By Ella Asheri
My journey with white allyship began at university where I was part of a student society that held open and honest conversations about race. As one of the few white people in that space, I felt disturbed hearing so many experiences of racism in a university that I chose for its ‘critical’ and ‘inclusive’ reputation.
Distressingly, I began to see myself as complicit in the racism that my friends experienced. Although I wasn’t usually causing it directly (unfortunately I sometimes was), I was benefiting from the racist system of white supremacy – I felt comfortable in the white/Eurocentric discussions in my classes and felt at home talking to my all-white tutors.
Being privy to these painful and difficult conversations about race forced me to re-evaluate my assumptions about the ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ university and society I thought I was part of, as I could not unhear these racist experiences. As a privileged white person with second-hand knowledge of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of racism, I decided to try to put my position to good use and ran to be a Students’ Union Officer.
Once elected, I made it my mission to prioritise anti-racism and platform the experiences of students of colour to those with power in the university. However, I had to be careful not to talk for or over people of colour, become too comfortable in white spaces of power, or see myself as one of the (only) ‘good’ white people.
One year later and I’m still learning how to be a better white ally. Anti-racism is a life-long practice – there is no ‘end point’ or medal you receive – it requires commitment, vigilance and stamina. We will continue to mess up, say or do the wrong thing, but try to learn from these mistakes. Staying silent is simply not an option – for it is to be complicit in a violent, racist system.
As white allies, we must continue to educate ourselves on anti-racism (rather than asking people of colour to do the work for us), call out racism wherever we see it (especially when it makes us uncomfortable or compromises our positions of power), and can seek the support of other white allies and organise collectively (for instance forming a ‘White Affinity Group’ to hold constructive conversations around our whiteness).
We must stay open to learning and criticism, try to take our egos out of the equation (which is not always easy), and we must keep on listening.