On being an anti-racist white ally

Two separate instances on live journal have really had me thinking about my commitment to be anti-racist. The first is a series of posts by my LJ friend kynn, which I won’t link to here because there’s, um, quite a lot of them. I may use one in an upcoming Privilege in Action post, though. The latter is this post by a friend-of-a-friend where the original poster asks, “Could anyone give me an example of how I… am racist?” in response to Rosie O’Donnel saying, “Everybody has some racism in them; that can’t be denied”. Despite being an interloper into his journal, I struck up a dialogue with him which spawned the comment that this post is based on.

What does it mean to be an anti-racist ally? Well, I think part of it is that we need to acknowledge that living in a system that favours certain groups of people means that, especially if we are part of said privileged group, we cannot escape internalizing some of the oppression (such as racism).

I am staunchly anti-racist and I do my best to be an ally, but at the same time I recognize the racist things I have said and done in the past, and I acknowledge that racism is a part of who I am because I was raised in a world where “racist” is the default. It may not be the “let’s lynch those n-words” level of racism, but casual racism is still racism.

I hate that there’s a part of me that’s racist. My whole life is devoted to fighting for equality, the purpose I feel I have on this earth is to help bring about equality, and yet I am racist. My knee-jerk reaction to people of colour speaking out about their issues is to be defensive, and to be angry or jealous or dismissive. Do you have any idea what it feels like to be so staunchly anti-racist and yet to know that there is a part of you that will always be racist? Let me tell you, it feels like absolute shit.

But part of being an ally is acknowledging my privilege and not letting it get in my way. It would be so easy for me to throw up my hands and say, “Well, I’m racist so I may as well just revel in it!” or, more likely, to say, “Well, there’s nothing I can do about it, so I should just stop trying.” But being an ally means not taking the easy road. It means calling out others even if that means you get other racist white people leaving abusive comments (yes, that happened to me… just yesterday, actually). It means accepting that you may be implicated as racist, or be included in a sweeping statement that is anti-white, or any number of things that can hurt.

This isn’t a judgment on anyone else’s situation; I’m not in a place to judge that. This is me sharing my feelings and my story in the hopes of helping other white people gain understanding to what people who talk about “white privilege” and other related subjects may be thinking and feeling when they say/write those things.

And, I guess, the other thing I would like to say that, even if you accept the premise that all white people are a little racist because of the nature of being white, that doesn’t mean that white people are inherently bad.

In the end, what I think I’m trying to say in my longwinded way is that the most important thing about being an anti-racist ally is not whether or not you’re racist, but rather how well you can consider the situations and feelings of others such as people of colour, and whether or not you are willing to, at times, privilege their opinions and experiences over your own. Because if you find that you’re willing to do that (or continue to do that, if you do so already), then it doesn’t matter if you carry within you a part that’s racist or not, because the way you express yourself to the outside world will be anti-racist.

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2 thoughts on “On being an anti-racist white ally

  1. Thanks for this, Andrea. You describe the problem unflinchingly without resorting to the fatalism that is, as you say, so easy.

    even if you accept the premise that all white people are a little racist because of the nature of being white, that doesn’t mean that white people are inherently bad

    This is hugely important to remember, because too many people conflate “racist” with “horrible person,” and thus end up shutting out the words of anti-racists. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen analyses of racism countered with, “but I’m/he’s/she’s such a nice person!” As my professor said, being “nice” is about as relevant to whether a person is racist as liking dogs.

    One part that I think ought to be added to your analysis is non-interpersonal racism. I’m thinking of structural racism, such as old boys’ networks in places of employment, or the racist history of home ownership. These are definitely instances in which good, nice people can benefit from racial privilege. Does this make them racist? I would say it’s possible, such as a person who benefits from these racist structures and uses them to judge people who lack them for being less successful. So that’s another way that someone who doesn’t intend to be a slur-spewing capital-R Racist can still harbor some racism.

  2. So that’s another way that someone who doesn’t intend to be a slur-spewing capital-R Racist can still harbor some racism.

    This reminds me of something my partner says about two of his uncles: “D” is the one he calls his “racist redneck uncle” is overt, and doesn’t pretend that it’s some sort of virtue.

    His other uncle, “J”, however, is covert in his -isms (the racism is there, and I’ve seen rampant sexism as well), and can’t admit to himself that he might have disparaging opinions of non-male, non-white. Favorite word to describe “J”: insidious. His favorite argument: “But I can’t hate non-whites/women — I’m Christian!”

    (This is another place of privilege that I’m starting to see — the “Christian=good” therefore “non-Christian=bad” bit. Since I have declined as an adult to participate in religion, I’m starting to feel that. But I digress. Again. Sorry.)

    Back to the matter at hand:

    I have racist tendencies that I’m working to overcome. I am becoming increasingly aware of this. Fatalism, for me, would be the lazy way out of the situation, and, in the words of Louis Armstrong, I can’t let my mouth say something my head can’t stand.

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