When people organize to challenge the oppressive (and often racialized) dynamics in their community, they frequently neglect to consider how those dynamics find their ways into the organizing itself. We do not come together in a vacuum. What happens “out there” also happens, albeit in different and perhaps more subtle forms, in our organizations, affinity groups, and meetings. History is full of examples where white people, hoping to be allies, allowed their own privilege to go unexamined and ultimately weakened social movements. In the U.S. for example, the white-centered second wave feminist movements undermined black revolutionary movements. In recent struggles for marriage equality some have critiqued the movement’s emphasis on the inclusion of gay couples into a privileged white-middle class lifestyle at the expense of the struggles of working class queer/trans people of color. Below is a list of considerations for white activists who are involved in multi-racial struggles or struggles that disproportionately affect people of color.
- I can expect to be in the company of people that look like me at the rallies, general assemblies, and working group meetings.
- When I watch media coverage of actions and events, I can see people who look like me widely represented.
- I can speak on behalf of communities of people who do not look like me and be seen as more credible than people from those communities
- I can voice my socio/economical/political grievances knowing that I will not be expected to represent all people of my race.
- I can engage in civil disobedience while assuming that the police are not as likely to be abusive towards me
- If someone is in disagreement with me and tension is rising, I can usually assume that it is not because of my race.
- When I am angry I am relatively certain that I will be seen as angry and not aggressive and that my anger is not a racial trait.
- I can arrive late to a group meeting, or, do a sub-par job facilitating and know that I won’t be reflecting poorly on my race.
- When I give my opinion verbally or in social media and it is not assumed that I speak for everyone that has my same skin tone or accent
- I can speak eloquently and scholarly without being called a credit to my race. On the flipside, I can blunder, and not worry about discrediting my race.
- I can take positions of leadership without people wondering if I have the experience to do so or conversely, being a credit to my race.
- When I hear “our country,” I can assume the speaker is including people of my race.
- I can choose not to make racism an issue within my organization; in fact I can just focus on the banks or corporate personhood, or the environment, or the military industrial complex etc… Without even thinking of white supremacy and how it intersects with all of the above.
- I can openly voice my opinion regarding white supremacy, white privilege and receive positive feedback or even a “pat on the back” regarding my willingness to breach such subjects as opposed to being scoffed at for making it about race or simply disbelieved.
- I can be assured that I am wanted at meetings because of my abilities or personality and not to be a representative of my race.
- I can choose to remain mostly silent during a group discussion and not be judged as conceited, or as “not understanding” but, rather, as “patient” or “introverted.”
- I can express radical political views and be less likely to be seen as a threat and persecuted accordingly by systems of power (ie, less likely to become a target of police or prison systems).
- I can go home from most meetings or organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in rather than isolated, out of place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared because of my race.
Inspired by Peggy McIntosh’s article White Privilege:Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.