As we continue to focus on our careers and small businesses, tend to our families, maintain our homes, and navigate a global pandemic, we’re also experiencing the largest “collective demonstration of civil unrest around state violence in our generation’s memory,” as Jenna Wortham writes for The New York Times (seriously, 2020 did not come to play). Police brutality aimed at Black and brown people and sustained by systemic racism has long been a problem, and public actions aimed at remedying this have been ongoing for just as long, but as many have noted, this time, it feels different.
One of many reasons it feels different is because a large number of white and non-Black people are joining the cause — lending their voices, their bodies, and their checkbooks — and educating themselves on the pervasiveness of racial injustice in this country with a focus that is certainly not typical.
In short, there’s a lot of necessary information that white and white-passing people are learning, and in a very, very short period of time. And while now is the time to dive into that education in a meaningful, long-lasting way, it is not the time to reach out to Black friends, family members, neighbors, acquaintances, or co-workers and ask them to act as educational facilitators. It is not the responsibility of Black people to “bring us up to speed.” We shouldn’t be asking them questions when online resources are available to us, Black educators are sharing their expertise and experiences via social media, and organizations have dedicated website sections filled with webinars, lessons, and other easy-to-access tools.
So instead of asking the Black people in your life questions about race, racism, police brutality, and what it means to be anti-racist, ask the white women in your life the following questions instead.
While this historic movement is Black-led, that does not mean we should sit back and wait for Black people to lead us, educate us, or do the work for us. We can do the work, internally and amongst ourselves, to become better educated about the issues Black and brown communities face, how we have benefited from their oppression as white or white-passing people, and how we can dismantle these systems so everyone has a fair chance at a more equitable future where the color of their skin isn’t criminalized.
Beyond our discomfort with these conversations lie all the best things for us and the people whose lives we touch.
“How are you putting your white privilege to work for non-white people?”
Many white people find the term “white privilege” contentious, and a lot don’t even believe it even exists (spoiler: it does). The amount of misinformation regarding “white privilege” and what it means surely does not help. Understanding this unearned privilege better will help us all work to dismantle it — and how to put it to use to benefit people who don’t have it.
So let’s run it down (even though we’re sure you know): No, white privilege doesn’t mean that no white person has ever experienced any hardship or trauma. No, it doesn’t mean that you were simply given all you have earned in your life, or that you haven’t worked hard for the things you have, the business or businesses you have started, and the wealth you have accrued. No, it doesn’t mean white people can’t be poor or experience other types of discrimination. (Anyone who’s ever been pregnant in the workplace can tell you discrimination can exist for everyone.)
Simply put, white privilege is “an institutional (rather than personal) set of benefits granted to those of us who, by race, resemble the people who dominate the powerful positions in our institutions,” as defined by Francis E. Kendall, Ph.D., in Understanding White Privilege. In real life, it means so many things.
Ask your white friends what they think white privilege means. If they harbor any misunderstandings about the concept, discuss those misunderstandings with them and point them in the right direction by offering up some online resources, like Teaching Tolerance and Racial Equity Tools. Then share instances in which you have personally benefited from white privilege, and ask them to do the same.
“How are you making your workplace or business anti-racist?”
Look, no one expects any of us to single-handedly bring down the institutions that have been built on and perpetuate racial inequality in this country. This is not a one-woman revolution. True change will require (sorry for how “greeting card” this is going to sound, but it’s true) everyone to work together for a sustained period of time. But some of us are in more powerful positions than others, especially if we’re business owners or executives, which means we can enact meaningful change in seemingly small ways.
No one is going to topple the system on their own, but we all wield some degree of control and influence — with your white friends, ask them how they’re using theirs. Ask each other what you all can do, in your businesses, your work places, your communities, and in your home, to keep the momentum going. Does your workplace have a diversity committee or ERGs? Are you in the position to mentor? Are you in the position to hire employees? Fantastic! Make sure you’re seriously considering (and hiring!) Black people and people of color. Are you in charge of partnerships? Wonderful! Commit to no longer partnering with businesses who aren’t inclusive and diverse.
“How are you talking to your racist friends and/or family members?”
Gone are the days when we simply rolled our eyes at that one racist uncle at holiday dinners to “keep the peace.” In fact, doing that — not confronting and working through the ground-in racism in our families whenever it shows itself — is maybe the most widespread, common way in which white people with the intention of being anti-racist constantly fall short of actually being that. It’s time to call them out, boldly and unapologetically (or gently, with love and patience; you know the best approach with your own family).
Hey, we didn’t say this was easy. We said it’s necessary. When we post on social media about how much we are committed to “doing the work” to crush racism, this is part of the work.
Ask your friends how they’re handling these situations. Are they talking to their family members online or off? Are they preparing mental scripts (or even making actual notes in their phone about stats that make their case) for the inevitable family BBQ or upcoming holiday dinner? And if they aren’t sure what to do, help them (and yourself) by pointing them to some online resources. For starters, Amnesty International has tips on how to tell someone you love their words or actions are racist, and Business Insider and InStyle have also recently published articles on how to talk to white family members about race and racism.
“Who are you voting for?”
It’s time to talk politics. No more “it’s inappropriate.” No more “it’s not proper.” Everything about our lives — the businesses we own, the babies we choose or do not choose to have, and the ways we are treated in the spaces we navigate, be in at home, at work, or in public — is political. And the fact is, both the Republican and Democratic Parties have upheld and perpetuated the systems that suppress Black people and privilege whiteness, so no matter where you and your friends fall on the political spectrum, having a super-real conversation about the candidates themselves, their records, and what’s on the ballot in upcoming elections…it really matters.
That said, sure, definitely, one party is more overtly anti-Black and pro-police than the other. But just because you vote blue, that doesn’t mean you get a pass from holding politicians accountable — the problems facing Black and brown Americans did not start when Donald Trump was elected president. Unarmed Black men and boys were killed by police officers during President Barack Obama’s tenure, including 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, and 18-year-old Michael Brown. Systemic racism and police brutality cannot be blamed on one president, or even one institution or one political party. But as we all move forward, together, it’s vital that we look at the current political climate, who is stoking the first of racial injustice and violence and who is not, and who we should be lending our support to at this time (as well as how we plan to push the political party that has our support to do better in the future, make good on their promises, and not let this moment be forgotten).
“What books are you reading?”
The Black people in our lives are not our personal de facto librarians. Instead of reaching out to them during a time that can be traumatic for them, and asking them for a list of educational reading materials, ask your white friends what they’re reading to better understand race, racism, and racial injustice. If they aren’t, help point them in the right direction by recommending any one of the books on this list, provided by TIME Magazine. Literally just google this, and share books with each other, and as always, order from an independent bookstore.
“What podcasts are you listening to?”
As working mothers with children to care for, businesses to run, and houses to maintain, it’s more than fair if finding time to sit back with a book is, simply put, impossible. So if you and/or your friends aren’t reading at the moment, ask them what podcasts they’re listening to. If they’re not, recommend any from this list from North Country Public Radio.
“Which movies are you watching?”
During 10 days of protest in the wake of George Floyd’s death, The Help started trending on Netflix, at one point even hitting the number one spot. Yeah, this isn’t…a good thing. While the intention behind the choice to view this film is arguably good, the film — how to say this? — not arguably good. The 2011 movie is about a white woman who writes a book about the experiences of Black housemaids, lending itself to a “white savior” narrative that perpetuates the idea that Black and brown people are only saved from their difficult circumstances by white people.
Which is to say, let us all gather our fellow white women around us and watch something better! Watching things is easy. This part is so easy, so let’s please not mess it up.
There are more than a few “movies about race” that do much of the same, so ask your friends what they’re watching. Are they relying on these problematic films? Are you? If so, look for other movies that better highlight the Black experience in this country, like 13th, When They See Us, What Happened, Miss Simone?, Malcolm X, the Hate U Give, and Selma.
“Who are you donating to?”
Yes, there is more than one way to show your support for the fight against police brutality and systemic racism, but nothing says “support” like money (as long as you don’t think it excuses you from doing anything else).
Instead of asking a Black person where you should be setting up recurring donations, take a look at this list we’ve compiled. These organizations could use your monetary support right now and in the future, and it’s a great list to share with white friends and family members. There are also *squints to do math in head* roughly a billion similar lists online right now.
“How are you talking to your kids about racism right now?”
These conversations can feel daunting, but it’s an important step in creating a more just society not only for this generation, but for generations to come. So ask your friends with children how they’re handling this topic. Maybe they have some tips that have worked for them in the past, or even currently. Maybe they have some online resources that have proved beneficial. (Hey, we know one very good resource.)
Other useful places to share: Socialjusticebooks.org has a wide-range of books, split up into categories by age, that can teach kids about race, racism, and police brutality in age-appropriate ways. Sesame Street, in partnership with CNN, also held a great virtual town hall dedicated to discussing race, racism, state-sanctioned violence, and the current protests to children of all ages. If you missed it, you can rewatch it on CNN.com.
“How have we failed in the past?”
This will be a painful, humbling conversation; one that so many of us would rather avoid. But if you have trusted friends who are non-judgmental, understanding, and honest with themselves, a really productive move would be to start a dialogue about how you have all missed the mark in one way or the other when it comes to racism or engaging with race as a white woman. Maybe it was during a family dinner when you felt like you should speak up when someone said something racist, but didn’t. Maybe it was during a meeting when a white manager clearly took the idea of a Black coworker as their own.
None of us are perfect, and we’ve all f*cked up a lot. So why not talk to our white friends about those moments, what we did wrong, and what changes we can make in the future to help us all do better?
“How are you practicing self-care during this time?”
Guys, this is a lot. We get it. We’re learning a lot, facing a lot, doing a lot of soul-searching and self-examining, and while we care for our children, run our businesses, and continue to deal with the ramifications of a global pandemic. It’s OK to say, “I’m tired.” It’s OK to say, “I’m overwhelmed.” But it isn’t OK to lament how difficult this has been for you to Black and brown people. Remember, in the end, this isn’t about you — but that doesn’t mean the past few weeks haven’t been emotional and triggering for you, too.
So talk to your white friends about how they’re feeling, and how they’re going about self-care during this time. How are they making space for themselves to simply breathe and re-fill the well, while keeping the eye on the prize and working towards lasting change, both in their personal lives and in their local communities? What is bringing them joy? These conversations will help ensure the work we’re all doing doesn’t exist only in the short-term, but remains a consistent part of our lives.
“How are we going to keep this up?”
Ask your friends how you can all, together, keep this momentum going. Should you start a book club that focuses on books written by Black authors and highlights Black characters? How about committing to attending virtual town halls or online discussions that centers race and racism once a month? Can you make a list of Black-owned businesses and pledge to patronize them once a week? Is there a way to leverage your businesses to raise money for Black organizations?
There are a number of ways, both big and small, we can ensure this fight continues and that our individual roles are sustainable when it comes to breaking down racial injustice and racism.
Of course, you do not have to have these conversations with your white friends white away and all at once. It’s a lot, we know. But these are great alternatives to reaching out to the Black and brown people in our lives and asking them to do the mental lifting for us. We should all get used to talking about race, racism, and anti-racism with each other, and this is a good way to start.