A white woman in one of my recent workshops asked what whites can do so BIPOC folks don’t always have to be the ones to tell their stories in order for white people to finally get it. I’ve pondered over this question for years because it is a dilemma facing BIPOC folks each time there is a diversity workshop. The most common answer I hear from BIPOC folks to whites is: go educate yourself, read a book or figure it out yourself. On the surface, this seems reasonable enough, but I have yet to witness hordes of white folks immediately running out to the library to educate themselves, let alone having long, honest discussions with other whites on white privilege, fragility or superiority.
So, what can whites do so BIPOC folks don’t have to be the only ones to share their stories and struggles? I came up with suggestions that I’ve heard in my workshops from BIPOC participants about what whites can immediately do.
- Speak up when you see or hear something that is discriminatory. Don’t just leave it up to BIPOC folks to be the first to have to speak up or to notice what just transpired.
- Get emotional. Show your outrage and anger when discrimination happens. Stop being casual witnesses and detached observers.
- Stop pretending you don’t know what’s happening. Ask questions! Look around you! Notice disparities in power, positions and pay differentials and then say/do something about it.
- Talk to your white friends and colleagues about racism, sexism and other discriminatory issues. Initiate the conversation. Don’t run away or give up because it gets uncomfortable when they get upset with you or become defensive. Welcome to the pain.
- Support BIPOC folks by being curious. Ask lots of questions such as: What I heard you say was… or, tell me more about what happened, what angered you about what happened? What hurt you about what happened? What was familiar about what happened? What do you need or want? Remember, curiosity is the gateway to empathy.
- Stop saying, “I’m sorry that happened to you.” Be moved by what has happened to BIPOC folks and then act as an ally by asking them what you can do to interrupt and unlearn discrimination.
- Stay with the process. Don’t rush to a solution or trying to always define what has occurred. Be a good listener and practice how to respond with compassion and caring.
- Remember, whenever you don’t say or do something when witnessing discrimination, someone always pays a price for your silence
- Don’t wait until you can find the words, it’ll come to you. For example, if someone discriminates against your son or daughter, your grandparents, mother or father, you’d immediately do something.
There is an old Jewish saying: “If not you, then who? If not now, then when?”