Editor’s Note: Nicole Stamp is an actor, director and television host living in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @NicoleStamp. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. Read more opinion on CNN.
Protests against anti-Black racism are happening across the world. In my own social circle, many good-hearted White friends have expressed shock and distress at discovering the depth of racism that affects Black people – both systemically and interpersonally – and have reached out to ask me what they can do to help end anti-Black racism. I shared some thoughts on social media and have expanded them here.
A new awareness of individual racism and privilege is a valuable start. But systemic racism is woven into every political and institutional structure, and unconscious biases influence all of our interactions. Being “against racism” isn’t enough; we must actively work to end racism. Addressing interpersonal racism in our social spheres is valuable; but more importantly, we need to dismantle the racism embedded in organizational policies, to ensure that systemic power is being equitably shared.
We are seeing changes happen. Some are symbolic changes, like statues toppled and mascots retired. While these reflect evolving attitudes, they still leave problematic systems intact. Much more importantly, many organizations’ leadership teams are changing in composition, and, most impactfully of all, budgets within the criminal justice system are being reassessed and restructured with a goal of systemic transformation. These are the changes that are urgently needed, and they rarely happen so rapidly; this momentum is special.
As the news cycle changes, and the ongoing protests receive less coverage than they did a few weeks ago, it’s crucial that we stay energized in this movement. In the words of the late civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis, “Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” The protests are good trouble, and they continue because racial injustice continues.
So, in response to my friends’ questions and their earnest desire to help, here are commitments that good White people – in fact, people of all races – can continuously make to fight anti-Black racism.
1. I will get comfortable saying: “That’s racist.” Call out racist policies, power dynamics and comments, every time. While this small action may not immediately change systems or minds, it will open the conversations that lead to change.
2. I will use my social media for good. Don’t unfriend racist people. Instead, publicly challenge the bigoted opinions they express, and do it repeatedly, because changing minds takes time, and your online engagement could educate dozens of silent bystanders. Remember that racialized people can, and should, react emotionally to racism – because it’s harming them. But if racism doesn’t harm you directly, keep your temper in check, because vicious discourse around racism increases the social fallout and harm for Black people. Aim to engage patiently, factually and respectfully, and use your social media to encourage your friends to participate in concrete actions that increase equity.
3. I will seek out, learn from and amplify Black voices. Choose and share books, art, articles and anti-racism discourse created by Black and racialized people. You wouldn’t hire a mechanic who’d never driven a car; similarly, make sure your education about race comes from people with lived experience of racism, which imparts deep and lifelong expertise about how these systems function.
4. I will accept the concept of privilege. For centuries, opportunities have been denied to racialized people; this has been particularly explicit and persistent for Black and indigenous people. This means other races have experienced less competition, and comparatively better access to education, jobs, loans, housing, land, inheritances, medical care and second chances in the legal system. Recognize that resources and benefits must now be re-allocated – equally – among people of all races because centuries of unfairness must be righted.
5. I will not call the police for minor matters. When conflicts involve Black people (or indigenous, Muslim, visibly queer, homeless, mentally ill or otherwise targeted people), we need to attempt to de-escalate, problem-solve or simply abandon the situation whenever possible. Do not involve police unless it’s an immediate matter of life and death, because, as recent headlines have made indisputably evident, police presence increases the risk of lethal harm to Black people.
6. I will pressure leaders to end police violence. Find a large, trusted, Black-led and community-based organization in your area, learn their concerns, and follow their suggestions for action. Set a monthly reminder to contact government representatives, urging them to increase accountability for police violence, demilitarize police forces, and divert funds into education, mental health care, crisis teams, harm-reduction centers, and affordable housing; social initiatives that help communities thrive.
7. I will attend protests. Factors like age, disability, child care needs and legal status prevent many people from marching. For those who can, attending protests is a crucial – and deeply appreciated – form of allyship. Participate calmly, since escalating tension increases the risk for Black protesters. And calmly place your body near to Black people, because your presence will reduce their risk of harm.
8. I will record questionable interactions. Your cell phone camera is a powerful anti-racism tool. When you see a racially-charged interaction, hit record. If you feel safe, calmly approach and de-escalate the situation, using slow body language and a gentle voice. At protests, record the distinguishing features of anyone perpetrating physical harm, but avoid details that could identify victims, to protect them from retaliation. Record single long videos, since unedited footage is more persuasive. If you document a racist situation, spread it online (with victim consent whenever possible). When you see videos of racist conflicts, research and share the contact info for the relevant business or government leader, urging your network to express disapproval directly to those in power.
9. I will believe survivors of racism. BIPOC (Black, and Indigenous, and all People of Color) have been speaking out about racism for hundreds of years. The only thing that’s changed is the ubiquity of cameras that can now provide proof. Believe people when they call out racism. When someone identifies a racist incident, a great response is “I’m so sorry that happened. Thank you for telling me. How can I help?”
10. I will interrogate biases. Some people believe BIPOC are “too biased” to discuss race effectively. A counter-thought: Does it then stand to reason that White people are too biased to discuss White people? The truth is that all humans, and all curated sources of information, are inherently biased. The best way to compensate for bias is to acknowledge it. Seek information from multiple sources, including grassroots sources, and ask questions: What financial or political interests might this story advance? Whose voice was amplified? Whose voice is missing? Am I equally knowledgeable about the opposing position? What status quo does this story protect?
11. I will “see color,” including whiteness. For many people, hearing the word “White” feels uncomfortable, even confrontational. Many people position White men as the “default human,” unmarked by race or identity, and holding opinions that are somehow “neutral” or “unbiased.” Meanwhile, everyone else is presented as “other,” with “biased” opinions or “identity politics.” But avoiding the idea of whiteness or claiming that “race doesn’t matter” actually shuts down important conversations about racism. If we are too uncomfortable to “see color,” we will misunderstand persistent patterns in how people of different colors are treated.
12. I will recognize the ways in which I prize proximity to whiteness. Consider how some races are positioned as “respectable,” “hardworking,” or “non-threatening,” in contrast to other races. These beliefs, while superficially positive, are actually limiting, and they unfairly benefit some communities – at the expense of others. Challenge these unfair hierarchies, especially if you’re a member of any group that benefits from “proximity to whiteness” on this unspoken scale.
13. I will be my child’s first anti-racist role model. When you encounter racism in public interactions, at social gatherings or with family, set an example by speaking up. Your child will be empowered to follow your lead. Role-play responses with your children, such as, “That’s racist!,” “That’s unfair!,” or “Please treat everyone equally!” Teach kids to supportively accompany children who report racism, since backup means the marginalized child is more likely to be believed. Diversify the people your child admires: seek Black health care providers and activities with Black leaders. Buy Black dolls. Choose books and shows with joyful Black protagonists – characters who are not enslaved, not servants, who do not hate their own appearances, who are not portrayed as victims and who do not require “saving” – characters whom your children would be proud to emulate. Older kids do need to learn about historical racism. But even more importantly, during their formative years, kids need to directly see and experience people of all races as true equals and aspirational role models.
14. I will bring Black people into positions of power. Ensure your workplace recruits, hires and promotes qualified Black people – and pay them generously, since research shows managers choose to pay Black women just 62 cents to every dollar they’d pay a White man for the same work. Ask your employer to provide anti-oppression training. Treat Black coworkers with appropriate respect, including introducing them using their full job titles and accolades. If you’re invited to speak on, or attend, an all-White panel, suggest qualified people of color to add to the lineup. All workers have some influence, even if unofficial, over the success of their colleagues. Leverage your influence to boost the trajectories of Black colleagues by highlighting their strengths and suggesting them for advancement. Equitably distributing professional power is one of the most valuable acts of allyship.
15. I will accept discomfort. When discussing racism, defensive reactions are common, especially for beginners. These feelings will become more manageable with repeated exposure and deeper understanding. When emotions arise, resist the urge to react immediately. Sit with discomfort. Consider what status quo your feelings could be helping to maintain. Do not allow your discomfort to silence or sidetrack important conversations. Anti-racism work is often uncomfortable; luckily, discomfort won’t kill us.
16. I will work to change policies. Systemic racism is infinitely more damaging than interpersonal racism. So, while it’s nice to adjust our personal beliefs, it’s more important to remember that anti-racism work isn’t about changing hearts – it’s about changing systems.
It’s crucial that we take concrete actions that equitably redistribute money and power. Some examples include promoting BIPOC into leadership roles, so organizational decisions better reflect the community; publicizing correct voting information in the most diverse neighborhoods you can reach; or creating a donation campaign to support a Black-led anti-racism or community organization.
Consider researching and sharing resources to help neighbors de-escalate conflicts without law enforcement, or pressuring leaders to reduce the budgets of police departments so that more funding is available for community services or mobilizing your friends to write the flood of emails that convince a politician to change a harmful policy.
17. I will donate money. Find the nearest chapter of a large, Black-led organization that’s working to increase equity for Black and racialized people and donate generously. Support decriminalization and amnesty for minor cannabis charges, abolishment of cash bail, vocal boycotts of companies that use prison labor, and the dismantling of unfair voter ID laws. Agitate for police funding reallocation and police accountability. Contribute time and money to these causes, and set your donations to recur monthly, because dismantling anti-Blackness and racism is a long-haul task.
18. I will sustain this energy. It should not take another videotaped death to motivate anti-racist action. These injustices are ongoing, so the work to bring justice must be ongoing as well.
Anti-racism work is not a means of personal self-improvement. The goal is not for each individual to become more loving or more “tolerant”. Anti-racism work must be a series of concrete actions that measurably shift power and money into a more equitable distribution. We need to dismantle unbalanced systems and rebuild them fairly. Every one of us has the ability to write to our leaders, to motivate our employers, to add our voices to this revolution, to protest and fight for actual change. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. urged, we must never put the pursuit of peace above the pursuit of justice.
This is an electrified time in world history, and 2020 will be remembered and studied as a time of tremendous upheaval and positive rebellion. We all have the opportunity to join in this surge against the injustice of anti-Black racism, and meaningfully change the systems around us. The civil rights movement is still happening today. Participate in it: with your body. With your dollars. With your actions.