White People, If Talking About Racism Makes You Uncomfortable; Good. Embrace That Discomfort!
If you want to help end racism you have to be willing to get messy
The wide-spread protests and reactions to racism and police violence against Black people has invigorated the national conversation about race. While there appears to be more recent support in some form from a more diverse swath of people, there is still much to be done. Aside from posting the occasional meme on social media or making a charitable donation, many well-meaning white people have a hard time making a meaningful impact against racism because of how uncomfortable it makes them feel to talk about it. However, that discomfort is something that should be embraced, as it actually serves as a portal to greater understanding and allyship.
Nobody likes to appear stupid or silly. Many white people shy away from doing more than dipping their big toe into conversations and engagement on matters of race and racism because of an overwhelming fear they might say or do the wrong thing. Sadly, this is a major reason why so many efforts stall before they can ever get off the ground and make real and lasting changes.
It’s so important to not let fear or ego prevent engagement. It’s easier said than done but becoming comfortable with discomfort regarding racism is an important step towards becoming an effective ally. Instead of taking the easy way out and choosing to remain silent to avoid being cast in a self-perceived unflattering light, throw your cards on the table and sit down with an open mind.
There is no requisite to know everything or even much at all when it comes to racism. A willingness to listen, especially before speaking, and an openness to sharing one’s true self are the keys to truly enter the conversation. If you say or do the wrong things, you’ll learn. If you say nothing, you’ll learn nothing and you’ll contribute even less.
It’s so unfortunate that there aren’t more white people willing to give themselves to vulnerability and really seek to become effective allies against racism. Vulnerability is certainly not easy but it’s a fight worth becoming part of. The concept of white privilege is sometimes derided but there are few places where it is so clearly on display. Not wanting to invite possible negative emotions or place themselves outside of comfort zones, white people construct narratives that conflate having Black friends, sharing supporting messages on Facebook; and “not seeing color” with doing enough. However, that’s not adequate; not by a long shot.
Those who experience racism should not have to bear the burden of doing the heavy lifting by themselves when it comes to combating it. It’s a war not entirely unlike other conflicts that have plagued the world over the years. Like those, collaboration and shared goals are the most effective ways of winning.
Racism is an impossibly long and winding knot where the work to overcome it will never be completed. The more people are willing to work against it and do so in meaningful ways will serve to negate its horrible power. White people need to step up to the plate and shoulder their share of this mess. The first step in joining the fray is embracing discomfort and understanding that is all part of reaching a larger, more positive goal to help turn them into allies in a fight that needs as many people on the side of right as possible.