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Unpacking Racism & How to Be an Ally

A few weeks ago, we held an in-depth Torch Talk hosted by Julie Kratz about understanding racism and learning how to be an ally.

As the country begins to have more conversations about race and how to confront racism, it is essential that we all have our own conversations with our own families and work places. The first step in being an ally is understanding racism, privilege, how these things still greatly impact our society, and how we can stand up against them. Julie Kratz unpacked these complicated topics in her Torch Talk, and facilitated a strong discussion. Here are some highlights from her presentation.

We All Play A Role

Julie pointed out at the beginning of her presentation that we all play a role in this movement. We are all involved, and need to keep educating ourselves. Most people have some degree of privilege, and some degree of racial bias, and it is essential that we understand what that means.

Racism is a spectrum. Most people have good intentions, but some people make mistakes along the way. “We’re not saying there’s bad people and good people. There are a lot of people in this murky middle trying to figure this out,” Julie explained.

What is White Privilege?

Lots of people get immediately defensive when they hear the term “white privilege.” But white privilege does not mean your life is not hard, it means your life is not made harder because of your race. Many people have some degree of privilege (white privilege, male privilege, privilege of having parents who went to college, privilege of not living in poverty, etc), it doesn’t mean you have a “free pass.” The important thing is that you realize and reflect on your privilege, and then watch your behavior.

As Julie described, “All these things that people of color have to think about proactively, I’ve never had that conversation. Nobody’s ever had to have that conversation with me. I have privilege.”

Racism is Not Getting Better or Going Away

Some people claim that we are in a post-racist era. This is not true. There are still countless examples of systems that work against people of color and support white communities. Here are some examples that you can Google for more information:

  • Redlining limits where people of color are able to live and what communities they can be a part of.
  • Food deserts prohibit communities of color from being able to access fresh, healthy food.
  • War on Drugs/ Drug laws overwhelmingly target people of color, especially black men.
  • Voter registration laws and restrictions in going to the polls make it harder for people of color to be able to vote.

What are Micro-Aggressions?

These are unhelpful behaviors that support racism. People of color experience comments and assumptions that are based in racial bias constantly throughout their lives, and many white people do not even realize they are committing a micro-aggression. Many of these behaviors come from a place of good intentions, but they do support racism and therefore need to be addressed.

  • Hair touching/commenting
  • Assumptions about one’s interests
  • Assumptions about one’s qualifications
  • “You act white”

How to Respond to Micro-Aggressions When You See Them:

  • Ask “what did you mean by that?” The person may stop and question themselves and say something like “I didn’t mean it like that!” and realize their behavior.
  • If they are still confused, you can say “well, my perception of your behavior when you said that was _____. Is that what you intended?”
  • As an ally, you don’t necessarily have to call out behavior by saying “you’re racist.” Often that will lead to the person being very defensive and unwilling to learn.

Whiteness is the Standard

In the US, typically “white” characteristics (hair, interests, way of speaking) are considered the standard, and anyone who doesn’t conform to these characteristics is seen as an outsider. This is especially true in all professional fields that lack diversity, like corporate workplaces, academia, and more.

What Should I Do Now?

Continue educating yourself! Here are some tips:

  • Take a racial bias test to start thinking about your own internalized bias and privilege.
  • Look into a Privilege Walk online. You can also do this with your organization.
  • Have hard conversations with your family and friends who may not have a good understanding of how to be anti-racist.
  • Continue to educate yourself by reading books and articles, watching documentaries, and looking up terms that you aren’t familiar with. Look into writers like Dolly Chugh and Ibram Kendi.
  • Here are some terms to continue researching: red lining, white supremacy, intersectionality, war on drugs, whitesplaining.

Let’s continue to have conversations about race and social justice, and continue learning and educating ourselves!

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