Eleven years ago, I became the father to a three-year-old Black daughter. Little did I know how that moment would alter my life, perspective, and identity. It would eventually change my understanding of America’s past and today’s society. I became aware of racism within myself and others as never before. I vowed to address that racism. Though the transition from an unconscious racist to an anti-racist has often been painful, I am a better white human being for it.
Identifying myself as a white human being was part of that transition. Eleven years ago, I categorized everyone other than myself by some racial designation. They were Black, Asian, or Latino. They needed such describers, but I did not. I was normative. Others – though I was unconscious of this bias – were deficient and inferior. Acknowledging this ugliness in me took time. Gradually, I recognized my prejudice and began to reconstruct my understanding of myself and of the world.
Looking back, I can clearly see the steps of that journey. While I suspect there are more steps ahead, here is a quick summary of my steps in becoming a better white human being.
- Step One: Acknowledge Your Racism
Like in AA, acknowledgement is necessary before any other progress can be made. As a child I had been taught that racists were bad people. Since I was not a bad person, I concluded I could not be racist. This is a common white misunderstanding. This allows us to ignore deeply embedded and mostly unconscious racist thoughts and behaviors. It is impossible for a white person growing up in a white supremacist society not to internalize certain prejudices. If you disagree with this, you can stop reading further. If you’d like to explore this further…
- Check out my post I Am Racist and The Culture of Whiteness
- Read “White Fragility” by Robin DeAngelo.
- Step Two: Read and Listen to Non-White Voices
Early in this journey, I found a list of the best 100 books written by Black authors and discovered I had only read five. If you are serious about becoming a better white human being, you must begin reading and listening to non-white voices. They are the voices most likely to see and point out ugliness in yourself and white society to which you are oblivious. One of my early commitments was to intentionally read and listen to non-white voices. If you’re ready to take this step…
- Check out my post I Need To Listen
- Read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book “Between the World and Me”
- Check out these Facebook pages “Son of Baldwin,” “Black Girl In Maine,” and “Ijeoma Olou” They have Twitter accounts as well.
- Step Three: Relearn American History
One of my biggest shocks in addressing my racism was discovering how little I knew about both the minority experience in America and about the history of white brutality. Though I thought myself well-educated, I soon realized my understanding of American history has been whitewashed. It is hard to become a better white person when you don’t even know your own history. Once you begin listening to non-white voices, you are going to hear them reference many historic events of which you were unaware. If you’re ready to relearn…
- Check out my post Things I Didn’t Know and Whitewashing Slavery
- Read “Lies My Teachers Told Me” and “Stamped From the Beginning”
- Step Four: Identify with Non-White People and their Causes
One of the first actions you can do to become a better white human being is to publicly acknowledge your racism on social media. Talk about your realizations and new understandings. Share what you are learning. Put a Black Lives Matter sign in your yard or wear a Black Lives Matter t-shirt. While these may seem to be token actions, the fact that so few white people do them suggests how much pressure there is for white people not to break solidarity. If you’re ready to take this step…
- Check out my post Kindly Be Just
- Start posting anti-racist articles on your social media.
- Buy a BLM shirt and wear it to the grocery store.
- Step Five: Alienate and Influence Friends and Family
If you have taken step four, you will experience step five. You cannot become a better white human being without alienating some friends and even family. Those who remain may see you as odd, irritating or fanatical. Many will not appreciate or value your quest to become a better white human being. This is the cost of being anti-racist in a white supremacist society. If you are experiencing this loss…
- Check out my posts A Traitor To My Race and Making Everything About Race
- Be happy! This is perhaps the truest validation that you are becoming a better white human being.
- Step Six: Learn How To Be The Minority
In the first 55 years of my life, I do not remember ever being in a place or situation where I was not in the majority. This is both evidence of my segregated life and of my white privilege. No person of color has this luxury. Over the past five years, I have intentionally – and that is the only way it happens – put myself in places and situations where I am in the minority. All my reading did not prepare me for the power of hearing non-white voices speak in person. If you are ready for this step…
- Check out my post I Need People of Color
- Intentionally find a minority group or event with which to engage.
- Go, listen and observe. DO NOT CENTER YOURSELF.
- Step Seven: Develop Friendships With Non-White People
The best white human beings have non-white friends. Unfortunately, seventy-five percent of white people do not have any people of color as friends. In a white supremacist, highly segregated society, this is not surprising. I grew up in a town with one black family. Developing genuine and mutual friendships with a person of color doesn’t happen very often unless we intentionally seek it out. Unfortunately, seeking out a person of color to befriend to accomplish this step WON’T be a genuine friendship. This step takes time and a willingness to wait for a person of color to choose to befriend you. If you are open to this step…
- Check out my post Misunderstanding My Black Friends
- Continue to put yourself in places where non-whites work, play and engage.
- Be patient.
- Step Eight: Give Time and Money to Racial Equity
There are many well-meaning white people who do this step first. Unfortunately, when we begin with this step, we are probably trying to avoid the first seven steps I’ve outlined. We may be motivated by shame or guilt. We hope our generosity buys us credibility. It does not. Indeed, without doing the hard work of becoming a better white human being, you will probably see your investment as a point of pride rather than reparations. Only once we’ve done the hard work of changing ourselves can we truly invest our time and money in changing our world. If you are ready for this step…
- Check out my post Paying My Reparations
- Begin making monthly donations to non-white led organizations working for racial equity.
- Determine a non-white led organization with which to volunteer.
- Step Nine: Influence Public Policy of Racial Equity
Use your white privilege and power to influence public policy. Speak out at City County meetings, School Board meetings, and other public forums. Write and call your political representatives until they know your voice and name. Attend BLM protests. Vote for anti-racist politicians and anti-racist policies. If you are ready for this step…
- Check out my post Potholes and Privilege
- Start speaking, calling, and writing.
I am sure there are more steps ahead in my journey to become a better white human being. I am also certain I will need to occasionally revisit some of these earlier steps. I have discovered this path is not linear. I must retrace my steps often. I am also aware of how careful I must be in looking back. It is very easy to become complacent or even proud. These are not the attributes of a good white human being. If you think you’ve accomplished all nine steps…
- Check out my posts Never Not Once and I Am Not A Hero
2 thoughts on “Nine Hard Steps To Becoming A Better White Human Being”
James … You continue to stretch my white heart, mind, and soul to a better place…. many thanks for what you are doing!