Becoming a white allyBy John Powell
Several months ago I was asked by a white friend what he could do to improve race relations in his church and community. He had encountered a racial incident that made him uncomfortable, but he didn’t do anything about it.
I told him that he could become a “white ally.” I pointed out that becoming a white ally requires taking a stand against racial bigotry wherever it’s found, while affirming the value of interracial and intercultural relationships.
Many weeks passed before we saw each other again. His demeanor was different this time. He was eager to tell me about a recent event in his life.
A guest preacher had challenged his congregation to divest themselves from the need to be a do gooder in marginalized communities and focus on right sharing of resources, including equal access to all aspects of society.
After the service he talked with a member who said, “He was calling us racists. I work hard for what I have. Mexicans and blacks need to do the same.”
He told the member that the minister did not mention race during the sermon. He asked the parishioner why he immediately brought up race. Then he said to me, “I said that his attitude was racist. I told him that I used to think like him, but I’m changing. I have no regrets. I’m a recovering racist.”
As we continued to talk, we agreed that race, power, economics and social justice have to be honestly addressed, both in white and racial-ethnic communities. White folks will need to become justice truth tellers. That’s what becoming an ally is about.
Here’s a brother who has chosen to become a white ally. He’s decided to make a difference, even if it’s insignificant to some people. Now he’s concerned with relationships that build bridges, which are affirming to all people, no matter what color or race they are. He knows that economic security is important, but not as important as relationships. Economic security is temporary; relationships are everlasting. This is a lesson my white sisters and brothers need to embrace.
Are you like my friend? Do you want to become an ally to our racial-ethnic churches and communities but are afraid? If so, here are some things to think about.
Becoming a white ally begins with self-discovery. It’s important to do a personal assessment of feelings, thoughts and actions. Explore your attitude toward racial-ethnic and disenfranchised groups. Examine how you were raised and the impact your environment has on you. You might discover you have hidden biases you were not aware of. Discovering inner bias can shed light on other people’s biases. Make a list of those things you need to change about your attitude and begin to make adjustments. You may have made the first step toward becoming a white ally.
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