Hello everyone, My name is Wil and I am a white person who benefits from racism; and even though I’m a lot better about it today than I used to be, I still have racist tendencies, some of which operate deep within my subconscious, but not so deep I can’t find them.
A little over a year ago I did a Tedx talk called Civility on the Internet is Overrated. It was a call to prioritize Justice over a forced sense of unity when operating in online spaces. In some ways racism plays out on the internet just like in physical spaces. In other ways, how it plays out is unique to the internet. The anonymity of some online interactions, and the abundance of false information in other interactions, empowers racism and allows for things like the easy indoctrination of new white nationalists. This is all to say: any strategy to combat racism must also have an online component.
I don’t, as a white man however, have the lived experiences of racism. Far be it from me to claim authority in matters of racial inequality. I have trusted sources I try to learn from and amplify in those regards. What I can speak to, however, is the need for us white people to address our own racism as it plays out in online spaces, something I’m more familiar with.
Note: In the post I’m going to use “People of Color” and “Marginalized Voices” a lot, but understand in the context of Black Lives Matter, what this mean is Black and Brown people.
Here are my suggestions:
1. Follow, Listen to, and Learn From People of Color
Okay, that’s actually three things! Three that are hard to separate. This seems straightforward, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago I started being more intentional about it. In fact, I would say that people of color had to meet a higher bar of familiarity for me to follow them because of my own subconscious racism. Since then, I would say 3-to-1 of my new follows have been people from marginalized communities. And it shows in my feeds. The richness of expression my feeds now contain, have made me more conscientious and frankly show me a fuller expression of the human experience, reflecting the image of God. I have been blessed for it.
It’s easy to do this. Social media platforms are helpful in giving us suggested people to follow. Search through them for diverse friends and follow them. Similarly, go out of your way to follow strong underrepresented voices that come across your feeds. Don’t be upset if they don’t follow you back or confirm your friend request. They are right to be suspect of white people they don’t know. I’ve been following the great Wil Gafney for years (we, like, share a name you know), but after taking a deep dive in my suggested friends on facebook, I was surprised I had yet to add her there.
One of things I’ve had to quickly learn about in the last week is what “Defund the Police” means. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t mean what most pundents are saying it means. I went to my favorite Black policy genious, DeRay Mekesson to start learning more.
2. Amplify the Voices of People of Color
There is so much clutter on social media that it makes it harder to find diverse voices. Are you adding to the clutter? Or are you amplifying the voices of the marginalized? I have a simple rule that I try to follow. If someone is speaking up for the marginalized they get a like. If the marginalized are sharing their own story, they get a like AND a share. In this way, I am consciously centering their voices.
3. Don’t Let Your Woke-ness Crowd Out Marginalized Voices
Seeing the world through the lens of social justice is convicting. We are excited to act. The outrage machine knows no bounds however, at the end of the day, if it’s just a lot of white people yelling, it will crowd out marginalized voices. I tend to post less and share more during these troubled times using rule number 2.
4. Cross Pollinate Marginalized Voices
Instead of coming up with your own rebuke to a racist post, no matter how reasoned, consider instead injecting a marginalized voice or story in its place. We can come up with the perfect argument, but it’s still not likely to be as powerful as the lived experience of a Black person experiencing police violence, for example. This is the internet equivalent of finding it hard to hate the people you know. There is a little bit of knowing that’s spread when you share first hand accounts.
5. Stay on Topic When the Moment Calls for It
It was awesome that there was a manned space launch in the midst of the protesting, but every time I saw a post about it, it was so jarring. Not only did it seem off-key but it also added to the clutter. If you are super excited about something by all means still post it, but weigh it against the concerns of the day and keep it to a minimum. OR spend even more time amplifying marginalized voices to counterbalance it.
Secondly, there are always lots of side arguments that happen that frankly, don’t seem as important (how do you know what’s important, listen to marginalized voices!). Who’s responsible for the looting: is it white supremacist’s or anarchists or fed up Black people? There is so much clutter around side topics like this one that it’s crowded out the important message of systemic racism and police violence that the protestors are there for in the first place.
6. Back Up People of Color Online
I witnessed a video of a white teenage girl jumping in front of a Black protester on the White House lawn to ensure he wouldn’t be assaulted head on by the police. She didn’t hesitate. White people can fulfill a similar role online. There is not enough time in the world for Black and Brown people to respond to every racist response leveled at them. There is a difference, however, between speaking over someone and speaking with someone. Don’t be surprised if the person you are trying to shield wants to respond in their own way. Back them up.
Here are some good options to donate. Take the time to educate yourself about the work that’s being done to address police violence and racial inequality and you’ll find that there are many worthy groups we can contribute to.
There are no end to the issues of racism that you can contact your government representatives about. For example, Incarceration rates in my home state of Iowa are way higher for African Americans, and surprise, surprise, we are one of the last states that doesn’t allow felons to vote. In Iowa you can get felony for stealing a bike if convicted. You can see where this is going.
If you don’t know if a specific thing to lobby for try 8 Can’t Wait, eight restrictions to use of force that are statistically proven to reduce police violence.
9. Don’t Retraumatize People of Color
Be careful posting videos and images of violence against Black and Brown people without a trigger warning. A lot of us white people need to see the truth of things, but it’s not nice to those who’s emotional wounds are reopened every time they see it.
Put a warning sign in caps at the beginning of your post. If it’s a graphic video and the key frame that shows up is violent, just use the link instead of embedding the video. Or find a version with a different keyframe. It won’t get as many likes, but it will do less harm.
10. Be Mindful of Your Privilege and Bias
Racism is so ingrained in the fabric of the United States that it’s hard to know just exactly how you contribute to it, and how you benefit from it. Some elements are obvious if you have developed the empathy to see them. Some take an advanced degree in economics.
In responding to, or when constructing posts around race, it’s important to start from a place of self-awareness, including an awareness that this issue is bigger than any of us can possibly imagine. Try to educate yourself so that you can see the harm before you, but admit that it’s there even if you can’t. We will make mistakes. Learn from them, name them, correct them, and do better the next time.
Generally, you want to always look for ways to amplify Black voices or to help tell their story instead of simply adding to the outrage machine by telling your own story, but there is an exception to this.
As white people, we get to name how white people, specifically, perpetuate racism and name the privilege we gain from it, and name how both of those things are wrong. An attitude of repentance will make it harder for the rest of White America to ignore, and easier for them to see the racism within themselves.
12. Listen to Queer Women of Color!
Everything in this post should be multiplied when considering Black and Brown women, and multiplied again when considering queer Black women. The same can be said for trans people of color.
The intersection of racism and sexism and homophobia is particularly difficult for queer Black women, and because of that, we often miss out on the deep wisdom and truth they have to offer us.
Don’t forget, it’s also Pride Month!
Check out this post from Inside the Kandi Dish called Dear White People, This is What We Want You to Do
This one is Vox called How to be a Good White Ally, According to Activists
From Danielle Cadet at Refinery 29 Your Black Colleagues May Look Like They’re Okay — Chances Are They’re Not