White People Don’t Know How to Be Allies to Black People

Shannon Ashley

And that includes me.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1Z4lYS_0Y3Gl4Rt00neurobite | Adobe Stock

I was born and raised in Saint Paul, Minnesota. My single mother never held a job once she had us, so my sister and I grew up in low-income housing and took public transportation everywhere.

We saw so much of the Twin Cities that most of our fellow white peers never got to see. We were comfortable in the neighborhoods they called “scary.” We preferred shopping in Asian grocery stores and eating in indie restaurants owned by people of color.

It’s safe to say we grew up thinking we were “good” with diversity. Not racist. In fact, I probably thought I was much better off than my sister. We went to different Saint Paul schools — but mine tended to have more accolades and fewer white students.

Back when I was in grade school, I learned the truth about Christopher Columbus and white colonialism. In third grade, we acted out racial atrocities and my mother had a conniption fit. This was a liberal, new age agenda, she declared. A smear campaign. All to make our Christian forefathers “look bad.”

Yes, facepalm. I was raised in that mentality at home. Christian good. Everything else bad. Lots of talk about morality when there was nothing moral about the teachings at all.

When I got the wind knocked out of me at a park because a little boy ran past me and chucked his shoe at my throat, my mother flipped out and wanted me to stay away from black kids altogether. As I grew older and often waited at bus stops with her outside my grandma’s high rise, she warned me to watch out for black men who go after young blonde girls.

I learned to live with certain things my mother said. Just try to forget them. Ignore her. Smile and nod.

She had that disease that lots of white people have. The one where they fear what unknown evil black people “might do,” and then praise themselves for not being racist. It often goes hand in hand with the folks who say, “I love black people! But I don’t condone black culture.”

“We’re not racist, but…” is such a common white person thing to say. Just like, “I don’t see color,” or “love is colorblind.”

Growing up, so many of us want to believe that the racial hangups of our parents, teachers, and other adults won’t affect us. But they did and they do. I’m just as guilty as any other white person of being at least a little uncomfortable around black people who don’t “act white.” And I’m guilty of pretending it isn’t true.

I’m guilty of thinking that my experience with poverty somehow canceled out my white privilege. Or that being a woman means I understand more suffering than I ever could.

I am guilty of speaking up when I should have sat down and shut up. I’m guilty of saying that I’m listening when I’m clearly not.

The truth is I’m guilty of a lot of things, even though I’d like to remain oblivious to most of it. And the fact that I’m white allows me to be oblivious, or to duck and hide away from what’s happening in the world anytime I want.

I’m getting a little bit better at paying attention, but I still have a long way to go. It’s not uncommon for me to miss the vastness and the nuance of what’s been happening in my hometown. A black friend from high school recently reminded me that it wasn’t enough to stand up for the protestors back home because the riots and looting aren’t all being perpetuated by the black community.

It’s also not just stupid white teenagers or folks looking to steal while they can easily do so. Much of the violence and unrest that’s taking place belongs to well-organized third parties in the interest of inciting chaos and using the protests to further their own agendas unrelated to Black Lives Matter.

He was right to point that out and I realized that (once again) I was commenting on something I didn’t even understand.

And honestly, I am guilty of talking about and hearing the word “looting,” without using any critical thought to process what’s actually being said.

In the modern vernacular, that word “looting” is loaded — it comes with all sorts of race and class connotations. And we have to understand that terms like “looting” are an example of the way our media often imperceptibly trains us to think about economics, crime, and punishment in specific and skewed ways.
-David Sirota, “Who Exactly Is Doing the Looting, and Who’s Being Looted?”

Later, on Facebook, I shared a post highlighting some of the theft going on at a Twin Cities Target and how it was being perpetrated by white people. The caption read “Please notice that these are WHITE people looting in Minneapolis.”

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=2rTZUS_0Y3Gl4Rt00Facebook screenshot

Then I woke up to a comment from a white man who probably hasn’t reached out to me in more than two years:

“Not sure the point… I’ve been speaking out about rioting and looting against innocent parties and aiming the anger at the police and government. Not once have I said anything about the race of either the looters or their victims.”

Yes, it’s very easy for us as white people to claim that “race doesn’t matter.” Our skin doesn’t cost us anything — not anything beyond our own discomfort when folks point out racial disparities. He could have breezed right past my post without comment, like he’s been doing for years now.

Instead, he chose to reply to my simple share as if I was calling him out as an individual. If there was any question about why he found it necessary to comment, he ended his remark by claiming he hadn’t said a word about the race of looters or victims. Well? Nobody ever said he did.

The fact remains, though, that plenty of Americans are currently content to blame the past week’s events on the Black community and write off every one of them as “thugs.” So, let’s get our facts straight.

White privilege is showing up everywhere wagging its finger in people’s faces to insist that they don’t care about race. Whites avidly wish to defend themselves and claim they’re not racist. But if we don’t care about race, then we’re not paying attention.

It’s a luxury to not care about race. That’s a privilege.

Every time we make some stupid comment about how skin color doesn’t matter, we confirm how much we don’t get it.

Skin color shouldn’t matter, but in a racist society, it does.

White people, and I wholly include myself in this bunch, we don’t know how to be allies to Black people. We keep tripping over ourselves. We make it about us and our feelings.

It’s not that I don’t have a lot of feelings about what’s happening in the Twin Cities. I love Saint Paul and Minneapolis. I suspect I will always consider the Twin Cities my real home.

But our outrage says a lot about us and it’s not good. Are we outraged about buildings and material goods which can be replaced? Or are we outraged about the lives of black men and women which are unlawfully taken by those in authority?

Do we care more about justice in regards to rioting and looting than we do about police officers who murder those with black or brown skin?

And do we even care that multiple groups are using the protests as an opportunity to discredit protestors and further their own political agenda?

A lot of white people just don’t care about the black community. We don’t say it in so many words, but the words we do say and the actions we don’t take are dead giveaways. True equality is inconvenient and we don’t want to admit it when we’d rather live in our privileged bubbles where everything feels okay.

But America has never been okay. America was built on racism. Upon the backs of black people and anyone who might somehow be in our way. It is an ugly history that infects everything we do today, and the racism which made slavery commonplace never actually left us.

White people, we have work to do. It’s time to learn and grow and care. Our change is overdue. We’ve got to listen if we are going to learn.

It’s not going to be fun or comfortable. We don’t get to pat ourselves on the backs or rise up as “white saviors.” Change is hard and it is humbling but it is something America needs. Our children need us to do the work our parents didn’t do.

We need to accept and acknowledge our white privilege. We must learn how to better use the privilege we were given. We shouldn’t be silent when other white people act like racist fools. We need to quit being complicit to the racism in our families and communities. White people need to listen and believe black people when they tell us about the racism they endure. And we need to keep on listening even when we find out that it “makes us feel bad.”

The only way we can change is if we quit using our privilege to tune out and begin tuning in. We need to fight with our black neighbors, our equals, and demand changes in our government. Racism is not a partisan issue. As much as we may loathe Donald Trump for his history of prejudice and anti-black actions, we must understand that the democrats also have a legacy of using, abusing, and letting black people down year after year.

To do the right thing here, we have to be willing to put our necks on the line and make ourselves feel actual discomfort. As it stands, our skin is not in this game, not when we get to bow out whenever we like.

We aren’t good allies, not yet.

But by confronting our privilege and bias, we can still change.

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Single mama, full-time writer, ex-vangelical. It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. I cover real-life issues, like family, parenting, relationships, and spiritual abuse.

Cleveland, TN

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