As many of you know, over the past year I’ve been intentionally engaging in racial justice efforts in response to the continued exposure of racial profiling and police brutality against people of color, and black people in particular. Figuring out how to do this as a white person is difficult, and I don’t pretend to be any sort of expert at it. Because I’ve had many white people ask me for resources or ideas of practical ways a white person can get involved, I thought I’d put together a list of things that have been helpful for me in the past year. Hopefully this can be a useful resource for people who are trying to learn more, or who are trying to start conversations in their schools, churches, and even families (scary!).
For Staying Up on the News:
I follow these Facebook pages/news sites in order to stay informed on racial justice issues:
These are resources I often reference when talking with others about the reality of racial inequity in our society. What I’ve found when talking with people is that oftentimes they honestly don’t believe racism and racial inequity exists anymore. Being able to cite these studies in those conversations is really helpful.
- A lot of the examples I’ll give later in this post are summarized in this article, so for a quick overview including examples of how white privilege works, check out this link.
Employment Discrimination and Inequity
- In this study, researchers sent resumes to different companies using “African-American or white sounding names.” They found that resumes with white sounding names are 50% more likely to get a callback than identical resumes with African-American sounding names.
- This chart shows the disproportionate percentage of earnings people of color make compared to white men.
- This article points out the discrepancy of wage earnings between women of color and men.
- This article shows the particular challenges that women of color face in scientific vocations (particularly the stereotypes they must endure in the workplace, as well as the constant need to “prove themselves” as capable).
Discrepancy of Police Response between White and Black People
- This article links to videos that show police response to white people with guns and compares it to how police respond to black people.
- This article describes recent incidents of police killing unarmed black people — this is not a comprehensive list, but these are some of the most widely cited cases that anyone wanting to get more involved in racial justice work should know about.
- This is a project that seeks to record every incident of a black person killed by police in the United States. It also displays helpful statistics and graphs showing that black people are more likely to be killed by police than white people.
- This link provides FBI data regarding the rate at which black people are killed vs. white people.
- This video was a social experiment. Two men, one black and one white, are recorded carrying a gun in an open-carry state. The video shows the discrepancy of police response when the white man carries vs. the black man. This is a helpful one for engaging in conversations with people around the 2nd Amendment, particularly in pointing out the reality that any notion of 2nd Amendment rights will not be enforced equally between races.
- This is a summary of a study which concludes that racial bias affects judicial decisions.
- This post not only shows the statistical discrepancy of incarceration rates between whites and people of color, but also that people of color are more harshly sentenced for similar crimes as whites.
Differences in Media Portrayals of White and Black People
- The article gives examples of the ways that white suspects/killers are described in the media (“Suspect was soft-spoken, polite”) versus black victims of white violence (“Trayvon Martin was suspended three times from school”).
- This article shows the ways in which the media disproportionately reports black people as perpetrators of crimes in news stories.
- The video at the bottom of the page shows the way that black protests vs. white riots are portrayed in the media. Black protests are deemed “criminal” and activists described as “thugs” while white riots are simply “young people acting out” or exhibiting too much “passion.”
- I use this resource to emphasize what’s being said in the previous one.
- The author of this opinion piece argues that the media’s use of the word “thug” is the N-word of our time. While the media often uses the word “thug” to describe black people, the word is not used in the same way to describe white people.
- This is an amazing 2-part podcast about a school district in Normandy, Missouri that “accidentally launched a desegregation program”–ironically the school district includes the high school that Michael Brown attended. It is eye-opening.
- This article looks at disproportionate suspension/expulsion rates of students of color when compared with white students, access to math and science courses, and access to high quality education.
- This article shows that “at any given poverty level, districts that have a higher proportion of white students get substantially higher funding than districts that have more minority students” which “means that no matter how rich or poor the district in question, funding gaps existed solely based on the racial composition of the school.”
- While white students are offered behavior modification programs, counseling services, and medication when they act up in school, black kids face punitive action such as suspension, expulsion, and even arrest.
Internalized Racism and Implicit Bias
- A big talking point for me is the reality of internalized racism and implicit bias. Because of the nature of our society—institutionalized racism, media portrayal of black people, segregation/separatism— it is simply a reality that white people implicitly have negative associations about people of color, and black people in particular. Project Implicit has online implicit bias tests that you can take, and urge others to take, in order to confront this reality head-on. The tests Race and Weapons are the ones I recommend for this particular conversation. (In case you’re wondering–yes, I took them, and yes, I have implicit bias. I would be shocked if any white person took them and didn’t have implicit bias.)
- This link summarizes studies that prove unconscious bias and stereotypes still affect the way white people think about black people.
- Another useful article citing studies proving unconscious bias and internalized racism.
- This is the infamous doll test — children were presented with black and white dolls and were asked to choose the doll that was good or bad, pretty or ugly, and the doll that looked most like them. Children viewed white dolls as “good” and “pretty” and black dolls as “bad” and “ugly.” This study has been replicated numerous times with the same results.
Ways to Respond in Conversations
Black Lives Matter
- This is really useful for pointing out what white people sound like when they disparage Black Lives Matter protests. Example from the site:
- What They Say: “I’m fine with protesting, but why don’t they protest in front of a police station or another approved location instead of blocking traffic?”
- What We Hear: “I’m fine with protesting, as long as I’m not forced to see it, hear it, acknowledge it, be at all inconvenienced by it or challenged to do anything about it.”
- This article compares the current movement to the civil rights movement.
All Lives Matter
- Pretty self-explanatory — just depicts a way that one might respond to someone who says “All Lives Matter” in response to “Black Lives Matter” to increase understanding.
- A spoken word on what “All Lives Matter” is really saying—powerful.
- An article that shows why “All Lives Matter” is a problematic response to “Black Lives Matter.”
- Soong-Chan Rah urges: “In the midst of an awakening to racial realities in our nation, a cry to not derail the prophetic call of #blacklivesmatter with all lives matter. It was not ALL lives that were ripped from their homes in Africa.It was not ALL lives that were separated from families and marched to the West African coast. It was not ALL lives put into the dank, dark tombs of the slave castles…” Check out the rest of his post, it’s powerful.
Finally, this picture:
Blue Lives Matter
- A post responding to the problems inherent in the slogan “Blue Lives Matter” as a response to “Black Lives Matter.”
- This article responds to the claim that there is a war on cops. Actually, violence against police officers is declining significantly. The author of the article points out that “2015 is shaping up to be the second safest year for police ever, after 2013.”
- The title is self-explanatory.
- This article points out the problems with the idea of “reverse racism,” a phrase that gets thrown around a lot when people raise issue with Black Lives Matter.
Equality vs. Equity
Many times in conversations about race, people will say “things have changed. People are equal now and everyone has the same opportunities.” This is the perfect opening for a conversation on the difference between equality and equity. Here’s a picture that helps show the difference:
Just because people are given the same opportunity does not mean that they have the resources they need to be able to grasp that opportunity. The reality of systemic racism is that oftentimes the institutions we have in place often help white people but not people of color, and sometimes even actively work against people of color.
Here’s where people often get squeamish and start raising questions about affirmative action and reparations, and the phrase “reverse racism” gets used. Here’s another visual that is useful for the conversation:
Suggestions for Book Reads
These are books that I think would be good both for individual and group reading, particularly for church small groups.
The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change by Brenda Salter McNeil & Rick Richardson
- This one is co-written by my professor and mentor, Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil, and is really good for opening up conversation about the importance of racial reconciliation in church contexts. It is an especially useful resource for people who have never really talked about race before.
Roadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness, and Justice by Brenda Salter McNeil
- This one is also by Dr. Brenda, and won’t be released for another month or so — but it’s a practical “what next?” guide for people who want to start engaging in this work, especially in church communities. It would be a great follow-up to The Heart of Racial Justice.
Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Christian Smith and Michael O. Emerson.
- This book is often cited as the foundational text for racial reconciliation. I’m planning on reading it for the first time this January—if anyone wants to start a book club, I’m in!
Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation by Jennifer Harvey
- The author of this book is calling for a return to the idea of reparations—she argues that true racial reconciliation can only occur if white people, and white Christians in particular, make substantive efforts toward redressing the harm that has been done through reparative action. This book is great for communities that already recognize reconciliation isn’t just about “everyone coming to the table,” but really want to figure out what next steps they might take to begin participating in the work of racial justice.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- The author argues that though Jim Crow laws may have been eradicated on the books, the spirit of Jim Crow still exists in our legal system through mass incarceration and social control. This is considered one of the most important books on racial justice issues today, and is great for understanding how we got where we are today.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Published in July 2015, this book is considered one of the most important books of the year. It is required reading for white people wanting to glimpse the reality of what it means to be black in our contemporary moment.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
- A novel about a young black girl who prays for Western notions of beauty, particularly in the form of blue eyes. A powerful narrative of the affect of white supremacy on black people, especially women.
- This book helps readers understand institutional racism, and provides practical ways that white people can begin to participate in racial justice efforts.
For more book options on how racial reconciliation fits into the message of Christianity, check out this list by Christianity Today. Most of these I haven’t read yet and can’t attest to them. A good litmus test is “how far” the author goes in her/his discussion of reconciliation. Conversations about racial reconciliation should always include justice, and if they don’t, it’s good to be suspicious of them.
Ways to “Do Something”
White people who become aware of racial injustice and want to get involved often have the “do something” impulse. We see a problem, we don’t want to be a part of the problem, so we rush to try to fix it. A mentor of mine once told me that getting involved in racial justice needs to be less about what you do, and more about who you are. In light of that, I would suggest the following things as some starting points:
Learn about the racial history of your context. Whether that’s your church, your school, your neighborhood, do some research! You never know what you might find, and how that might inspire you. When the Episcopal Church of Maryland began researching their racial history, they found that “every Maryland church built prior to 1865 was built by enslaved persons or through direct economic dependence on such labor” (see Jennifer Harvey’s book Dear White Christians, p. 230). After finding out the ways the diocese itself was complicit in slavery, church members began imagining ways they might begin to redress that harm. Figuring out their own racial history, however, was a crucial beginning for the work.
Keep up on what’s happening in the world. Follow some of the news sites I mentioned at the beginning of this post, or find your own alternative news sources.
Find out what’s happening in your city. Find community events. Figure out what social groups are leading racial justice efforts in your community and what kinds of local causes they are rallying around. Every city has something happening—what’s happening in yours? Here in Seattle, we have a lot of organizations doing all kinds of social justice work. Here are some things to check out:
Show up to stuff. The biggest part of my own education in racial justice efforts was actually getting out of my house and showing up to stuff. Find something relevant to the cause, make a commitment to go, and don’t back out. It could be a community event, a book club, a protest—but whatever it is, make a commitment and show up.
Read. Begin to familiarize yourself with the history of race and the experiences of people of color through novels, memoirs, history books, theology books—whatever way you learn best. I love this reflection from a woman who committed to reading only authors of color for an entire year. She says, “Reading science fiction, chick lit and fantasy novels by people of colour for a year brought home to me just how white my reading world was.” Here’s some lists to get started:
- Best 15 Nonfiction Books by Black Authors in 2014
- The 15 Best Works of Fiction by Black Authors in 2014
- 16 Books About Race That Every White Person Should Read
Buy from black-owned businesses. This is a super practical way to be an ally. Where we invest our money matters! Here are some resources for finding black-owned businesses where you can shop online, especially during this holiday season:
- The Ultimate Black-Owned Online Business Holiday Gift Guide
- 80 Black-Owned Businesses This Black Friday
- #BuyBlack for the Holidays: 50 Gift Ideas That Support Black Businesses and Black Causes
- Buy Black: Over 100 Black Owned Businesses to Shop With This Black Friday
Just remember to avoid cultural appropriation when you purchase. For the holiday season I’ve found some wonderful teas, soaps and lotions, candles, and books that make great stocking stuffers.