What Can I Do? Some Answers to Our White Allies in the FightBy: Jimmy Davis
Over the past week or so, I have received numerous texts from my white coworkers, friends, and mentors with the same sentiment: what can I do to help? At first, I didn’t want to respond to the question because there are so many things you can do as an ally, but it will take work and the ability to examine yourself with a lens you have never used before. But if you are up for the task, then it can be a journey that will make you a better person. Here are just a few things to consider.
Am I an “ally” everywhere?
Yes, this first question is the cornerstone of “allyship” (not sure if that is a word but work with me here). Many of us know how easy it is to say, “I am here for you” or “I support you,” but the key to that is to ask yourself, “do I really?” Does your allyship show up in your own friendships? If you are an executive at your company, are your teams diverse? And no, you can’t hit me with the “I support diverse thinking” statement. You know what I mean here. Do you have culturally diverse members on your team? Do you look for diversity when filling a new role? Do you require your recruiters to present a diverse slate of candidates each time? We all have seen the countless studies that conclude: the more diverse team you have, the better the results for the business. Yet we still see that minority representation at the most senior level is a problem we report on every day. And instead of making that an issue we attribute to CEOs around the globe, just start with the world you control—you. Does your allyship show up by promoting diversity where you control it? Are you open to the places where it does not, and will you take steps to complete the tasks of being an ally? I know, there are so many questions to answer in just this one question, but the goal of understanding what you can do as an ally is to first examine where you are on the spectrum. If we can get your help to be an ally everywhere, then it is the start of a beautiful relationship.
Am I educated on the topic?
Now, it is easy to say that you “understand” that racism is a problem. But do you really? It is important that you get educated on the issues. And this may be the easiest of all the things I say here. Educate yourself on the issues of racism in this country. Understand that there are privileges that you have that others do not. You are not to feel bad because you have them. No one is trying to denigrate you for that, but realize that your privilege exists. We all have privileges that others don’t, even within races. There are some things I am privileged to that other black men are not. I have to recognize that for myself just as I ask you to recognize yours. So get educated. There are tons of books and research on these issues. There are videos and documentaries that help to explain some of the topics. These issues are American and part of the fabric of our country. Lastly, ask the hard questions of your black friends. Trust me, many are used to it and would rather educate you on issues than leave you out there hanging. But know you are getting the answer from their perspective and not from an entire race. No one black person speaks for us all. But ask the questions and learn something.
What actions do I take?
I think the action to be taken at this time in America is to commit to the solution. This is not a flash-in-time issue or something that will get fixed shortly. This wound is deep and will take therapy and other remedies to help heal this country from what is referred to as “America’s Original Sin.” Action and commitment are necessary. Consider the places where you have an unfair advantage and see how you can make it fair for others. Look at your school districts, libraries, public transportation, etc. It is not just an economic issue. Look to see where you have avoided these topics and dive in with energy. Make sure that you support diversity in a manner that is core to your being and not the popular thing to do. There will be a plethora of places where we can address racism and plenty of areas that need your skill and help. Commit to it and be unapologetic that it is core to your beliefs.
Okay, I think that is the start. I don’t want to overwhelm you with action items and questions. If you can answer these first three and join the millions around the country who are saying “Black Lives Matter,” then your allyship is confirmed. Just remember the work is arduous and will oftentimes force you to confront issues that have been core to your identity. It is doing that for all of us. Stay in the fight and help eradicate racism for good.
Jimmy Davis is an Executive Bench® services consultant in RHR International’s Atlanta office.
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