4 Reasons Why White People Do Not “See” Racism & 4 Ideas to Lead Like an Ally

Many well-intentioned white people are saying things like:

  • “I don’t see racism.”
  • “Does this still really happen a lot?”
  • “I did not learn about this in school – why?”

It is 2020 and many white people are waking up to the reality that racism still exists. As I talk with white people about racism, I am hear statements that mirror white fragility.

White fragility is the discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice.

As a culture, we are taught from a young age not to see color, that slavery ended 150+ years ago, and that America has equal opportunity for all people. This story is simply not true. It is a white-washed version of the truth.

4 Reasons Why White People do not “See” Racism

Separate histories. Our history books are written to protect white supremacy. There is a reason why people of color are largely underrepresented in organizations today. There are many hidden figures throughout history whose stories have not been told. Black history month cannot possibly explain the full detail of our racial past. Instead of our real history, white people are raised to believe the world is equal and choose not to see racism.

Affinity bias. We prefer to associate with people like us. That means that a lot of white people do not have a lot of friends of color or many live-in communities with people that look like them. Most of Corporate America is led by white men and they do not even realize that most of their leadership is comprised of nearly all white men. It is hard to see what you perceive to be “normal.”

The myth of meritocracy. We were told from a young age about the golden rule and believe that people are treated fairly, especially if you have been. It is hard to see what you have not experienced yourself or through the eyes of a person of color.

The zero-sum game. With the backlash to #blacklivesmatter, it is clear that white people still see this as black lives matter more. This is not at all the case. Saying that black lives matter does not in any way mean that other lives do not matter as much. It simply means that the focus needs to be on black lives because racial events clearly display an inequality. Simply put, black lives matter too.

These reasons are not at all valid, and must be unpacked for white people to move forward as allies for the African American community. Then, we can migrate to a better understanding of what it means to be an ally and how to take action. For those wondering:

  • “How do I show up?”
  • “How can I be helpful?”
  • “This isn’t okay, but I have no idea where to start”

This is a chance to be an ally.  And, once someone commits to being an ally, they are on the journey. It is not a destination; it is a long game.

4 Ideas for White People to Lead Like Allies

Listen to learn. Listen with empathy and curiosity. This is not a white savior or white knight moment. This is a chance to learn about race from a different perspective. Being open to others’ experiences makes you a fundamentally better human. Remind yourself that by listening I learn, but talking I do not learn anything I did not already know.

Respect others’ energy. Do not expect people of color to do all the educating about racism. It is unfair to expect those marginalized to solve the problem alone. When you ask them for help, be prepared to do your own heavy lifting.

Get other allies involved, especially white men. 90%+ of decision makers in Corporate America and most of our lawmakers are white men. They still control the power and wealth in the world. Be mindful of how to engage them in a psychologically safe way where they do not feel attacked or threatened. Welcome them to events, programs, and share books and ideas with them. Let them take the baby steps needed for their own growth. It is a journey. It does not happen overnight. We will not get far without those in power committing to this long-term.

Monitor your compassion fatigue. This is a long game. If it were easy, we would have done it already. That means putting on your oxygen mask before helping others put on their oxygen masks. Self-care is important. Monitor your energy and protect it. Safeguard your calendar and be intentional about the conversations you are having. It is exhausting to have to explain racism to people endlessly. Share resources like Anti-Racism Resources for White People to help. You do not have to do all the heavy lifting.

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