How To Be The White Friend

This Black Lives Matter movement and the Amherst Uprising are both powerful responses to systematic injustices and serious offenses. Clearly, there is a need for change in this country and that change cannot be exclusively the responsibility of black people, as Thurston made clear in How to be Black. There need to be allies who are not black fighting for the cause. My question to you all is what does a good ally do? It’s a question I think a lot about in terms of men and their role in feminism. I want to think now about the role of non-black people in anti-racist projects. So, in the spirit of Baratunde Thurston, here’s my guide to being the “White Friend.”

Dos:

  • Listen to the perspectives of black people and their experiences
  • Show up: come to discussions, protests, and events. Racial issues matter for everyone
  • Read a newspaper other than the Wall Street Journal
  • Learn to pronounce your black friends’ names
  • Acknowledge the wages of whiteness
  • Join diverse communities: your kid might be better off if there school has more than 3 black people!
  • Tell other white people not to be racist
  • Be an actual ally, not just someone who posts shit on Facebook

Don’ts:

  • Dominate or take over a discussion about race
  • Know how many black friends you have off the top of your head
  • Touch your black friends hair without their permission
  • Claim that you’re not racist so you aren’t responsible for dealing with systematic racism
  • Tell racist jokes (even if you think they are really funny!)
  • Assume all black people are criminals
  • Try to compare your experience to the experience of being black. It’s not the same thing.
  • Tell your black friends they seem like they are white when their grammar is impeccable
  • Join the KKK
  • Use your black friends to try to seem cool or “diverse”
  • Dismiss microaggressions as someone being too sensitive
  • Trust a guide about being a good ally to black people that was written by a white girl. You should rely on your “Black Friend” for this kind of thing. Your black friend is used to speaking for all black people.
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4 thoughts on “How To Be The White Friend

  1. On the topic of not doing things like telling your black friends that they ”seem white” because of their impeccable grammar, there is also the issue of not using the behavior of a black friend that use that same rhetoric to define their own actions to disregard attention to your own behavior. My personal experience has very occasionally been of highly educated high school students of color saying things like that they “acted really white”. It is unlikely that anyone conscious of racial issues would use this as an excuse to stop thinking about the way that such rhetoric is harmful, but I thought it was worth adding. In summary, using one’s brain is an excellent start to being a good ally. A bit of humor doesn’t hurt either.

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  2. To add to the list of Don’ts: Defend how hard it is being white in these conversations

    Since the Sit-In, I’ve been involved in many dialogues on campus reflecting on each person’s experience and perspective–with teammates, in classes, in club meetings, office hours, at Val tables, etc. One common theme that emerged from people defending how little time they spent in Frost over the four days of the Uprising was the discomfort and difficulty of not being a minority in these discussions. As one teammate so aptly put, “that seems like a YOU problem.” Your lack of preparation and education on the language to use or avoid is not anyone else’s fault. In fact, it’s a stronger statement about your complacency with the very inequities these discussions aim to alleviate.

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  3. Simply put, this is dope. Firstly, thank you! Secondly, I may take advice from you, here on out – the lists are on point! Since the uprising I have had a lot more white friends become the “ideal white friend” in reference to race. A lot more guys have been present. I think being present is the first step. If you show up, the rest will come! Think of race as a class, here at Amherst. You have to first show up. Once you show up, you can listen and take notes. Once you leave class you will have notes to study and content to speak on with other classmates. The notes, conversations and learning all could not occur without showing up. So many people were changed, forever, because of what they heard in Frost over that four-day span. The problem is that they had heard all of these things for the first time – they had never been present. I am hopeful that you, myself, and everyone else will continue to encourage others to simply be present.

    So, I encourage you to keep showing up. Keep putting yourself in vulnerable spaces. Learn something. Then go forth, and encourage others to show up. I am hopeful that Amherst has changed for the better, and this uprising has definitely equipped more white people with the tools to be “The White Friend”.

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  4. Honestly, I really appreciate this post because it demonstrates some of what it will take to bridge the gap between black and white people. I also love your post because all of the things listed in your “Dos” section are so easy to do but, will make such a big difference. My favorite of them all was “Learn to pronounce your black friends’ name”. It is something I have had to deal with my whole life. Although, it is always funny hearing the different variations of Adinkra, I have started to get tired of correcting white people, especially, my white friends. It think Amherst Uprising has opened up the eyes of a lot of my white peers. Hopefully, we continue to grow as a community and learn how to be allies with one another. Great work!

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