The first is a discussion with activists Suey Park and Dr. David Leonard, on the "problem" of white allies in the movements against racism and white supremacy. Leonard offers suggestions as to how white-privileged activists ought to regard and approach racism in society, alongside communities of color, while also accounting for their privilege. Find some choice excerpts below!
I will soon follow up with the second article, about PMC (professional middle class) privilege and building bridges across class differences.
DL: First and foremost, [these terms] presume that struggles against injustice are the responsibility of someone else – those who are subjected to the violence of racism, sexism, homophobia – and that the “allies” are helping or joining forces with those who are naturally on the frontlines. The idea of white allies also reinscribes the idea that whites have a choice as to whether to fight racism, to fight white supremacy. And while this may be true, it turns any agitation into a choice worthy of celebration. At the same time, it turns struggles against racial violence and injustice to a discussion of “what people are” rather than one focused on what people are doing in opposition to white supremacy.
Secondly, the mere fact that we don’t talk about Black, Latino, Indigenous or Asian American anti-racists, at least with the same public resonance, reflects this idea: people may see anti-racist struggle as organic and natural within communities of color, which not only embodies this logic but erases the risks, sacrifices and hard work necessary to battle racism. The idea of allies reinscribes this binary, whereupon white allies are seen as doing something different, special, and necessary, furthering the privileging of white action.
Thirdly, I also have a problem with the entire focus on defining white people in these exceptional terms. White, yet anti-racist – these are the ideas that emanate from the labeling. As if participation in struggle or consciousness cancels out whiteness, privilege, and position within America’s white supremacist hierarchy. No amount of work cancels out my whiteness, my masculinity, my class status, or my heterosexuality; no amount of activism erases the power and privilege generated because of white supremacy... It’s not about choosing the right word, it’s about making the commitment to racial justice.
The presumption here is that white people need/want to be educated about issues of racism, about inequality, or about differences in experience, and that this desire should compel people of color to act. This is all about white desire; it is about white agency and the expectation of Others helping white folk grow, learn, and be better people.
Asking whites engaged in social justice or anti-racist work to “take their cues from people of color” is about accountability and decentering white desire and white needs. It is no longer about what white people need and want but the agency, action, and politics of organizations of color. It is about being accountable and listening as opposed to demanding recognition, ownership or power.
Each is about asking whites to put aside their own needs, desires, and privileged position.
Many white folks, including Tim Wise, say that racism needs to be fought not to “help” people of color, but because all people are hurt by it, including white people. Do you agree that racism hurts white folks?
Whether or not it hurts whites is the wrong place to start. The centering of whiteness, of white humanity, desire, and history, is a core element of white supremacy so our conversations and actions should not and cannot focus on “how racism hurts” white America.
When we talk about white supremacy, we need to focus on the structural violence directed at communities of color – we are talking about issues of life and death, from healthcare to food insecurity, from labor exploitation to systems of mass incarceration. Recognizing intersectionality and varied levels of privilege, racism empowers, privileges, and protects white America.
Do you think that being a white man gives you more agency to do anti-racist work with folks who might not be ready to hear it from people of color?
White supremacy codifies agency, choice, and freedom, so it would be ridiculous to deny its existence within the spaces I occupy as a teacher, a writer, a commentator, and an activist... When I walk into a classroom, I am often seen as more objective, as embodying what many view as an “expert” and a “professor.” When I walk on campus, whether wearing a hoodie or argyle sweater, I am seen as non-threatening, as belonging, and as being desirable.
I have a role, to teach. I have a role to challenge racism, to educate those who believe there is equal justice under the law, those who think that racism is a thing of a past, who perpetuate rape culture through jokes and media culture, who think that sports are innocuous rather than a site of racial pedagogy.
Do you have any tips for white folks who are trying to engage in anti-racist work?
It is important to think about one’s whiteness and what it means to be white within contemporary society.
It’s crucial to push back the urge to make every conversation about “self.”
... to move beyond “I am an anti-racist individual” to see oneself as part of an anti-racist community.
... to move beyond just talking, and listen.
... to push beyond the desire to be seen, to be praised, and to be celebrated, to consider instead the ways that we can facilitate justice and equality in ways not seen.
... [and to] JUST DO THE WORK.