Voices of African Americans: The One Thing White People Can Do To Be More Inclusive
In early June, I launched an ambitious podcast, Being the Dot. The goal of Being the Dot was to discuss the challenges African-Americans face who work, play, and pray in White spaces. My hope has been to provide tools that help Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) manage and mitigate race-based stress, in addition to developing strategies to not just survive, but thrive in hyper-White environments. The timing of the initial interviews was smack dab in the middle of the civil unrest after the George Floyd murder. Like most African Americans, I was fully engaged in the current socio-historical events, and I was also taking calls, emails, and texts from my White friends and acquaintances who were asking one form or another of the question, “What can I do to make things better as it relates to racism?” This question spurred me to start asking people that I interviewed for the podcast the same question: What can White people do in order to make the world more inclusive, less racist, and more equitable? While there was an inspiring diversity of thought among the interviewees, there was also commonalities I would like to share with you to help re-educate and be more antiracist.
The general themes of what the Guest Dotters wanted White people to know centered around four main themes.
- Do your own work.
- Eliminate the dominant narrative.
- Create opportunities for equality.
- Be a good ally.
Do your work was the most frequently mentioned theme asserted by the Guest Dotters. Guest Dotters were clear that if racism is ever going to be eradicated in our country, it is imperative for White people to learn that they need to be the first to call out inequities, systematic racism, and blatant discrimination against BIPOC when they see it. Being the Dot Podcast guests also indicated that it was important for White people to be honest about the issues of race and racism in our country and to remove the “veil of White privilege”—to see its destructive nature clearly. There were several comments from Guest Dotters that clustered around the concept of what is commonly referred to as “White Fragility.” That is, the Dotters wanted White people to manage their own emotions. As people of color share their experiences of racism, it may be hard for supposedly non-racist White people to own up to doing something offensive, hurtful, micro-aggressive, or racist. White people must not shift the narrative to their own White guilt.
Another theme highlighted by the Dotters was the importance of “Up-Standing.” That is, if you see or hear something racist or offensive, use your privilege to stand up for good by speaking out at that moment. The Dotters noted their exhaustion with White people who don’t say something when they witness discrimination or racism and wait for Black people to address the issue. I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the “Do Your Own Work” imperative was so strong that some of the Guest Dotters expressed that the question, in and of itself, elicited a negative reaction. That is, one Dotter noted, “You want me to tell my abuser how to stop abusing me.”
The next item of collective agreement clustered around the importance of interrupting the dominant narrative. The Guest Dotters were clear in their thinking White people’s need to see their values, customs, and norms were not the best or only ways to live. In our society, the way that families are structured, conflict is managed, competition is enacted, leadership is determined, and hair should look, are all tools of White Supremacy. That is, it is ingrained in the White culture to not even consider that their way of living is not the best or only way to live.
In the episode about transitioning to natural hair in White spaces, women talked frankly about the importance of White people doing what they need to in order to share space with BIPOC folks. They commented, “America is a shared space and was built on the backs of African-Americans.” In effect, it is imperative that there be space for all manner of customs, appearance, and individuality among our citizens. Along with this, several of the interviewees noted the importance of affirming the “other.” That is, finding value in what is not connected to the dominant narrative; creating environments where no one is labeled as “other” (uncomfortably different); and for all parties to become the narrative, with policies in place that model an integrative organization and inclusive, yet richly diverse culture in the workplace. There was a comment from a Dotter that really summed up the essence of this theme: “So they (White people) must step outside of their White spaces to engage with folks of Black color, [so that] folks understand what our cultural norms, values, and our beliefs are and what really motivates us. That’s one level of what White folks can do.”
The equality theme clustered around equal and fair treatment under the law, along with the importance of having a seat at the table, in particular. One attorney shared, “Everyone must have equal protection under the United States Constitution. African Americans are not requesting anything more or different than any other citizen.” In keeping with the theme, I interviewed people around the time of the national election. There were lots of conversations about the importance of electing a diverse body of people to disrupt some of the ways that the predominant White voices in government uphold the tenets of systemic racism.
Regarding the topic of being a good ally, the definition of “allyship” is “The practice of emphasizing social justice, inclusion, and human rights by members of an ingroup, to advance the interests of an oppressed or marginalized outgroup.
In particular, there are several ways that Guest Dotters shared that White people could join with Black people in disrupting racism. One common sentiment among the interviewees was that they did not need White people to speak for them, but to amplify their own voices. In the “Networking” episode, Guest Dotters discussed what it is like being the only African-American person in a large room of White people, and how valuable it would be for a White person to greet them, encourage them to sit with them, and pull them into social interactions. In the “Being Black in Business” episode, a Guest Dotter discussed the importance for allies to support Black business and not make it awkward. One of the business owners said, “Don’t make me feel like you are giving me the opportunity because I am Black. It’s a business. It’s a loan. Don’t call me and say you wanted to work with me because I am a good-looking Black man. Don’t make it awkward!”
The business owners also noted that a way to amplify the voices and increase the wealth of African Americans is a simple action: When you receive amazing service, be sure to tell other people. Behave like a sponsor for African-American businesses in ways that one may not have thought of previously. This is an easy step for all of us to take because it is likely that there’s some aspect of your life that can help Black business owners advance wealth for African-Americans. It may be the brand of soap you use, the local bakery you frequent, or the caterer you use for special occasions. It could be tutoring services or financial counseling or any other businesses that we all use and need every day. If you Google Black-owned businesses, you will discover all manner of necessary and discretionary services run by Black people. The main point the respondents were making was the importance of vocally supporting exemplary Black-owned businesses and organizations in order to ensure their notice and success within the larger community.
As I have moved virtually across the country I faced head-on with the enormity of racism and challenges involved with building an anti-racism culture. I have counseled with people who are feeling overwhelmed and unsure of the right next thing to disrupt the system of racism in their organizations, campus, and relationships. If you are feeling overwhelmed and trying to figure the right next thing that you can do personally to erase racism, listen to the wisdom of our Guest Dotters: do your own work, climate the dominant narrative, create equal opportunities, and be a good ally.
Being the Dot Podcast Season 2 can be found on Itunes, Stitcher, Google Podcast, IHeart Radio, and Spotify.