By: Lisa Abuogi
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, Nobel Laureate
We have known the undercurrents of hate and fear among white supremacists have been growing over the last decade and have surged in activity in the last few months in the form of hate crimes. But it was still painful and frightening to see.
Much has been said about what the right response is to the events and who is at fault. There is a great debate about if we should ignore or engage. If history has taught us nothing, it has taught us that ignoring hate does not make it dissipate. Imagining that because we ourselves abhor white supremacist beliefs that is enough. It isn’t.
Every one of us, but especially those of us who are white, have an obligation now to stand up and be counted now. Most of us feel we are not racist but if you define racism as prejudice plus power you might reconsider. At an incredible workshop in Denver about how to be a white ally attended by a thousand people I learned several critical things. We can’t ask people of color or marginalized people (Muslims, Jews, refugees, LGBT) to educate us about their struggle. It’s exhausting and it puts an additional burden on them. It’s our job to educate ourselves and listen keenly. We must look at our own biases and how we have benefited from a system that oppresses others. We need to act in solidarity with marginalized groups and not expect recognition or gratitude for it. As allies, we should gain nothing and expect to lose things that benefit us.
When I hear push back on white privilege (which is often) I consider a few personal experiences and I ask:
Have you ever been followed by a store employee as you browse the aisles?
My husband has.
Has your child ever felt unsafe because of the color of their skin?
My child has.
Have you ever considered how you will teach your son to be safe in an interaction with the police so he doesn’t get shot?
If you haven’t, you’re lucky. You’re privileged, just as I am.
So, what should we do? This is my commitment:
1. I will take a side. I take the side of people who have been marginalized by hate and bias.
· Write a letter to the editor to move Confederate statues
2. I will denounce hate in all its forms loudly and consistently.
· Post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
· Talk to neighbors, friends and family
3. I will educate myself and self-reflect.
· How to be a white ally
· I will continue to examine my own biases
· Read Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and I
4. I won’t stop or take breaks, I will keep going.
This fall, the Brave Coalition will launch a book workshop to begin to explore bias, oppression, and privilege. I invite you to join us and begin your commitment.