6 Action Items for White People in the Workplace & Beyond

Image description: An orange chair next to a wooden desk with a journal, pen, and 90 degree angle ruler on top.

I wrote this piece for internal consumption at my workplace. In a company-wide discussion on race and racism, an employee anonymously asked the question, “What can white people here do to support people of color?”

As a white person invested in the continual work of solidarity — or what some people call allyship — I put together six action items in hopes that it would spark something for other white folks to run with. Numerous colleagues approached me and asked for the piece in a shareable format. Below is the adapted piece, I hope it translates for a broader audience. Everything I wrote about in this piece I learned over the years from thought leaders of color.

1. Educate Yourself…And Others

Commit yourself to reading one article a day discussing whiteness, privilege, race, and solidarity. Below I’ve listed seven articles & videos to get you started for the next week. Pay particular attention to pieces written by people of color reflecting on their experiences. Lean in to the discomfort you may feel. What comes up for you — Guilt? Defensiveness? Denial? Anger? Anxiety? Helplessness? Shame? Most white people will shut down at this point in the process. Our white fragility means that we have a very low tolerance for the emotions of “racial stress” as we aren’t accustomed to facing our white privilege head-on. As you read, you may have some revelatory moments where you realize, “Oh shit, I have been perpetuating racial microaggressions…” Resist shutting down in shame. Now you know! This is an opportunity to shift your behavior. And as you learn and evolve, share your knowledge with other white people and call them in to this work.

Process what you learn with other white people in your life as you dig into your reading. Avoid the temptation to run to your colleagues and friends of color and spill over with what you learned, asking a series of intrusive questions. Some people of color are open and willing to support white people through the process of unpacking white privilege but do not assume that it is the job of POC to guide you through and educate you about racism. It places an undue burden onto people of color and often puts them in the impossible position of needing to speak for their entire race. Our “revelations” about white privilege are typically things people of color have known and lived for many years.

2. Diversify Your Media & Amplify Voices of Color

Our social media shapes our consciousness. Who you follow on twitter and the pages you follow on Facebook, for instance, can have a radical effect in moving you along in white allyship work. At the bottom of this article, I have listed 50+ people of color to follow on twitter and 15+ pages on Facebook to follow right now. We live in an incredible time where we have unbridled access to wisdom & conversations about race like never before. As you learn from all these brilliant thought leaders of color, retweet and share their words. Send the articles you read to your teams, friends, families, and colleagues. Amplifying voices of color to your network is an important part of solidarity work. We are not the experts on race, but we have an opportunity to learn from so many experts and boost their influence.

Equally important: Follow people who make statements and tweet articles that make you uncomfortable. Sit with the discomfort for awhile. While not delegitimizing what comes up for you, remind yourself that our feelings as white people unpacking our privilege and finding our role in white allyship work can never compare to actual racial oppression faced by people of color. It’s not even in the same universe. Whereas we white people have a choice to engage in this work, people of color do not: Navigating white dominated spaces is mandatory. We can handle a little discomfort.

3. Learn When to Listen and When to Speak Up

This is one of the most important skills you’ll learn as a white person doing solidarity work, and it’s where many white people get stuck in paralysis: “Is it my place to speak up here?” “I don’t want to mess up so I won’t do anything.” As a general guideline, when people of color are sharing their experiences, I try to listen and be aware of my whiteness and how much space I’m taking up. When amongst white people, I try to speak up about race and name racism.

This work is messy. There isn’t always a clear cut way to know when to act and when to listen or pass the mic. But as you experiment, iterate, and evolve, you’ll get better at navigating this. There is never a point at which our work as white people is done, we’ve figured it out, and we can proudly proclaim that we are one of the “good” white people who “gets” it. Be more committed to the process of solidarity than the end goal of “being a good ally.” The point at which white people mistakenly think “I’m one of the good ones” is a place of dangerous stagnation. Stay humble, be receptive to feedback from POC, apologize when you mess up, change your behavior, move on, and keep leveling up and bringing other white people along with you in this work. Here is a helpful video by Franchesa Ramsey on how we can apologize when getting called out for oppressive behavior. There isn’t a playbook on effective solidarity work, we are all figuring this out as we go with the guidance & leadership of thought leaders of color.

The goal of this work can’t be centered on us. Seeking public praise for “being a good ally” is ego work, not solidarity work. Much of what you do may be in private messages to white colleagues, or pulling other white people aside to talk about a comment that they made. Start to get comfortable that you will always be striving to do better, that much of your work will not be acknowledged, that you may risk social capital in calling in other white people, and that you’ll still make mistakes. Keep moving forward anyway: It will get easier as you gain more tools, experience, and a more conscious network of people to learn from.

4. Asset Map

“I think white people who want to take public action should start to asset map. Rather than being frozen in guilt and thinking about what you ‘can’t do’ or how daunting action may seem, think of all the skills you have and all the communities and spaces you have access to. How can you utilize your assets to create real impact for Black liberation?” -Jamila Woods @duhmilo

It’s too easy to get caught up in all the “shoulds” of white allyship. Yes, it is important to be thoughtful about how we approach this work and always stay open and receptive to feedback from people of color in shifting our approach for better impact. But we need to act.

List out all the ways in which you have influence, at your company and beyond. Are you a hiring manager or sourcer/recruiter who can deliberately seek out candidates of color to interview? Do you have an extra hour or two a week that you can give to support organizations working for racial justice? Are you someone who speaks at conferences and can bring a racial lens to your talk or encourage the conference organizers to book more speakers of color? Do you have some money that you can give as a monthly recurring donation to organizations supporting people of color? Do you have influence over policies at your company? Do you have people in your life who can make impact in powerful ways? Do you have hundreds of Twitter followers who you can influence in joining you to take action? Asset mapping is identifying all the ways in which you can guide impact. This is individual to you and your spheres of influence.

5. Bring Intersectionality Into All Spaces

For those of us who belong to marginalized communities, one way we can make impact is by deliberately cultivating intersectionality and fostering race consciousness. I am white, able-bodied, and cis — I am also a queer woman and a neurodivergent person with mental health challenges. Queer spaces tend to default into white queer spaces, women’s groups are often primarily focused on white women’s issues, and mental health meetings are generally white dominated. I’ve seen some of the most insidious racism dwell in marginalized white dominant spaces. As white members of these groups, we can be deliberate about maintaining an intersectional lens that acknowledges how race impacts the experience of group members.

No one should feel they need to check their identities at the door of any space. People’s lived experiences across lines of privilege inform their world views. Even with the best intentions, how might we be discouraging women of color from full participation in women’s spaces? As white queers, how can we be deliberate in centering the experiences of our queer and trans colleagues of color? Intersectionality is about recognizing that many of us hold privilege in some areas and disadvantages in other areas simultaneously. For instance, while many white women experience sexist microaggressions, many women of color experience sexist AND racist microaggressions, many of which are perpetrated by white women. When we remove race from the women’s group discussions or don’t make it safe and welcoming to discuss race, we default to white women’s experiences and discourage women of color from bringing their whole selves and experiences to the table. Come with humility and prioritize listening to experiences different than your own.

6. Leverage your dollars

Another important way white people can make impact for racial justice is with our dollars. Some of us are in a position where we wouldn’t be hit too hard if $5, $10, $20, or even $50 was taken out of our paycheck each month and redirected to a racial justice group, but that money goes a long way for community organizations. Here is a list of 501c3 racial justice organizations whose work I appreciate. Here is another list of Black-led, Black liberation organizations across the country compiled by Resource Generation, an organization that supports young people with wealth and class privilege in working for racial and economic justice.

These contributions — particularly recurring monthly donations — fuel racial justice work and provide organizations with the necessary funds to expand their impact.

***

Take this piece as a starting point for your solidarity work. Don’t worry too much about where to start — just start. I’m continually learning and growing in my solidarity work and I’m always looking for opportunities to collaborate, process, and stay accountable.

Check out these resources on white privilege & white allyship:

1. A Five-Step Guide for Macklemore and White Allies Afraid of Doing Anti-Racism “Wrong” by Maisha Z. Johnson

2. 5 Tips for Being an Ally by Franchesca Ramsey

3. Next Time Someone Tells You Racism Isn’t Real, Show Them This Three Minute Video by Brave New Films

4. So You Call Yourself an Ally: 10 Things All ‘Allies’ Need to Know by Jamie Utt

5. Nine Clueless Things White People Say When Confronted with Racism by Derrick Clifton

6. 7 Actual Facts That Prove White Privilege Exists in America by Zerlina Maxwell

7. 4 Ways to Push Back Against Your Privilege by Mia McKenzie

Follow these thought leaders of color on Twitter:

Leslie Mac, @lesliemac

Erica Baker, @ericajoy

Dante Barry, @dantebarry

Cherno Biko, @ChernoBiko

Kat Blaque, @kat_blaque

Idalin Bobé, @IdalinBobe

Kimberly Bryant, @6gems

Rebecca Carroll, @rebel19

StaceyAnn Chin, @staceyannchin

Meredith Clark @meredithclark

Rosa Clemente @rosaclemente

Ta-Nehisi Coates @tanehisicoates

Teju Cole, @tejucole

Brittney Cooper, @ProfessorCrunk

Patrisse Cullors, @osope

DarkMatter, @DarkMatterPoets

Anil Dash, @anildash

Johnetta Elzie, @Nettaaaaaaaa

Brittany Ferrell, @bdoulaoblongata

Jacqui G., @jaykayG

Alicia Garza, @aliciagarza

Reina Gossett, @reinagossett

Riley H, @dtwps

Imani Henry, @imanihenry

Jay-Marie Hill, @Jay_Marie

Lourdes Ashley Hunter, @HunterLourdes

Remi Kanazi, @Remroum

Shaun King, @shaunking

LEFT, @LeftSentThis

DeRay McKesson, @deray

Lauren Chief Elk, @ChiefElk

Mia McKenzie, @miamckenzie

Leslie Miley, @Shaft

Karla Monterroso, @karlitaliliana

Nessa, @curlyheadRED

Bree Newsome, @BreeNewsome

Brittany Packnett, @MsPackyetti

Franchesca Ramsey, @chescaleigh

Kayla Reed, @RE_invent_ED

Adria Richards, @adriarichards

Marco Rogers, @polotek

Nicole Sanchez, @nmsanchez

Linda Sarsour, @lsarsour

Shaadi, @TwittaHoney

Blake Simons, @BlakeDontCrack

Terrell J. Starr, @Russian_Starr

Rahiel Tesfamariam, @RahielT

Opal Tometi, @opalayo

Ngọc Loan Trần, @ntranloan

Trudy, @thetrudz

Jose Antonio Vargas, @joseiswriting

Charles Wade, @akacharleswade

Elon James White, @elonjames

Ashley Yates, @brownblaze

Zellie, @zellieimani

Kortney Ziegler, @fakerapper

“Like” these pages on Facebook:

Colorlines, ColorOfChange.org, For Harriet, The BlackOut Collective, Everyday Feminism, Urban Cusp, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), Black Girl Dangerous, Darkmatter, HuffPost Black Voices, Black Lives Matter Bay Area, Michelle Alexander, Brittney C Cooper, Ph.D., Crunk Feminist Collective, Rahiel Tesfamariam, The Root, Trans Women of Color Collective of Greater New York, Audre Lorde Project,

Amanda Gelender is a writer, speaker, and mental health advocate currently working an Interim Director of GitHub’s Social Impact team. Her background is in civil & human rights, community organizing, social protest theatre, and tech diversity and inclusion. Amanda holds BAs from Stanford University in Political Science and Drama. You can follow her at @agelender on twitter.