Dear Fellow White People of GC,“The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations that we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us,” words spoken by Civil Rights activist, feminist, and writer, Audre Lorde.
Here are six ways you can address the piece of the oppressor rooted within you as a white person:
Educate yourself. Do not ask a person of color to teach you how you can be a better ally, it is not their job to convince you that racism is real. Google exists. Use it. Read “The New Jim Crow,” by Michelle Alexander. Watch the documentary “13TH” directed by Ava Duvernay on Netflix. Take classes on race — especially if they’re not included in your major. You will be ill-equipped to be politically engaged if you don’t take advantage of the opportunity to be properly informed.
Practice empathy: it doesn’t cost anything. Every human is composed of many intersecting identities and experiences. Just because you haven’t experienced something first-hand, it doesn’t give you the right to invalidate another’s lived reality.
You know what they say about assumptions…. don’t. Don’t assume someone’s class, sexuality, gender, intellect, or character on the basis of their skin. Engage with the people around you. Build authentic relationships. Be intentional about your actions, large or small. Question who you spend your time with, who you choose to smile at while walking across campus, whose events you attend and support, who is represented in the leadership of the clubs you’re in. We always love to talk about how much we celebrate diversity here at GC, but are we celebrating diversity within individuals? At most, students of color are accepted on our campus, but it’s time for us to celebrate them, show up for them, honor their passions, efforts, talents, and most importantly — their presence.
Don’t just recognize your privilege, use it as a tool to uplift others. If you witness a professor, student or family member saying something ignorant, use your voice and start a conversation about why their words or actions perpetuate harmful ideologies and stereotypes. Remember: attending a liberal arts college is a privilege. Also, know when to be silent, when it is not your turn to speak.
Have patience. Understand that the complexity of racism is deeply rooted in history, institutions, and systems of oppression. It will not be solved overnight or by one individual. It is a movement that requires the involvement of everyone.
Get uncomfortable. Expect that you will mess up. Expect that you will say something wrong. If you are white, you benefit from a system that works in your favor, which means that, yes, you do in fact benefit from the oppression of others. That should be upsetting. It’s okay to feel tension when discussing race. Get over your white fragility.
I wish I could say that I came up with all this list on my own, but I did not. It’s important to give credit where credit is due. These represent a collection of sentiments, perspectives, and invitations to do better that I have heard from many students of color on our campus, words that they did not owe to white folks. For example, when a white person at the Coffeehouse asked how they could be a better ally, Black folks answered. Do you think it thrills them to be asked repeatedly how we can help? Probably not. Do they extend more grace than our willingness to educate ourselves? Without a doubt.
Surely these critiques have been made of GC an exhausting amount of times, with zero follow through. However, we need to encourage one another to speak up about injustice and risk feeling stupid — rather than stay silent and maintain our comfort. There is transformative power in holding ourselves and our community accountable. Let’s not only apologize when we fall short, but also commit to doing better.
As a white person, I will inevitably be ignorant when discussing the oppressions that people of color face daily. We need to embrace failure. These campus-wide conversations about race are aired out once a year on MLK Jr. Day and then packed away for the rest of the year. We have some dirty laundry to sort through, and I think it’s time we stop trying to hide it under the bed of our collective unwillingness to dismantle inequality. Right now. Here. Together. That is Beloved Community.