Anti-Racist Organizing: Invitations for White People

“… Solidarity is not meant to be comfortable. It is not shining light on yourself as ally at the expense of the oppressed who are demanding their counter-narratives be centralized. It is understanding that your whiteness protects you from certain things which in turn prohibits you from participation in others, because at the end of the day, when you get tired of marching and chanting, you can put your hands down and go home… Some of us simply don’t have that luxury.”  –

Remember, you are good and you are racist:  We were handed racism, and didn’t choose it.  White supremacy is foundational to our society and affects every single one of us – no matter how much we read or how much analysis we develop.  Sitting with the defensiveness, guilt and shame that arises when we talk about racism and white privilege is part of us learning and growing.

Learn about your blind spots: Just as a fish has a hard time discerning and explaining water, white people have a hard time noticing white privilege and white supremacy. It is our responsibility – as individuals and communities – to learn about these blind spots. A big one is our tendency to dictate and take over, and then wonder why no people of color are involved.  The personal work of undoing our own racism is essential to working with other people. 9341923448_f8383f82b4_z

Make the connections:  By focusing attention on looting, white folks are silencing a more important narrative — a narrative about the unjust murder of an innocent teenager and state violence, which includes the disproportionate imprisoning of people of color, the militarization of police, racial profiling etc.  Drones kill people abroad, and they also disproportionately affect people of color at home. The militarization of the police is directly related to our war-making abroad. Making these connections is essential.

Acknowledge that you are not “better” than other white people: A common distancing behavior for white folks – especially those in organizing circles – is to applaud themselves for “getting it” and disparaging those who don’t.  This pattern is part of capitalist thought which encourages rugged individualism and competition. Instead, we need to draw near other white people to embrace the idea of collective liberation with personal responsibility.

Listen, take the lead, and elevate the voices of those who are most affected:  As white people, it is not our place to decide what a community response should be to the murder of a black teen.   We should be lifting up voices of those who are directly affected by state violence- in our social media, newsletters and events –  rather than centering our own voices and reactions.  When we participate, we need to make listening our priority. White people shouldn’t be running every meeting, leading the march, or grabbing the megaphone.

Work to better understand your white privilege: White privilege means that you are not targeted by systems of racial oppression; it’s a privilege to choose which social justice issue you want to work on. White privilege grants whites more opportunities in leadership, and therefore we feel entitled to take on these roles in coalition work.  We need to let go of control, to take background and support roles, and to be flexible.

liberationIt’s a privilege to deplore violence on both sides, just as it is a privilege to not have to choose a side. You have nothing to lose in your silence.  For others, being silent or “remaining calm” means that the next black teen to be murdered may be their loved one.

Be accountable:  
Take criticism. We will make mistakes and getting called out is uncomfortable, but it is how we grow. Be okay with making mistakes, and then make up for them.  Set up relationships where you are giving and receiving feedback about your white privilege.

Create mutually supportive relationships: Showing up and supporting community groups that are led by people of color (even those that don’t fit in “perfectly” with our own philosophy) is not only important for creating coalitions, but also for challenging our own racism. It can help us acknowledge patterns of “White Hero Syndrome”.

Reflection Questions:

1. What feelings does this list brings up in you?

2. What obstacles do you have to these invitations?

3. How can we “do it better?” especially as the grand jury announcement on Darren Wilson looms ahead?


Adapted from a 2014 St. Louis statement penned by several St. Louis folks committed to Anti-Racist Principles and part of the Anti Racism Packet available for download here