Numerous devastating, unsettling and highly public situations of racial injustice over the past year have forced me as an ordinary white person to explore the role I play in maintaining social inequality and the opportunities I have to help eradicate it. How can I use my privilege, my access to opportunities without obstacles, to root out acts of hatred and violence against communities of color? The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on blacks? A completely different law enforcement response to the mafia invasion of the US Capitol on January 6 compared to the protests in support of Black Lives Matter? These questions require sincere reflection on privilege, systemic racism, and the work ahead – and as an ally, they force me to do more with my position to bring about real change.
Growing up in Europe
Growing up in Europe, I am well aware that racial discrimination and the unfair treatment of minorities is a global problem. However, people around the world are increasingly speaking out in search of a different future. Whether it’s an open, loud approach or a focused community conversation, this work is critical. As just one ally, I can start making changes, but I believe it will take many people to stop the spread of discrimination and hatred by standing up for what is right.
How do we approach what seems so insoluble? These systemic global problems, deeply rooted in history, are overwhelmingly difficult to fully understand, let alone take action. I found that this requires listening and learning in a different way than ever before and:
I’m doing work. For me, one aspect of this is taking a closer look at cultural truths, diving into history to find out what really happened, and tracing it back to the systemic disadvantage of racial and ethnic minorities today. It also means seeing the same picture in many countries around the world that have a history of colonial atrocities and systemic subjugation.
Tendency to avoid
Overcoming the tendency to avoid, reject, and revise uncomfortable discussions about race in history. No matter where we grew up, revisionist history has shaped how we see the world. And no matter who we are as humans, it is difficult to understand that some of what we have long believed to be true is the exact opposite. So, in my conversations, I regularly pay attention to this and question what I once believed to be true.
Tell the truth to the authorities and be prepared for disagreement. This is where alliance is most relevant to me. Telling the truth to the authorities means doing what is right – even in the face of criticism and backlash. A simple example of this is when I ask questions about whether we place too much emphasis on diversity and inclusion in our day-to-day work, and how our organization insists on proper learning and reflection, such as June.
Or when people ask why I’m one of the executive sponsors of our Blacks at Microsoft resource group when I’m not in the community. Each of our opportunities for change will be different, but do we stand up when we see injustice in our communities, when a colleague is overlooked or bullied, when our candidates for assembly lines are appallingly monotonous, when our white friends reflect on the lives of blacks? protests?
For me, alliance is not a passive activity. It is not enough to just read, make declarative statements about your position and discuss problems. Real change requires activation and probably requires more heart, energy, and empathy than we may have invested in many other things in our lives. So as I reflect on Black History Month and the rich history that led to it, I decide to do more to be an even better ally.
Like me, many of you reading this have enjoyed the privilege of whites all your life – the absence of systemic barriers to your advancement. So how can we use our privilege to uplift others, make room for others, and pave the way for true justice? “