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How White Men Can Use their Power and Privilege and Show Up as a True Ally

Uncategorized Aug 22, 2021

I’m a special kind of white guy

I self-reflected, and I want to be an agent of change

So I am gonna use my privilege for the good (Very cool, way to go!)

American white guys

We've had the floor for at least four-hundred years

So maybe I should just shut the fuck up

I'm bored

I don't wanna do that

Bo Burnham’s special Inside features numerous songs that stand out, but this one speaks to an issue we don’t normally touch: What do we do with the white cis-men who want to be accomplises, or at the very least, allies? 

Often, folks write and speak about the white woman, the one who says “love and light” in one breath and goes on to cry in the light of being called out for racist or aggressive behavior towards Black, Indigenous and People of Color. We’ve all seen the Tik Toks and Reels of white women crying on the floors of Victoria’s Secret or calling the cops because a car was parked somewhere they didn’t like. 

The white cis-man on the otherhand is not mentioned. White men have an even greater privilege.. They are often in positions of power and decision-making which can generate influential changes from the top-down. The videos don’t exist. 

They have a lot of work to do -- possibly more than white women. There may be an assumption that they are not interested in, as Burnham says, being an “agent of change” and using their “privilege for the good.” Doing so involves a lot more than words. It’s a behavior and one that asks a white man to give up the privilege that they have sat on for centuries. 

But, the white male has access to spaces that many of us can’t go to. If white men can step down and do the work, they have the opportunity to make some crucial changes.

The work must be done though so that they can do this without causing further harm. 


We spoke to Kristina Lopez, our community manager at GaneshSpace who shares her insights on the ways white men in particular can show up in practice against racism, white supremacy, and colonization -- the three issues that plague BIPOC folks with oppression but lift white men above and beyond. 

“There are two routes of showing up better,” she lays out for us. “One is the work that they would do internally to dismantle whatever biases they might have and then the other is how they show up in the workspace, either interactions with people or how they speak up if they see something happening.” 

The internal work is important for all white people and anyone else who benefits from white supremacy. Going into the world of allyship or accompliceship is more than being self-reflected, which is often a self-applauding description used by white men in a similar fashion to white women’s assertion that “there is one race and that is human” White men need to go deeper than self-reflection to dismantling the inner forces that inform their beliefs and behaviors, especially white supremacy and patriarchy. These oppressive systems benefit white men, but continue to be harmful to BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks. 

Educate Yourself

Tsedale Melaku, a sociologist at CUNY mentions that one of the first and integral things to do is educate oneself on the issues. “An ally takes the time to read, listen, watch, and deepen understanding first,” she says. 

Education shouldn’t be on the shoulders of someone else. White men first need to  learn how discrimination and oppression exist so that the burden of educating is not put on someone else to explain, for possibly the billionth time, how racism and white supremacy work to make their life more difficult. 

“If someone’s entering an organization, trying to learn more about anti-racism work, it’s not just about going someplace and expecting education to be given to you,” Lopez says. “You have to take active steps and educate yourself.” If white men want to be part of this fight, they need to take an active role in their dismantling because no one is going to hand them the certificate or gold star they might be used to receiving. 

Melaku makes an important note: “Don’t rely too heavily on your own experiences, either.” If white men are only educating themselves and reflecting on oppression from their own experiences they’ll miss the point entirely. White men need to seek education directly from anti-racist educators (with payment or donation) or from listening to BIPOC experiences (without interruption).

But stopping at self-reflection and education is only going halfway. It’s the difference between allyship and being an accomplice. With the reflection and education, white men need to then step up and take action in the moment. 

Take Action

White men need to be actively engaging this work both internally and externally. One of the key points that Lopez hones in on is taking an active role in interactions. 

“Take action and then speak up,” they say. 

When white men who have power and leadership to speak up don’t, it says that the harm BIPOC folks endure isn’t significant enough. The harm goes unnoticed and unaccounted for and so the cycle continues. 

“There are those times where you’re like, I don’t have the energy to deal with this. Or I don’t want to risk my job. Or I don’t want to be the bad person in the office bringing this up again,” Lopez mentions. “So there are so many moments that go unshared that I would desire white men in the workplace to learn how to observe and read body language.” 

This is where mindfulness can play an important part -- “pay vigilant attention to how women, people of color, and women of color experience meetings and other gatherings, and stay alert to inequities and disparities,” says Melaku. Being vigilant, reading body language and observing the reactions of BIPOC folks in the room are all about being mindful and present in the moment. 

An ally may own their privilege, but an accomplice will use it to call-out microaggressions and racist behavior -- even when BIPOC folks are not in the room. Intervention doesn’t necessarily have to be in the moment. It can go up to another white person after an interaction. Or making a statement to HR about how another person is treating BIPOC folks. 

Many white men are in positions of power, especially decision-making power. As Lopez says, “It’s not about capitalizing off being woke.” Question how the company is spending their money, especially whether the company is actively redistributing the money toward reparations or BIPOC organizations. 

Additionally, as Diversity & Inclusion initiatives ramp up, white male decision-makers need to be even more vigilant about what is happening in their company’s workplace environment. Don’t bring a BIPOC person into a company to check a box, make them a token and then also introduce them to a harmful, unsafe work environment. Set the example by calling-out microaggressions, racist comments, and hostile spaces.

Actionable Mindfulness

Mindfulness is all about reflection -- reflecting on the self and how we move through the world. Reflecting on our relationships to others, as well as our relationship to our bodies on and off the mat. It’s a practice of the mind as well as the body and spirit. Aligning fully with mindfulness means taking the moments to reflect on what’s going on internally. 

Mindfulness also reminds us that we don’t know everything. We need to constantly be learning -- students of the world around us. If we only move through the world from our perspectives, beliefs and ideas, then we will never shift and grow. We’ll never seek the Truth. 

And lastly, taking action off the mat is how we embody mindfulness in everyday life. Mindfulness isn’t a practice only when we’re on the mat. It’s how we move through the world and how we choose to show up. When we move from ally to accomplice, taking action to intervene (whether that’s in the moment or taking steps afterwards), we’re taking mindfulness into action.

Questions for Reflection 

  1. What privileges do I have today? What systems of oppression do I benefit from (ie. white supremacy, patriarchy, colonization etc.)? 
  2. Am I in a position of power or leadership role? Am I a decision-maker in any organization? 
  3. What perspectives are missing from my educational resources? Do I follow/listen to BIPOC educators? Do I give them financial support? 
  4. What comes up when I think of intervening? What makes me uncomfortable and why? 
  5. How can I intervene in a way that honors where I am at in my process and is also active? 

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