it will be helpful to others. It was outrageous to me seeing someone tell a friend ‘I have benefitted so much from the links and education you share, but I don’t know how to share what I have learned with my own social circle.’ It is literally as simple as sharing the very resources you are benefitting from with others.
– Talk about the work you are doing on yourself — how you realized you needed to do it, what steps you are taking, what has helped you along, where you’re still struggling but how important it is to push on. Setting an example for your social circle helps — lead by example. It is also valuable for people to see how change is an evolution and what that evolution looks like. No one is asking you to be perfect, we are asking you to keep growing. Talking about how that has looked for you encourages others that they too can begin to evolve.
– Create Facebook lists with only white friends where you can post things for a white audience, allowing for white discussion you moderate, but where your friends of color do not have to be subjected to the inevitable nonsense that your white friends and family will respond with. Here’s a handy tutorial on how to create lists.
– You can start to set boundaries in your social circle where you say certain things are not ok/acceptable in your space/home/etc. and start gently mentioning why things are offensive in real life. There is a point where you need to stop being gentle about it. Have the difficult conversations. Engage even when it is uncomfortable.
– Share links and testimonials for businesses, fundraisers, and organizations led by Black people and other POC. Talk about why they matter, how you have benefitted from them, and why people should support them. Support them directly when you can, and even when you can’t financially do so, at least spread the love and actively encourage your friends with means to support them.
– Get comfortable with discomfort. By this I mean, stop sitting silently when you witness bad behavior, racist language, and tacky ‘jokes.’ Be willing to be the one who speaks up. You may find that you have more people on your side than you realized, but no one was willing to be ‘that person’ who brought it up. Be that person. Someone has to be, and no one will be until someone takes it upon themselves. Stop waiting for someone else to do it. And if you claim this circle of friends or family is a brick wall of toxicity? My question to you is: then why are you still comfortable breaking bread with them at all?”
“We need to really get out of the business of trying to tell oppressed people how to handle oppression. What you do that harms oppressed people is not just the one instance of harm. Especially if this is not something that you suffer from day in and day out, it’s very easy to forget. It’s very easy to not fully understand.
So, the thing about race is that racial harm, racial aggression, microaggressions–all of these things–they happen day in and day out, for the entirety of your life. That means that every single instance of racial oppression, of racial insensitivity–every slur, every microaggression: it is not a singular instance. It’s just not. So if someone once again assumes that I am uneducated, that I am overly angry, that I am violent–it is not just one person making that assumption. That is one of many assumptions.
And the pain of that one event is always going to be magnified by the system it plays into. Not only magnified in impact, systemically. Because when you are adding language or actions to a world that already treats people of color a certain way, you are actually contributing to the system and strengthening the system itself. But also when we talk about cumulative pain and damage towards POC, you are adding in a way that magnifies, that becomes bigger than just the single act.
It’s kind of like, if you’re walking down the street and someone kicks you in the shin, that hurts. First off, if that person says, ‘Oh my god, I didn’t mean to kick you in the shin,’ that might help to know. But it actually doesn’t make your shin hurt less. And that person doesn’t have the right to say, ‘Now stop hurting, because I didn’t mean to do it.’ Now, if that person is the fiftieth person that day to kick you in the shin, that kick is going to hurt a hell of a lot more, because you were bruised and likely bleeding, and emotionally it’s going to feel a hell of a lot different.
And that person is responsible not only for that singular act of kicking you in the shin, but for how they are contributing to that larger problem of everybody kicking you in the shin. And oftentimes, the response of that person is to say, ‘Oh my god, your response is overblown; you’re being over-dramatic. I just kicked you once.’ Because they don’t feel like they have any responsibility to acknowledge the fact that fifty other people have been kicking them that day.’”
–excerpt from a transcription of a talk by Ijeoma Oluo
“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist—we must be anti-racist.” — Angela Davis, 1979
“‘What can white people do? How can we help?’ a white teenager recently asked me during a speech to a high-school class about race and the social realities facing Black Americans today. They were predominantly white teens, living in a predominantly white town, who were concerned about all the political unrest they saw unfolding on television and social media each day.
‘Honestly, the best thing that white people, especially young people, can do, right now, is start at home,’ I replied. ‘Disrupt the exchanges and instances when you see injustice happening. Don’t be a bystander.’
I then explained that people who benefit from systems of power and privilege and are afforded greater access to social welfare benefits, equal protection under state law, and due process in our criminal justice system —among other things—have an immense responsibility to challenge the status quo.” –Jenn Jackson
“We need to meet the challenges with which we’ve been presented to radically shift a nation in need of healing. And yet, each of us has but one small life, our daily words and actions. This doesn’t make us unequal to the task, however. Remember, every bit of human culture was created by humans. This is what we’re born for and good at. We are culture makers.
My suggestion is to do things that make sense for your interests and personality. You don’t have to become someone you’re not, but don’t disengage. Don’t just unfriend people on social media because they’re racist and think you’ve done anything but make yourself more comfortable….Sit in productive discomfort and find pleasure in new experiences.
The U.S. has done a particularly poor job at owning and fixing its history of racial oppression. So, how do you intervene with your one small life? Start by learning about the racial history of things that interest you.
We’ve also been sold the belief that individual action is what causes social mobility when there is little evidence of this, except in the most heroic cases. Having these discussions helps contextualize our ongoing national problems with racism, while refocusing people on creating the kind of local and national economic policies that can help lift everyone’s standard of living.” –Kimberly Dark
“For me, Jones’ story helped bring into focus how our systems of social dominance—capitalism, racism, and patriarchy—require winners and losers. We’re all steeped in these systems. The win-lose paradigm plays out daily in the subtle and not-so-subtle details of our lives, at work, in the kitchen, in our bank accounts. And the one system with the potential to equalize us—democracy—is kept caged by the winners who want to stay on top. Yet, as so many have experienced, including the men in Jones’ story, a winner today might be a loser tomorrow, and vice versa. The bullied can become the bully.
The only way to really win our future is to win together. Jones described a bird that needs both wings to fly. But the first step is empathy, letting our hearts recognize other people’s pain. It’s a lot more work than being angry, but it’s the only work that’s worth the effort. Because when we understand that we all suffer in these systems of dominance, we can find common purpose: to free our democracy—and ourselves.”
“My friends, what I need you to do – just for starters – is not act. Not yet. Not first. First I need you to see. I need you to see the pains and possibilities of black life, its virtues and vices, its strengths and weaknesses, its yeses and nos.”…
You must not only deal with familiar Black persons, but with blackness per se, with blackness as a moral arc, with blackness as history and culture, with simple yet profound Black humanity. You may discover after all that we, Black and white, are far more alike than you suspected – or feared. Your fear that we are just alike may cause you at first to doubt, but then, defensively, to embrace the lie of Black inferiority your people have practiced from the start of our experiment in democracy.
I sometimes think of how the nigger crawled from the newly forming white imagination as a denial of everything that was enlightened and human.”…
“Black folk have had to know white culture inside out. We know what coffee you like, what mood you’re in, whether you’ll be nasty or nice to us on the subway. We know just by how you glance at us as you interview us if we’ll get that job. We know the fear you feel when we get on the elevator, so we whistle Vivaldi or the Andy Griffith theme song to put you at ease.” –Michael Eric Dyson
“An important way for you, as a privileged person, to help and not harm people who don’t have your privileges, is to engage in ‘self work.’ Self-reflection, figuring out where your biases are and unlearning them, making the choice to check and humble yourself when you need to. Figuring out how YOU are wired and how YOU uphold oppression even though you never intended to is the most essential work you can do to better the chances of your not harming others, especially people who don’t have the privileges you have.
We’ve been taught for a long time that the way to keep from harming people is to learn about them and to learn certain skills or practices to better connect with them. Doing this sort of thing is absolutely useful, helpful and good. It can also be misused and twisted. A lot of the information out there for us to learn about others is based on stereotypes or is super limiting and doesn’t provide a robust understanding of whomever is being taught about. And it’s often developed by people who are not from the group they’re talking about!
Recognize that it’s not our fault we were taught that we just need to memorize Cultural Facts while mostly avoiding any self-examination, but once we know that’s what has happened and that people who are impacted are telling us that’s backwards and actually creating harm we were trying to avoid, we have to choose to do better. Even if we really respect the people who taught us, even if we’ve been teaching this to others for a long time.”
“Actions often ripple far beyond their immediate objective, and remembering this is reason to live by principle and act in hope that what you do matters, even when results are unlikely to be immediate or obvious.” –Rebecca Solnit
“Black people showed up at the (white) Women’s March. Are you going to show up to ours? I never liked the term ‘white ally.’ ‘Ally’ carries the connotation that we are on the same side as a starting point; this is false. As a white person, we start from inside of white supremacist culture and identity. There’s a huge difference between trying to dismantle a system from the outside, and trying to dismantle a system from the inside. You are here to be the inside threat.
You have the skin-tone passport, you speak the language, you’re already there, behind doors that are closed to dark-skinned people. You’re not an ally, you’re an asset, or an agent of some sort. White ‘allies’ tend to act as if everyone’s on equal footing at an equal starting positions. Black folks have to kick the door down, whereas your white self can unlock the door from the inside. Be the asset.
If you’re not an asset, you’re a liability. And we don’t do liabilities.
Master your motive
Why are you seeking this? Why do you aim to be a white ‘ally’? You’re gonna have to start from here, because your motive will guide how well you absorb new information (There will be a lot). You’re gonna have to be honest with yourself too, because you’re gonna have to defect from white supremacy.
If your motivation doesn’t come from wanting to dismantle systemic racism and oppression, it probably comes from the white supremacist desire to be or appear better than other whites.
Be honest. Admit that you’re racist, or at least biased and ignorant.
Educate yourself. Read books and articles by black authors, challenge stereotypes.
Sit down, be quiet, and do NOT tell people of color what they need. Stop thinking you know what they need.
Don’t think or act as if your anti-racism makes you a white savior. Being anti-racist isn’t special, it’s the bare minimum of being a decent human being.
Be brave. Challenge friends, family and acquaintances about white privilege, and about subtle as well as overt racism.
Don’t think of intense, radical, traumatized emotion from Black people as ‘detrimental to the cause.’” –Johnny Silvercloud
“I told him [earnest young white man] that some of the greatest victims of whiteness are whites themselves, having to bear the burden of a false belief in superiority….I asked him not only to challenge white privilege, but also to resist the narcissism that celebrates one’s challenge to whiteness rather than siding with those who are its steady victims. Working as a white ally is tough, but certainly not impossible. Learning to listen is a virtue that whiteness has often avoided. I asked him to engage, to adopt the vocabulary of empathy, to develop fluidity in the dialect of hope and the language of racial understanding.” –Michael Eric Dyson
“I WILL NOT pledge allegiance to the flag of the Divided States of America, nor to the hateful policies for which it stands – one nation, pretending to be God, indivisible except when it comes to race, religion, gender and class, with ‘liberty” for a select few and faux ‘justice’ for those individuals and corporations who are wealthy enough to buy elections, or devious enough to smash our democracy to smithereens, or cruel enough to breed fear and hatred of people who don’t look like ‘Americans.’” –Gail Steiner
“In order for our liberation to become a reality, we have to incorporate diversity from the top. And it can’t be symbolic diversity or tokenism. Are you centering the voices of the unheard? Are you following their direction and listening to their needs? I promise you that your own liberation depends on everyone else’s. When you fight for the lives of the most marginalized you simultaneously liberate yourself. A rising tide lifts all boats, y’all. Don’t end up with a yacht in the desert.” –Didi Delgado
Sometimes white people want to focus on “exploring and healing race relationships.” That’s an incredible thing we are super lucky to occasionally experience, but for now I think the goal should be to examine our conscious and unconscious collusion with injustice in our culture and systems. Then, take actions that lead away from systemic oppression and toward apology, equality and empowerment, while most likely enduring the justified anger and resentment that come from centuries of white-inflicted harm. I get nervous when white people focus primarily on healing; our business is radical change.
“It’s about the journey of showing care. You’re never going to ‘arrive’ — you’re never going to completely understand, and so if you want to be seen as always understanding….eventually the dam is going to break.” –Laci Green
“About a month ago, my 10-year-old son made my heart skip a few beats. We were talking about some articles he had been reading for class during Black History Month.
We talked of the horror and sorrow of slavery. We talked about the police shootings of Black people, and the stubborn line that connects the past to the present. Then we talked about privilege, including his privilege as a white boy. A boy who like his parents will enjoy the unearned benefits of owning land passed through generations of white ancestors. I assured him that whatever negative impacts his privilege has are no fault of his – that he is a good boy and a good person.
And then, as I struggled to explain that his privilege comes with something else, He finished my sentence for me, saying, ‘I know, Mom. It comes with a responsibility. I can help change it.’
I like to think he’s special – and he is – but in this regard, he’s not. The kids just get it. They get that all people are worthy. They get that we all need the earth. For them, ideas of fairness, justice, and sustainability are so simple, so obvious. They are not yet burdened with a lifetime of privilege or oppression to warp their sense of what’s possible, or easy, or hard. Friends, that is something to celebrate, and to work with.”
– Christine Hanna.
“This is how you frame an apology: ‘I’m sorry for [name the action that you did]. It must have [name the feeling that you caused, or name the hurt caused]. I promise to [name how you plan to change it]. I’m sorry.’ That’s it. That’s the end of it. What did you do? How did it make the other person feel? How are you going to make it better? Done. No ‘but I was trying to,’ no ‘but I meant this or that or the other,’ no ‘can you now engage with me and explain with me what I did wrong and all of the things and….’ No. I’m sorry I did the thing, I’m sorry it made you feel this, I’m going to do this to make it better. We don’t need the why. We don’t. The why really just makes you feel better. It doesn’t really serve any purpose in the apology.
This is all part of intent over impact, or impact versus intent, and that comes up a lot in social justice spaces. Your intent becomes clear in how you engage after the impact is made. That’s when intent becomes clear. You cannot define your intent after the fact and hope that someone will go back and reprocess what you did and what you said, and say, ‘Oh, yes,—that makes much more sense, I’m glad you did it this way.’ No. If your intent was not to harm someone, and you did harm them, your intent not to harm them becomes clear in how you deal with the fallout from that.
If you’re not sure of either what you did, or how it made them feel, or what you can do, if you don’t understand the harm, that’s tough. I’d say you can at least get a placeholder. I mean, at the very least, you empathize with them, right? You can always name that you don’t know how it made them feel, and say something like: ‘I know it was hurtful.’” –excerpted from Erynn Brook
“If white folks could learn one thing, it would be that people of color are doing just fine without your love. It’s your oppression we need you to work on, NOT loving us as a band-aid for the oppression you’re ignoring.” –Alex Kimball Williams
“How Philadelphia Plans to Advance Racial Equity in the Civil Service Sector:”
“Beginning this Monday, I’m driving 3,000 miles from my hometown of Los Angeles to the tobacco farm where Booker T. Washington was enslaved in Roanoke, Va., and I’m going to try to buy black as much as possible. Besides gas, lodging and food, I’m going to seek out things like a good black-owned car wash, or a place to get a refreshing massage. Hell, this trip is so black, I might find a place to get my scalp oiled. I want you to learn about both ordinary and unique black businesses, while also noting where black-owned services don’t exist.” –Lawrence Ross
Kara Tennis | Justice Jewelry | Justiceworks