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To achieve diversity, we have to be willing to do things differently. The systems that have been in place for centuries have disadvantaged people of color disproportionately over white people. These systems have bias baked into them, often so commonplace that we do not question the non-inclusive norms and assumptions that these systems create.
Due to redlining maintaining segregation to the spillover effects of property taxes funding education, there are disparate outcomes for people of color in housing, education and healthcare systems still today. These lead to perpetual inequity on display often witnessed in more nuanced assumptions. For example, this could show up in everyday interactions questioning someone’s qualifications based on the color of their skin to calling someone a “diversity hire” because they are not white.
Nearly three years following the tumultuous racial justice surge of 2020, people of color are understandably tired of having the same conversation with white people about these systemic issues. Even worse, the performative acts of allyship such as showing up at a Black Lives Matter protest without doing additional work, quoting a well-known person of color leader without context or celebrating Black history in February and forgetting about it the rest of the year tend to be more harmful than helpful.
To try to be better allies to people of color, white people need to disrupt the status quo. This might push up against the systems that benefit them as white people. Examples of this might include advocating for reparations that could increase your own taxes, choosing to live in a diverse neighborhood even if the education is not as well-funded as in white neighboring communities or advocating for people of color over causes that people like you might benefit from directly.
This might feel tricky as a “want to be” ally. Centuries of inequality will not be solved overnight. If racial equality were easy, it would be done already. As it stands, white people have retreated from the conversation about racism at the time issues impacting people of color are most at stake such as affirmative action and policing reform.
Rather than self-proclaim to be an ally, allyship is best seen in the eye of the beholder. Although there is no one-and-done, check-the-box approach to allyship, to be a better ally to people of color it’s important to challenge, disrupt and proactively engage in antiracism conversations year-round, not just during Black History Month.
Challenge non-inclusive norms
When people make assumptions about people of color without substantiated evidence, it’s fair to challenge those assumptions. Unfortunately, it is commonplace for people of color to have their qualifications questioned or for them to be mistakenly misidentified in lower-level or administrative roles (even when they are leaders). To demonstrate allyship through action, it is important to say something when you see something unfair.
The most common allyship motivator is a sense of fairness according to the Change Catalyst State of Allyship Report. If a sense of fairness is a motivator for you, think about how you could channel that for good as an ally. Keep your radar up for non-inclusive behavior and question false assumptions when you see them. Most people have good intentions even when they make mistakes. It’s unfair to expect people of color to have to do all the emotional labor to bring up these issues. This emotional labor of watching out for inequity and elevating awareness over time disrupts the status quo.
Disrupt the status quo
Maintaining the status quo is one of the most powerful reinforcements of white supremacy. Statements like, “This is the way we’ve always done it” or “Be patient, change will come” minimize the problem and placate people of color and allies into inactivity. The status quo can only be changed through collective action, not solely through individual actions. Unfortunately, the burden of disrupting the status quo has largely fallen on people of color to solve the problems they didn’t create.
When white people join as allies with people of color it signifies solidarity. Rather than the divide and conquer strategy and the “us vs. them” mindset, there is strength in numbers. Only together can we mobilize upward to disrupt the systems holding us all back. Heather McGhee found in her research for The Sum of Us that white people are also adversely affected by racism. Classism and division of resources rather than sharing resources harm all humans.
Challenging norms that treat people differently based on skin color or advocating for systemic issues in healthcare and education systems are tangible ways to disrupt the status quo.
Proactively engage in healthy conflict conversations
People fear what they often don’t understand. The gap between what you don’t know and what you do know is curiosity. To have a healthy conflict conversation about difficult issues like racism, it is essential to stay curious. Conflict is necessary for positive change. we need more white allies to be able to engage in healthy conflict conversations for racial equality. White people are more likely to be in positions of power and have more access to wealth.
Having access to power and wealth is a positive thing as an ally, as long as it is used for good. Allyship is not about being a “savior” or using a “power over” approach. Rather, it is sharing the power together and a “power with” approach. To have an effective conversation about race, stay in the curious mindset, ask more questions than state assertions and have your facts ready to dispute falsehoods and assumptions.
The status quo is the enemy of diversity and inclusion. Black history should be celebrated year-round, not just in February. Leaders that lead inclusively practice the power of challenging non-inclusive norms, disrupting the status quo and proactively engaging in healthy conflict conversations.