THE BLOG
01/06/2016 04:12 pm ET | Updated Jan 06, 2017

A Challenge to White Allies in the New Year: Resolve to Do Your Part to Dismantle White Supremacy

michael b thomas

The year ends with an announcement that there will be no charges in the shooting of Tamir Rice. As the New Year dawns, I can't help but wonder how long it will be before I wake up to more breaking news of violence aimed at Black men and women - another morning where Black men and women talk about how to live in a world where whether we are speaking out, walking down the street or going to church we have to wonder if we will be safe. There will be another slew of outcries from white allies on my social media. I will see hashtags calling for justice, and I will think it is not enough. I need more. Black men, women and children need more. My community needs more than beautiful words of solidarity.

I must admit, the topic of white allyship is one that brings me mixed feelings even though I know that throughout history there were white abolitionists and white people who gave safe space for those on the underground railroad. I also know there were white people who fought against apartheid, and white people who marched in the streets from Selma. And even with white people in the streets with Black Lives Matter today Black people are still being killed even while playing at a playground or after forgetting to signal before changing lanes. So there are times I ask myself, why do we need white allies, if they are only going to leave the rally, hang up their sign and return to the safety of their privilege while I continue to live in a constant state of fear and trauma?

Black men and women are experiencing harassment and discrimination each day - structural oppression that too often is not recognized, understood or acknowledged. Whether it is shopping while Black this holiday season or the many Black families who were without a loved one at their table due to the fact that mass incarceration has locked away such a staggering number of Black men and women, the issues are bigger than police violence.

Current research shows that 1 in every 14 Black children in the U.S. have at least one parent in prison, compared with one in every 125 white children. In spite of the hateful rhetoric about absent fathers and broken families this is due to the active profiling and criminalization of our community. Black men and women are incarcerated at disproportionate rates and for longer sentences. This means losing months and years away from their families when they are locked away, but it can also mean that they lose their right to vote and if they are forced to "check the box" indicating they were convicted of a felony they are often denied access to housing, employment and education. There is a tremendous cost to Black men and women, our children and our families when white allies ignore the very real racism that plays out in the prison industrial complex.

While there is without a doubt an epidemic of police violence and brutality against Black men and women and the overall need to address injustice in the criminal justice system, racism and white supremacy filters through every system and every community in this country. This is so much bigger than one system. It starts young when Black boys and girls are 3.5 times more likely than their white classmates to be suspended or expelled and continues throughout our lives when we are overrepresented in low wage jobs, experience higher rates of unemployment and continue to face huge disparities in access to quality health care resulting in much poorer outcomes and a maternal health crisis.

For Black lives to matter, for our children to not only be safe, but be able to thrive, and to push back on the discrimination that permeates our society at every level, we need white people - those who choose to resist the system of white supremacy - to see themselves as allies and then to make that word mean something.

White allies need to get uncomfortable. Dig deep to examine your own internalized racism, the assumptions you make, the beliefs you have about Black people and do your work. And don't just get yourself in line - get your people.

Be willing to talk to the people around you. Whether it is doing more than rolling your eyes at the family member who spouts off at the dinner table or responding online when you see someone making a hateful or uninformed comment, think about engaging and being the person willing to challenge assumptions and hold them accountable. You may lose some friends, but just remember the Black people who have lost a loved one due to police violence. You can make new friends, but they can never get a loved one back.

Take action in the spaces around you. You can talk to your child's school about the policies and whether some children are being caught up in disciplinary actions more than others or talk to your human resources department at work to make sure that there is work being done around recruitment, hiring and support of candidates and employees of color to ensure fair workplaces policy and diversity in the workplace.

Don't wait for another life to be lost or for a tragedy to speak out. You can support - not take over - a local group doing community organizing or pull together your own event - large or small - where you get your people together to talk about race and racial justice in a real and honest way, cultivate open dialogue and a commitment to action.

There are times when I hear another story of a Black life lost to violence that I just want to turn the television off, but I do not. I cannot. I keep working and fighting and striving, but it should not be on the backs of Black men and women to do this work alone. In fact, we shouldn't have to. It is not our job to dismantle white supremacy. It is a system created by white people; therefore it will take white people to destroy it.

Do not just grieve another loss. Do something about it. As you think about your commitments for this New Year, commit to standing up and speaking out in your community and in your homes. Challenge the systems that hold Black people down, the systems that you benefit from. Get comfortable making yourself and other people uncomfortable - our lives depend on it.