1. Educate yourself on the realities of racism.
A few years ago, the New York Times published a list of “the most influential books on race and the black experience published in the United States for each decade of the nation’s existence .” In Wednesday’s Briefing, they highlighted this piece again. Crafted by Ibram X. Kendi, a National Book Award-winning-author and professor, known for his books Stamped From The Beginning (2016) and How To Be An Anti-Racist (2019).
Dr. Kendi recently published “The American Nightmare” in The Atlantic and on testified last week at a US House of Representatives hearing about the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on people of color. You can follow the professor and historian on Twitter for an informative feed.
2. Research the roots of American law enforcement and mass incarceration.
Folks, it’s not pretty. The earliest American police officers were slave patrols. Last year, The Conversation published a story called “The racist roots of American policing: From slave patrols to traffic stops.” It’s a difficult read for a lot of white people because we grew up believing police officers always have our best interests at heart. In an uncomfortable way, that’s true. They were created to protect and serve those in power.
Law enforcement has never been friendly to the Black community. This is never more apparent than in the baseless murders of men like George Floyd and Philando Castile, or, in the school-to-prison pipeline. The ACLU has done a good job of explaining how we fail Black students in school and how those failures lead to higher incarceration rates. This morning, The New York Times opened its daily newsletter by looking at the ways mass incarceration has shaped Black lives in America.
It is sobering, and you can read the full Briefing here, but I’m including a lengthy screenshot because it’s far too important to miss.
3. Swallow the pill of white privilege.
The hardest thing for most of us to do is accept our privilege. I will eagerly admit that this is a tough and bitter pill. Many, if not most white people will let their egos get in the way as soon as anyone brings up the issue of white privilege.
But as soon as you feel like your back is against the wall because somebody brought up your privilege, that’s the time to ask yourself what’s really going on. You’re having a strong emotional reaction for a reason and the simplest way to put it?
The truth hurts.
4. Read more Black authors.
Once we think we understand racism and privilege, it can be shocking to realize that the Black response to systemic injustice is not a monolith. That’s right, all Black people do not share the same opinions about what is wrong with our country, how we got here, or what steps we must take.
If you’re not reading the work of many Black writers, you are likely to miss the diversity among those voices.
5. Watch more Black programming.
As a white person, how many times have you passed on a certain film or TV show because “it was Black?” We are notorious for quickly passing on entertainment with an all-Black cast while never even noticing when the stuff we watch is all-white.
A lot of people might think it doesn’t matter, but by doing so we perpetuate the notion that Black people are “other,” and somehow, inferior.
As you expand your horizons with entertainment, be sure to check out educational videos about life in America as a Black person. On Amazon, you can rent Rondo: Beyond the Pavement, which might help you better understand some of the anger in the Twin Cities (where I was born and raised). Warner Bros. recently made Just Mercy available to stream for free.
6. Write about what you are learning.
When writing about racism, remember that you are educating other white people. You are not — at least, you should not be — explaining anything to the Black community. We will never understand the trauma of racism. Full stop.
You are also not here to tell Black people how to react or how to feel. Unless you’re voicing an honest apology and sincere promise to do, you are not writing to the Black community about racism. Our job as white writers is to learn how to do better, and then encourage other white people to also do better.
By all means, please be open and honest about your journey. Other white people need to know how you went from insisting that white privilege didn’t exist to demanding reparations for Black people. We need to make it okay for people to change their ways. And we need to cover such journeys... without drowning out Black voices.
7. Stop complaining about things like “reverse racism” and “the race card.”
White people love to talk about these non-existent things. And guess what — it frequently seeps into our professional and personal writing. While you’re at it, quit bringing up phrases like “not all white people” or “all lives matter.” These words aren’t just tone-deaf — they are destructive.
8. Let your audience know where you stand on Black Lives Matter.
Now is not the time to be silent or “stay out of politics.” Friends, some things in this world transcend religion or politics. Racism is one of those things.
I’m in a Facebook group for mom entrepreneurs, and it’s got more than 50K members. Recently, the white leader began deleting posts that mentioned support for the BLM movement. When some members rightfully questioned this, she went on Facebook Live to explain herself and it was an absolute train wreck.
The video is filled with cringe-worthy (yet very common) white reactions. The group leader complains that all of this suddenly blew up and she didn’t get any time, as if it isn’t about another sudden murder of a Black man. She made the unrest all about her and her feelings. How she’s not a bad person. And she used lots of loaded language, including why she needs to “police this group a lot.”
She runs a Facebook group of more than 50 thousand women, yet she couldn’t bring herself to even say the words “Black” or “people of color.” And somehow, she wound up crying about how much folks hate her and that all of this is so unfair… for her. (We’ll talk about those white tears later).
The aftermath of her video has been intense. It’s horrifying to see all of the righteous white privilege flaring up in new posts and comments. An alarming amount of white women don’t believe racism or the hate the Black community faces “belong” in any discussions about business.
Frankly, it’s hard to see that stance as anything but racist.
9. Fact-check the stories and images you share on social media.
Many phony screenshots and inaccurate posts are circulating the internet to lay blame on certain groups or distract people from what’s really happening. The other day, I saw several white friends share a viral photo from Ferguson, Missouri which featured a Black boy tearfully hugging a white officer in amid a protest.
If you do a Google search on that image, you’ll find out that the boy’s white mothers murdered him and his five Black adopted siblings. It is a horrifying murder-suicide that made national news. It also opened a startling history of abuse that was ignored by multiple states, including my home state of Minnesota. Apparently, the mothers made their children give out those “free hugs” for the photo ops.
The last thing we need to do is exalt images which have harmed the Black community for White gain.
Of course, there are other images being shared that have been fabricated or misattributed. The only way to reduce the flow of misinformation is to fact-check those posts before we like and share.
10. Understand that terms like “rioting and looting” are intentional and racially charged.
Jacobin has a great article on the fact that our use of the word “looting” is wrong. Let me be perfectly honest that I know “rioting and looting” makes white people think about Black people. It’s terrible, but we have been trained by our politicians and the media to associate the terms with Black communities the same way we’ve been trained to link them with “thugs” or “gangbangers.”
In his story, “Who Exactly Is Doing the Looting, and Who’s Being Looted,” David Sirota writes,
To really understand the deep programming at work here, consider how the word “looting” is almost never used to describe the plundering that has become the routine policy of our government at a grand scale that is far larger than a vandalized Target store.
When white people start complaining about rioting and looting, we need to ask ourselves why only certain thefts and certain murders upset us.
11. Advocate for Black writers.
If you send out a newsletter, link stories by Black voices. If you hear about new writing opportunities, recommend Black writers for the job.
As white people, we have shaped the American narrative for long enough. Now it’s completely filtered and biased through our eyes.
Just like white actors should keep their hands off of Black roles, white writers should be very careful about snatching opportunities which would be better served by Black writers.
So, let’s hold space for those who have been crowded out.
12. Write Black characters, but write them well.
If you happen to be a fiction writer, be honest with yourself about how accurately you have portrayed Black people in your stories. It’s not uncommon for white writers to throw in Black characters as largely expendable side characters meant for token diversity. Others use Black characters for the bad guys, and employe a number of harmful Black stereotypes. It’s unacceptable.
Commit to writing real Black characters. Commit to building literary worlds that upend rather than support our existing racial biases.
13. Remember that you have the luxury of checking out in a way that Black writers can’t.
Between the coronavirus and summer vacation, I was already at my wit’s end. Then I found out that the Twin Cities fucked up again, and my childhood friends began sharing pictures of the devastation. Not to mention the horror of armored trucks lining up along our favorite streets.
But let’s be honest. I’m a single working mom living 1,000 miles away. I get to avert my eyes. I get to live my life.
So, if things have been getting “too heavy” in the news lately, keep in mind that white people typically do have the privilege to close our eyes to all of it. Society doesn’t make us think about race when our skin matches “the standard.” But those with Black skin cannot get away and just ignore the oppression.
I’m not saying that our mental health doesn’t matter or that taking care of ourselves and our families is wrong. We need to understand, however, that the breaks we take to “recoup,” “checkout,” or whatever, are the same breaks Black people simply don’t get.
14. Quit saying you’re colorblind.
Some of us grew up in the 80s and 90s when one constant message said “love is colorblind.” We might have meant well when we said this, but it sorely (and conveniently) missed the mark.
To be colorblind is to say that racism doesn’t exist. It ignores the awful realities Black people face every day. We can’t afford to “see no color” — it’s killing the Black community and causing us as white people to never question our hidden (and not so secret) biases.
15. Admit that you don’t have the answers.
No white saviors, please. White people have a bad habit of thinking they need to have all of the answers. Whether it’s because they crave more pats on the back or because they really think they can save everyone else, it doesn’t really matter.
The myth of the white savior is destructive and insulting. It also drowns out the voices of folks who actually know what the hell they’re talking about.
Throughout American history, white people have rewritten reality to place themselves front and center. The best way to combat this propensity is to be honest that we’re not (and will never be) qualified to have all the answers.
16. Accept that this is not about you and your feelings.
A few days ago, many white moms in that Facebook business group were outraged that someone mentioned “white tears” in the leader’s crying video about why she deletes posts about racism.
In case you missed it, white tears are a part of “white fragility.”
"White Tears" is phrase to describe what happens when certain types of White people either complain about a nonexistent racial injustice or are upset by a non-White person’s success at the expense of a White person. It encompasses (and makes fun of) the performative struggle to acknowledge the existence of White privilege, and the reality that it aint always gonna go unchecked.
— Damon Young, White Tears, Explained, For White People Who Don’t Get It
In recent years, there’s been a vital conversation about the fact that white women, in particular, tend to use white tears as a weapon, typically against Black women. Or, at the very least, to shift responsibility away from themselves.
17. Confront racism in real life and online.
It’s easy to be quiet. Easy to erase that reply we were going to send on social media. Easy to bite our tongues when Aunt Linda or sister Karen says something awful and privileged just because we don’t want to deal with the consequences of an angry Karen or Linda.
But who does?
When it comes to complicity, silence is violence. We’ve got to put on our big kid pants and stop letting racists go unchecked.
18. Think before you ask Black people for their help.
Some Black people talk about being inundated with questions from white people who want to better understand racism, but they’re expecting Black people to do the heavy lifting. And do you know what? Many of those Black voices say they’re tired. They’re tired of holding your hand and explaining themselves when they’ve been telling you the truth for years. They’re tired of taking on the responsibility of educating white people who frequently don’t want to see the big picture.
It’s not that you can’t or shouldn’t ask questions. But you need to be mindful and considerate. Black people have already done the work to educate white people. They’ve written the books and articles. They’ve spoken the word, shouted the words, and drawn the pain. Do your homework first.
Once you’ve done plenty of work and legitimately begin dismantling your biases, it’s natural for questions to come up. At that point, reach out to Black people but be sure to first ask them if they have the time and energy to help you. Everyone is in a different headspace right now, but Black people have been processing trauma at the hands of white people for hundreds of years. Have some common courtesy.
19. Donate whatever resources you can.
Some of us can’t be out there on the frontlines. Plenty of single mothers can’t drop everything to join a physical protest, but there is always something else that we can do.
One post that’s making its rounds on Facebook with a request to copy and paste without attribution is this:
All. Hands. On. Deck.
‼️ PSA ‼️
Not everyone is made for the frontline, so don’t guilt trip yourself because you think you MUST be on the frontlines to support! This goes out especially to the disabled, chronically ill, their caretakers, nurses/doctors, grocery store workers, farmers, and all other essential persons.
✔️ SUPPORT IN OTHER WAYS ✔️
💸 Donate to a BAIL FUND in your area or around the country
💊 Donate MEDICAL SUPPLIES to people working as medics at the protests
🥩 FEED PEOPLE - buy food and water, or make food, and donate it to those who are part of or affected by the protests
🥛 VOLUNTEER at non-hot zone areas to supply food and water
📢 Continue to EDUCATE the people around you - this is also emotional labor
🚗 PICK UP people from the hot-zone if they need it
🐥 Offer to WATCH KIDS if their parents are organizers and need to be on the frontline
🚨 CONFRONT RACISM wherever you see it, online and with family/friends
📲 SHARE LINKS to every resource for protestors you can find - bail funds, information for those arrested, safety precautions, updates for those in your area, etc
💰 DONATE directly to frontline people and organizations
🖋 WRITE articles and blog posts in support of the ongoing protests
📣 ORGANIZE on your jobs and in your communities for fair and equitable practices
🛌 REST is revolutionary and inherently anti-capitalist too, so do your best to rest when you can, and take care of yourself and those around you as much as possible.
*** COPY AND PASTE without attribution if you want to share ***
This is a great reminder of many things anyone can do to help support the Black community even when they feel like they don’t have a clue. Or even if they’re tired. Again, white people have the option to check out whenever we like, but these are some wonderful ways to check in and do something.
21. Place “making money” on the back burner for now.
Let me be clear. Writing stories about white privilege and racial injustice hasn’t been especially lucrative for me. At this point, I’ve got a pretty good handle of the types of stories my audience likes best.
During months where I want to do my best financially, I mostly stick to certain types of stories. But I don’t think I can continue to focus on making money right now.
Instead, I am deeply convicted to keep speaking out and voicing my support for Black Lives Matter. That doesn’t mean I won’t take breaks to write about other issues, but I’m certainly going to be mindful of the fact that I even get to weigh these options.
22. Realize this is just the beginning.
Systemic racism and America’s injustice against Black people will not be “fixed” any time soon. Cultural programming and racial biases are complex. It takes a lot of time and pain to uproot privilege, fear, and hate.
It’s okay to have feelings about this process, but we do need to be mindful that our feelings about racism and privilege aren’t the point. We need to accept that this is a fight for the long haul.
23. Be a better human.
If you’ve gotten this far, you must have realized that virtually all of these suggestions can apply to white people whether they’re writers or not. And that’s the point.
We writers cannot remain silent.
Whatever we do for a living should be impacted by this fight. Human rights are not a matter of opinion or personal belief. At some point, we all have to stand up and decide where we stand. Looks like that time has come much sooner than plenty of white folks hoped.
We’d better get our shit together and start using our gifts for good.