24 September 2021

My Checklist for How to Actually be a Good Ally

Part 2 of my latest on race in modern America. 

For an explanation of the points below, read the last post

1) Stop using the term “poc” (or “brown people” or “bipoc”, or anything else equivalent). 

Tacking on “black and indigenous” supposedly somehow makes the term less reductionist, or less emphasizing of European’s special place in society (even though it still contains the same last 3 letters, which means its not so much changed as merely redundant). Just as society came up with the word “retarded” to provide a clinical, neutral term to replace feeble minded, which itself was to replace imbecile, and before that moron, which replaced idiot – and then “retarded” became the new pejorative, to then be replaced by “mentally disabled” and then “challenged” and… changing the actual specific words or terms, while leaving the meaning the same, doesn’t really change anything. Regardless of what acronym is currently in favor, the actual meaning of the term is still exactly the same as “colored people” – and we should all be just as offended by hearing “bipoc” as we would be from “colored people”.

2) Be conscious of – and reject – all forms of “separate but equal”.

They are everywhere, some more subtle than others. There are obvious ones, like decrying artists for “cultural appropriation” because they happen to like a genre dominated by people of a different appearance, or referring to all movements of European Americans into areas they aren’t already dominate as “gentrification” even when the location in question has rent control and just cause for eviction laws ensuring that no individual is displaced due to increasing rent prices. There are less obvious forms, like collecting separate data on people based on their demographics, when no equivalent data is collecting on equally irrelevant factors such as whether particular people are left-handed or whether they have attached earlobes or can fold their tongues. Summaries of what “the ____ community” thinks or does or wants or what is good for it, made by anyone other than the representative of a formal association made on the grounds of a particular demographic, are a form of advocating segregation. Look for it. Don’t do it.

3) Stop fueling the fire! 

Don’t repeat dramatic, outrage inducing anecdotes, unless you have taking the time and effort to personally research the relevant statistics, and you know that this particular anecdote is actually representative of a larger overall trend. Consider that the more outrage inducing a particular story is, the more likely it is that some or many relevant details have been left out somewhere in the retelling. This has always been true, but it is perhaps especially true in the age of character limited social media and the attention deficit disorder it has caused to become normal in everyone. Don’t constantly search for confirmation of the narrative. If you search for it, you will be able to find the evidence you want – just like you can do for any narrative. But taken out of a larger context, that “evidence” might really be nothing more than a random anecdote. The New York Times is a terrible offender in this. Literally every time they report on a story that fits the traditional Narrative of Oppression and will spark outrage (therefore selling more papers) they will make a point of noting the race of the individual’s involved, no matter how inorganically it fits into the headline: “White officer shoots black man”. When the story doesn’t fit the narrative - if they report it at all - there is no mention of race “Officer shoots suspect”; as though race is relevant if, and only if, it fits a predefined model of oppression. Because of media framing, almost everyone “knows” that police almost never shoot at white people, and certainly never unarmed white people – this just happens to be factually inaccurate, they actually shoot at white people more often. And while of course the ratio seems biased again when you account for the proportions of people in society, it turns out that when you adjust for rates of involvement in violent crimes (e.g. blacks commit more than half of murders annually), black men are actually shot at disproportionately less than white men in the same situation. The reason “everyone knows” something that is factually inaccurate is because media cherry picks outrage inducing stories, frames them misleadingly, and then the public repeats the implications of the stories to each other without bothering to fact check. Don’t have time to fact check every story? That’s fine. Just don’t repeat it, or take it at face value.

4) Don’t ignore real “intersectionality”, crimes, and other anti-social behavior committed by minorities.

Including that intersectionality works in both directions. That term is basically used simply to count the number of oppressed groups which a given individual falls into. But an intersection involves different paths crossing. The whole concept of “people of color” primes us to think of every human interaction as being between white people (presumably straight and male, and with all of the power, all the time), and everyone else, who are the white male’s victims. The only question asked is how many different ways is any specific person a victim. Reality is a lot more complex. If we really want to look at how different groups intersect, we need to be prepared to actually look at it, and look at it honestly. Reality includes that a majority of Muslims worldwide are homophobic, with a number of Islamic countries enforcing the death penalty on gay people, while even among those Muslims who immigrate to the US (on average more liberal than nations based on sharia law) half are opposed. If one asserts that you should always support a black man against the racist police and biased criminal justice system, and also that one should always support women against violent and predatory men, what do you do and who do you support when a black woman calls the police due to domestic violence or rape? This is a real situation that actually happens in reality. Do you condemn the white police officer who shows up and arrests the black man, or the DA or court that decides to give him jail time? As a black police officer I once worked with once said – if you want to abolish both the death penalty and the prisons, what do you do with white cops who commit murder? It is a comforting fantasy land to live in where rich straight white males are the only people who ever do anything wrong, and society would be a peaceful wonderland if only they would stop abusing their power and being so prejudiced, but unfortunately this view doesn’t even begin to approximate reality. There is a reason that the defund the police movement is overwhelmingly white and middle class, while black people who actually live in poor, high crime neighborhoods are against it: people who actually have to live in a high crime environment every day know from personal experience how much more likely they are to be attacked or murdered by criminals than by the police – and how much worse it would get if the police disappeared.

Instead of focusing on a small handful of high-profile cases where police behavior was unjustified, consider the victims of the 1 to 1.5 million annual arrests for violent crime in the year. Despite all the attention given to the occasional “hate” crime, the vast majority of violent crime is perpetrated within a community – white criminals have mostly white victims, black criminals have mostly black victims. Which means that by advocating on behalf of a person arrested by the police for involvement in a crime – thereby potentially saving him from the racist criminal justice system – one is also giving him free reign to continue to terrorize more victims in his own community. When the rate of violent crime by citizens compared to the rate of unjustified violence by police against citizens is on the order of several thousand to one, yet only police actions are protested, the message this sends to violent black men is that no one minds what they do.

Simplify it this way: if you are not personally a black person who lives or spent a significant percentage of your life within the last couple decades living in a mostly minority, poor, and high crime neighborhood, then you should not have a strong opinion on issues that affect the people who are.

When well meaning allies willfully ignore things like black crime out of an understandable but misplaced sense of guilt or fear of appearing racist, they end up advocating for counter-productive and destructive “solutions”.

5) Stop creating more purebreds

Seriously. I realize how outrageous that will sound at first. Is that an incredibly personal ask? Of course it is!

Society is not some giant living in the hills that imposes its will on people. Society isn’t “government” or “white people”. “Society” is nothing but the sum of all the various individual people. As a result, the conditions of society are nothing more or less than the sum total of individual choices. Which means there can be no meaningful distinction between the personal and the political. Your personal choices are what makes society what it is. 

To object publicly to racism, while limiting your personal dating / marriage / mating prospects to people of your own race is as ridiculous as it would be to verbally object to climate change while actually owning and driving a motor vehicle that runs on gasoline and eating animals raised on a farm. Personally owned automobiles and the production of animals for consumption (plus the production of feed for those animals as well as clearing land for them) together make up the majority of the source of greenhouse gases that directly drive climate change. It simply makes no sense whatsoever to rally against something that while personally causing the problem – yet you can actually see bumper stickers decrying climate change on gasoline powered vehicles. It isn’t politicians or oil company executives or people who don’t believe in climate change who are purchasing and burning the gasoline to move that car around. 

What society does is nothing more than the sum of the individual choices of everyone who makes it up, so there can be no division between the personal and the political. Everyone contributes their own little bit to climate change – unless they make the choice to sacrifice their own convenience for the good of us all – and everyone contributes their own little bit to the preservation of the racial divide by keeping their own life segregated.

There is a reason why interracial marriage is the white supremacist worst nightmare, why isolationist religions ban marriage outside the religion, why the government of India will actually pay a year’s salary to any couple that marries across caste: marriage is, and always has been, the single strongest bridge across cultures and groups. Nothing else can come close to shared grandchildren in making two families feel like a single family, and that makes the imaginary significance of physical differences begin to disappear. And of course, it literally bridges the gap between those physical differences as well. Had we been interbreeding sense the time slavery ended, the whole discussion would be moot, because everyone would have mixed heritage and it would be impossible to look at someone and place them firmly in any meaningful group based on appearance in the first place. But if we don’t start now, we can expect to still be stuck in the same place we are now in another 150 years. 

It is understandable if a person lives in Algeria, Gambia, Japan or Togo, where close to the entire population shares a single ethnicity, any given individual ends up with someone who looks pretty similar to themselves. If you live in the United States - and especially in CA, (and especially in the Bay Area, with it’s high concentration of window signs proclaiming their progressive values), where no ethnic group has a majority, there is no excuse. Even if you are in the most represented group (European Americans), approximately 65% of the people in reasonable dating distance look different than you. If one truly believes that all people are equal, than statistically it is most likely you end up with a partner of a different race. The fact that less than 5% of the population identifies their ethnicity as “two or more races” shows just how much race is still a primary criteria for seeking mates – in an area where about 80% of people lean left / liberal / progressive, and bumper stickers and lawn signs proclaiming allegiance to anti-racist movements are common place. Real integration is about much more than having “diversity” at the city level. If race doesn’t matter, if we are all one people, then it shouldn’t play a factor in who people end up with for partner, and the family unit is the most fundamental, and most meaningful, level on which integration can occur. 

Just as it is an obvious ethical imperative to avoid owning a gasoline powered car or eating farmed animals if a person believes that anthropogenic climate change is a threat to all humanity, the first and most important place to put beliefs of anti-racism into practice is one’s own personal life.

No where is that more powerful or meaningful than it actually mixing your DNA with someone's of another race.

Of course, there will be many reading this for whom it's too late. Of course every person who is already here is valuable in their own right, pure breed or not, and I wouldn't even go so far as to advocate committed couples split up just because your choosing of a partner whose ancestors came from the same continent as yourself is borderline incestuous.


6) Recognize that "giving your children every advantage" is literally the definition of "privilege". 

Again, "society" is nothing more than the sum of millions of individual decisions, and it makes absolutely no sense to publicly declare your opposition to something while actively creating that exact thing in your personal life.

If you are against privilege for some, if you are against the idea of dynasties or inherited riches or 'crony' capitalism or aristocracy or an unlevel playing field or an unjust society or however you might think of the unfairness by which some people start out life with advantages they didn't earn, you can not make a special exception for your own personal family.

It doesn't matter that you aren't a billionaire - you already have more wealth and security than at least 80% of the world and at least 20% of the country.

Every one wants what's best for their children. That is just a natural instinct. But just as we who live in a society suppress equally natural instincts of violence and lust when they would manifest in anti social ways, we have a responsibility to society to be aware of the significance of that feeling, understand it, and not act on it.

This is true no matter what your race, but it is especially true if you or your partner (and especially if it's both you and your partner) are white.

Because if you are white, then your children are white, which means that "wanting what's best for your kids" is, in practical terms, no different from "wanting what's best for white people".

One might object that wanting what's best for someone doesn't necessarily mean holding anyone else back, but then one might also remember that this is literally the exact argument made by white nationalists: 'we don't hate anyone, we just want what's best for our own'. Really the only difference is that white liberals define "our own" narrowly as their own directly blood related white children , while the nationalist is generous enough to broaden that concern to cover all white children.

Whether you want to actively hold anyone back is beside the point. Consider most cheating in sports. One way to cheat would be to injure or somehow sabotage the training of all the competitors. The much more common - and effective - way is to give yourself, or your team, a little boost, something to make you faster and stronger so you can get ahead.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter, the result is the same.

In the modern first world, almost everyone has access to at least the basic minimums. Even in homeless encampments you can find luxuries unimaginable to kings and emperors of only a few hundred years ago, like cars and cell phones. As technology and wealth increase, our standards of what we "need" increase along with them, and with that "success" can only be measured relative to everyone else. In other words, unless you are defining "what's best for my kids" as 'not starving the death', then you are referring to a zero sum game.

By definition, it isn't possible for everyone to get into "the best" schools and universities. Not everyone can have a house at least as good if not better than the average homeowner. Not everyone can have a middle class or better paying job. These are things that are inherently relative, which makes them inherently zero sum, which means that helping your own kids "get ahead" is completely interchangeable with 'holding other people back'. There can be no meaningful difference.

So, to state the whole thing another way: if you are taking steps to help your kids get ahead, and your kids are white, you are the agent of white privilege.

So what does not being an agent of privilege look like?

It's simple, really. It doesn't mean doing anything specifically to hold them back; it just means not doing anything to help them get ahead (or at least not anything that isn't accessible to someone in poverty).

Instilling positive values, a strong work ethic, the concepts of delayed gratification and investment in the future, those are ways everyone can and should help their children to be successful in life.

Personally teaching them as much as you know, from as young as age as possible, and providing them a safe and supportive home environment is a totally valid way to help one's children.

Enrolling a child in private school, or moving to a particular neighborhood for the express purpose of ensuring your children entry into "good" schools is something which, by definition, is not an opportunity available to disadvantaged or underprivileged families.

It's not impossible to help out your own children without further disadvantaging those already behind; in fact, being a legitimate ally would actually close the gaps and improve the lives of the under privileged. For example – after enrolling your own kids in the under-performing school, the next step is to put in the same time and effort volunteering at the school that you would have at the fancy suburban school you considered moving for. Organize bake sales and volunteer in the after school program and tutor classmates. Contribute to real integration, and at the same time, learn and help your children learn about the real experience of the lower classes. Instead of declaring support for non-white people on social media and window signs and bumper stickers and at rallies, spend enough time in the communities you theoretically support to make real friendships. Instead of teaching your kids not to be racist, show them with your actions that you believe people who look different are people, and let them see that for themselves directly. And by your presence and participation, help blend cultures and communities and make integration a reality.

Of course, you may not yet be in the position to be the one advantaging your own offspring.

7) If you are in the younger generation – and you believe in equality – take the even harder step of turning down these kinds of gifts. 

It is not enough to verbally acknowledge that you have privilege. That acknowledgement does not do a single thing to help out someone who is underprivileged. The way to truly be a good ally is to renounce and disavow that privilege. Earn your own way, through your own personal hard work, intelligence and sacrifice. Play on a level playing field with all the others who weren’t lucky enough to be born, not only white, but to parents who don’t have a few excess tens of thousands of dollars to help fund their college, to help with a down payment, or even to buy them a car.

Everyone likes to think they are just one person, but the economy is a marketplace, and every buyer drives up the price just a little bit. The record home prices, the record tuition, making these things hard for the working class to afford, these things don’t just happen. Prices are the direct result of the cumulative choices of millions of people. Taking a few extra years until you can save up your own money is doing your part to keep prices sane for all the other people who don’t have the luxury of family gifts.

But don’t just reject the money, leaving that wealth in the hands of other white people. Accept it – and immediately donate it, all of it, to a relevant cause. Your middle class parents offer you down payment money? Donate to a program that offers down payment assistance to low income people. Parents offering to pay half your college tuition? Take it, donate it to a scholarship fund. Then get yourself a part-time job, full-time in summer, and learn what its like for everyone who didn’t have that option.

Ghandi never actually said the words “be the change you want to see”,
but Mos Def did say “Don’t talk about it. Be about it.”

Equality in early childhood education and experience are extremely important in ending inequality and injustice, to ending both the economic, educational, and cultural differences that lead to dramatic differences in life outcomes later in life.

But its just the beginning, as one of the largest contributors to economic inequalities, (which in turn directly impacts all sorts of secondary and tertiary effects), comes when children are all grown up and should hypothetically be accountable for their success or failure based on their own merit.

Half of white college students had at least some of their college tuition paid for by their parents, with almost 20% paying between ½ and all of it.

Half of young homebuyers get downpayment or closing cost money from family, 20% have parents co-sign loans, and 15% of adults under 34 still live in their parent’s home. 

Given that housing costs are the most expensive part of living for most people, and that property ownership is the single biggest part of wealth building for the majority of the middle class, these facts alone can account for the wealth gap. White families are also twice as likely to receive an inheritance, at nearly 50%, as black families, and that amount of that inheritance varies even more dramatically – a median of $100,000 for whites vs $4000 for blacks – a difference of 25x. 

(You don’t  have to  take my  word for it)

In fact, around 60% of all wealth in America is directly inherited. As with college and home buying, this varies dramatically by race.  

This preserves the status quo of inequality directly, with no need to invoke any form of systemic racism in housing or education or employment or criminal justice. 

Just like with helping your team by giving them a little boost, in any evaluation based on a comparison, helping one person is completely indistinguishable from holding back someone else. 

It is a lot more emotionally gratifying to look for racist boogiemen and vague indefinable “systems” of oppression that can be found easily in anecdotes but fade away if you dig into real statistics. 

One can feel self-righteous anger at cops, and judges, employers and educators who obviously must be discriminating, because, look – different outcomes, disparate impacts!

As long as the culprit is other, each individual can feel like the good guy. I’m not racist, therefore someone else must be responsible.

And this worldview very conveniently also means there is no need for any personal sacrifice whatsoever.

Rejecting privilege – actually rejecting privilege, in a meaningful way – isn’t something you can sum up in a slogan on social media or a window sign, isn’t something anyone is ever going to rally for, and no one person doing it is going to change the world instantly and forever.

Then again, none of the memes or bumper stickers or marches was ever going to change the world either.

By giving up privilege, and the desire to privilege your progeny, you can bring the world one small step closer to being one of equality and justice.

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