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On White Allies

Cortney Leach

So I'm supposed to advise all the white folk like me how to treat individuals of color? To say something applies to all white folk, well, that seems silly. Kind of like asking your black friend if they think black folks are going to like the new Disney movie about the first black Disney princess. You can't ask an individual to speak for an entire population of…individuals. If someone asked me to speak for all white folks, I'd say that's ridiculous. I'd also feel kind of negated. And this concept might be the first step to understanding what it means to be a white ally.

Being a white ally means you understand that if you peer behind the curtain, you will see institutional, systemic racism everywhere. Once you know, you can't un-know. And pretending not to know is simply unacceptable. So now what?

You have choices.

So in the spirit of choice, let's talk about what white allies do and say, and what they don't do and say. The statements that follow come from folks of color, anonymously submitted, at a diversity conference:

  • A white ally listens. They are characterized by being supportive, non-dismissive, and willing to learn while honestly and humbly admitting what they don't understand.
  • A white ally behaves with not only a sense of respect for all, but a willingness to learn about those that differ from in background, culture, language, experience, skin tone, etc.
  • A white ally says the harsh realities that most white folks do not want to hear.
  • I'll add that a white ally recognizes that white privilege is real and in action every day, and they confront their colleagues or peers when they act in an inappropriate or inequitable way. They speak up, even when it's unpopular or scary.
  • A white ally does not get defensive when their whiteness is noted.
  • A white ally does not pretend to know what it feels like to stand in my shoes.
  • A white ally deals with issues of ethnicity, gender and economics and does not sweep them under the rug and ignore them. They deal with them head-on, through discussion and positive change.
  • A white ally doesn't make it about them all the time, and they don't promote themselves as a white ally
  • A white ally doesn't say they don't see color, or that they understand what it's like because they're gay or female or poor – these experiences are not the same.

My LIS classes are full of white women; the best thing we can do is talk about it. Folks are afraid to talk about race. Talking about race means peering behind that curtain and facing your white privilege. When you look, will you feel guilty? Will you look away? Or will you talk it out. You have choices.

July 11, 2009
Vol. XIII Issue 3

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