Message to White Allies from A Black Anti-Racism Expert: You’re Doing It Wrong
The Dalai Lama shows us a better way.
Racism is harmful. Divisive white allyship is harmful too.
Recently, the Dalai Lama called on people to think beyond this tragic moment and reflect on what it teaches us about the nature of existence. Highlighting the interconnectedness of humanity, he argued the “pandemic serves as a warning that only by coming together…will we meet the unprecedented magnitude of the challenges we face.”
As a black man who teaches white people how to be more effective anti-racists, His Holiness’s words resonated. White allies tell me they hear many comments in all-white settings that show the persistent racial divide in this country. Example of these statements include:
- “If an innocent person just acts respectfully towards cops, they will be treated fairly.”
- “People of color don’t do as well as whites economically because they don’t have a good work ethic.”
- “I’m tired of this talk about so-called ‘white privilege’. Everyone gets what they deserve. Racism is just an excuse.”
These statements trouble me deeply. At the same, I am deeply troubled by what I hear from white allies about how they respond to racially-problematic utterances. Examples of these worrying reactions include:
- Ostracizing (e.g., “I am not going to go to a family gathering with ______ until they stop supporting that racist Trump or when he is out of office”).
- Vilifying (e.g. “Your position on immigration just shows me that you lack the basic empathy that we have had in this family for generations”).
- Schooling (e.g. “Your ignorance about structural racism is just a reflection of the patriarchy that harms everybody and that any truly educated person understands”).
- Shaming (e.g., “Your willful ignorance about white privilege just confirms you are a racist”).
While understandable, responses like these are not only ineffective, but frequently counter-productive. Instead of bringing more people into the effort to meet the extraordinary challenge of systemic racism, these…