The people around me are still a little hungover. Election hungover.
But politics is not what I want to focus on today. I think everything that could be said has been said; and I want to focus on something a little more positive, regardless of what (and if) you voted.
This past week, many people have asked me ‘what can I do?’ in reaction to all this. For many people, the election results were a shock. So many of us didn’t realize how racist and sexist our world can be – because they don’t deal with it on a daily basis.
What is white privilege?
The term ‘white privilege’ has become more loaded over the past two years. Telling someone they’re privileged often sparks a negative and defensive response – people don’t like to be called privileged.
”What is white privilege? It’s the level of societal advantage that comes with being seen as the norm in America, automatically conferred irrespective of wealth, gender or other factors. It makes life smoother, but it’s something you would barely notice unless it were suddenly taken away — or unless it had never applied to you in the first place.” Christine Emba wrote in a column for The Washington Post in January.
For me, this is the best way white privilege can be explained in a few sentences. It’s a complicated issue, and I, just like many others, was someone that wasn’t aware of my privilege for the longest time.
People like to denounce the term by saying not all white people are privileged. Yes, not all white people are wealthy, and there have been minorities who have achieved status, but as Christine writes in her column, white privilege is specific and different. ”it’s the idea that just by virtue of being a white person of any kind, you’re part of the dominant group which tends to be respected, assumed the best of, and given the benefit of the doubt. That just isn’t the case for people of other races, no matter how wealthy, smart or hard-working they might be.”
Does that mean I’m racist?
No. Saying someone is privileged is not the same as accusing someone of being racist. Acknowledging your white privilege – and using it in a positive way – is important. I think that if you are white, you have the responsibility to do something.
However, it is important to be careful. We need to help a movement that has already begun years ago, by people affected by racism. There are many things you can do that don’t involve silencing the people whose voices you mean to amplify.
The safety pin issue
You might have seen people (on social media) wearing safety pins on their clothing after the election. The safety pin movement, adapted from a similar protest followed after the Brexit vote in June, is meant to show solidarity and as a silent protest.
I personally feel very torn on this subject. While I think it’s good to spread a positive message, I also feel like wearing a safety pin is just a way to show you’re ‘a good white person‘ and to make yourself feel better. wearing a safety pin and calling yourself an ally will not help – actions will.
I know you feel uncomfortable. I do too. But the truth is that white people elected a white nationalist that promised to do harm to literally anyone who wasn’t a straight white male. White people were 70% of voters in the 2016 election and it’s the only demographic in which Trump won. White people fucked up. We fucked up bad. We looked the other way when our family members made racist comments. We unfriended the people on Facebook who shared racist articles instead of talking to them. (Yes, yes – ‘not all white people’, I get it).
Oh, and there’s a chance Trump voters will wear this also. Which kind of defeats the purpose.
Wear a safety pin if you want. I’m not here to tell you to do otherwise, but please don’t let it be the only thing you do. Try to take some actual actions.
What YOU can do
There are some really easy ways you can take action to make your part of the world a better place. They will not be as visible as safety pins, but they will make a much bigger difference.
- Engage in discussions about race. It’s time to have some uncomfortable discussions with your friends, family and even strangers about race. It won’t be fun. People might get mad, hurt and defensive. It’s important to listen to their opinions and have an open conversation about it, but be relentless and honest, nobody has to be cuddled here.
- Speak up when you encounter racism. Hate crimes have been on the rise since Trump won the election. Here is a list. We’ve all been a bystander at some point or another, whether it was online or in real life. Standing up to racism can be scary, but it shows the perpetrator that this kind of behaviour is not supported. This is a good website that explains how to deal with racism in your day to day life.
- Seek out the voices of those who are marginalized. How many African-American authors do you read? How many of the people of color do you follow on Twitter? Probably not very many, I know I didn’t for a long time. Make an effort to change that. Seeking out voices of people that are different than yours will make you appreciate them. You will learn about their world. Social media can become a little bubble of narratives one agrees with if we aren’t careful enough.
- Confront yourself. If you follow and read these voices outside of your own bubble, they might upset you at first. I know they upset me, and sometimes I even felt discriminated against. I thought ‘I’m not like this’. But it’s important to keep listening, and to try to understand why people have the opinion they have. Why they feel the way they feel – because it’s coming from somewhere. You don’t have to agree with everything someone says, and you don’t have to express your disagreement all the time.
- Support black businesses. Lend economic support and advocate for fair representation. Read this article written by a black woman that tried to only spend her money at black businesses for a year. You might live in a place where supporting black businesses is hard, and shopping online is a good alternative. Money = power.
- Get involved. Attend meetings of your local community. Go to a black church. Volunteer. Join a march. Your white skin is powerful, police and politicians tend to take a movement far more seriously when white people are participating. However, don’t appoint yourself as a leader of the group. It’s your job to follow the others right now.
- Donate. Like I said: money is power. There are so many organizations that do great work protecting marginalized groups. Consider donating your money and/or time to them. The American Civil Liberties Nation is a good place to start. Other great organizations include Planned Parenthood and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
- Fight for voting rights. Disenfranchisement is a big problem. Manipulating the boundaries in the favor of a party are rampant in today’s world. So is voter intimidation. There are laws that make it difficult to vote early, laws that require expensive or difficult to acquire ID documents and laws that make polls close early. They minimize the number of minority voters.
- Subscribe to a newspaper. During this election, print journalism provided the most thorough and trustworthy coverage I have seen in a long time. I studied journalism, and continue to be amazed by the motivation print journalists have to uncover the truth. Most of them do not care about money or fame. If you want to make sure quality news sources keep their chin up, subscribe to one.
Although racism played a big part in this election, let’s not forget our LGBTQ+ friends and other minorities. Use your power to fight against any kind of discrimination you encounter and get involved. Only then can we make a difference.
Note: This article wasn’t written to tell you how to think or to tell you how to deal with racism. This article wasn’t written because I want to show you how much of a saint I am. The truth is, white people elected Donald Trump, and because of that, I think white people should increase their effort to fight against white supremacy. They should be the ones that deal with what they cause.
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