Becoming an Active White Ally


photo courtesy of Alexandra Bessler

Protests began across all fifty states last week in response to the murder of George Floyd by four Minnesota police officers.

Julia Henning

I am disgusted. Truly appalled by the videos I see on the news or over instagram of people beaten, shot, and killed from the systematic racism in the US. And I cannot sit back as a white person and allow the actions against the black community that are killing a whole culture within the nation to continue. I want to be an ally and that is going to take more time and education than I have put in before. It may be all over social media, but it is true: it is not enough to not be racist, you have to be anti-racist and work against the system. And I hate that it took me until now to speak up and that it took others taking a stand first for me to follow.

I’ve always tried to be a voice for others. As a young and new student journalist, I’m still learning how to amplify others’ voices and do good with the platform I have here on Inkwell and on my social media. But I also don’t want to steal a voice or platform from the voices that truly matter and have been suppressed. There are so many people in minority communities silenced and because I haven’t been silenced my whole life, I now feel responsible to step back and create space for those voices to be heard.

I grew up with a sort of sense of my privilege, but never understood what it truly meant. I remember watching Hairspray as a 10 year old with my biracial friend and recognizing how the two of us wouldn’t be friends if we lived in the times of that movie, and we discussed that idea for the whole evening. I don’t consider myself holistically educated on police violence and systemic racism in the US, but especially under these times, I am trying so hard to be the white ally I have been taught to be by my parents growing up and my friends in the black community. I understand that I won’t ever fully understand my privilege, but I’m learning how to educate myself and listen to people who have felt and may still feel silenced .

After the death of George Floyd, I didn’t know how to respond. I am always so used to jumping right on instagram and ranting to my story followers about the injustices I see in our world, but I had a pause this time. I was amazed by how quickly people responded with care and educated responses to the police violence against not only George Floyd but all cases of violence against the black community. And yet, I was puzzled. How do I share a careful and strong opinion to the world without just reposting others’ content or leaving something on my story that would disappear in 24 hours? 

Everyone chose a different path for how to respond, and I learned quickly that there was no exact right way to bring justice against police brutality for George Floyd, but everyone I followed was taking a stand in some way. When I was tagged in a “chain” on instagram to continue a trend for people to see the Black Lives Matter hashtag shared, I was sick to my stomach. How could something so serious and deep be brushed off as just a “tag a person who will repost” kind of trend? That was not the way I wanted to present my opinion to Instagram. I saw so many posts of beautiful quotes and words from leaders and influencers that I was so surprised to see. And yes, I spent a morning after protests in Minnesota crying for the people who were so cruelly treated by police looking at videos. But I knew that sitting back and crying was not going to make progress. Here is what I say to the broken system within the US:

How dare we still treat people this way. How dare we take so long to take a stand. How dare we look at videos of police choking a black man and scroll past. Our system is broken and it took many people, including myself, until now to take a stand against it. As white allies, we can’t and never will fully understand the discrimination against minority communities or know our own white privilege, but by standing with the black community at this time and at all times and standing up against police brutality, we show our intentions at understanding and comprehending the physical and verbal violence that other communities live with daily just because of the color of their skin. 

We always say “never forget” or “not one more” and yet here we are again. The cycle must be broken, and it doesn’t come through sitting back and hoping others will take care of it. There truly is power in numbers. With the Covid-19 pandemic, the physical numbers are more difficult to achieve which there is nothing wrong with, but instead, don’t use it as an excuse to say that you had no way to be a voice. Thanks to the age of social media and internet we live in, it is so simple to take two minutes to text the right places and sign petitions or call lawmakers. Take time to explore and understand the history of systemic racism within the US. Stay active.

As a white heterosexual American, I will not ever come close to the feeling of suppression or verbal and physical abuse because of who I am. It gives me all the more reason to stand with people who WILL have these experiences and amplify their concerns and voice. If you have a similar identity to mine or even if not, I urge and beg of you to stand up. 

Nothing was ever achieved in history by staying silent. I appreciate the tips shared on social media to stay safe at protests and take a stand. Don’t let this momentum die down. The disproportionate actions against minority communities will continue if we allow one repost to our story to disappear after 24 hours. Continue the conversation and bring attention to all that is wrong with this system in our nation. 

Annie Wright held a conversation on Wednesday night for 7th-12th grade students in which two members of the faculty and staff, head basketball coach Chris Spivey and director of auxiliary programs Alicia Mathurin, spoke of their own perspectives and experiences of being black in America. This conversation was a great first step for the Annie Wright community to continue a discussion. If we continue these discussions and listen to the people of color within our own community, it could create some very much needed positive change. One simple but deep point from Coach Spivey stuck with me: “Think before you speak and understand that your words carry weight”. If we can keep this in mind moving forward, we will be a much kinder and open-minded community.

I have so much to learn, but I will continue to remain educated, donate to the right places, and become an even more active ally, because I have failed to do so. 

Opinion pieces reflect the viewpoints of the writer specifically and not necessarily the viewpoints of Inkwell or Annie Wright Schools.