In the last month since George Floyd’s death, people across the United States have started to look more critically at how we deal with race and incorporate anti-racism into our everyday lives. But one of the biggest challenges we’re running into is white people getting it wrong. We’re diving into why that’s happening and how to do better.
It can be exhausting for many black people in this moment to hear from their nonblack friends, particularly friends who have been racist or complicit.
“It’s not a black person’s job to teach white people about racism because they just showed up to the party,” says Tiffany Hunter, a professional hairstylist in Austin. ”I have about 70 unread texts right now … I don’t have the room for it. I can’t answer the same question over and over again.”
Hunter has been vocal about her frustration with her white friends, and a lot of black people feel the same way.
“We’re definitely in a moment where everyone is asking black and brown people for advice and resources,” says writer Nicole Nfonoyim-Hara. In 2016, she created the Rochester Racial Justice Toolkit for her Minnesota community after the shooting death of Philando Castile. But back then, no one really cared about it.
“Really, though? Now you want to talk about it?” she says.
For Nfonoyim-Hara, this moment is reminder of when the Black Lives Matter movement first started. “I felt like that was like a whole summer where people were dying … And then there was silence … Are you going to turn this off after it stops becoming trendy?”
“I’ve experienced a lot that I’ve suppressed my entire life,” says Hunter. “Because nobody seemed to care until I mean, what was it, two weeks ago?”
Nobody likes to hear how bad they are at something, especially when it comes to racism. But in reality, the only way to truly evolve as an anti-racist is to learn how to take criticism.
Jump ahead to the noted time stamp if you want to go straight to one of these tips.
“You will be checked,” says Laura Smith, a professor of psychology and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College.
“Absolutely no crying,” she says. “That is experienced as oppressive by people of color who actually have just done you a favor by going out of their way to give you some feedback.”
Smith says that people of color have to calculate a cost-benefit analysis when it comes to confronting a white person about race. ”That person just took a gamble that you’re going to rise to the occasion and meet them there.”
Take a more critical look at what informs your worldview and why it’s so easy to assume that people who don’t look like you share your perspective.
“White people, in particular, associate racism with being kind of the overtly bad acts,” says Smith. “But in fact, some of the manifestations of racism that are the most resilient are part of what white people call normal. White people’s idea of normal is actually a cultural context characterized by whiteness.”
Smith suggests educating yourself about what whiteness is, including where whiteness resides in everyday life, assumptions and practices. Think about how that results in living-while-black scenarios.
A great way to educate yourself is to read books and reliable online sources, like Nfonoyim-Hara’s tool kit.
“I love to see people taking initiative to educate their friends, put things on the Internet,” says Tiffany Hunter. “It is the biggest source of information that we have.”
“I saw a lot of people I know that haven’t said a word, hadn’t posted anything before, that I know personally have been racist — and then you want to post a black square on Blackout Tuesday? That’s not it. That’s not the point,” says Hunter.
Laura Smith describes performative support as actions that go along with being an ally. “But yet there isn’t that sort of life long look toward changing the way that we are in the world.”
Smith says that if the first thing you did was post a black square on Blackout Tuesday, “make sure that for you it’s a first step.”
If you’re still trying to figure out your next step, start by bringing up racism at home.
“Not so much with your black friends and colleagues who are kind of exhausted right now,” says Smith. “They’re trying to survive. But in your white networks.”
“Part of the problem has been that white people don’t talk about these issues,” says Nfonoyim-Hara. “You should talk to your own white family and friends and community members about all that’s going on.”
Finally, Nfonoyim-Hara wants everyone to remember that anti-racism is a lifelong commitment. “The struggle is not going to end overnight.”
“Black people have been surviving racism for their whole lives,” says Smith. “Be about doing the work and taking up your role in helping push the movement forward.”
“The New Normal” is a series from The Lily and The Washington Post that talks about how to adjust to our new way of life, hosted by Nicole Ellis.