The Mandatory Guide to Speaking Like a Woke White Person in Support of Black Lives (So You Don’t Put Your Foot in It)
We are in the midst of a historic, global conversation about race. While in the past, white people have often sat quietly in the bleachers and watched others fight for equality, this time around, that’s not an option. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” White silence is just another form of violence towards people of color. Now that you know you need to speak up in support of black lives, how do you do so without making a fool of yourself? We’ll help you wade gracefully into this uncharted territory with our Mandatory guide to speaking like a woke white person.
Cover Photo: Erik McGregor / Contributor (Getty Images)
Say something. Anything.
Hopefully it will be the right thing. But if it’s not, there’s still learning to be had. You no longer have the luxury of silence.
Don’t be performative.
When voicing your support of black lives, check your motivation. Make sure you aren’t joining the conversation just to broadcast that you aren’t racist.
Don’t mention your black friend(s).
It’s reassuring that you have a diverse group of friends, but remember that they’re people, not medals of honor that prove how woke you are. Any time you’re tempted to start a sentence with “My black friends…” zip your lips.
Don’t state the obvious.
“We must do better” goes without saying. “Racism must stop.” Yup, we know. When you tweet “Tweets are not enough,” you just look stupid. You’re not a parrot. Stop repeating what’s already been said. And while you’re at it, avoid clichés.
Don’t co-opt language that isn’t yours.
Going to a demonstration? Great! Just don’t make “I can’t breathe” your mantra. You can breathe. As a white person, you are at little to no risk of being killed by a cop. To adopt language used by black voices in protest is offensive. Use your own words instead.
Don’t pussyfoot around the facts.
Ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s has been lauded for its statement on dismantling white supremacy. Why? Because it acknowledges reality and doesn’t sugarcoat the circumstances of George Floyd’s death. To wit: “The murder of George Floyd was the result of inhumane police brutality that is perpetuated by a culture of white supremacy. What happened to George Floyd was not the result of a bad apple; it was the predictable consequence of a racist and prejudiced system and culture that has treated Black bodies as the enemy from the beginning.” Pretty woke for a couple of white guys from Vermont.
Make a call to action.
When talking about injustice, don’t just focus on the problem. Urge others (and by others, we mean other white people) to take action. Where can they join you on a march? Where can they donate along with you? Which representative can they call? Make it clear how they can help.
Speak truth to white people.
As a white guy, your influence is strongest with other white people. Talk about black lives, police brutality, and racism with your white relatives, coworkers, and friends. Don’t let racist jokes go unchecked. Challenge Trump supporters. Have those tough conversations.
Yield your time.
Say your piece, then shut up and listen to voices of color who don’t get the air time you do.
Don’t just talk.
If all you ever do is talk, you’re part of the problem. Take meaningful, consistent action to fight racism. That has more of an impact than the most carefully worded statement ever could.