Racism and Social Injustice: I’m White. What Can I Do?
“For it isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” Eleanor Roosevelt
Empathy has been defined as putting yourself in the shoes of another, knowing within yourself how they feel and what they need you to do, or say, or not say, in the moment. But how can you have empathy if you’ve never had to walk the path that someone else has had to walk? Because of the recent, terrible acts of racism and social injustice, I’ve been thinking about how yes, I’m white, but what can I do to help. It’s causing me to examine my own biases, as never before.
Ignorance is a blinder to empathy. The trouble with ignorance is that we may not even know when we are “ignoring” something vital that’s right in front of us. Even more criminal is choosing not to know. This contributes to the problem just as much as actively participating in it. This is the time when doing nothing is not acceptable, for doing nothing is actively making the problem worse.
We’re not born with thoughts of one skin color, hair texture, eye shape, or birth place as being superior or inferior to another. That is something we’ve been taught or unconsciously picked up along the way.
It is easy to feel guilty, shameful and avoid looking, listening, and facing our implicit biases. And this is exactly what we need to face — the ways we distance ourselves from the truth, the way we contribute to inequality and injustice. Looking inwardly, we might have to face that we’re not as progressive as once imagined.
Something I’ve given a lot of thought to is what Dr. Zeus Leonardo said, “Once whiteness is made familiar, then it must be made strange. No longer able to disguise itself as normative, whiteness becomes peculiar once it is located.”
It takes education and listening to others to peal back the layers of who we think we are, to see who we truly are. There are books we can read, podcasts to listen to, and people we can connect with via the internet. I love the list of resources Julia Wuench provides in her recent Forbes article. As you expose yourself to these works by people of different social or racial backgrounds than yours, mindfully reflect on how your body sensations reveal your biases. What makes you uncomfortable? What makes you angry? What do you try to dismiss, because it’s too painful to contemplate?
As a white person, I want to make a difference. That difference begins with wanting to get more intentional about anti-racism work. We take our first baby step forward by opening our ears, our minds and our hearts to truly understanding what’s happening. We shouldn’t put the burden on someone else to spell it out for us. The words of Martin Luther King, Jr. still ring today, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
When it comes to social justice and racial inequality, our role as a white person is not to be a savior or a fixer for another race. It is that we use our privilege for good to reach out to other white people and help them see that the advantage of being white, which we so easily take for granted, is a direct result of someone else being disadvantaged.
As women leaders, we can powerfully use our sense of community to amplify the voices of those not being heard. We can raise them up. We can call out those who make racist remarks and actions, rather than silently letting it pass. The topic of race must become a part of our conversation. It can no longer be ignored. And mindfully reflecting on our past reactions to social injustice and racial inequality will help us know how to respond promptly to future occurrences.
Another resource I found is an article by Corinne Shutack, 97 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice. I’ve bookmarked this list and I’m implementing some of her suggestion immediately.
It’s not about equality — I get a pot roast, so you get a pot roast. It’s about equity — we both get what we need in this moment of time. But we will only know the needs of each other, if we listen, converse and communicate.
Being born in Australia, growing up in Italy and now living in Ashland, Oregon, I have expanded my view of humanity. But I know how easy it is to get focused on personal struggles and forget to open our eyes to the struggle of others. That’s why my colleague, Louise Santiago, and I have founded Newave Leaders, so empowering women from around the globe can come together, converse, and with greater understand, effect real change in our personal and professional lives, within our local communities and throughout the world. We invite you to join our conversation at the Great Circle Community. There’s no charge or obligation.