How White Women Can Be Better Allies With Black Men
Here are a few small things we white women can do almost every day to fight the ideology that Black boys and men are our worst enemies and to refuse anymore to be theirs:1. Stop using the phrase “I was the only white person there.” It’s code for some kind of perception of vulnerability at best, real threat or danger at worst. But the truth is, if you’re the only white person somewhere, you’re likely to be a guest, and treated as such. If you stumbled into the “wrong” neighborhood, the history above should assure you that you are perceived to be a threat--much more so than a target.
But when you say, “I was the only white person there” with no other context for why this was relevant, you are leaning on that history to explain what being there meant. You are underscoring the idea that generally, Black people are a threat to white people and specifically that Black men and boys are a threat to white women.
Besides not saying this yourself, you can refuse to support it with your silence when other people are saying it.
When you hear someone toss the “I was the only one…” line into conversation, stop the speaker and say, “what’s your point?”
This will either force the speaker to unveil the racism behind the phrase, or to be clearer about why race legitimately mattered in the situation.
This isn’t the only phrase of this kind. What are some others you hear in what seem to the speaker to be white-only conversations? Interrupt them whenever you can.
2. Make a friend. No, your Black friend won’t be your get-out-of-racism free card. (And trying to wield it as one will lose you your Black friends fast. Because doing that is racist.) But let’s face it, if you DON’T have any black friends, you’ve got a problem. (I’m talking to U.S. Americans who live in the U.S. here, not the people of Iceland.) And everyone knows that the best kind of friends not only reflect our sense of self back to us, but challenge our sense of self, stretch us to empathize with others’ experiences and teach us new skills and ideas.
Real, honest, vulnerable friendships (based on something other than “hey you’re Black and I need a Black friend!” of course) are always valuable. When they are made across the boundaries society polices the most, they can help undo the implicit bias everyone in our culture carries around. (According to this research, seeing anti-stereotypical images helps combat implicit bias. What’s more anti-stereotypical than a true friend?)
Meanwhile, cross the daily thoughtless, race boundaries society has erected whenever the opportunity comes your way. Smile, and say hello to the Black man in front of you in the grocery store line, look those Black teen boys in the eye when they pass you on the street (whatever you do, don’t cross the street!), sit by a Black man, instead of another white woman, on the bus.
Seek out integrated spaces as much as possible. Don’t settle for the easy thoughtless comfort of being around a bunch of other white people. Try putting yourself in the minority often enough that you learn to be comfortable there.
3. Stop identifying with whiteness. I don’t mean stop allowing yourself to be labeled white by the census or the law or whatever, but to identify with whiteness within yourself. Identifying with whiteness is a pillar of white supremacy. Whiteness was made up. It didn’t fall from heaven decreed by the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You may have to be it in the eyes of others and ironically, in working to undo it you must acknowledge the unearned privilege it gives you. But you don’t have to give a flying fig Newton about it, yourself. You don’t have to take the wrong side in historical stories, for example.
Back when I was teaching race in U.S. history and culture to college students, the white ones would eventually come to me all distressed that “white” people had done such terrible things in U.S. history. Half these kids’ families weren’t even in the U.S. at the time of some of the events that troubled them. I told them there was no reason to identify with Thomas Jefferson and no reason not to identify with Frederick Douglass. Your heroes should be the people who share your values, not your melanin levels.