Roles of Whites in Racial Justice
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Roles of Whites in Racial Justice

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Martha Barry and LG Shanklin-Flowers work together to plan the next session of Unlearning Racism: Tools for Action

February 23, 2017

Written by Martha Barry, Racial Justice Director, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin

These are challenging times. There is a great deal of hatred, divisiveness, bigotry, and uncertainty in the air. Many of us, as good white people, want to get through it, but feel unsure how to stay engaged. At times, our fear of making mistakes stops us from taking action.

As a white woman, I need to think deeply about my role as an individual dedicated to a more just and equitable world. What can I personally do to challenge the narrative of disdain and hatred?

These are a few things I have decided to do. Join me; add to the list.

Listen to the stories of people of color, people who aren’t in your friend-circle, your family you hold in disdain for their views, or anyone who is marginalized. I know listening to people whose voices are not always invited or encouraged, is an important first step in building awareness. If I can listen to how life is for people different from me, I can learn a great deal.

Find the truth. Learn about civic issues in your neighborhood and community. I recently listened to my son discuss the court system. He explained the gerrymandering ruling in a way I could understand. I found learning from him reminded me of my own mind. I can think, research, learn and challenge myself.

Pay attention. Notice your heartbreak, anger, disgust. I have found levels of anger I did not know were buried in me. I can and will continue to disagree with friends and colleagues I know and love. I am also determined to find ways to remember our commonality.

Cry. There are moments when someone is paying attention to me and really listening closely. It is at those moments that I can cry. My feelings are hurt because I thought we had made some progress in addressing racism. Now, I ask, “Why did we allow ourselves to return to a space of such divisiveness?” This is not the world I want!

Use my power. I remind myself, and have friends and colleagues who help me remember, that I, and many of us together, are powerful. I can use my mind and heart to strategize better outcomes in ending racist policies and practices.

Speak up. When you witness racist situations impacting your friends or colleagues, speak up! Don’t wait for the perfect moment or issue. The reality is that if you were targeted by a hurtful situation, you’d want someone to notice, speak up and say something.

Lean in to the discomfort. Be attentive to your feelings. Use the discomfort to lead to action. What issue do you want to put energy into – equal pay for women, specifically women of color? Who is invested in the issue you want to fight or support? How can you connect, learn more and contribute your passion to changing outcomes?

Get involved. There are people and groups concerned about many issues. Research online, connect with them, and get involved. Don’t let those feelings of defeat and discomfort overwhelm you. You can make a difference.

Remember your goodness and the goodness of those you love, but may not always like. Together we can fight against oppressive forces that want to separate us from one another, interrupt our good thinking and strategically, we can act powerfully.

Blog originally posted in December 2016 on the YWCA Southeast Wisconsin blog.

Learn more about the partnership between YWCA Southeast Wisconsin and United Way.

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