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6 ways allies still marginalize people of color — and what to do instead

2stepz_ahead Who I am is Complex, What i am, simply put. I'm a Threatwalking out the lions denGuests, Members, Writer, Content Producer Posts: 32,324 ✭✭✭✭✭
edited February 2016 in For The Grown & Sexy

Talking about race isn't easy, especially as your conversations surrounding the topic grow deeper and more complex.

It's simple to point out overt racism, but confronting the subtle ways people of color are marginalized, even when you're an ally or racial justice advocate, can be challenging.

A lot of people "shy away from talking about race because they're afraid of saying the wrong thing," says Raquel Cepeda, host of the podcast About Race. Even when you mean well, the fear of sticking your foot in your mouth could stop you from talking at all — and that's no way to achieve progress.

To have more substantial conversations about race and racism, it's important to hold yourself and others accountable for the ways we treat the experiences of people of color.

Educate yourself on these six marginalizing actions, and use them as starting points to help you become an even better ally.
1. Failing to "see race"

It's common for allies to tell people of color, "I don’t see race" (or, if you're Meryl Streep, "We're all Africans, really"). Despite possibly good intentions, this denies the unique experiences of people with racial differences and important aspects of their identities.

It's important to acknowledge that while we should all be treated the same, people are indeed treated differently based on the color of their skin. When you refuse that, you continue to place people of color on the margins, when their stories deserve the same attention and care as mainstream white experiences.

"I'm part West African. I have Indigenous blood. I have European blood. I am a woman of color and

if I'm going to be comfortable in my own skin, I have to acknowledge all parts of me

if I'm going to be comfortable in my own skin, I have to acknowledge all parts of me," Cepeda, who is also the author of Birds of Paradise: How I Became Latina, tells Mashable.

You should be able to acknowledge racial, cultural and ethnic differences without allowing it to detract from their humanity.

Instead of ignoring race completely, you can say something like, "I wish race didn't have an impact on the way people are treated." This acknowledges that racial differences do exist and affect how people navigate the world, while still expressing your belief that everyone should be treated the same.

2. Erasing racial experience with other forms of oppression

When a person of color tells their story and you insist on bringing your own into the conversation, that is oppressive. That takes away space and time that they very often don't have to control the narrative of their experience.

"There's power in being able to tell your story," Zellie Imani, a New Jersey educator and community organizer, tells Mashable. "And

a function of oppression is to deny the oppressed to tell their stories

a function of oppression is to deny the oppressed to tell their stories, let alone control the narrative."

For example, when an Asian person points out the racism they face, you don't have to remind them about the simultaneous oppression of LGBTQ people. When a black person discusses employment discrimination, you don’t have to remind them women also face discrimination in the workplace. This ignores intersectional identities of LGBTQ Asians and black women, and oversimplifies the issues people face.

Vocalizing their experiences with race doesn't mean people of color aren't aware of other forms of oppression; they may even experience some of the other forms themselves. Pointing out that there are white people in the world who suffer, for example, merely pushes their concerns to the margins.

"A white 🤬 man will not suffer the same oppression as a black man, 🤬 or straight, because he still benefits from white privilege," Imani says.

If you are truly concerned with intersectionality, address how other forms of discrimination can create unique oppression of people of color, rather than derailing a conversation about race.

3. Prioritizing the white presence and voice in communities of color

Allies often assume people of color will not achieve anything in the struggle for racial justice without the help and inclusion of white people. Regardless of the desire to help, it's important for white allies to realize they're not owed a place in communities of color.

When you tell people of color your presence is necessary, you rob them of the agency to act and speak on their own behalves. Without realizing it, you're exercising your white privilege, undervaluing power within communities of color. White people are not entitled to having their voice centered, actions acknowledged or feelings prioritized in an environment where people of color are the focus.

While this may seem like exclusivity, acknowledge that this type of exclusion is often a tool to create a safe spaces of solidarity, where people of color can connect without the interference of prioritized voices or actions of white allies.

This, of course, doesn't mean you're a bad ally if you've done or felt these things, nor does it mean you should abandon the idea of helping at all. But it's crucial to know when to take a backseat and show up when needed, rather than asserting your dominance over people of color. Regularly remind yourself, "This is not about me."


  • 2stepz_ahead
    2stepz_ahead Who I am is Complex, What i am, simply put. I'm a Threat walking out the lions denGuests, Members, Writer, Content Producer Posts: 32,324 ✭✭✭✭✭
    4. Appointing someone as the spokesperson for their entire race

    People of color often find themselves as "the only one in the room" among a white majority. This dynamic creates an environment in which they get asked questions about their entire race. In conversations during Black History Month, for example, all eyes are on the one black student. When there's a debate about immigration, the Latina of the group suddenly has to decide what's right for all immigrants.

    The expectation placed on people of color to represent their race strips them of the individuality of their thoughts and feelings.

    Asking one person about everyone who shares the same skin color wrongly assumes they all share the same story

    Asking one person about everyone who shares the same skin color wrongly assumes they all share the same story, and puts people of color in a position where they have to take responsibility for the experiences of people they don't even know.

    Additionally, people of color "who operate in white spaces have to protect white fragility in order to protect themselves," Imani tells Mashable, adding that to prevent hostility or to try to be inclusive, they "may be silenced or say things they may not necessarily agree with."

    If you're curious about the experiences and thoughts of people of color, it's OK to ask and engage in conversation. But it's important to give people of color the space to have dynamic, unique stories rather than forcing them to provide a singular narrative they may not even identify with.
    5. Discussing racial identity in binaries

    In the U.S. we often think of race in a binary — black or white — but this largely ignores the nuances of how other people of color are treated. Grouping all races into the same group oversimplifies conversations about race, and ignores the different ways communities of color face discrimination.

    Still, such unique attention often reduces identities to stereotypical assumptions. When Cepeda told someone she was Dominican, she tells Mashable they replied, "No, you're too light — you have to be Puerto Rican." Although it wasn't intended to be malicious, this person's comment failed to acknowledge diversity in racial identity.

    You can't assume someone's ethnicity based on their skin color.

    You can't assume someone's ethnicity based on their skin color.

    Cepeda's experiences as a fair-skinned Dominican are likely different than those of an Afro-Latina Dominican, for example. When the two are conflated, both racial identities are marginalized, because neither experience is treated with the integrity and attention it deserves.

    "It's important to provide people of color with the space to have complex identities, just like white people," Cepeda says.

    Addressing racism and having nuanced conversations about its effects is impossible if we fail to acknowledge the diversity of race itself.
    6. Using people of color as tokens

    People of color are not trophies to show off when you don't want to seem racist. After someone calls you out on racist behavior, replying with "I grew up with people of all races" doesn't make you exempt from accountability. Telling people, "My closest friends are black" is not a good way to prove you can't possibly be a part of systems that oppress them.

    Even allies do this to defend themselves — and it minimizes the value of people of color in your life to a convenient anecdote to excuse your behavior.

    Don't use your friendships with people of color as a way to avoid responsibility. Instead, ask them about what they face in their daily lives, and what you can do to help.
  • StillFaggyAF
    StillFaggyAF Queer LGBT CommunityMembers Posts: 40,358 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Allies ? Da 🤬
  • CeLLaR-DooR
    CeLLaR-DooR Members Posts: 18,880 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited February 2016
    This part of the cracka handbook?

    The lightskin handbook they sent me when I was 16 tells me I'm entitled to 2.3 more 🤬 than everyone else
  • skpjr78
    skpjr78 Members Posts: 7,311 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Cliffnotes version or nah?
  • Tragedy1
    Tragedy1 Members Posts: 170 ✭✭
    I'm writing this quickly but I don't agree with the idea that the only roles people of color and whites can play are as potential victims and victimizers and all interactions should be analysed in that context. Instead of teaching white people how to appreciate the point of view of people of color (who differ individually among themselves in their perspectives) and how to be sympathetic to them why aren't they just concerned with encouraging people to be more sympathetic and understanding in general. Like I said, writing this quickly.

    It's almost as though people of color are children and whites are the parents and they have responsibilities toward us that we shouldn't or can't be expected to reciprocate.