THE ROLE OF WHITE PEOPLE IN ENDING RACISM
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Racism is contrary to the fundamental nature of every human being. All human beings begin life caring deeply about all other human beings. Until we ourselves are hurt—put down, ignored, threatened, beaten, criticized, isolated, witness mistreatment, and so on—each of us wants all people to be treated well. None of us, including white people, would ever participate in the racist mistreatment or oppression of other humans unless we had first been hurt when very young. However, this early victimization makes us vulnerable to the confusions of racism and passing these confusions on—by participating in oppressive, racist systems and acting oppressively as individuals.
All human societies at this point in our development are organized by oppression, that is, one group being exploited by another or by society at large for economic gain. In these oppressive societies, no one escapes being hurt. Racism has been one of the more damaging and divisive forms of oppression. With the constant barrage of racist messages and practices—from family, friends, acquaintances, schools, the media, and all other societal institutions—no one can grow up in such an environment and escape its effects. In this way the society installs racism on every white person. It does so regardless of how strongly or for how long we actively resist.
White People Act as Agents of Racism
As a result of these hurts that are installed individually and systemically, all white people have been overrun to accept, at some level, the lies of racism as true and carry racist feelings. Some white people stop questioning these feelings and act
out these “beliefs” in overtly hateful, violent, and oppressive ways. Other white people intellectually reject the content of racist messages and try to treat the Global Majority and Indigenous people* respectfully and humanly. Others try to avoid the issue altogether or pretend to agree with the dominant notions they are surrounded by, in order to avoid condemnation.
Even when those of us who are white act with goodwill toward GMI people or actively engage in fighting racism, attitudes and behaviors connected with racism can surface. These attitudes and behaviors include reacting to GMI people as dangerous and scary, ignoring or just not seeing them, feeling and acting superior, dominating and taking up space, and acting like GMI people are unintelligent or incompetent,. These confusions can be faced
and eliminated, and we can more consistently act effectively against racism.
Racism Hurts White People
Racism greatly damages the lives of people targeted by it. It “normalizes” white domination and the glaring inequity GMI people face in accessing the resources of our society. Racism also damages those of us who are white. (This is true of any group that acts out oppression at another group.) It corrupts our humanity and compounds the ways we already feel bad about ourselves. Not standing up against racism erodes our integrity and undermines our sense of self-worth.
Many white people live very separate lives from the majority of the world’s people (GMI), know little about them, and miss close involvement in the lives of a rich variety of people. This limits our sense and understanding of the world and is a deep hurt to our sense of connection, community, and the closeness all humans deserve. It perpetuates our ignorance of GMI people and the deep confusions we carry from the many lies of racism.
Racism also erodes relationships between white people—we do not want to be associated with “that white racist” or “that white liberal.” Witnessing our white parents, caretakers, teachers, and others act out racist feelings is terrifying and erodes our trust in our relationships with the people we looked to for information about the world. It compounds the isolation that this society imposes on all of us.
Racism leaves us feeling hopeless about actually eliminating racism and creating a just and equitable society. We fight these feelings, but they drain our power, our joy in doing this work, and the sustaining of our efforts.
White People Healing from the Hurts of White Racism
United to End Racism (UER) and Re-evaluation Counseling have valuable experience and tools for white people to use in ending racism. We have learned that any and all “oppressor roles” (the role played by a person who has been systematically conditioned to be an agent of oppression) are installed by hurting people very deeply. White people’s oppressive behavior arises from deep emotional damage. Those of us who are white need to do sustained emotional work to free ourselves from racism. To become effective in ending systemic racism and creating a just society, white people must not only fully inform ourselves about racism and take action to end it, but must also heal from the damage caused by growing up in a racist society and by having participated in it.
UER has found that white people taking turns listening to each other in pairs and in groups is an effective way to do this emotional work. Those of us who are white need to remember and tell our stories about the racism in our lives and assist one another to release the intense feelings that underlie these stories. These stories can include early experiences
of witnessing racism, hearing racist lies, colluding with or acted out racism, and experiencing the racist attitudes of the people around us. The stories should also include the successes we’ve had in fighting racism. These can include the times we stood against racism and when we witnessed others standing against racism. We are buoyed up by noticing our and
Telling the stories of our white people (for example, Irish, Jewish, working class, and so on) lets us see and share the strength and fullness of our people and the harsh mistreatment they experienced. This allows us to become stronger allies to each other as well as to GMI people.
To do this work, we white people need settings in which we can be open about racism without being blamed or shamed or criticized for our feelings or past actions, and where we know we are cared about and respected. Under these conditions, we can remember and tell what happened to us with regard to racism and release the painful emotions from these experiences. And we need to learn to do this work with one another as white people. It is the job of white people, not GMI people, to do the work to both stop white people from perpetuating racism and to assist each other to heal the damage we carry.
With emotional release, white people can free our minds of the fears, the powerlessness, and the hopelessness that got installed with our early experiences and think freshly about them. We can reclaim our integrity and our sense of self-worth and act more according to our humanity rather than according to the hurts of racism. We become partners with GMI people in their efforts to heal from having lived in a racist society. We begin taking effective steps to end racism along with freeing ourselves of the effects of racism, all of which improves our lives in countless ways.
White People as Allies to People of the Global Majority
An important part of ending racism and all other oppressions is to develop alliances between those targeted by the oppression and those outside the targeted group. Eliminating racism requires the development of strong alliances among groups of GMI people as well as with white people who are committed to ending racism. These white allies are people who have decided to work to end institutional racism and and ensure the liberation of all GMI people. In this ally role, we white people demonstrate by our actions and words that we support the goals and visions of groups of Global Majority and Indigenous people and work alongside them.
In UER, we have joined with other groups dedicated to ending racism. All of us have learned a great deal about building these alliances and about white people becoming effective allies.
Steps Toward Becoming White Allies
There are many ways for white people to work as allies in eliminating racism. Some of these include:
Taking visible stands against all forms of racism by both backing anti-racism organizations led by GMI people as well as standing independently as a white person against racism
Working on and eliminating our own racism and healing the places we have been silent or passive about or acted out racism
Visibly standing against one of the effects of racism by reminding GMI people of their goodness, intelligence, competence, and the importance of their relationships with one another
Actively seeking correct information and healing from the ways we have been unaware and uninformed
Building long-term friendships with GMI people and challenging the racist messages of separation, difference, and fear
Understanding that being allies to GMI people is for our own benefit since it involves reclaiming our full humanity and having a world right for everyone, a world where everyone matters
Training and building groups of white allies committed to eliminating racism by assisting other white people to heal the damage done to us by racism and taking actions to end systemic racism
Taking a stand against the ways that movements to end racism are derailed by divisions caused by racism, classism, and other oppressions, and work to support communication and advance unity
From our position as ally, actively working to dismantle the institutions of racism and build an economic system that is good for and includes everyone
For more information about white people healing the damage done by racism, see the pamphlet Working Together to End Racism, a publication of United to End Racism.
* Global Majority and Indigenous people (GMI): The peoples of Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Latin and Caribbean America, and those descended from them, and Indigenous people, are over eighty percent of the global population. These people also occupy most of the global land mass.
Using the term “Global Majority and Indigenous (GMI)” for these people acknowledges their majority status in the world and interrupts how the dominant (U.S. and European) culture assigns them a minority status.
Many Global Majority and Indigenous people living in dominant-culture countries have been assimilated into the dominant culture—by force, in order to survive, in seeking a better life for themselves and their families, or in pursuing the economic, political, or other inclusion of their communities. Calling these people “Global Majority and Indigenous” contradicts