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It’s time to walk the walk

| Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Dear fellow white people,

It is no longer acceptable to sit back and rely on minorities to educate us on systematic racism. It is our job to actively engage in movements to support people of color and work to end oppression. We can no longer sit back and stay safe; it is time to take risks. We must stop fighting to retain white privilege and start fighting for true equality for black lives.

The Catholic Church believes every individual has human dignity because they are created in the likeness of God. No matter the color of a human’s skin, every human has dignity. Working to end racism and prejudice is not just a moral obligation, but an obligation fundamentally rooted in human dignity. Oppression is not something new and it is not something that can be destroyed by the oppressed alone. It can only be destroyed if the privileged oppressors can work to amplify the voices of the oppressed and end racial injustice.

In order to change systemic racism, we must first accept our own white privilege. White privilege is comprised of the benefits we experience based on our skin, benefits that go beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political and economic circumstances. Once we accept our white privilege we can learn to see that we, collectively, are the oppressors. In order for us to have the determination and desire to shift the culture we must acknowledge the facts that 1) racism still exists and we do not live in a post-racial society, 2) white privilege exists and 3) every white individual, no matter their socioeconomic background, experiences white privilege. If we individually work to acknowledge these three things, we can begin the fight to end systematic racism from the ground up.

Yes, it is hard to admit that white privilege exits, admitting life was easier for you and that you were given resources and opportunities that would not necessarily have been given to a black peer. Yes, white privilege means your life has been easier due to systemic normalcies of the society we live in. The problem is that most white people equate admitting to white privilege to admitting they are racist. That is not the case and it is your duty as a white individual to seek out understanding of the distinction.

It is also our duty to be allies. It is hard to come to terms with the idea of better resources being granted to the privileged, however it can be easily described using the saying, “You have to pull yourself up by the bootstraps”. If someone lacks boots, it is hard to pull themselves up by the straps. That is what it is like to be underprivileged. You lack the resources you need to succeed and the privileged take those resources for granted.

I must stress, one cannot just title themselves an ally. The power to name allies is not in the hands of the majority, but in the hands of the minority. This is because many people call themselves allies but do not actually help the movement of the group they claim to be an ally for. Being an ally is not just saying you agree that racism is wrong. An ally takes actions to eliminate racism and help movements progress. As Opal Tometi said at the Black Lives Matter lecture on Monday, “[Allies] must have skin in the game.”

We must use our white privilege to amplify the voices of the oppressed. We must use the platform of our skin to help incite change. True allies listen and understand that they do not get to dictate how marginalized groups react to their own marginalization. A key to being an ally is knowing that you do not face the same micro-aggressions, instances of racism and prejudice that the marginalized group you are trying to advocate for experiences.

As a white female, I experience few to no instances of racial injustice where I am the victim. However, I, as well as each of you, can work to empathize with the physical and emotional effects that oppression has on marginalized groups. Issues of racism and oppression will never be comfortable topics to discuss, but we must strive to enter into these uncomfortable conversations because dialogue is the only way to spark change.

There are critics who say the Black Lives Matter movement is wrong because God calls us to say that all lives matter. However, historically, black lives have not mattered as much as white lives, and therefore it is with intentionality that we say “Back Lives Matter.” Frankly, all lives do not matter equally in a systematically racist society, and therefore the Black Lives Matter movement is necessary. We must understand that by saying “Black Lives Matter,” we are not saying that white lives do not matter. We are saying white lives have always mattered and it is time for black lives to matter just as much as white lives do.

So, fellow white people, what exactly am I asking you to do? There are three simple things we must do to move forward: acknowledge our white privilege, empathize with the marginalized and oppressed and use our platform to promote social and institutional change.

It is not okay to stay in our comfort zones or be afraid that we will misspeak. Yes, as part of the majority this is an uncomfortable conversation to have, but nothing is ever going to change if no one enters that uncomfortable dialogue. We must know when to listen and when to join the fight. Not every space is meant for us to help and in certain cases, our involvement could hinder more than help.

I am asking you to start actively engaging in efforts to advocate for black lives. Black Americans often risk their lives to promote equality, so as a white person it is not okay to be “safe” with your words and actions. Take risks, piss off your misguided friends and stand up for what is right. This is not a comfortable fight and it will never become one. Do not just sit on the sidelines; actively engage in change.

Don’t know where to start? Start by researching the Black Lives Matter movement and its fundamental principles. Start by educating yourself on white privilege and what an impact it has on systematic racism. Just start. Start by joining the movement.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Johnny Whichard

    Yeah, because Rev. MLK Jr. wanted all white people to live with a lens over their eyes that makes them view minorities as permanent victims of society?!? Your way of thinking perpetuates the issue without presenting an actual solution. I’d suggest judging those around you by the content of their character, rather than their skin-tone….THAT is how America will defeat racism….

  • MC

    Honestly, I get your point but I have other social and political movements to focus on that I think are equally or more important. I don’t think it’s my duty to join this specific movement, in the same way it wasn’t your duty to join occupy wall street or right to life. Also, I find BLM directionless and sometimes misguided

    • João Pedro Santos

      “Also, I find BLM directionless and sometimes misguided”
      Assuming you aren’t black (sorry if I’m wrong), I don’t think you’re in position to decide whether BLM is directionless and misguided or not.

      • MC

        I think the notion that if I am not black I don’t get to discern whether I sympathize with a certain political and social movement is nonsensical.

        • João Pedro Santos

          Nonsensical is to assume that someone who doesn’t experience racism can talk about it as accurately as someone who experiences it in first hand.

          • MC

            I never claimed that I could speak accurately about racism. But the content of the movement and the methods of the movement are not one and the same. Also the movement encompasses much more than racism and advocates for some controversial political stances to which I don’t ascribe.

  • Mr. Pockets

    Once I recognize white privilege and empathize with the marginalized how do I go about trying to change it? I appreciate the ideas presented in this article, but I’m looking for something concrete. One of the things that frustrates me about the BLM that I’ve seen in the news is that it seems largely relegated to protests and social media commentary. Those are important for gaining awareness, but what can be done beyond that to affect change?

    • Sherry

      Join an organization like your local NAACP chapter. If there isn’t one, ask why not? I agree social media commentary and protests are not enough, but that doesn’t mean that they are all that are going on. If the organization you are attached to don’t have legal advocates fighting for them, then go find them. If you are frustrated with the BLM, then go be the change you want to see in the movement. If you get push back, that’s good. That means people are taking your suggestions seriously, and you can finally be in dialogue with others rather than simply telling them what to do.

      • Johnny Whichard

        This doesn’t answer Mr. Pockets question. Besides preemptively assuming every officer involved in a shooting of an African American is a cold-blooded murderer, what does the BLM actually do? What “change” does it bring about? Does it actually “DO” anything other than be loud?

        • TD

          The BLM movement does not just assume that every officer involved in the shooting of a BLACK (the politically correct term) individual is a cold hearted murderer. It explains that while these shootings are happening they are only happening to those individuals of color and tries to explain that this injustice should not take place in this country in the year 2016! The movement also is not something as just police brutality it also deals with the many injustices that black men and women deal with on a daily and reminding outside people that we give so much to the world and get so little in return. We are reminding eachother that our lives are just important as our white counterparts. The fact the the BLM movement is even a thing has brought about tremendous change. It doesnt matter what it DOES its what you can DO for it!

          • Johnny Whichard

            TD, I sincerely appreciate your response and civil discourse 🙂

            I’d like to highlight “they are only happening to those individuals of color”. This isn’t accurate, unfortunately. (A quick google search of “Cop shoot unarmed white man” can prove this).

            And while the sentiments surrounding the movement are certainly justified, does the BLM have any tangible solutions to the issues? “Reminding each other” isn’t a tangible solution to racism in America. If anything, I’d argue that the BLM has damaged race relations far worse than it has helped simply by fostering a “us vs them” mentality. Obviously not all members of the movement are the same…but the national effect of the BLM seems to have been negative in terms of race-relations. Do you honestly believe the BLM is HELPING daily interracial interactions? Do you honestly believe the BLM is helping bring people of DIFFERENT races together?

            I’m sure you will run into plenty of people, who, like me, are hesitant to “join a movement” of people that doesn’t have a goal other than to “remind each other” of our differences….I’d rather focus on what makes us all human.

            Additionally, the BLM isn’t inclusive when it shoves “white privilege” down everybody’s throats.

          • João Pedro Santos

            “How can I be privileged when sometimes I’m sad?”

  • João Pedro Santos

    So comments here basically consist in claiming that white privilege and racism don’t exist. I seriously hope these aren’t ND students commenting.

    • MC

      Oh João. Nobody has said that. Go somewhere else to troll.

      • João Pedro Santos

        Ad hominem much?