White People – We Need You to Get Yourselves Together


Picture of a tree and a log at a serene lake. Photo credit Erin Okuno

Editor’s Note: Persian New Year, Nowruz, is on Friday, 20 March. A new day. Happy Nowruz.

We’re in a global pandemic – coronavirus, aka COVID19. We’ll survive this, but how we do is up to how we behave. White people, I need you to get yourselves together. In the past few days, I’ve seen people come together, and I’ve also experienced and heard from friends and colleagues of ugly behavior coming out. Now is not the time to check that white supremacy and figure out how to be better community members. We will need to think in the collective interest to get through this as unscathed as possible.

What we’re seeing isn’t new. It may feel new because many of us haven’t experienced the shut down of society on this level. Some of us remember 9/11, our grandparents or great grandparents may remember the Flu of 1918, and other country changing events. These disruptions bring out good, but they also show where white supremacy, bigotry, and hate come through.

White people, you don’t have all the answers

COVID19 is happening quickly and changes are coming rapidly. With every new development, people are quick to give an opinion or feel like they must comment. You don’t have to say something just because you can. It is ok to sit back and follow others at times.

You also don’t have to tell others what to do. Resist that urge, please do. The other day I took my kids to a lake to get a little fresh air. An older white lady yelled at my kids to stop throwing rocks into the lake because they were scaring the ducks. It wasn’t her place to do so – the ducks were fine. I told her to stop and mind her own business, to which she gave me a look of “really you’re telling me what to do?” This interaction ruined our outing. She might do this everyday, but because of COVID19 and social distancing, I think we’re all more sensitive and need to remember to behave accordingly. If she had minded her own business and held her opinion to herself and resisted the urge to show off her whiteness we could have had a nice afternoon.

We are all trying to be helpful and find our roles to play in the new reality. Right now isn’t the time to make it about you and being the center of attention. Communities of color are also organizing. Many community leaders are hearing directly from families about what they need – food, money for utilities, jobs, and rent. These emerging needs are hard to deal with and we will need white allies to step in and help – our leaders of color need to be the ones directing it. They have the trust of their communities and know how to lead. Also, don’t make busy work for us. If your organization is still running or has remote staff, let them lead – don’t make busy work thinking you are doing it on behalf of serving the public.

Round up your own people

Right now would be a great time for white people to call in their own people. A Taiwanese American friend told me about being in an elevator with an older white couple. The man kept patting his pocket and giving him a weird look. My friend stood on the side to give the couple space. The man muttered “Chinese virus,” the same phrase Trump used when talking about Coronavirus. The blatant racism needs to be called out by other white people. The person saying Chinese virus to my friend probably said it to others who didn’t call him out for his racism. My friend didn’t want to escalate the situation so he let the comment slide, who knows what was in the pocket he was patting.

Along with rounding up people, can we also encourage everyone, pocs as well, to stop gathering and visiting with people. Now is the time to hunker down and stay home. Today I took my kid for a walk, we avoided people on the walk, but still saw so many others who were gathering with friends. I know people who are hit by this virus and it is nasty, do your part by staying home. Read all of those books by authors of color you’ve been meaning to read, listen to this list of podcast by people of color, get into a Korean drama (Heidi has many recommendations), please stay home.

While I’m on the topic of staying home, please stay out of Hawaii. It annoys me so much to read how people are seeing this as a vacation and flying to Hawaii (or other places) because all of a sudden their kids are out of school, they can work remotely, and airfares are cheap. Really, do you want to be the asshole who takes this virus somewhere else? That is peak privilege to say because you can, you will do something. Stay home for the social good — think about the collective before yourselves.

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