In response to my recent blog post titled 10 Tips for White Allies Regarding Police Brutality: From the Heart of a Black Woman…, I received the following comment from a reader who is a White Woman. My response to her follows.
Comment from reader:
Dr. Hines-Gaither – I am a white ally. Can you please elaborate on #8 above, or direct me to more detail? I confess to being ignorant about how I could have benefited from the systemic system of racism. (I can only hope I have not!)
Since you mentioned that you are an ally, I assume that you have awareness of the disadvantaged, marginalized experiences of people of color in the United States (if that is your location). There cannot exist a system of disadvantage for some, without a comparable system of advantage for others. There are many examples of how White people benefit from racism personally, interpersonally, culturally, institutionally and systemically. Given the current context, I will focus on criminal justice as just one systemic example. I hope that you will work to envision how this example relates to other systems of advantage and disadvantage such as the workplace, education, healthcare, banking and everyday life, to name a few.
Related to the death of Michael Brown, I will use the case of Ferguson, MO since we have comprehensive data on that locale. According to the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation of Ferguson, MO Police Department (see pg. 62), African Americans accounted for 85% of police stops and 90% of all citations went to African Americans (although they only make up 67% of the population). African American drivers were 2X more likely to be searched than White drivers, although White drivers yielded more contraband when searched. African Americans received 4-5 citations in a single stop 73 times, while White drivers received 4-5 citations only twice during a single stop.
These racialized injustices can only be possible if African American counterparts (White people and others) are advantaged. While African Americans are stopped and ticketed disproportionately, a White driver has the privilege of not being stopped nearly as frequently. This is an example of how a White person benefits from a system of injustice. Although Whites are found with drugs more often when stopped, they are stopped far less frequently than African Americans. Therefore, while African Americans are dealing with the anxiety of being stopped by police, the fines accrued, time away from work and family due to litigation and incarceration, and overall injustice, White people are disproportionately shielded from these disadvantages. Every day that a White person gets to drive in Ferguson, they benefit by less police surveillance because the gaze of the police is largely focused on African Americans. In turn, White people who indulge in drugs can do so with greater levels of impunity while reaping no financial impact, enjoying lower stress levels and anxiety and being in the comfort of their homes loving on their families. As such, you can see that not only do White individuals benefit from Ferguson’s systemic racism, but their children and communities benefit as well.
Without a recognition and admission of White privilege and White advantage, it would be impossible for a White person to ally effectively with African Americans regarding justice reform. White people in the United States live in a society that has advantaged them since our earliest founding (read the case of John Punch). Although socially constructed, racism and its consequences have become normal operation. This is why it is difficult for you to see that you benefit from this system. Because racism is so ingrained in our culture and legal system, it is difficult to eradicate, but those who wish to be allies must be aware of its existence.
When a White person does not recognize how they are advantaged at the expense of people of color, it is difficult for them to properly ally with people of color. White people must understand the larger dynamics of how systems advantage them while disadvantaging others. This is not a blame game, this is simply the reality. Understanding the points herein are key to becoming an effective ally who serves to support our community while causing less harm.
For further reading, I strongly recommend this foundational article by Peggy McIntosh titled White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (an oldie, but goodie). I recommend this more recent article by Robin DiAngelo titled White Fragility, as well as DiAngelo’s book White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Finally, I recommend the book White Rage: The unspoken truth of our racial divide by Carol Anderson.
Dr. Krishauna Hines-Gaither
Workshop: White Allies regarding Police Brutality and Beyond
Dr. Krishauna Hines-Gaither will share tips and insights on sustaining relationships and offering support across differences. She will share tips that are applicable in many situations including the current events related to police brutality. She will focus on white allyship regarding police violence against predominantly black and brown bodies. Communities of color will also benefit from this workshop, and gain additional tools to navigate cross-racial engagement.
One thought on ““I am a White ally, but I do not understand how I benefit from systemic racism.””
This is a really great article. Two points come to mind.
1) “African American drivers were 2X more likely to be searched than White drivers, although White drivers yielded more contraband when searched”.
This is presumably because if racist police officers are stoppping a white driver it’s because they have a good reason to (i.e. there actually is a good chance they will have contraband on them). Maths is very much my weak point (so apologies if your statistic is already taking this into account: it’s unclear), but I’m assuming that if you halved the number of black drivers stopped (i.e. to the same level to white people and they were stopped for the same reasons), the level of contraband yielded would be roughly the same?
2) “This is not a blame game, this is simply the reality. Understanding the points herein are key to becoming an effective ally who serves to support our community while causing less harm”. I think this kind of message is the key to getting more people on board. On that note, I was wondering what your thoughts were on the phrasing of ‘white privilege’ as a means of persuading white people to get on board with being an ally. Whilst I understand the message, I’m just wondering if it somewhat hampers adoption by a lot of white people because it immediately puts them on a back footing. If you go to white working class people (for example) talking about their ‘privilege’, their immediate thoughts might well be ‘I have lots of struggles too (financial, social, etc.), how dare you tell me I’m living it up?!’, thus you’re starting from a point where people disconnect from listening to the message because they’re feeling like they’re being attacked from the outset (and then it takes shocking footage of police officers choking a black man to death for them to even consider issues like systemic racism). It’s an alienating phrase to many people who wouldn’t consider themselves ‘privileged’ (because they’d view politicians, celebrities, CEOs, etc. as ‘privileged’); I’m not saying the idea behind it is wrong, just that, as a phrase, I’m not sure it’s helpful in gaining support.