white people listen what to do about charlottesville

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10 answers for white people wondering, ‘What can I do about Charlottesville?’

For starters: Don't make this about you.


Winona Dimeo-Ediger


Posted on Aug 15, 2017   Updated on Feb 28, 2020, 3:35 pm CST


In case it wasn’t clear enough already, the Nazi rally in Charlottesville and the deadly violence inflicted on counter protesters (resulting in many serious injuries and the death of activist Heather Heyer) made it abundantly, horrifically clear: Racism and white supremacy are alive and well in 2017.

Many white people are feeling shocked, upset, and helpless right now, seeing Nazis march openly in the streets. “What can I do about Charlottesville?” is a question that’s coming up a lot. Well, here are 10 answers to that question.

Show up. There are vigils and protests happening in response to Charlottesville all over the country this week. Show up for those. There are more alt-right rallies planned in many cities in the very near future. Show up for those—and send the message loud and clear that you will not tolerate hate in any form, anywhere, from anyone. If you’re grappling with guilt about your white privilege and feeling helpless, this is one tangible way to use your privilege and increase your efficacy: Show up where people of color often do not feel safe, like in the presence of police, neo-Nazis, and fascists.  

Keep showing up. Protests, rallies, and candlelight vigils are important, but there are countless other events happening every single day that don’t look as good on Instagram but can be even more impactful. City hall meetings. Police commission meetings. Local elections. City council meetings. Go sit in the uncomfortable chairs in the drab, gray rooms where real decisions get made and demand real change from the people in charge. Ask why the police in your city arrest, harass, and kill black people at such high rates. Demand to know what they’re going to do about it. Keep asking. Keep demanding. If you don’t like the answers, work to vote them out. Keep showing up.

Give money. This is a great list of organizations in Charlottesville that you can support financially. Your local Black Lives Matter chapter would also appreciate your financial assistance. So would legal aid programs fighting to protect civil rights. So would minority-owned businesses in your town. Or put your money toward a subscription to Safety Pin Box, which supports black women and gives you tools to become a better ally.


Denounce white supremacy on social media. Much ado has been made over millennials’ tendency to change their Facebook profile picture and call it activism. Is there some truth to that critique? Yes. Should we all get involved in real life and not call it a day after posting a political rant on Twitter? Of course. But that doesn’t mean that there’s no value in publicly denouncing white supremacy on social media. So do it—explicitly, unapologetically, and as publicly as possible.

Remember, this isn’t about patting yourself on the back for being a “good” white person (you know, the kind who doesn’t go to murderous Nazi rallies), this is about making a clear, public statement that white supremacy is wrong and you will not tolerate it. White people need to speak out on every available platform and say “racism in America is real but it’s not normal and I will do everything in my power to dismantle it.”

Read. There is so much amazing writing, insight, honesty, and wisdom being generously shared right now, much of it by writers of color specifically addressing white people. Read everything you can. Read this. Read this. Read this. Read this. Educate yourself on America’s history of white supremacy. Learn about why none of this—Trump’s election, Charlottesville, escalating police brutality—is coming as a surprise for people of color. If an article makes you uncomfortable, that’s a good sign. Keep reading.

Interrupt racism in your own life. White people need to show up publicly to combat white supremacy, but we also need to push back against the racism that happens privately in our families and friend groups. Make a vow to not let casual racism go unchecked, whether it’s coming from your great aunt, your coworkers, or the cashier at the deli. It’s hard, it’s awkward, and it’s uncomfortable, but these are just conversations—being a constant target of racism and violence is a hell of a lot harder. It’s imperative that we do this work. To remain silent is to be complicit. To remain silent is to normalize racism.

Listen to people of color. People of color have been raising the alarm for years and years that white supremacy still thrives in America. Many white people, meanwhile, saw Obama get elected and thought, “We’re all good now! Racism is cured!” It sounds harsh, but here’s the deal: If you were shocked about Trump’s election, you weren’t listening to people of color. If you were shocked about Charlottesville, you weren’t listening to people of color. At this point, we should all be outraged, but we should not be surprised.

Listen to people of color. Amplify their voices whenever possible. Feeling the need to defend yourself? Take a breath and listen instead.

Don’t let politicians off the hook. Has your representative explicitly denounced white supremacy in the wake of Charlottesville? Good. Call them, thank them, and ask what exactly they’re going to do about it. Did your rep pull a Trump and issue a vague platitude about unity that’s more appropriate for a HomeGoods throw pillow than a Nazi uprising? Call them, tell them to denounce white supremacy, and ask what exactly they’re going to do about it.

Get real. A common response from white people to Charlottesville has been surprise, shock, and denial. People like Lady Gaga and Ellen Degeneres have been (rightfully) called out for responding to Charlottesville “This is not who we are” and “Is this America now?” White people love inspiring quotes and platitudes, but this is not the time for that.

We have to face the reality of our country if we want to have any hope of making meaningful change. It is impossible to believe that racism is a thing of the past while actively working to dismantle it.

Journalist and author Isabel Wilkerson put it this way: “Our country is like a really old house. I love old houses. I’ve always lived in old houses. But old houses need a lot of work, and the work is never done. And just when you think you’ve finished one renovation, it’s time to do something else. Something else has gone wrong. And that’s what our country is like. And you may not want to go into that basement, but if you really don’t go into that basement, it’s at your own peril. Whatever you are ignoring is not going to go away. Whatever you’re ignoring is only going to get worse. Whatever you’re ignoring will be there to be reckoned with until you reckon with it. And I think that that’s what we’re called upon to do where we are right now.”

White people: We have to go into the damn basement of this country and take stock of our dirty secrets. We have to look at racism and white supremacy and the systems that support them. We have to acknowledge all the ways these systems have benefited us.

We have to admit the hard things: This is who we are, and this what we have always been. America is not better than this. America was built on slavery and oppression and exploitation. America could be better than this, but it’s impossible to transform without owning up to our past.

Look inward. Now is a time when white people need to engage publicly and politically, but we also must commit to the important work that needs to be done on a quieter, personal level.

I’ve been thinking about this quote, from Shani Akilah, co-founder of the Black & Brown Workers Collective, a lot lately:

“I think one of the things, one of the pieces of advice I would give to someone looking to be involved, is that, often we think that getting involved means getting arrested or organizing a huge protest. Getting involved can be looking at your own attitudes and belief systems. And starting to really reflect on what it is you’ve taken in and started to believe based on what the world has taught you.”

White people, let’s look at what the world has taught us. Let’s ask ourselves the hard questions. Let’s be brave enough to delve within ourselves, seek out the buried shame and prejudice, and look at it, unblinking.

Let’s get to work.

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*First Published: Aug 15, 2017, 4:30 am CDT