The silver lining of the racial unrest we Americans find ourselves in today is that white supremacy’s durability is in plain view. The age of colorblind denial is gone. For those seeing white supremacy anew, or for the first time, there can be intense feelings of confusion, hopelessness, and urgency to do something. Now is exactly the moment to “call-in”* and support those who may be moving from unaware to educated, from neutral to active. Unaware and neutral are the lifeblood of white supremacy.
Encouraging and supporting new allies can be complicated. Though it may sound obvious when I say that white supremacy will never succeed in challenging white supremacy, less obvious may be exactly what someone means when using the term.
To clarify, when I say white supremacy, the alt-right barely comes to mind. I’m talking about everyday white supremacy. Long before President Trump, or those he emboldens, white supremacist attitudes shaped America. Characterized by tight control of rights, resources, and narrative, white supremacy seeks to “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority,” to quote U.S. Constitution author and fourth president of the United States James Madison. Despite our democracy talk, white supremacy has too often been our walk.
White supremacy’s success in hoarding for the “opulent minority” explains why the majority of American wealth is not only disproportionately white, it’s disproportionately male, Christian, private-institution educated, able-bodied, heterosexual, and Anglo-assimilated. Through entwined systems and structures, white supremacy has advantaged the few at the expense of the many, yet the mechanisms that unequally distribute resources are unseen by most.
White supremacist attitudes and behaviors are also invisible to most. So embedded in U.S. culture, the very norms that perpetutate white supremacy can feel “normal” and habitual; so habitual in fact that the same inferior/superior dynamics, rigid one-right-way thinking, and dehumanizing shame and blame that create racial divisions can rear up in groups working to combat racism. They can also alienate and drive away would-be allies.
As someone who hung in the would-be allies wings for longer than I wished, I am thinking now about how someone more awakened and active than me might have approached me in a moment like this. Though I’m imagining a white person reaching out to white me, these ideas may be adaptable across multiple differences. Here are four approaches I believe would have awoken and inspired me.
1 Give me quickly digestible education bites.
White Bred quick intro to how white supremacy shapes white lives and perception.
Verna Myers / How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them a “low guilt, high responsibility” approach to self work.
Debby Irving / Finding myself in the story of race a 101 about what white privilege and institutional racism are and how they manifest.
2 Suggest where I can go to connect and get active.
White churches and faith groups nationwide are in the process of educating and organizing against white supremacy. Unitarian Universalists, Presbyterians, and United Church of Christ come to mind. One need not be a member of a specific church to connect with them in pursuit of connecting to others in your area.
I would have appreciated knowing how to start something small myself. See this 21-Day Plan, designed to support such an effort.
3 Call me in*, not out.
Meet me where I am. Understand that this may be new and scary to me and I don’t know what I don’t know. Share with me your own early days of awakening to model humility and offer inspiration.
Set my expectations. Let me know that missteps are inevitable and that my challenge will be to stay engaged and grow from it. Remind me that this is a long ride and that no matter how eager I am to “make a difference,” actions born of community, not individual effort, will be most effective. Learning to be in community may be my first and biggest learning. Explain to me the importance of accountability and offer to set a goal with me and hold me accountable to it. Offer me some Engagement Tips to study.
Recognize my humanity. Introduce me to people so I begin to feel a sense of belonging. (And so you’re not the only one educating and supporting me!) If you don’t already know me well, connect with me human to human in areas beyond challenging white supremacy so that our relationship has many legs. Where did you grow up? Have you seen some good movies lately? How ‘bout them Red Sox?
* The term “call-in” seeks to counter the term “call-out,” a tactic meant to point oppressive limitations and behaviors out to someone. Unfortunately, too often calling-out intentionally or unintentionally reproduces inferior/superior, in/out group dynamics. I first heard the term “call-in” from feminist activist Loretta Ross.
4 Offer me hope.
Remind me I am entering a movement, not starting one. Point out:
The Southern Poverty Law Center, who’s been tracking and bringing cases against white supremacist groups since 1971.
Life After Hate, who specializes in “inspiring [off-ramped white supremacist extremists] to a place of compassion and forgiveness, for themselves and for all people.” Founder Christian Picciolini is a former neo-Nazi.
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