Of course, this was only weeks after a video emerged of three shot-gun-toting white men chasing down a jogging 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in a pick-up truck because they suspected he was maybe, probably, a burglar. They recorded the chase before shooting him three times. He bled out on the sidewalk, never knowing exactly why he was pursued and assaulted. It took almost three months for the men to be charged, and all five judges in the county recused themselves.
Many white allies find themselves wondering how they can show up for the black community in the wake of inexcusable, racially motivated crimes. The short answer: Try anything, except nothing.
Engage and listen.
Racism, and the historical enabling of racism by the state, corrodes the integrity of our nation and threatens our humanity. White privilege is built around a system that seeks to make whiteness comfortable at others’ expense.
You want to fight racism? Reconcile yourself to the fact that it will be unpleasant. Read the words of Morrison or Baldwin. Listen to podcasts and works that center around dismantling supremacy.
More than ever, black friends are looking for you to let them know that you are present; this is one instance where silence would be deafening. A simple “I’m thinking of you and am here to listen” goes a long way.
Whatever you do, do not center yourself.
What if I don’t have any black friends to check on?
You’ve got a problem. Studies show that three-quarters of white people don’t have any non-white friends. If you can’t name one black person that you’re close enough with to be concerned about, you may be more willfully ignorant than you care to admit.
I’m not suggesting that you randomly befriend black people just to prove that you’re not racist. We don’t like that. And refrain from using your black friends for an “I have a black friend” defense against any suggestion of racism.
Recognize implicit bias.
Amy Cooper, a white woman who considers herself liberal, recently called the cops on Christian Cooper (a black man of no relation) after he insisted that she lawfully leash her dog. Before announcing to the dispatcher in panicked tones that an African-American man was “threatening” her, she tried to intimidate the birder by telling him she would call the NYPD and note his race; a tactic that implies she was willing to risk his life for her convenience. She then bemoaned how her life was “being destroyed” after getting the boot from her job as VP of an investment firm and surrendering her cocker spaniel.
White women weaponizing their privilege to cause harm to black Americans, then victimizing themselves after the fallout, is a story older than Emmett Till.
No political party, regional upbringing, religious affiliation or level of education will change this. It’s time we stop pretending it will. Racial aggressions don’t have to be as outright as calling the police. As an executive, who knows how many times Amy Cooper passed on a potential job candidate or lamented how an employee just “wasn’t a right fit.” How many times have you heard this language? How many times have you combatted it?
Implicit bias is wrapped in unexplored internal bigotry and can be elicited by dog whistle terminology. As white women, the best thing you can do to be an ally is recognize the power you have—then commit to how you choose to wield it.
Genie Harrison represents plaintiffs in employment and sexual abuse cases as lead trial attorney at the Genie Harrison Law Firm in Los Angeles and is the Vice President of Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles. She credits Ms. as a lifeline, during her college years, to the feminist movement; now, she writes about legal and social issues to provoke action. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Amanda Monroe is a Los Angeles-based writer whose work engages themes of race, power and identity. You can contact her at Amanda.email@example.com