The process of educating and informing yourself on the issues that affect POC on a daily basis can be a shocking and devastating experience. You start to hear racism in films and TV shows you once loved, you start to hear it from friends, family, and coworkers you once respected. You start to hear it and see it everywhere. You start to feel guilty about not seeing it and hearing it before. About enjoying film and TV and books and looking up to celebrities who all swam in a sea of racism without you ever realizing the problem with any of it. It is alarming and overwhelming. The world is suddenly a scary place full of dark, creepy corners where people you genuinely care about are not safe. And it makes everything feel like an urgent issue that needs to be addressed RIGHT NOW!
You are not wrong to feel this way. It is a valid reaction to a flood of information telling you that racism is still alive, very prevalent, and that you have unknowingly participated in it..often. However, you have just begun your journey into white allyship, and you need to take some more steps before you can truly be the ally your friends and family of color need you to be. The next step? Recognizing your white guilt, white fragility, and white savior complex. In the wake of information, you will turn to harshly judging others for their internalized racism, angrily lashing out at anyone who challenges you, and swooping in to use your white privilege as a platform for speaking about these issues at every opportunity that remotely presents itself to you. These are not the best reactions. They will have a 100% success rate at your friends and family of color unfollowing you on social media and generally distancing themselves from you in real life. And here is why.
1. Your alarmist white fragility is triggering.
You are just coming to terms with all of the systemic and ingrained and internalized and subtle (and not so subtle) racism that still rules our nation. POC, however, are not. They aren't coming to terms with anything because they live it. Everyday, all damn day long, this is their reality. Some days, they feel overwhelmingly angry and frustrated and scared, too. But most days they are just trying to go to work, pick up the kids from practice, and get to the grocery. Because, news flash, they are people, too. All of the information you now have is terrifying. Can you imagine if you were actually personally affected by it? Imagine how much dimmer things get when you are the one who could get shot for getting pulled over for a broken tail light or if you are the one who can't get a job because your name has an apostrophe in it.
So, you don't need to remind POC that things are awful. They know. Remember, they live it. The fearful shouts from the rooftops of your Facebook timeline are not serving anyone. The proclamations that the sky is falling in ALL CAPS is triggering. And all you are doing is encouraging your people to click that unfollow button, so they can get back to their errands in peace.
Am I saying sharing information is bad? Hell no. Share that shit. Your fellow white people need to know. They need to be informed. And one the best things you can do as an ally is to inform yourself, and then share that with other white people who need to be informed. However, make sure you are simply sharing the information. If you are sharing articles and videos and blog posts from POC, the information is getting out there just fine. No need for emphasis. And make sure you are sharing the information with the right people. If you need to vaguebook because a white male tried to debate with you, by all means, hit that caps lock and go to fucking town. But maybe slap a trigger warning on the post before you go ham, just in case a friend of color is trying to get the grocery shopping done without a reminder that their hijab is about to make a bunch of white people uncomfortable.
2. You speak for them and over them instead of highlighting their voices.
Friends, I cannot stress enough that POC live this shit every damn day. You don't. So, why, why, why are you swooping in every five seconds trying to talk about THEIR lives? I see it on their Facebook posts, I see it in groups I am a part of, I see it happen in real fucking life. POC will attempt to share their experiences and how they would like someone to solve the systemic issues they face, and here white people come trampling all over their words. You don't need to save the day by commenting on their posts. You don't need to address a misinformed individual on their posts. You don't need to reword what they are trying to say in a group conversation. And you definitely don't need to interrupt them when they are having a conversation with a coworker about racism in the workplace. Sit down. Hush. They got this. And if you have a friend of color who needs your help, they will ask. They will reach out. Do not assume that because you are white, you can handle their stuff better than they can.
Another way I bettered my allyship is to remember this, POC do not need us to come into their safe spaces and discuss. They need us to take our spaces and make them safe for POC. Appropriate times to use your newfound knowledge are in settings with white friends who don't get it. Posted something on Facebook and Mr. Devil's Advocate had something to say? Slam him. Mentioned something about a whitewashed film to a friend and they got salty? Clap the fuck back. Noticed a coworker said some racist shit? You betta get him. There is absolutely a time and place for you to share your newfound information backed by all of the anger you feel at the injustices to which you have recently opened your eyes. But watch yourself. Be mindful of your spaces. Be mindful of your presence and when it is and is not needed.
3. You still think this is a debate.
Honestly, I have no patience with this shit, so I'm about to hurt your feelings. No matter how many articles or books or blog posts you have read, no matter how many videos you have watched, no matter how many friends or family of color you have, you will NEVER know what it is like to be a POC. So, when a POC shares a lived experience with you, there is NOTHING to debate. There is no devil's advocate that needs to be played. There is no sharing your thoughts or opinions or feelings on the matter. It is their actual lived experience, not a concept or idea or theory to explore. Put down your liberal college education for a second and fucking listen.
Asking for clarifications, calmly walking through reasons you are confused about something, playing back details to make sure you understand their points fully are all fine. But be mindful of the difference in being argumentative and trying to learn something new.
4. You tone police them.
This sort of stems from the previous point; you will NEVER know what it is like to be a POC. EVER. So, you do not get to decide what level of exasperation is expressed. They can be angry, sad, hysterical, stoic, unbothered, or fucking murderous, and you don't get to say shit about it. Let me put this in some white feminist terms you can understand; when men tell you that you are being too emotional when discussing the 3 month stint Brock Turner did for rape, you feel invalidated, gaslighted, and triggered, yeah? That is how POC feel when you try to argue with them about how they are allowed to express their exhaustion with being shat on day in and day out. So, once again, hush.
5. You expect them to educate you.
If you have gotten to this point, I can at least assume that you understand that you have some learning and growing to do, and for that, I commend you. However, constantly asking your only brown friend to explain shit to you is another form of triggering crap white people do to their friends and family of color. And it needs to stop. Google. Google is your best friend. Check your sources, read more than one article on the matter, and when you can, read articles, blog posts, etc. written by POC. I'd give you that advice about this blog post as well. I am a white woman. I feel like I have done my research, and I am writing this article as a way to check my fellow whities based on conversations with several friends and family members of color. However, I am not a POC, so I would still do some research. Everyday Feminism, Jezebel, and anything by Franchesca Ramsey are good places to start and have been guiding lights on my path to better allyship.
As a fellow white ally, I have had my fair share of fuck ups. Those times when I thought I was angry in solidarity, but I was really just being alarmist and triggering the fuck out of everyone around me. So, I get it. Even more difficult for me was the fact that I am married to a black man, and I am the mother of a mixed race child. So, the guilt I felt and the fragility to which I succumbed were amplified by my ever-growing concern for them. I have been the alarmist poster, the person speaking over my friends and family, the person wondering why POC were so angry all the time, the person asking my friends and family of color intrusive questions, and the person expecting those same friends and family to comfort me when I was feeling overwhelmed and upset. I do get it, and I do not judge you for I have been there myself. However, when you know better, you do better. Now you know, so it is time to do.