We live in unprecedented times. 

The 24/7 news cycle is a dual edged sword; on one hand, the injustices we’ve seen need to be called out…and resolved. 

However, on the other hand, the frustration and yes, anger, that so many of us feel about the racism and inequality we’ve been witness to can wear us down. 

What can I do about racism? 

When you are tired and don’t know what to do… 

If you are asking your Black friends what you can do to help or if you are being asked by others what they can do, here is a response and information you can share:  

“Hey there, thanks for reaching out my friend. I hope you are well and staying safe. I think your desire to make a difference is certainly going to help us move toward solutions. It is going to take all of us to solve this and it will take a great deal of time.  

“One of the things that I tell Allies (like you) is to keep working to understand your own biases and get to know people who are black and brown. Seek real answers to the problems and potential solutions to racism. Take a stand against any behavior that promotes injustice from those around you and don’t ignore the behavior. 

“Continue to research ways to combat racism, ask questions, and listen to try and understand the issues. Everyone can do a little to help with the changes that are needed and no one person can tackle this alone.  

“I think it starts with understanding the real issues and identifying the personal biases that exist in all of us. The best thing that you can do is research ways to combat racism and bias and anti-racism.” 

To help you with this, I’d like to share some information you may not be aware of: 

White privilege…it doesn’t mean what you might think it means  

When you hear the term “White Privilege” you might think that it’s an insult to White people.  

That it means if you’re white you didn’t get to where you are now through your own efforts. That everything was “given” to you because of your color. 

But that’s not what it really means. 

What it means is that White people, for multiple reasons, enjoy the following “privileges”, just because they’re White.: 

  • No fear of losing their life simply because of an interaction with police. See this study by Edwards, Lee and Esposito which breaks down death from interacting with police by race and sex. 
  • No fear of their children being hurt or killed just for being Black. In this heart-wrenching piece, a mom shares her fears about her young Black son growing into a young man and being considered a threat, simply because of color. 
  • No fear that they will miss out on opportunities, just because of their name. This study found that “Since 1989, Whites receive on average 36% more callbacks than African Americans, and 24% more callbacks than Latinos.” 

In her article titled What is White Privilege? Why Princeton Student Tal Fortgang Needs a History Lesson, Paige Tutt shares a quote from White feminist activist Peggy McIntosh shared about the term ‘checking your privilege’.: 

“I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks. 

As far as I can see, my African American co­-workers, friends, and acquaintances with whom I come into daily or frequent contact in this particular time, place, and line of work cannot count on most of these conditions: 

  1. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

  2. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

  3. Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against my financial reliability.

  4. I can swear, dress in secondhand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or illiteracy of my race.

  5. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

  6. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

  7. If a traffic cop pulls me over…I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

  8. I can be sure that if I need legal help, my race will not work against me.

  9. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

  10. I can choose blemish color or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.”

Understand your own biases 

Every one of us, no matter our ethnic or cultural backgrounds have certain biases. There’s no escaping it if you live on planet Earth for any length of time. 

However, just because we all have biases, that doesn’t mean we should just ignore or accept them, especially if they are injurious to others. 

A 2004 study conducted by Dasgupta, determined that our biases have an effect on our behavior. Fortunately, Dasgupta and Greenwald conducted another study in 2013 which confirmed that we can change our bias. 

As you can see, our unconscious biases can be changed. Think about the following questions in regard to your own belief system: 

  • What assumptions do you make about others?
  • Are there certain stereotypes or beliefs you hold about other cultures or races? (e.g. Asians are “smart”)
  • How might these beliefs impact how you deal with people from these cultures or with a certain ethnicity?

When we recognize and address our own biases, we can change the decisions we make to be more in line with our desire to treat every person with the respect they deserve. 

Change the future 

We cannot change the past; however, we can change the future. 

One way to do that is to talk to our kids about racism. 

New York Times writer Jessica Grose shares how parents can broach the topic of racism with their children. 

“In addition to keeping an open dialogue about racism, a way to raise children who are anti-racist is by making sure your home library has books with black people at the center of their stories.  

“Christine Taylor-Butler, the prolific children’s author and writer of The Lost Tribes Series, said that she got into children’s literature because she wanted to see more stories of black joy. “I want stories about kids in a pumpkin patch, and kids in an art museum,” she said. “Not only do we want our kids to read, but we want white kids to see — we’re not the people you’re afraid of.” 

“I see students clamoring for books that speak to heart, not oppression based on civil rights,” Taylor-Butler added. And she is also a fan of books that tell stories of black triumph and invention, like “Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions,” by Chris Barton and illustrated by Don Tate, which is about the black engineer behind the Super Soaker water gun. 

“Ultimately, words and books should not be the end of your child’s education about race and racism,” says Grose. “The best advice I can give parents is to be models for the attitudes, behavior and values that they wish to see in their children,” said Nia Heard-Garris, M.D., an attending physician at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. 

“It is not enough to talk about racism, you must strive to be anti-racist and fight against racist policies and practices,” Dr. Heard-Garris said. If you have the privilege, “make space, speak up or amplify issues of inequity and injustice.”  

“Children see everything.” 

Moving forward

In addition to speaking with our kids about racism, we need to become allies in the fight against the systemic racism that until now you may not have seen.

No, we didn’t create these issues, but we can be a part of changing them. Begin by asking yourself questions such as:

  • Is the organization(s) I’m a part of reflect the diversity around me – at all levels?
  • Is the culture open and welcoming of diverse individuals?
  • Is diversity a component of the hiring process?
  • Is my own network made up of diverse individuals?
  • When I (or someone I have influence with) host an event do I/we purposely seek out diverse speakers?

Finally, each of us can play a part in changing the system so that over time our collective action will create the changes we wish to see.