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So You Want to be a White Ally?

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Here is a preview of the upcoming issue of the NYM Journal. With Election Day less than 100 days away, this is a valuable message from a Friend who works on the front lines of challenging the way we think about our voting rights. (PDF below)


So You Want to be a White Ally?

Gerri Williams
Duluth-Superior Friends Monthly Meeting

In the wake of George Floyd's murder in May, I have witnessed something I never thought possible in America: widespread public uprisings for racial justice, with hundreds of thousands of White Americans participating. Changes in public opinion and attitudes among the White majority have been equally unexpected, massive and sustained. It's as if White Americans ingested a truth serum that allowed you to see a little of what reality is for many African Americans. It has certainly affected your reading habits: sales of books on the topic of race such as How to Be an Antiracist (Kendi, I. X., 2019) and White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Race (DiAngelo, R., 2018) have risen to the top of the bestseller lists.

Now many White people are asking, “What can I do?” —a heartening development indicating your commitment to challenge police brutality, income inequality and other elements of structural racism. But, there is another element of wokeness that seems to exist under the radar, a practice that inflicts incalculable harm on people of color, that you CAN do something about: voter suppression. Perhaps White Americans are uninformed or unconcerned about voter suppression because most of you will never be affected by it. Seriously, have you ever experienced any inconvenience at the polls beyond, say, a wait in line or a temporary machine malfunction? American elected officials knowingly and maliciously depriving you of your franchise is just not in your frame of reference.

But, it is in mine. I wept when I learned about the brazen, updated Jim Crow tactics leading up to and during the 2016 election to bar Blacks from the polls, including restricting voter registration drives, purging voter rolls, instituting onerous ID requirements, and reducing or eliminating early voting days and hours. Wielded by officials in Republican-led or -dominated states, the motive and effect is to marginalize voters of color. The persistence of these tactics, and their success, confirmed what I already feared: that my rights as a citizen in my own country—a country where my family has lived and helped to build for six generations—still, today and at any time could be erased by White politicians, and tolerated by their White supporters and fellow party members.

Voter suppression, then, translates into a kind of civic murder. It nullifies our standing and agency as citizens—reducing the odds that we people of color can ever change the conditions that oppress us through our participation in the electoral system. It is the very essence of “structural racism.” And, to add insult to injury, there is no redress after the fact, even if lawsuits are successful in challenging these voter suppression practices. Proof of malfeasance does not alter election results.

That is where you, White ally, come in. Maybe you are in an anti-racism reading group; you wear a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt and plant a sign with that motto on your front lawn. All worthy things that should be continued. Nevertheless, while unlearning racism is a lifetime process, the election is in fewer than 100 days. The Republican National Committee is rolling out even more ruthless plans to disadvantage voters. It plans to deploy an intimidating force of 50,000 poll watchers with the power to challenge citizens casting their votes in 15 key states, while also ramping up lawsuits to limit vote-by- mail access. [Associated Press, (2020, August 11). Freed from legal constraints, GOP ramps up effort to monitor voting. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www/latimes.com.] The answer to “What can I do?” lies directly in your willingness to expose voter suppression. This is an urgent moment requiring action and engagement.

What can that engagement look like? It means, starting today, working to support progressive candidates through myriad means, including phone- and text-banking, sending postcards and letters to potential voters, and spreading the word that the U.S. Postal Service needs federal funds to facilitate safe voting during the pandemic through mail-in ballots. Doing this helps circumvent the underhanded closing of polling places in minority communities. Still another means is working with groups to register new voters or to re-register those unfairly purged from the rolls.

I know, I know. We are in the midst of a pandemic that has upended everyone's lives financially, medically and socially. People are facing the possibility of unemployment, displacement from their homes, and are suffering the mental stress of illness, even death, from a novel virus.

Whites are still the numerical majority in the United States and your participation has an outsized effect on the electoral outcome. Republicans haven't found a way to suppress White progressive voters—yet. And the tragic fact that Black, Brown and Native people in America suffer the highest rates of infections and deaths in this pandemic means you, White ally, need to “stand in the breach” for people of color who are absent from the electorate due to suppression as well as the ravages of Covid-19.

The good news: there is an array of groups organizing for the election—some venerable and established, others grassroots startups brimming with young energy—that match your interests and offer a range of options for participation. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund; Movement Voter Project (which funds Black-led grassroots citizens groups); Americans of Conscience; and Native American Rights Fund (vote.narf.org) are just a few of the action-oriented organizations that need your support.

Digital outreach enables you to participate in your own or any other state's campaign to highlight candidates who denounce and combat voter suppression. On your own, you can write to officials in states that flagrantly suppress minority voting access, and let them know you refuse to spend your vacation dollars, or plan your future family reunions or professional association meetings in states that disenfranchise your fellow Americans. Money talks, so be sure to send copies of your correspondence on your stance to the local Chamber of Commerce and Department of Tourism as well.

So there you have it. I believe your desire to confront racism is sincere—but fervor and commitment can wane over time. Now is the moment to translate any anguished hand wringing about “What can I do?” into actions that will benefit not only your fellow citizens of color, but will move a fairer and
more transparent electoral system forward for everyone. Do you want to be a White ally in a way that is tangible, timely and supportive of democracy? There are fewer than 100 days to the election, and there is work to be done. If not now, when? If not you, who?

Or you could just pick up another book on White fragility.

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