We are living in a fraught, historic time and right now it feels nearly impossible to think about anything save the unrest that grips the nation and the onslaught of dangers that beset black Americans and other systemically disenfranchised minorities. As a member of the privileged white middle class, I make a less than compelling mouthpiece for an education on the inherently racist infrastructure that undergirds much of American society. Fortunately, I can point you towards others who are better suited to that role.
First, I cannot recommend We Were Eight Years in Power highly enough. Primarily a collection of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Obama-era essays, We Were Eight Years in Power inspects blackness in America in a way that is sobering and invigorating and which I found to be extremely illuminating. Each of the book’s eight essays is prefaced with a reflection on the piece written by Coates shortly before the book’s 2017 publication and Coates’ insight in both the essays and those reflections feels especially prescient now.
Second is an opinion piece by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who, in addition to being an incredible athlete is an incredibly thoughtful activist and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Abdul-Jabbar clearly articulates the omnipresent but oft invisible racism that is latent in our nation’s existence and how it endangers every black American, no matter their background, location or activity. He wonders, with the wisdom of experience, “if it should be all black people who wear body cams, not the cops.”
Last, I’ll recommend this discussion on how to be a white ally. That entire post is filled with sage guidance, including the following section from Ben O’Keefe which is something that every white person should internalize and then share with every other white person that they know. As O’Keefe points out, we’re all in this together and for those of us with privilege that means using our privilege for the benefit of others. I’ll leave you with his words:
One thing that I’ll add as we’re talking about allyship is that part of being an ally is taking a deep breath and getting past the shame and the guilt that you’re carrying, because white people who are alive today did not create racism. They didn’t choose to live in a white supremacist country, and they didn’t choose to exist in the world that we do today. But what they can do is choose to admit that they benefit from racism and acknowledge that they have the power to change the conditions, and that’s crucial, because this isn’t a blame game.
When we have frank conversations about black lives and the role that every white person plays in systemic oppression, it’s not an insult, it’s not an attack, it’s a reality. And so we can ignore reality or we can face reality, because only when we face that — only when we give ourselves permission to forgive ourselves, to look forward from this day forward for permission to become better partners and co-conspirators in the movement, permission to educate yourself, permission to grow — that is being a good ally. We don’t need you to carry the burden of your privilege. We need you acknowledge it and to use your privilege, promote good, and to fight oppression.