being a white ally

I just got back from a conference that I’ve been at all week. Sadly, there was no wifi there, so I was utterly unable to blog. I opened my bloglines tonight for the first time since Saturday, and I had 441 new feeds. Seriously. And only 76 of them were Wonkette! I’m slowly working my way through, and I’m not commenting much, but I am reading.

But I’ve got a serious issue that I want to discuss with you, oh internet, and I can’t wait until I wade through all your blogs to do it.

There’s some fairly divisive things going on in my workplace recently, some of which revolve around race. Which leads me to my question of the day:

If you’re a white person in a mixed worksite, how do you behave in a way that supports your co-workers of color, without trying to speak for them?

If you’re a person of color in a mixed worksite, how do you want to be supported by white allies? (assuming that you do)


March 23, 2006. politically motivated, random other things.


  1. Comfort Addict replied:

    To tell the truth, this is something that I don’t think about a lot. Between work and music, I spend a lot of time in the company of people of color. Yet, other than by simply being, talking, listening and learning with these friends, I don’t take any other concrete supportive actions. Mrs. CA and I used to belong to the NAACP but we gave it up due to a lack of time. I’m really interested in hearing some of the answers that you get – especially from people of color.

  2. chip replied:

    that’s a tough question for those of us who are white. I think we’ve been socialized to think that we need to help “these poor people”, in part from all the movies where the nice white liberal goes in and saves the poor black people, in various forms. This attitude is really prevalent in US foreign assistance too, where the well-intentioned American goes in and wants to “save” the locals, but doesn’t think to ask the locals for their take on the situation, for what they think would be the best thing to do.

    I think what we can do as white allies is to do that race work with other whites, to make them aware of what being white means. As for how to help colleagues of color, I think that the first step would be to ask them….

    I know, easier said than done, and the first point (work among other whites) is probably the hardest step of all.

  3. MetroDad replied:

    Without knowing the details of the situation, it’s hard to say. However, being non-white, I think I speak for ALL people of color (just kidding) when I say that the best means of support is NOT differentiating on color. However, your post seems to hint that there is some sort of institutional racism involved at your company. In that case, speak your mind.

    Glad you’re back. I was starting to get worried, LM!

  4. alala replied:

    I ask myself that question a lot too. I have to remind myself that nobody asked me to rescue them, and I tend to murmur “Well, I agree with B” and then keep my head down. Not a good solution, and I’m left feeling fairly wretched about it, but I never know what else to do. I’ll be watching this thread with interest.

  5. kdubs replied:

    I am fortunate to have always worked in places of great diversity. I suppose if something was wrong, someone was outcasting or coming donw on someone soley out of being a biggot, I’d jump in. I’d go to my manager or boss and explain what I’ve seen. I’d document. I’d work my a** off to make sure it’s stopped. And if managment didn’t do anything, I’d find a new place to work.

    If I can’t respect where I’m working, I can’t work there. Sad, so sad that this BS still happens today. Uh 2006?

  6. christie replied:

    I’ve seen people who change their tone of voice when around white people and then change it when they’re around black people….
    IMO just speak and act like you normally do.
    I try my hardest to.

  7. Carrie replied:

    Interesting question, and one I would love to know the aswer to. I am from a very non-diverse area and even though one of my best friends in school was black, even she admits that she doesn’t really know how to “be” black. I’ve worked with hispanics and Native Americans and always just treated everyone as equals. Then I moved to the DC area and whoa-nelly was I in a different world. I was just a sub, so not a person who had any power, but the racial tension was very real in some of my work places. I didn’t know how to act, so I acted like I always act and just treated everyone the way I would like to be treated. The majority of my classes were made up of mainly black students and I got a wide range of comments from “you’re ok . . . for a white person” and then I had students accuse me of treating them poorly because they were black, which didn’t get very far because I’d point out that that particular student was the only one with a problem even though there were 20 other black kids in the class.

  8. brettdl replied:

    I try my hardest to treat everyone — whether of different race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation — as anybody else. I don’t always succeed, but I do strive for that neutral stance. I let those in the minority define how they want to be perceived.

    But, when issues come up in conversation or situations arise, I tend to be an advocate for minority rights without becoming preachy. I’m fortunate, though, that I’ve rarely seen overt racial prejudice.

  9. Marsha replied:

    How about treating people as people with respect and dignity.

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