Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Views on White Allyship from a Person of Color

by Stefanie Tsosie
you can visit her blog here:

Here it is. I've had some people ask me before about how white people can help with anything. This is what I came up with. Enjoy!

Rule number one: Step off.

Sometimes I think it’s nearly impossible for some white people to just chill out and not lead any groups, not spearhead any activities, or to not go out and teach people the ways of whatever culture they just learned about. We don’t need that. WE can do that. That’s what we WANT to do. Rather, you’d be much more helpful by just sitting back and stepping up when we ask for help. 500 years of colonial leadership got us in this situation in the first place, so why would we want that same power to lead our movement for community empowerment?

Rule number two: Ask people directly about what you can do.

Instead of telling others what they should do, or expressing opinions on how communities can fix themselves, why don’t you ask THEM what THEY NEED. You’d be surprised to know that most communities already know what they need and they know what makes them thrive. We don’t need 5,000 copies of Ayn Rand that you collected from your whatever drive (although if it’s a cold winter, we’ll take them!). My suggestion is to find an organization or community you’re interested in and care about and contact them to see what they need. Don’t approach communities with your ideas because they’ll probably get shot down. Also, keep in mind that ‘your part’ can be big or small. Some communities may want you to attend a rally, or to gather resources for an event. Others might simply ask you to help them by changing a part of your daily routine (ie. don’t shop at this store because the owner is doing x, y,z). Those types of contributions are okay. As long as you asked, and as long as you follow through, your contribution will not go unrecognized.

Rule number three: Don’t get butthurt.

You will be excluded from some things. You will feel left out sometimes. You will get made fun of and laughed at sometimes. But don’t get butthurt and say we hate white people and we’re racist.

It’s not racist.

And if you don’t understand that, then this isn’t the first thing you need to be doing to help out other communities. Instead, you need to educate yourself on race and power structures. Unless you do that first, you’re doing everybody a disservice. Please understand that although you are an integral part in helping communities get recognition/sovereignty/rights/resources, etc, you are not a part of the grassroots constituency served.

Rule number four: Don’t go blabbing to your friends about how cool you are because you’ve joined the ‘movement.’

It’s not your movement. It’s our movement. And don’t join it to impress other people. We expect people to be committed. Not only to whatever movement it is, but also to education, empowerment, and understanding. People that blab are the ones that set up ‘Warrior Camps’ and ‘Sweatlodges’ and think they ‘Know the way of the Indians.’ You may appear to be cool to your friends by wearing your ‘spirit object’ around your neck, but to us you just look like a jackass. The other thing that happens when you start talking to other people, is that sometimes people get misconceptions and don’t fully understand what community empowerment is. See rule number five.

Rule number five: Refer interested people/parties to the organization or community itself.

The second biggest problem to white people taking over movements started by communities of color, is white people speaking on behalf of those same communities. First off, it makes us look like we can’t speak for ourselves, which is just offensive. Secondly, we want to be the ones to finally educate others properly on issues that we think are important. Why would you take that away from us? That would take us back to square one. Thirdly, this always leads to bad news. Like whities dying in sweat lodges constructed out of noxious plastic.

So whether it’s a media representative at a rally, or an inquiring friend, ALWAYS refer them to speak with a representative from the organization/community. We know how to tell our stories best.

Rule number six: Educate yourself and be aware of your surroundings.

If you don’t understand something, just ask. Most people are more than willing to impart knowledge of why they’re pissed at something.

Also, pay attention to where you are and who is around you. And don’t pretend like you’re ‘colorblind’ or ‘you don’t see race.’ That’s bullshit. Even if you don’t see race, it sees us and it impacts the world whether we like it or not. Being colorblind is one of the most selfish things you can do. Feel free to question who is around you and always be aware of that. Ever notice that sometimes you’re the only white person in a room? How about if there are no people of color in a room? Yeah. We notice those things all the time. Now try and think about why that is. It’s okay to recognize privilege and that you have some. We don’t hate you for that. We just don’t like it when you don’t recognize it. Practice run - Why are there no or very few people of color on a golf course or ski resort? I’ll just leave that at that. We’ll see how you do on figuring out the rest.

Rule number seven: Be persistent.

Power structures and institutions cannot change without everybody involved. Thank you for your help, but it’s a long fight. Be persistent and enduring.

I’m sure there are more subtleties to the rules. And there may be amendments later. This is just a start. Please feel free to comment, question, share, whatever. Thanks!

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