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For advocates, white allyship involves action

Sarah Gager
Black and white protesters interlock arms during a recent demonstration in Binghamton.

Systemic racism is one group of people controlling all major institutions and resources.

“White people are the problem,” said Anne Rhodes, member of the Tompkins County chapter of Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). By not being engaged in racial justice, she said white people have allowed racial inequality.

“We allowed this to happen in our name,” Rhodes said. “We didn’t resist, we didn’t learn and we didn’t mobilize ourselves against it.”

In the mid-1970s, Rhodes sent her daughter to public school. Although the school was racially mixed, all the teachers were white. She said racism in the school was not being addressed.

At first, Rhodes spoke to her daughter’s teacher and eventually led workshops on racism for the whole school. Her anti-racism work continued ever since, including with SURJ.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
A protester in Buffalo speaks to white allyship.

Bringing white people in the movement for racial justice is one of the group’s missions. 

“There’s no such thing as being non-racist. If you’re not anti-racist you’re a part of the problem,” explained Rhodes. To be anti-racist, she said one should educate themselves on history and current events, and how racism is pervasive in our society.

“Whose voices get heard in decision making?” Rhodes asked, advising white people to listen to black and brown people.

Rhodes said there are changes to day-to-day life for which white people can advocate. For example, if you work at a business, what are the hiring practices?

“There are ways right where you are that you can make a difference, and start to move toward more and more activism and eventually we can build the political will that we need to make the big structural changes,” Rhodes said.

She wants white people to talk to other white people.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Races have joined together to protest in Buffalo.

“It’s good to be in a group of white people and begin to talk about race,” Rhodes said, adding that these conversations can happen at congregations, neighborhoods and families.

Rhodes' words have been echoed at recent protests over racial injustice.

“I need more. We need more,” said Nia Nunn at a recent protest. “I don’t want allies. I want comrades.”

Rhodes hears that as a call for white people to have a real stake in the fight against racism, to not meet this moment with sympathy but to move with more decisive involvement and engagement to dismantle white supremacy, to literally put white bodies between black bodies and harm, to break white silence and do something.

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