By Bellamy Brooks
After I came out as transgender and began living my life fully as a woman, I was shocked, at just how different the world looked through this new lens of transphobia, misogyny, and homophobia. This change in perspective opened my eyes to what is really going on in the world. Mostly on how our country and the world treats those who do not fit into this heteronormative, able, cis, white, patriarchal society. I’ve now got this continuous thread of confusion, sadness, and anger in my mind for all forms of oppression. I’ve gone from a complacent, cis, white man to a proud, angry, anti-racist, feminist woman.
Understanding this new perspective of marginalization, I decided to take a deep dive into my behavior and habits, and to look critically at the world I choose to surround myself with. I wanted to address everything I do or say that is racist, as well as find the language to fight against racism. After MCing a Trans Day of Remembrance ceremony, I not only felt unqualified to speak on this day as a white person, but I didn’t really understand why black trans people, especially black trans women and black trans femmes, were so disproportionately targets of violence. I needed to understand why black trans people were being murdered so relentlessly. I started reading books and watching documentaries, reading articles, and talking to advocates to better understand this crisis.
Simply put, the intersectionality of being black and transgender makes for a unique set of complications that affects every aspect of their lives. They are dehumanized, denied housing, jobs, security, family and are victims of brutal murders, simply because of who they are. After really beginning to understand this, I started advocating against racism, on top of my trans activism. I thought that after doing all this reading, watching and listening that I’d be ready to speak and advocate on these issues. However, no matter how knowledgeable I believed I was, I still said things that were problematic. I’ve had folks talk to me about why things I’ve said were racist, even if I thought I was saying things that were "politically correct". I needed to figure out how to navigate these confrontations to change for the better. I am still striving to do better every day through constant reflection, activism, and active listening.
I soon discovered that regardless of my status as an advocate for the trans community, and a self-proclaimed ally fighting against racism, I am susceptible to saying or doing things that are racist. I know now that all I can do is take steps to be better than I was yesterday.
When I refer to the word racist in this article, I’m using the definition by Dr. Ibram Kendi author of How to be an Anti-Racist.
“Racist - One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.”
Education is endless. As I quickly learned, you can’t just read White Fragility and then claim to be an expert on racism. Learning is life-long, and you should be questioning everything and thinking about how you can help for the rest of your life. As white people we need to do better.
Language is constantly changing, especially as we become better at describing the situations in our country surrounding race. We will never be done learning. We can only strive to be more anti-racist than the day before. There may be times where you accidentally try to relate to someone based on physical characteristics or assume things or reinforce stereotypes. There will be times where you don’t know the right thing to say. You can’t prepare and prevent everything that might be offensive to someone. You can stay educated and current, but you can’t possibly address everything. Just be prepared to reflect and change if it does happen. If someone calls you out as doing or saying something racist, it doesn’t make you a bad person. (You might be a bad person if you ignore them and persist with that behavior). But, if you keep your mind open, listen, trust, and adjust so that you don’t do it again, you are doing better than most. And remember, if you're not uncomfortable, you're not learning.
There is a lot of overlap in all the fights for equity and equality. We are all struggling in unique ways, but the intersectionality is there, and all our fights influence other fights. We need to be educated on the movements we might not be directly impacted by, because ultimately, we will be indirectly affected by the results. Simply put, If you are an LGBTQ advocate, you also should be fighting racism. Staying educated and up to date on current terminology can be taxing, but it is worth it. Stay aware, be engaged, and listen. This list you’re about to read, I have been thinking about and acting on for a long time, but I’m only just getting started.
In the last few months, I’ve heard from my white friends how they don’t think police brutality is about race, or how they don’t believe in white privilege. It’s always disheartening to hear these things and it can be taxing at times to explain why what they are saying is wrong. But BIPOC people face these conversations all the time and are sick of it. We can help relieve the burden by fighting for them. You should talk to your friends about why what they are saying is problematic, and help them fill in the gaps in their knowledge.
Following the murder of George Floyd, the majority of my white friends started covering up their Facebook profile pictures with Black Lives Matter borders to show solidarity, but they didn’t, and still don’t know what they can do to actually help, and in turn, take no actions to help fight racism in their lives. They think that since they are a bartender, or that they are at the bottom of the food chain at their office, that they have no power in changing/fighting systematic racism. But, I am here to say that you do have power. The list that I’ve created below is things that I’ve done myself but might be helpful for you too. Here is a list of 8 things you can do right now as a white person to help fight racism.
1. Get Angry and Fight: Racism is something to get seriously angry about. Your sympathy can only go so far. Don’t give your condolences to black people because of police brutality, get mad, and stand up against racism and racist systems. BIPOC people are exhausted from relentlessly fighting all their lives, white people need to fight too. Racism isn’t something that’s simply happening to black people, it’s something caused by someone else, mostly white people and the systems they uphold. If you keep finding baby’s about to drown in a river, you don’t just save the baby, you find out who's throwing kids in the river to make it stop. We must find the sources. Also, don’t just stand up against overt racism either, fight microaggressions, and “jokes” too. Get angry that your black coworkers are getting paid less than everyone else. Get angry that your boss just said something racist, even when there’s only white coworkers in the room. Get angry when your friends say they would never date black women or men because of (insert stereotype here). Get angry that the Latinx community is forced to work in unsafe conditions during a pandemic and it’s killing them at disproportionate rates on top of the mass ICE raids and dehumanizing concentration-camp-level conditions in those facilities. Get angry at the Breonna Taylor verdict. Get angry at racism even when there are only white people around. Also, don’t stop being angry, just because #Blacklivesmatter and the name of the next victim of police brutality isn’t trending. BIPOC people are angry 365 days a year. You should be too. If you are angry enough to get on the front lines of these fights, attend the protests and join the movements. Fight at work, fight your friends, fight at home, and fight at the voting booth.
2. Join Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives at Work: Everywhere people work, there is a team that is working on diversity, inclusion and equity. If there isn’t one at your place of work, start one! These groups are often understaffed, under-represented and mismanaged. They might be ran by well meaning cis white people with no idea how to actually help, or don’t understand the language that is needed to make real change. If you feel like you can make a difference in these capacities do it! For example, at my place of work, at a University, I’ve joined the D and I committee, the We Are Committed to Act Reinforcement Committee, the Diversity Champions, and I’ve partnered with a student organization to co-create a coalition for trans inclusive healthcare and am advocating for black trans people in all of these capacities. I have made significant, systematic changes by being in these roles and I will continue to do so, and you can too.
3. Fix Your Racist Family: I’ve heard “my racist uncle” so many times it makes me sick. Why is he racist? and why do you still talk to him? Every white person has racist family members they just put up with. Stop putting up with it!! Do something about it! Take steps to make sure that racism is not welcome in your, or your family’s, home. The breeding ground of racism is conformity. If everyone in your family is taking steps to become more anti-racist and one person doesn’t, make sure they feel ostracized. These racist opinions are not welcome and are seriously frowned upon in this society. Make your racist uncle know it. If you have to make them choose between their racism and their relationship with you, do it. Also, stop putting up with your racist parents and grandparents, because you “love them anyway” or just so you can get their money when they die. They can vote until then, so help them and if you can’t help them, disown them.
4. Is your Social Media is a White Echo Chamber?: Just scroll through your feed right now. Who do you see, and what type of content are you seeing? Do you only see other white people? Do you see far too much of that racist uncle we were talking about earlier? When you bubble yourself off, you cannot see things as they truly are. Follow, add, and subscribe to black leaders, creators, local BIPOC non-profits, friends of friends, and anyone in your community that might help diversity your feed. Scroll through your recommended friends list and start following people that don’t look like you. Sure, you might not know them directly, but I guarantee you that their feeds are markedly different than all the white feeds you’ve been following up until now, even on topics like black lives matter. Prioritize them if the systems allow it, because the algorithms on social media of course suppress their voices, cause the system doesn’t think you want to see their content and that needs to change.
5. Check your Netflix and Youtube: Just like your social media accounts, the content you consume can affect how you behave in the world. Are you only watching shows like Gilmore Girls, Dawson’s Creek, and Friends? Or are you also watching shows like Atlanta, Pose, Black-ish, and Dear White People? If you are stuck in the first category, broaden your watching habits. This is something that will require a conscious effort because watching white content written and directed by white people is so instinctual for you. Netflix has a Black Lives Matter Collection that you can start binging right now for your convenience.
I’m willing to bet your Youtube subscription feed is just like your social media. Overwhelmingly white. The youtube algorithm is very unlikely to recommend content outside of popular white creators for you. You will need to seek out diversity intentionally. If you are looking for a good starting point, here’s some channels to start watching that I love; Emmanuel Acho (Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man), T1J (Informed Commentary), Jouelzy (Informed commentary), Jordan Harrod (Artificial Intelligence and Science), Shaaba. (LGBTQ Topics and vlogs), Shameless Maya (Travel Vlogs), The NotoriousKIA (Thrifting/Fashion/Vlogs), MayaInTheMoment (Fashion/Comedy/Music), JunsKitchen (Chef/Blogger/Cats)
But, ask your friends about the BIPOC YouTubers they’re subscribed to as well! I’m sure they’d love to talk about their favorite channels!
6. Stop Whispering about Race: When you talk about race or racism, don’t whisper it like it’s a dirty secret. Too many times I’ve seen people look over their shoulders and then whisper “This black guy…” This is a trait white people learned as kids and we need to unlearn it. Our parents taught us as small children to not say out loud the differences between people. Imagine a white kid in a shopping cart looks up and sees a black man across the aisle. The kid says, “Mamma! Wow! His skin is so dark!” The mother would likely tell the child to stop, or shush them and say, “We don’t talk about people like that.” If only we lived in a world where the mother would say, “Yes, his skin is dark, and isn’t he beautiful?” instead.
7. Read Books, Articles, and Watch Documentaries: Books and documentaries on race, racism and the real non-white-washed history of our country are abundant and are there for you to watch, read and consume. All you need to do is go down to your local bookstore and dig through their social studies section. You will see books directly written for white people to understand racism in our country such as the well-known books: White Fragility by Robert Diangelo and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Just doing a google search on the topic will give you list after list of books and documentaries that you can enjoy.
8. Vote! I know this sounds obvious, but just like the definition I wrote earlier suggested. It is racist to support or be inactive on racist policies. Vote for candidates who prioritize addressing racism and make sure to get your family to vote that way too. Remember silence and inaction is violence.
These are only a few small ways in which you can help fight racism and do a little better than yesterday. But this is by no means a catch-all. There is so much work that needs to be done, so many systems that need to change, and minds to alter. If you ever have a friend say that they don’t know what they can do to fight racism, show them this article. It’s at least a good start.