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So You Want to be an Ally? A Guide for Processing and Responding to Racial Injustice as a White Student at Greenwich Academy

The recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and others are deeply upsetting and disturbing to us all.

The nationwide responses to their deaths have also been hard to process.

As a non-black student, you may feel shocked, overwhelmed, angry, sad, helpless, uncomfortable, defensive, worried, or confused. These reactions are completely normal. The events that have occurred are deeply upsetting.

This resource exists to help you process those feelings, and act on them in an effective way through anti-racism. Just as we are learning and growing, this website is constantly evolving to become a more effective tool.

What is Anti-Racist Allyship?

Practicing allyship means that you take on the issue of "oppression as your own, even though you'll never truly know the damage that it does" (Ben O'Keefe). Think of it as a verb, rather than a noun. Importantly, allyship is something we constantly strive towards.

It isn't actually up to us to decide if we are allies, because we never really "arrive" at allyship. Instead, it is something that we must continuously prove and improve.

When you strive towards allyship, you're committing to becoming antiracist. This is more than being "not-racist." Instead, it means you're making the "ongoing decision to uproot the ways racism exists in our world and in ourselves" (Andréa Ranae).

"Racism in ourselves"? What do you mean? I'm not racist.

The word racist, as we often understand it, is a loaded word that carries moral judgements about a person's character. How can it apply to well-meaning, kind people? To dive a little deeper into this, let's take a look at the below video by author Robin DiAngelo.

As a result of being raised as a white person in this society, I have a racist world view... It is an inevitable result of being raised in a society in which racism is the bedrock. - Robin DiAngelo

Like Robin DiAngelo says, white people often don't notice the ways in which they can be racist or the ways in which they benefit from their whiteness. To them, that's just their everyday life. White Privilege is an inherent advantage that white people have, based on their race, in a society characterized by racial inequality and injustice.

Having white privilege doesn't mean white people's lives are not difficult, or that they are immune to hardship. It just means that they have a benefit or advantage simply because they were born white.

Graphic by Courtney Ahn

What does white privilege look like in action?

Consider this: as a white person, you can go for a jog without thinking twice. If you're a woman, this run might be a little more complicated for you than it would be for a man. Perhaps you feel watched by men as you run. Maybe you feel uncomfortable and change your route.

For Black people, though, going for a run may mean losing their life. In February, a black man named Ahmaud Arbery was killed by two white men while jogging. Because of their biases and learned racism, the white men perceived a Black man running as dangerous, and shot him. All Ahmaud was doing was exercising.

It would never occur to a white person that going for a jog would be fatal. Black people do not have this privilege.

What about other people of color?

Some non-black people of color have the privilege of jogging without fear. They may benefit from their proximity to whiteness, or distance from blackness. However, they do not have some advantages afforded to white people. For example, non-black POC may be asked by others to prove that they are American, while it is assumed that white people in America were born there. Comments like this are called microaggressions.

Though white people can empathize, because of their white privilege, they'll never truly "get it." They can't know what Black people and other POC experience. In the same vein, men don't fully "get" the challenges women face. People whose parents are married don't "get" what it is like to have divorced parents. The list goes on.

What we can all do, though, is be antiracist in the interest of Black people, people of color, and other oppressed groups more generally.

How Do We Strive Towards Allyship?

Graphic by Danielle Coke

Remember, allyship is something work towards; it's a journey. People of Color are the ones who decide if we are truly allies. Here are some guidelines for what this process could look like.

  1. Listen to people of color more than you speak.
  2. Educate yourself on issues of race rather than asking or expecting people of color to do this for you (it's as easy as Googling it!).
  3. Acknowledge your privilege, and work through your feelings by talking about them with other white people, or journaling if that's your style. Do not put your feelings on people of color, as they're already dealing with a lot.
  4. Call out racism when you see it, especially when you see it in your friends, family, and yourself. It helps to know why certain terms or comments are racist, so read up on your history!
  5. Amplify the voices of people of color. Share their art, work, and articles. Right now, that means centering Black voices, and also Black joy; the Black community is so much more than their pain.
  6. Accept the fact you'll make mistakes. That's okay. Be coachable. Repair the harm and move forward. Do not let slip-ups keep you from continuing to practice allyship.
  7. Support the community that is hurting in "behind the scenes" or non-optical ways. Listen to a podcast, talk about racism with your family, make a donation to a local organization, follow activists on social media, buy from POC-owned businesses, call your elected official about an issue that affects people of color. Posting on social media is not your only outlet.
  8. Examine your own life, privilege, and whiteness. Ask yourself: how do I contribute to racism and white supremacy? Then ask: how can I use my privilege to uplift POC voices, and target racism in my own community?
  9. Do this work because it makes the world safer and fairer, not to get validated by people of color. There should be no expectation that people of color will thank you.
  10. Persevere when the outrage dies down. Allyship is something we do continuously.
Graphic by Danielle Coke

Acknowledging Privilege is Uncomfortable

When you're practicing allyship, being uncomfortable is actually a good thing. It means you're doing the work.

Addressing our own wrongdoing, advantage, and power often makes us feel bad. The work is difficult and deeply personal. It isn't "Instagrammable" (Sonia Gupta). Do not let discomfort, feelings of guilt, or worry that you'll say or do the wrong thing stop you from taking on anti-racism.

Where do I start?

The work starts with you! And in a world where there is a lot we can't control, we can control the ways that we educate ourselves and what we do with that knowledge. Writer Rachel Cargle calls this work "unlearning" as it challenges a lot of the biases and histories we have been unconsciously taught.

In order to make sense of the events of the last few weeks, we must look back to understand the history of race in the United States and beyond. These resources are here for you to explore.

Books for Students

Action Item: Go order a few of these books from a local book store, or get them from the library.

Non-Fiction

White Privilege by M.T. Blackmore

Obviously, Stories from My Timeline by Akilah Hughes

We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Discovering Wes Moore by Wes Moore

A Few Drops of Red: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 by Clare Hartfield

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

March: Book One by Jon Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Illustrated by Nate Powell

The Self-Love Revolution by Virgie Tovar

Stamped; Racism, Anti-Racism and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X.Kendi

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blackmon Lowery

In The Shadow of Liberty by Kenneth C. Davis

Fiction

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

Black Boy, White School by Brian F.Walker

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Electric Arches by Eve Ewing

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

I’m Not Dying With You Tonight by Gilly Segal & Kimberly Jones

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

Podcasts

Action Item: Download an episode on your phone. Listen next time you're on a walk or folding laundry, and send to a friend, too!

Movies and TV

Action Item: Check these out for your next family movie night. Make sure to discuss with your family after.

TED Talks and Lectures

Action Item: Set a reminder in your calendar to watch these 3 videos. Hold yourself to this commitment.

Businesses to Support

Action Item: Order dinner from a Black-owned restaurant in your area. Here are some in Fairfield County.
Photo from @reflective.peaches

Conversations with Friends and Family

Talking about these issues with loved ones can be daunting, but it is perhaps the most crucial thing we can do as anti-racists. It is up to non-black people, and especially white people, to fix this problem. We are responsible for transforming our own communities. But what do these conversations actually look like?

Action Item: Start the conversation off with one of these phrases.
  1. "Have you seen the news? Let's discuss what it means."
  2. "I noticed you posted a black box in support of Black Lives Matter on Instagram. Can we talk about that?"
  3. "It bothers me when you make comments like that. Can I tell you why?"
  4. "I want to figure out a plan for how our family can commit to anti-racist work."
  5. "As a family, I know we really value _______. I see that as fundamental in antiracism work."
  6. "The Greenwich Library has unlimited editions of "White Fragility" on e-Book. Can we read this together?'
  7. Send an article and set a time to discuss it. See the below example.
Example of a fruitful family conversation courtesy of Rachele Merliss

Guiding Ideas for These Conversations

Adapted from Jen Winston's "How to Talk to Your Family About Racism"

  • Use "I" statements.
  • It often helps to explain the difference between intent and impact. We don't intend to be racist, but our words and actions often perpetuate racism.
  • Use a tone that maximizes effectiveness. You may be angry, but you want your message to get through to your audience.
  • Tell stories of your own privilege. How has white privilege protected you?
  • Share the mistakes you've made. Explain why your actions were wrong.
  • Give your family and friends lots of opportunities to ask questions. If you don't know the answer, say so, and seek it out together.
  • Host a little book club. Send out a relevant news article to your loved ones. Read and discuss! Invite Grandma and Grandpa to join you on Zoom.
  • Keep asking: why do you think that is? Eventually, the answer you'll get to is racism.
  • At first, it may help to focus your energies into a single topic: Black hair, cultural appropriation, the prison system, representation, affirmative action. If you can get them to change their thinking on one thing, you'll have common ground for future conversations.
Most importantly though, these conversations are about whiteness, white privilege, and white people. The problem is ours, and ours to fix. Take a look at the below video to understand why.

Did the above video make you feel uncomfortable? Remember, discomfort means you're doing the work. The hardest conversations are the most important ones.

Lastly, when the hashtags die down, keep at it!

This resource is just the beginning, so keep doing the work! Continuously striving towards effective allyship is the best way to show you care, and the only way to help make our world safer and fairer. If you need to talk about what you're doing or learning, or need more resources, reach out to a trusted adult.

Other questions you might have

This resource is far from perfect, and serves only as a starting point for anti-racism work. It is however, a living document, so as we grow and learn, this site evolves accordingly. We must constantly challenge our allyship. If you have questions or suggestions to make this site a more effective tool, please reach out to agomberoff@greenwichacademy.org

This site was compiled by Ms. Gomberoff, a white educator at Greenwich Academy's Lower School. She too is learning, and making a lot of mistakes. None of the content is original, and owes everything to the anti-racist scholarship of authors of color. This project consulted the works of Ben O'Keefe, Andrea Ranae, Rachel Cargle, Joseph Oteng, Emily Stewart, Elizabeth Denevi, Beverly Tatum, Dolly Chugh, Courtney Ahn, Danielle Coke, Robin DiAngelo, Ibram X Kendi, Sonya Renne Taylor, Jen Winston, Sonia Gupta, Roberta Lee, and Verna Myers.

Special thanks to Ms. Strong, Ms. Kennedy, Ms. Gawad, and Ms. Mifflin for their partnership.

Credits:

Created with images by Isaiah Rustad - "Justice Now" • Ed Robertson - "Captured on Portobello Road, London" • Melanie Pongratz - "untitled image" • Andrea Tummons - "untitled image"