“Good White People”


Artwork by Josh MacPhee – There is Nothing More Urgent Then Freedom, Amplifier Art

Good white people are all around us. They are white and want to be seen as doing good in understanding race. They are well-intentioned, sometimes on their way to wokeness, sometimes a little clumsy, and sometimes a little too sweet. Good white people are all over the place. They are in schools, at the grocery store, your gentrifying neighbor who moved to your neighborhood because they love diversity.

Good white people are just that – good white people. Where it becomes a thing to note and manage is when good white people stop there and figure because they are good they are exempt from having to dig deeper to learn about race and actively work to disrupt racism.

If you want to identify a good white person here are some things to look for:

  1. They are white.
  2. They think they understand the plights of BIPOCs (Black, Indigenous, people of color)
  3. They denounce wholesale racism (i.e. Make America Great Again hats are evil)
  4. They are good and they are white

The problem is when good white people stop there. Because they are good and they have white privilege but they don’t take the time or energy to realize their roles in undoing racism. Recently I was text chatting with a friend about her day, she sent a text back saying she was spending the day with people who are doing “the good work” and therefore exempt from having biases. That is a textbook definition of a good white person – wants to be seen as good, but won’t do the deeper reflective work of realizing their role in upholding racist systems.

Good white people are the ones who denounce Trump, but think the MAGA boys who smirked and stood in front of Nathan Phillips, a Native American elder, were justified and are the victims because Phillips walked into the crowd of boys, code for “he [Phillips] asked for it.” The boys are good white innocent Catholic boys who are not to be doubted.

Good white people are the ones who cry when someone points out their white privilege, or says white supremacy in their presence. They feel attacked for being white which they can’t control versus understanding their unearned privilege and the role of whiteness in society.

Good white people speak for people of color because they feel they can. Good white people show up at rallies but in the quiet of their homes over Thanksgiving dinner don’t do anything to call out racist language from friends and family at the table.

Good white people champion diversity as long as they and their kids are served first. (In education settings this shows up as who has access to college access programs, advanced placement, etc.).

Good white people say, “can’t we all just get along, let’s not make this about race.”

In other words, good white people want to be seen as being good. They want to be separate of other white people who they condemn as bad. Being a good white person is easy, they don’t have to do much more than the minimum – put up a social media post with a hashtag and boom they’re done.

Being an Ally, Accomplice, and Agitator

Moving beyond the minimum of being a good white person isn’t hard, but it takes intentional self-reflective work. One of the first things to learn is how white privilege works and how unearned white privilege is. White privilege isn’t a personal attack against an individual white person. Accept it and pause to realize how you’ve benefited from the unearned privileges you’ve had in life – the privilege to walk into a store and not be followed or asked multiple times “Can I help you find something?” (code for I’m racially profiling you but disguising it as being nice), the privilege of showing up at school and assuming it is for you, the privilege of feeling a sense of belonging when you walk into mainstream spaces. Once you realize this you can begin to go deeper.

Being an ally and an accomplice requires you to give up some of your privilege and use it to support BIPOCs. There isn’t one answer to how to do this. Sometimes it means stepping back and listening to BIPOCs. Other times it means stepping up and saying things need to happen differently to support people of color. Sometimes being an ally means stepping in and saying the unpopular thing and calling out other white people who are unable or refuse to see and say. Other times it is taking on the role of agitating to help other white people understand race and how it shapes our lives.

Moving beyond being a good white person also requires continued learning and reflection. You don’t get to just watch Black Panther, read Ta-Nehisi Coates, and listen to NPR’s Code Switch podcast and say I’m a good white person now and done — no wokeness points earned. Race is an evolving construct and racism is forever adjusting and changing. Not long ago segregation was visible and defined, a good white person may recognize this, but fail to see we still have segregation but now it is disguised in other ways such as who has access to elite schools, which kids get to go to sports and other expensive camps and STEM programs, etc. Being a good white person means working to recognize and undo the systems of oppression that are harmful to both whites and people of color.

Good white people you have what it takes to do more, go deeper, and to shift discourse in yourself and with other white people. Be brave and take the next steps.

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