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  • Writer's pictureDaisy L Phillips

Working towards becoming a white accomplice

Updated: May 31, 2020

I'll never know the grief that my Black friends are facing in the wake of the violent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery - that's just a fact. I can, however, acknowledge my own place in this moment in history and work towards changing the future.

Things we, as white people, can and should do during this time:

Learn what privilege is, and acknowledge yours.

"Privilege" is a word that gets tossed around a lot, often without a complex understanding of what it means. I, personally, benefit from white privilege. This does not mean that I have never faced hardships in my life, it means that the color of my skin has never made those hardships worse. Privilege is multifaceted and is never the whole story, but it is an important baseline to acknowledge that how we are perceived based on race, gender identity, class, sexuality, and countless other factors is a huge part of how we navigate the world. If you have not taken the time to learn more about what "Privileges" your identities entail, now is a good time to learn about yourself and your "intersectionalities".

At the end of the day, I need to acknowledge that people who look like me (a white woman) are people who can call the cops to, effectively, execute black bodies. In the viral video we saw of Amy Cooper earlier this week, we see Cooper her weaponizing that very privilege (even if she doesn't realize it) when she adds urgency to her voice and hurts her own dog to add to a sense of crisis while on the phone with a 911 dispatcher. Amy Cooper weaponized her privilege whilst simultaneously knowing that she was criminalizing Christian Cooper's race - to have this level of privilege and leave it unchecked is callous and dangerous.

Reach out to your Black friends

Your Black friends are mourning. They have, once again, been faced with the reality that on any given day they could be murdered by those who have sworn to protect and to serve us all. Check on your friends' mental health. You don't need to ask them how they are - you already know that they are not doing well. Don't look for praise or permission, just let them know that you are there for them. You will never understand the grief that they are feeling in this moment, but the least you can do is be there to listen. Make sure to gauge your relationship with this person before reaching out - and make sure that you are not reaching out as a way of appeasing your white guilt, but as a genuine concern for their mental health and safety. Don't do this for you, do this to see how you can help.

Listen before you start to speak up & don't think you know what Black people need better than they do

Now is a great time to familiarize yourself not only with your privilege, but with Black feminist theory and black history as well. Acknowledge the fact that the civil rights movement has always been calculated to appease white people (did you know that Rosa Parks was't the first Black woman to refuse to give up her seat on public transportation? Claudette Colvin, a young woman in Alabama, refused to give up her seat months before Parks did - but the NAACP decided against using her case because of her age and the fact that she was pregnant while out-of-wedlock at the time and they thought it would dampen their argument).

Now is not the time to be telling Black people that these protests are not what Martin Luther King Jr would have wanted (because, realistically, he probably would have wanted to live long enough to meet his grandkids).

Listen before you speak, and when you do decide to speak up, use your voice to amplify the messages of the people affected - not to dictate your own version of the narrative.

Confront your friends and family members

Not just the overtly racist ones, either. It's one thing to post tweets and little instagram pictures of the deceased surrounded by pastel flowers, and another to actually get to work changing minds. White complacency kills just as much (if not more) than outright racial violence. Just because one of your family members isn't a loud and proud white supremacist doesn't mean that their comments about how All Lives Matter get to go unnoticed. Do the work for yourself, and take the time to educate the people around you. White silence is white violence, if your friends and family continue to be ignorant on the issues facing Black Americans when the information is a mere google search away, that ignorance is willful - and the only people who aren't excruciatingly angry right now are those who are not paying attention. It is important to have these conversations with the people we care about because, in some cases, our white privilege is enough to get people to listen to us and, in all cases, it is important not to leave the burden of educating people entirely up to Black people (especially during a national moment of mourning, such as now). Being an ally for social media clout and being an accomplice for legitimate social change are two very different things.

Protest, if you feel safe doing so

As the current protests are arising in the middle of a pandemic that is disproportionately effecting Americans of color, safety is somehow more paramount than ever. If you do feel safe enough to protest, now is the time. Protests are another great time to use your Privilege for the better - as a white person you are in a unique position where you can often deescalate confrontations and try to keep the peace. Here is a link to a video that shows tactics you can use your white body to deescalate and prevent police violence at peaceful gatherings.

Make sure to listen to Black organizers and follow their lead - you are a guest in their space. If you see white, opportunistic looters or vandals, it is your responsibility to intervene. Don't let the actions of entitled white people who want to cause chaos fall on the shoulders of the grief-stricken.

Please remember that if you are not feeling well or are in a vulnerable demographic for contracting COVID-19 that there are plenty of other actions you can take that do not endanger the health of you or others.

Donate, if you have the funds

Every little bit helps. Donate to bail funds, to the ACLU, to the Black Lives Matter organization - take your time to find the groups who are doing the work you are passionate about. If you can't donate, don't beat yourself up over it - we are in the middle of a global pandemic that has cut income and raised the costs of living - you do not need to match donations on twitter to make an impact on this movement.

Sign petitions and contact officials

Voicing your concerns to public officials through mail, email, phone calls, or via public petitions is something you can do for free from the safety of your own home. This means contacting mayors, sheriffs, departments of civil rights - you name it. Write yourself a script or email template and get in contact. This is how change happens. Host a letter writing party on zoom, post an email template and who to contact on facebook, or share a list of petitions that need support - there are countless ways to interact with this one and there is, in my opinion, no excuse not to if you truly consider yourself an ally (let alone an accomplice).

If you don't know where to start regarding finding either a protest, the right organizations to donate to, the right petitions to sign, or the right officials to contact, this master list is a great place to start.

Shop at Black-owned businesses

In your own community or, if they are shipping country-wide, in the cities that are being hit the hardest by the riots. We don't know who is starting these riots (it is likely a combination of groups and motives), but the Targets and the Nordstroms will rebuild - the small businesses may not.

I am currently searching for a Black-owned craft shop, ideally based out of Minneapolis, if you have any favorites!

Think long term & stay angry after this has died down

We've seen this before. A devastating video goes viral, we tweet and protest and cry for a couple of weeks, and eventually things die down. A few months later, the news breaks that the police officer who committed a brutal murder that we all witnessed is charged for the bare minimum offense if he is charged at all, and we tweet and protest and cry some more before the majority of us fall silent once again, waiting for the cycle to repeat. Instead, think about what you can do in the long term to combat social injustice. For every viral video, there are countless hashtags we'll never see. This issue does not go away when it isn't in the spotlight - think about how you can stay informed and involved even when it isn't trending.

VOTE (duh)

You already know to vote for president, but vote in your local elections. Look at how the officials who represent you are handling these protests. Really think about whether or not their statements line up with their actions, and whether both actually reflect your own beliefs on due process here. From your governor and senators all the way down to your local sheriff.

Some things NOT to do

Center the narrative around yourself or your feelings

This is not your community experiencing a genocide at the hands of those who have sworn to serve and protect. Amplify Black voices and spread their messages whenever possible. This fight is not about you.

Make your Black friends hold your hand through this

Don't expect your Black friends to want to teach you how to be an ally or accomplice. Use your own agency and do your own research. From the emotional labour of teaching you, to the validation or praise you may want for doing the literal bare minimum to educate yourself , don't expect anything from your grieving friends right now. Do the work for yourself.

Set your social media icon to the Black Power fist

This symbol does not belong to you. There are plenty of other iconic images you can use to show your solidarity without appropriating this symbol. None of you were Black Panthers.

Share traumatic content

The Black people in your life don't need to see videos and images of people who look like them all over their social media feed. The sharing of traumatic content may feel as though it should help convince racists to reconsider their viewpoint, but Black people have been quick to point out that it is worse for their psyche than it is good for the movement.

Tell Black people how to grieve

Just don't. If they want to peacefully protest, let them. If they want to riot, let them. If they want to cry, let them. If they don't want to put their own emotions on display for the internet to see, don't assume that they're not processing trauma the way they need to.

Even THINK about celebrating pride tomorrow if you aren't doing anything today

Stonewall was a riot and the first brick was thrown by Marsha P Johnson. She was a Black transwoman. If you aren't supporting the Black Lives Matter movement today, there better not be a single rainbow on your profile come Monday. Countless Black women were ready to lay down their lives for you to have your parades - this is how you pay it back. If you can party tomorrow, you can protest today.

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