In the wake of the series of protests, rallies and discussions happening on campus for the awareness of systematic oppression, white students have expressed concern with how to be effective allies in the movement.
In light of this, sophomores Alexa Salvato and Luna Olavarria Gallegos and freshman Charlotte Robertson organized a discussion-based event called “Check Your Privilege: A Working Group on Being a Productive — Not Reductive — White Ally” on behalf of Feminists United that took place on Dec. 11 to educate white students on how to be true allies to the people of color who are fighting for their rights.
Salvato said in order for white students to be allies, they need to help out with the planning of the events of the social justice movement.
“With all of the recent events that have been happening on campus, I noticed how much of the organizing was being done by students of color and how unfair that was,” sophomore Salvato said. “My friend told me that throughout history, white people have come to the fun protests, while people of color have gone through all of the hard work to plan them. So I thought it was really important to organize something for white students to learn about how they can help.”
With more than over 40 people in attendance, the event included a presentation as well as ‘zines,’ or miniature magazines, that provided information on how white allies can avoid ignorance and contribute to the social justice movement in a more genuine way. Much of the discussion focused on recognizing privilege and the concept of intention versus impact, meaning that while white allies may have good intentions in their actions, those actions might not be well received.
“The most dangerous thing is not the intent but the impact,” freshman Luis Torres said. “When white people try to be active and involved in protests and in the media, they are taking voices away from people of color.”
At the presentation, the presenters discussed social media as an outlet for activism among white allies, emphasizing that it often focuses the movement on white people, with hashtags such as #CrimingWhileWhite, as well as #BlackLivesMatter as opposed to #AllLivesMatter. While both were chanted at the Hands Up, Don’t Shoot rally Dec. 1, several students said they preferred #BlackLivesMatter as a mantra for the movement.
“I prefer Black Lives Matter because everyone knows that white lives matter, but apparently no one realizes that black lives matter, too,” freshman Taylor Walker said.
The discussion also brought up how to deal with situations in which someone says or does something socially insensitive. Senior Meredith Knowles said giving examples and using “I” statements are among the best ways to respond to someone who says something offensive without meaning to.
“The first thing you reach for is anger, but that’s not how an education moment is going to occur,” Knowles said. “Instead, give that person something to think about, a nudge or reminder, that’s going to make them evaluate the situation and learn from it.”
Senior Taj Harvey said self-education is the best way to avoid situations of ignorance and unintended insults.
“No one has the time to educate every single person on what is offensive and what’s not,” Harvey said. “Instead, you should try to just get the person to reflect on their own words and actions. If they’re able to process it for themselves, they’re more likely to be conscious of what they say and do in the future.”
The presentation outlined a list of ways white students can educate themselves on the issues at hand and be a part of the social justice movement in a responsible and respectful way. These include taking classes in the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity, getting involved in student organizations such as the Asian-American Alliance or the African Student Association, as well as helping out with the organizing of protests and events and being willing to have potentially uncomfortable conversations with other white people.
“We’re in the midst of this exciting thing where people are gaining voices, showing their passion,” Gallegos said. “It’s important to remember, though, that people have been working tirelessly to plan events and make all of this happen. It’s easy to show up to a protest and chant, but it’s harder to plan it. The real work, which is exhausting, is done by mostly students of color. It’s really important to know that yes, being part of protests and chanting and going down to The Commons — that’s really crucial, but there’s work that goes into that, and white people need to be a part of that work.”
Knowles ended the discussion and said reevaluating what it means to be a white person is also a step in the right direction to being a part of the greater movement.
“One thing I try to think about is that we’ve been shown how to be a white person in a white supremacist structure,” Knowles said. “But we need to reimagine what it means to be a white person in society. You have to recognize that there can be a difference between being white and being a part of the white supremacist structure.”