What prevents us from having hard conversations with colleagues, church members, friends and family about race? People will cite all kinds of reasons. We don’t want to offend. We want to go slowly so people can get on board. We’re worried about what our community of friends will think. We ourselves aren’t ready to engage deeply this topic. We don’t want to overstep and say something wrong. We’re worried about disrupting friendships. We feel guilty. We believe black colleagues are better suited to lead this conversation. We’re afraid.
I’m guilty of this too. But in the past year or so, thanks to some good friends and some tough conversations, I’ve been moving slowly and, I hope, surely toward living out the fullness of what it means to be an ally. One of the people who has helped me along the way is Naomi Christine Leapheart. I’m sharing some of her words today in the hopes that it will inspire white, anti-racism allies who might still be looking for permission, encouragement or whatever to have the hard conversations about white privilege/white supremacy with other white people. (I added italics to emphasize the things I am working on.)
- Many white folks who deny and dismiss white supremacy speak freely and with authority about such, and they have no clue what they’re talking about. How can those who believe in freedom continue to be silent, when we actually HAVE a clue about oppression? To be blunt: fools seem to never be afraid. Allied white folks need to face the risk and fear of speaking out and proceed anyway. People are dying behind white silence.
- You don’t need to walk in my shoes to be connected to me, to care about me. In fact, part of being anti-racist is actually displacing the experience of whiteness from the center of the conversation. Many white folks believe that if they have not personally experienced something, it either hasn’t happened or cannot be properly understood. The work of anti-racist allies is hearing the testimonies of people of color, taking them seriously, and trusting that our experiences reveal reality. If you begin from a place where you need “evidence” in order to speak about racism, you’ve already missed the point. There is white supremacy and it systematically abuses and kills people of color. Now. Proceed from there.
- A cursory Google search or reading list will bless your life. If you want authority to speak on something, you learn about it. You research, you read, you listen, you study. So, I’d say to white allies, do your own homework. What are your sources? Who are you reading? What are you listening to? None of this stuff is hidden in some secret location where white folks don’t have access (because: white supremacy).