Where Do We Start?
We’ll be honest: we’re not exactly sure how to start this one.
See, we want to have a real conversation about racism and prejudice and injustice—and about how to act as a better ally in the fight against racism and prejudice and injustice. But it’s a sensitive subject. It’s tough to know how to begin.
We’ll start by saying this: our offices are in Vermont, a state known for many kinds of diversity, yet with a notable exception when it comes to racial diversity. Our office is filled with people from many walks of life and who live many different lifestyles—but most of us here are white.
Throughout the years, our company has publically supported all kinds of causes related to social justice. Sometimes, the fights we took on as a company were also many of our own personal fights for our own personal rights.
But just as often, our company has chosen to call out injustice that many of us don’t experience firsthand. We’ve chosen to stand in solidarity with marginalized groups simply because it’s the right thing to do. We believe that equality and dignity are always worth fighting for.
Why It Matters More Now
This is an undeniably challenging moment in American history. Our incoming president has said a lot of things, many of them hateful, misogynist, xenophobic, and bigoted. Things that have frightened and angered a lot of people. In the past month we have seen violent attacks on Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community, African Americans, immigrants, women, and others.
And in response there has been a surge of conversation about what to do. People across our country are wearing safety pins to identify themselves as “allies.” Articles are being published, podcasts are being recorded, and talk show hosts are encouraging solidarity with groups and individuals who are being attacked.
So it got us thinking: what does it mean to act as an ally and how can we be the best allies possible? And how can we do so in a way that doesn’t just perpetuate the power structures we’re trying to challenge?
We Will Not Be Silent
There comes a time when silence equals complicity; when not speaking up against injustice is basically the same as supporting it.
That time is now.
As Americans, we have to acknowledge the foundational role that racism and bigotry played in the creation of our country. We have to see how to this very day racism and prejudice of all kinds corrode the bonds of our union and put our progress at risk.
As individuals (and especially if we are white), we need to think about our own role in this system. We need to think about how we benefit from it, whether we realize it or not.
And we have an obligation to act as allies in the most effective and respectful way we can.
So, what do you think? Can we think about it together? What can we—and what can you—do to act as allies to our friends and neighbors who have been fighting prejudice their whole lives?
We Have a Few Thoughts…
1. It’s Not About You
The first thing any ally needs to realize is you can act as an ally, but you can’t be an ally by your own designation alone. It is up to members of the group with whom you are seeking to stand in solidary to call you an ally.
2. We Must Listen Up
We need to listen (not talk), we need to open our minds and hearts, and we need to be ready to have our assumptions challenged (while ensuring that our defensiveness does not kick in). This is where it’s critical to listen to other voices, not use ours to drown them out. The spotlight is not ours.
3. Be Honest
Examine your own biases. We must take a look at what makes us uncomfortable. Do you have kneejerk reactions to LGBTQ issues, to media reports of “riots” (that are actually just protests)? Everyone is biased in some way: it’s unavoidable. The key is to be honest about it so that we can begin to try to see each other for who we are.
4. Talk to Our Friends and Family
Most people look to avoid conflict when possible. So it can be difficult, really difficult, to say something when your uncle starts spouting homophobic remarks or your friends tell offensive jokes. It can get even more complicated at work. What if your boss can’t stop saying sexist stuff during meetings? The harder something feels to say in the moment, the more important it probably is. Ultimately, it’s up to all of us to speak up when we hear inappropriate, derogatory, or hateful language.
5. Get out of Our Comfort Zone
Human beings value the comfortable and familiar. But if that’s all we ever experienced, then we would never evolve. So why not stop by your local LGBTQ center and volunteer? Why not attend the next Black Lives Matter chapter meeting? If you can, spend some Sundays in an African American church or visit your local mosque. We will never understand those who are different from us if we only speak to those who look and feel exactly as we do.
6. Step Away From the Screens (When You’re Done Reading This, Of Course)
This goes along with the previous point, but we can’t stress this enough: turn off your tablet, close your laptop, and power down your flatscreen. Avoid reading the comment sections online, and if it’s at all possible, do NOT watch TV news. The surest way to see people as stereotypes is to spend too much time in the echo chamber of the web and cable TV. Real people are complex and complicated. Real people are REAL. Get to know them (and you may also get to know yourself).
7. Educate Yourself
We all have a lot to learn. And it’s not up to people of color, for example, to teach us about racial justice. That’s on us. So learn about systemic racism. Learn about the difficulties LGBTQ youth face. Learn about mass incarceration. Learn about how America still makes it hard for people with disabilities to succeed. Learn about white privilege. And critically, learn about our country’s history with slavery and racism—a history that is far from “in the past.” No one’s asking you to be an expert. But the more you know, the better able you’ll be to help fight white supremacy, homophobia, sexism, and so much else that’s eating away at our culture.
8. Learn From Your Screw-Ups
They’re going to happen. You’re going to blunder. You’re going to say something you didn’t think through, ask a question that is unintentionally prejudiced, reveal a bias you didn’t even realize that you had. You’re going to offend someone. And then you’re going to apologize—sincerely. And learn. That’s the valuable part, and the part that keeps you from making the same mistake again.
By No Means Do We Believe We Have the Answers
We’re learning along with all of you. But we do know that we’re tired of seeing certain groups face down adversity, violence, and prejudice, while the rest of us act like somehow we’re not involved. That’s the big lesson: we are all involved, we’re all implicated. This concerns all of us.
Changing our country and changing the world begins right here, with each one of us. So let’s get started.