Text: Valo Vesikauris
How can I be as good anti-racist as possible? How can I be an ally to non-white people? During my internship at the Peace Education Institute, allyship is one of the themes I’ve been thinking about the most. When speaking of allyship I mean the actions a group of people, who have some kind of privilege over some other group, can take to support them. As a feminist and also a member of some minority groups the many discussions relating to allyship about power balances, oppression and equality are familiar to me. When doing transgender activism as a nonbinary person I’ve thought a lot about whose voices are or aren’t heard either in the field of activism or in society in general, and what kind of action I hope from my cisgender allies. But now, especially anti-racist allyship has raised many thoughts and questions in my head. When going through these questions on a personal level and also as a soon-to-be Bachelor of Social Services, I’ve gathered here some points of view on this topic. For me, it isn’t always easy to see what the best way is of doing things and what actions should I make when practising being an ally, but it is a little bit easier to see what things and mistakes I want to avoid.
”Instead of just preaching about equality and love, we must be honest and say aloud how things are. Today, skin color does matter.”
One of the mistakes white, good-willing people, who believe in the equality of all people, do is to shut their eyes from racism and different forms of oppression towards non-white people. For example, from time to time I see white people talking about how they “don’t see color” or how “we are all equal because love is colorblind” or something like that. Thanks to many PoC activists I’ve realized how this kind of thinking can be really damaging and cutting the edge of effective anti-racist work. Instead of just preaching about equality and love, we must be honest and say aloud how things are. Today, skin color does matter. It does affect how different people are seen, what kind of privileges or minority status they might have, and how easily and safely they can live their lives. As anti-racists, I think we cannot sugarcoat our message and fade out the reality of so many non-white people’s lives into something that they are not.
The second mistake is that we think that we automatically know what the best way is. I believe that there are many white people who think that their actions and goals are good, but who lack actual knowledge on racism, oppression and ways of work that dismantle the imbalance of power structures of white and non-white people. From my perspective listening is the first and one of the most important steps of doing anti-racist work. As a white person, I can’t without listening know, what is the best way of practice and what are the needs of people who I want to support. In addition to listening, I see the importance of actively making space for non-white people’s voices. Non-white people are the best experts on their own experiences and needs, so it is important that when discussing anti-racism or for example creating safer spaces, there are people present whom these topics concern. I don’t want to see all-white panels about anti-racism and equality where there aren’t non-white people seen or heard.
The third thing that I’ve been thinking about is that there can’t be an on-off switch in anti-racism. When someone claims to be anti-racist, I expect them to act like one every day all year round. Anti-racism isn’t just an identity that you can take and put off whenever you want. For example, it isn’t anti-racism to only support your non-white friends or people you like. Anti-racism isn’t either taking actions against racism only when it is easy and when you want to. This way of working and acting against racism every day takes courage and it isn’t easy for me neither. Racism is so deeply rooted in our society that addressing other people’s racist attitudes and stereotypes can be hard and, in many situations, you can feel very uncomfortable and lonely. How I’ve tried to gather my thoughts in these kinds of situations is that I’m the one who is safe, and I’m not the one who is being attacked, oppressed or silenced, so it is so much easier for me to intervene and callout the situation than for people who are hurting from these racist actions.
In conclusion, being an ally isn’t easy. Sometimes it can be so hard that you just don’t know what to do, or even if you know, the situation you are in might be so surprising or hard that you freeze. Or you might think that you know what to do but then someone callouts your actions and you have to learn how to improve again. Being anti-racist is a never-ending learning process where mistakes are made, but the more you learn, the better you become. I hope that I myself and every other white professional in social services can acknowledge that allyship, showing support for different minorities and working towards equality aren’t easy things to do, but they are the most necessary. Even though as far as I know, you can never be a perfect ally, but it is everyone’s responsibility to try.
RKI Intern in Spring 2020
Bachelor of Social Services