There’s an article going round on the Huffington Post right now, talking about how racism isn’t just having prejudiced feelings towards people, or saying nasty things about people of another race. It has to do with a bigger system that shapes the way the world works, and who has access to privilege and power, and who does not. If we think racism is only about saying mean things or personally hating people of another race, then we don’t ever stop and question a bigger system— and we can actually feed into that system. For white people who read that and were like, “Yes! Agreed… okay, so…and now what?” Here are a few ideas of ways to concretely tackle some of these issues. I have not come up with these ideas myself. Most of them come from other smarter people than I am. Also, I realize that I often talk in black/white language, but racism affects many groups in the US and SA in different ways- Asians, Latinos, Indians…it’s not just a black/white thing.
First, don’t be the boss. When it comes to fighting against racial injustice, there’s a massive need for white people to get involved—racism is our problem, it’s everyone’s problem—but we really don’t need to run the show. This happens in the States, and I’ve seen this happen All. The. Time. in South Africa. Us white guys are used to being the boss. If we think we’re doing a great job of including black people in decisions we’re making about making black lives better…uh, that’s already a problem. If we find ourselves thinking things like, “I’ve hired a black assistant pastor, so now our church is diverse!” that’s probably a problem. We can’t be running the show and co-opting people onto our team to make it more colourful. Whether it’s churches or work places or anything. Listen. Go join someone else’s team. Submit to black leadership. Find a mentor.
Listen & Learn about race and racial injustice. I feel like I’m a stuck tape recorder on this one. I love what Christina Cleveland has to say on this topic to leaders, “Within the family of God, members of oppressed groups should not have to mount a social justice campaign to be heard.” Of any group, Christians have some of the strongest and best motivations for listening to the ‘outsider’ and oppressed. Let’s reshape our structures in our churches and workplaces so that members of oppressed groups can be heard loud and clear. Let’s educate ourselves on the issue as well.
Become a white ally. The term that people use in America for white people who want to help end racism is “white ally”. You don’t experience racism first hand, but you ally yourself with people who do, and join their cause. Janee Woods has a great article listing 12 very practical things you can do to be a good white ally, from learning how modern racism is rooted in a history of racism, to getting active in your community around policing issues, to advocating for change in the criminal justice system. Read it! Several ideas of hers I will be expanding on, but she has lots of wisdom here.
Stay informed. Change your media. Unfortunately, I can’t offer much help for people in South Africa, except BrettFish’s blog (awesome stuff related to race here), but I know a few more in the US. Many of these are specifically from a Christian perspective. Here is a link listing some of the top blogs written by Christian people of color in the US, and many of them focus on racial justice issues–and even if they don’t do that constantly, you can be sure when something happens in the news related to race, they will “pause their normal programming” to weigh in on it. (This link is, yet again, thanks to Christina Cleveland. If you haven’t read her book, do that, too!) Because I’m lazy, and don’t want to subscribe to hundreds of people, I generally look for people who are good content curators, and retweet/post links to other people. Two of the best I have found for that is the blog “By their strange fruit” (@BTSFblog) and @CarisAdel.
Share your voice. The sad thing is that sometimes a white voice will be heard before a black voice will. This is wrong, we need to work to change that, but it’s reality. So use your voice to make space for black voices. Don’t be afraid to share about racial justice issues in your sphere of influence. Talk with your friends and family, your pastor, your school board. Speak in places where a black voice just won’t reach yet, and introduce people to new black voices.
Be willing to look at how economic & racial privilege are linked, and then make choices about your stuff. You don’t have to just go with the flow. Since the system is giving white people economic privilege, you can share that privilege, rather than horde it. For example, we were given a car to use for the next two years because our family is awesome and generous with their stuff, but also is able to be generous because of a history of privilege. So I can just take that gift and say “Score! More room in my budget for holidays!” or, I can figure out a way to give my money/time towards making it possible for people who don’t have that kind of privilege to get access to material possessions. Mine your social privilege for others. Make connections for people getting jobs. Tithe on major purchases (like a house) into organizations or groups that are working on getting people access to affordable housing*.
In South Africa, learn the majority language of your area. In the US, racism is really tied into slavery, but in South Africa, racism and colonialism are still very linked. Part of that means that if you’re an English first-language speaker, the system is built to privilege you. You can read more about that on a blog I wrote here. Also, based on feedback from that post, I want it to be clear that learning isiZulu is not some kind of magic “get out of jail free card.” There are plenty of racist people in South Africa who know isiZulu. But anyone who is committed to racial justice in KZN and hasn’t seriously made an attempt at learning isiZulu is missing something vital. In the US, you could learn Spanish, or the language of the most recent immigrant community in your area.
In the US, advocate for reform in the criminal justice system. Read a book like “The New Jim Crow”, which explains how our criminal justice system is whacked. It explores major inequalities (like how most drug dealers are white, but most people in prison on drug related charges are black, or how when a black and a white teenager are caught with the same amount of drugs, the white teen will get off with a warning and the black teen will serve time. It also talks about how possession of drugs as a felony means that people are never able to rebuild their lives after serving time on a drug charge, because of “the box” asking people to check if they have ever been convicted of a felony on job applications….) Obama is the first US president to ever visit a federal prison and speak out about this issue (see it here), and if you’re looking for a way to advocate around these issues, here’s a link to some organizations.
Advocate for better education for everyone, everywhere. As one guy has argued, we could be totally pragmatic about all this and forget trying to help white people come to terms with understanding racism. Instead, we could just focus on changing things “on the ground”- like improving education, ending the war on drugs, providing contraceptives etc. I don’t see this as an either/or, but a both/and. Especially because as a Christian, I see justice as holistic: oppressed and oppressors experiencing wholeness that comes from working together to make our world better for everyone.
Some more resources for understanding privilege:
- The implicit bias test: This test is talked about on this AMAZING TEDTalk on racism and bias. Take the test, then watch the TED talk if you’re wondering what to do next.
- Here’s an interesting review of a new book that has come out on modern racism.
Ok, your turn– what are some other good resources you know of to help white people join the cause of racial justice in both South Africa and the USA?
*Note: There are a lot of structural, big picture economic reforms that many people are advocating for in South Africa that could help the vast majority of people who are stuck in material poverty due to our racist history of apartheid. I think as a white person, a lot of our gut instinct is fear, panic, and immediately rejecting the very notion. Instead of that, we should educate ourselves about these proposals. Even if you end up being against large-scale change instigated by the government, you’ll need to offer a thoughtful alternative. You’ll also have a much better leg to stand on if in your personal life you are willing to live generously, sacrificially, and in a way that empowers others.