For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in social justice.
When I was in 4th grade, I pitched my student council about a fundraiser for the Lost Boys of Sudan.
When I was in 8th grade, I got yelled at for missing math class because I was handing out hot dogs to the homeless.
When I was in high school, I was a big supporter of To Write Love on Her Arms and depression / suicide awareness.
When I was in college, I was the president of the Invisible Children Club on campus and was trying to end Africa’s longest-running war.
These experiences were absolutely amazing, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. However, they did instill some White Savior Complex in me.
So, how do you walk the line between social justice advocate and White Savior Complex? Very carefully.
1. Research the issue from all sides of the story.
Research is absolutely crucial to social justice.
Let’s take the state of South Carolina as an example. After nine people were murdered in a predominantly blank church last June, people started discussing if the Confederate flag was appropriate to have on state capitol grounds.
Most people saw two sides to the story:
- The Confederate flag is a symbol of the South, and pays respects to Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War,
- The Confederate flag is a symbol of slavery and racism, which makes many people feel unwelcome in South Carolina.
While these are solid arguments for and against the Confederate flag, it’s not the whole story.
Once you do more research, you realize that the Confederate flag hadn’t always flown at the South Carolina State Capitol. It was put back up in 1961 to commemorate the centennial of the opening of the Civil War.
It’s clear that doing research on both sides of the argument is critical for understanding how to help minority groups. You have to have all of the information before you can make a game plan. Take everything with a grain of salt.
2. Meet people from the minority.
Research is key, but there’s one problem with it: it’s hard to get an inside perspective from research.
When you’re in the majority, it’s hard to understand the full implications of social injustice. There are many small nuances that you aren’t going to find out about unless you hear it first hand.
Therefore, it’s really helpful to speak with people who are in the minority group. And if you already know them, ask them about their experiences.
They aren’t going to be able to speak for their entire group (please don’t expect them to), but they’ll be able to give you their personal experiences with social injustice. And that can really make all the difference.
3. But don’t justify your feelings on the fact that you know those people.
However, it’s important not to justify your strong feelings toward a specific social cause based on the fact that you know people who are affected by it.
Thanks to my social justice experiences, I’ve made friends from a lot of different backgrounds.
While this is absolutely awesome, it also led to a slightly troubling mindset: I care about x minority group because I have a friend in that minority group.
My frustration with Islamophobia? That’s because of my Muslim friends.
My support of #BlackLivesMatter? That’s because of my black friends.
My outrage with rape culture? That’s because of my friends who are survivors of sexual assault.
Yes, it’s helpful to have friends in minority groups. Not only does it put a face to prejudice, but it also allows you to get an inside perspective.
However, it creates a startling mindset. Do you only care about the rights of this group because of your connections to it? If you don’t have a connection to a minority group, does that mean you don’t care about their rights?
Not only does it give someone an easy out (I don’t have to care about this injustice because it doesn’t affect me), but it also implies that people only deserve rights based on their connections to others, based on their innate humanness.
People do not deserve rights because they are someone’s daughter, husband, friend, or coworker. They deserve rights because they are human.
4. Speak up about your findings.
Now that you’ve done lots of research and have heard personal stories about social justice, it’s time to speak up about your findings.
Did someone say something prejudiced? Call them out.
Do you notice someone taking advantage of their white privilege? Speak up.
Unless we share our findings, we’re not helping the members of the minority. Our hard work ends with us.
But if we spread our research and the insight we’ve learned from our friends, we can help create a ripple that will hopefully have a positive impact.
5. But know when to let members of the minority take center stage.
That being said, it’s important to know when to step back and let members of the minority take the stage.
After all, they’re the ones experiencing the prejudice, so let them be the ones who explain it and call for change.
By all means, speak up about injustices you have heard about. But understand that you have a responsibility to let people tell their own experiences with it.
If a black friend is talking about their experience with racism, don’t cut in and start whitesplaining all of your research about racism.
Not only is it rude, but it implies that your words, as a white person, are more important than their experiences, as a black person.
What they have to say is likely more relevant, and you can learn a lot from them by simply stepping back and letting them tell their own story.
White people don’t have to be involved in every conversation. It’s imperative that we let minority groups organize their own events, talk about their experiences, and fight for change without a white person stepping in to help.
By all means, we need to work together, so volunteer to help in any way you can. But let members of the minority group suggest ways that you can help, rather than insisting that you take over or share your story.
Finding ways to relieve strife will only help our society.
Where will you begin? Let me know in the comments!