Navigating Conversations about White Privilege

Like many other white people amid the Black Lives Matter movement, I have been questioning how I can become a better ally.

Where to begin?

Acknowledging white privilege is the first step. Listen to what people of colour are saying, read up and question where white privilege can be seen in your own life and the world around you. It is as easy as looking at people in positions of power. For example, following the UK 2019 General Election, under 10% of Members of the House of Commons were from non-White ethnic backgrounds. Nevertheless, engaging in conversation with yourself can be an important thing to do as white privilege is ingrained in the lives of white people. As a white person, I see my race represented in my education and I don’t have to worry about being pulled over by the police on a day-to-day basis.

The next step is to engage in dialogue about what you have learnt. It can seem daunting to correct friends or family, so how should we approach the subject? Think about your perspective. Feelings of guilt come with the acknowledge of your white privilege, but fixating on these feelings will not help dismantle the system. It is not enough to learn and sit with your guilt. I can acknowledge that history has led me to this place of privilege, but it is not something that my mother or I have created ourselves. Move past the guilt and begin to engage with others. Having inherited our position of privilege means we have a responsibility to dismantle systems of oppression. This starts with conversations.

What do I do if someone doesn’t accept that white privilege exists?

Educate them – Instead of just telling someone they are being ignorant, explain why. Conversations should clarify, not patronize. It can be useful to use stories about real people instead of a barrage of statistics. The issue becomes more comprehensible when we see real life examples. Go further with this and provide them with resources written by BIPOC. They can educate themselves and form their own understanding of their white privilege.

Listen to them – Allow them to explain why they hold their belief. After all, it is a conversation. By listening to their anxieties, you can educate them further. Some people will argue that they have felt pain in their life too, so how can they be ‘privileged’? White privilege does not mean that white people do not endure hardship, it means that we do not endure hardship on account of our race.

Be patient – It may take a few conversations before your message starts to get through. Continue to call them out, stay calm and keep the conversation open.

Avoiding performative activism

Importantly, the conversation needs to go beyond social media. By all means read and share helpful resources, but make sure you take on board what you read and apply it to your everyday life. Sharing a post about racism and then being able to forget about it because it doesn’t apply to you perpetuates white privilege. Retweeting, reposting, and sharing is not enough – begin conversations with one another and listen to those whose voices are subdued by the white system.

Don’t turn the suffering of BIPOC simply into a trend. “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” is not a new slogan to add to your social media posts. It’s real life. A slogan can provoke conversations, but it should not be all that is said.

Don’t center yourself

Whilst it is important to talk about white privilege, do not make this the core of your activism. Centering yourself in the wider dialogue of systemic racism risks feeding into the guilt complex and detracts from the real issue: the oppression of people of colour. While engaging in conversations is important, remember the key is to amplify BIPOC voices.

Activism is every day

Just as we have countless conversations every day, the pursuit to expose the workings of white privilege can also be an every day task.

@voltedvoices on instagram phrases it this way – “When Black people wake up every morning, one thing remains unchanged, they are still Black. Our Blackness is powerful and inescapable. Allyship should be the same. It’s not okay for allies to step up only when it’s convenient. You don’t decide if you’re an ally, your actions do. Allyship is something that is silently earned and is not a performative declaration.”

Being an ally begins with conversations, but it does not end there.

-Imogen Phillips

Here are some resources and voices Imogen references during her article:

Derrick Clifton, ‘10 Simple Ways White People Can Step Up to Fight Everyday Racism’

Kelsey Smoot, ‘White people say they want to be an ally to Black people. But are they ready for sacrifice?’

@voltedvoices on instagram

@courtneyahndesign on instagram

Featured Image Source: Pexels

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