What Can White People Do?

by | Jun 17, 2020

I was planning on talking about the simple pleasure of holding physical books again, as my local library is now delivering books curbside. And that is a simple pleasure that I am grateful for. But with the murder of George Floyd, and now the suspicious hanging deaths of two black men in California and the shooting in Atlanta of Rayshard Brooks, I cannot not add my 2 cents, because I have come to believe that white people’s silence about race helps maintain the status quo that harms all people of color.

What can we as white people do? We can educate ourselves — not by asking black friends or acquaintances what we can do — but reading books like White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Race by Robin DeAngelo, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Renni Eddo-Lodge and So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo. *

These books help us understand, if we didn’t realize before, how deeply white supremacist our institutions are. Black people cannot go jogging or even bird watching without risking a life-threatening interaction with white people or police. Did you know, for example, that the GI Bill —  which enabled men who served in the military to get a college education and buy a home — was not available to black men, even though they fought in the same wars white soldiers did? The GI Bill has been credited with the rise of the middle class. But not for blacks, who were systematically barred from taking advantage of that legislation. The ramifications of this disparity are with us today. Here is one place to learn more. https://www.history.com/news/gi-bill-black-wwii-veterans-benefits

White Fragility, which is the book I’ve been reading, has helped me understand how we got where we are. The other thing the author helped me see is that the most helpful thing I can do is talk to my white friends and neighbors. These conversations can be awkward. It might help to practice. I have only had one in my life. It was almost 30 years ago, and I can still feel how my heart pounded and my breath came short. It was awkward. It was uncomfortable. But I’m glad I did it. These conversations are awkward because white people are typically uncomfortable talking about race. To avoid it they (I include myself) speak in coded language. Sometimes without even realizing it: bad school are primarily black, same for bad neighborhoods. It’s time to unpack that language and address race head on.

And beyond reading? 

Donate. Find a group that addresses the most pressing issues that must be worked out long term, with policy and political changes.  Minneapolis-based Reclaim the Block is one example. 

Fly a flag. Here’s something I’m doing. It’s not much, but. After seeing a neighbor drive up and down our creek with an enormous Trump flag and an American flag on his boat, I have ordered a Black Lives Matter flag, an American flag (I realize that I’m also tired of the right co-opting the flag as a symbol of bullying – though I might not fly it!) and a rainbow flag (this was my husband’s idea, bless him). I have decided, as scary as it is, I am going to fly these flags and tell everyone else on our creek where we stand. 

The mere fact that I have the choice of whether to stick my neck out or not is an example of my white privilege and it is almost literally the least I can do. But it feels good to do it…

What are you all doing to be an ally? What else can I do? If anyone wants to chat about what books they are reading, or what they learned, I’d love to hear from you!

* one of my daughters informs me that Amistad Books is advocating for people to buy books by black authors — and not just books about race relations — especially June 15-20, in order to move the needle on the bestseller lists and get publishers’ attention. Here is a link https://twitter.com/AmistadBooks

Alexandra the Great book cover

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