This morning I found myself conversing with a good friend in a position not too dissimilar from my own. We both are existing in a segue between what was and what is to be. Graduating college is no small feat, but figuring out what to do after seems even more daunting. Unfortunately, it’s nearly 3 months out from graduation and that process still ensues. I have yet to make sense of why that is, though I am confident there’s a reason. But, I digress.
I’ve made my way back into the halls of my university’s health system and am now oddly sitting in a community space drafting this. I’ll own the weird. With any space, the memories, feel, and people within it are what draw people back. Hospitals, for many, are a place they would much less be in for the purpose it serves, let alone spend time in for no related reason. Though, this was home for me in the few months my mother was here before I started college. Here, I feel a small piece of that home continue to exist, alongside the passions that surfaced with it. They say people live on through the memories you shared with them, so I think that’s exactly what draws me here at times things cease to make sense. A part of me wishes these walls could just tell me what to do, but as I think about it, mom never really told me what to do either.
When things or people leave your life, it seemingly allows room for other things to come in. These past few years have in no way fallen short of that. God has put amazing people and opportunities in my life, and has allowed me to mature and develop in ways I would have never imagined. They have challenged me to find my passions and break down walls that had been long cemented. For that, I am extremely thankful - but, what does it all mean? Why am I left in a position with no evident next step and feelings of hopelessness?
At this point, I feel the necessity to acknowledge how privileged it is of me to even be in this dilemma. Thus, it’s my story so it’s necessary to process it.
Sitting here, I’m prompted to think back to the few other times I found myself in this same chair. Times that I had similar feelings. Comically, those things seem pale in comparison and always figured themselves out. I have little doubt that will happen again, but the “Ahhh!” moment is still present.
I think what I like most about this place is that it reminds me there is hope, even in the moments you would least expect to have it. Hope that transcends beyond your current situation. Even though I lost my mother, her memory lives on and has shaped me in the most fascinating ways. Even though I am finished with my undergraduate career, there’s new and exciting experiences beyond it. I may need places to remind me of those influences and the resultant hope from time to time, but it’s always there deep beneath the fear, defeat, and confusion.
I have given myself permission to explore what drives me beyond what I thought had. With that has come a lot of unknown. But, that’s ok. Knowing takes time and understanding is worth the wait. I have to remind myself that if you take the time to let it, what has come will make way for what will in the most amazing and sometimes unexpected ways.
By JLove Calderon and Tim Wise, antiracist white allies and social justice educators.
We are persons classified as white, who oppose racism and the system of white supremacy. As such, we are committed to speaking out and challenging racial injustice, mistreatment and institutional inequity, as well as interpersonal racism whenever and wherever it exists. We are also committed to challenging our own biases, inculcated by a society that has trained us all, to one degree or another, to internalize notions of our own superiority.
As antiracist allies, we seek to work with people of color to create real multiracial democracy. We do not aspire to lead the struggle for racial justice and equity, but rather, to follow the lead of persons and communities of color, and to work in solidarity with them, as a way to obtain this goal. We do not engage in the antiracist struggle on behalf of people of color, so as to “save” them, or as an act of charity. We oppose and seek to eradicate white supremacy because it is an unjust system, and we believe in the moral obligation of all persons to resist injustice. Likewise, we believe not only that a system of white supremacy damages people of color, but also that it compromises our humanity, weakens the democratic bonds of a healthy society, and ultimately poses great risks to us all. Because we believe white supremacy to be a contributing force to war, resource exploitation, and economic injustice, our desire to eradicate the mindset and system of white domination is fundamentally a matter of collective preservation. Though persons of color are the direct targets of this system, we believe that whites are the collateral damage, and so for our own sake as well, we strive for a new way of living.
To do this with integrity, we believe it might prove helpful to operate with a code of ethics in mind, so as to remain as accountable as possible to persons of color, and each other, as we go about the business of challenging white supremacy. We know from experience how easy it can be to act with the best of intentions, and yet ultimately do harm to the antiracist struggle, by choosing tactics or methods that reinforce privilege and inequity rather than diminish them, or by acting within the confines of an echo chamber of other antiracist white allies, while failing to ground our efforts in structures of accountability led by people of color.
In recent years, the number of white folks engaged in one form or another of public antiracist work, or work around the subject of white privilege (as scholars, writers, activists, and educators), has proliferated. Likewise, schools, non-profit organizations, and even some corporations have begun to look at matters of racism and white privilege within their institutions. As this work, at many different levels, expands, it is perhaps more necessary than ever that whites who are working to be strong antiracist allies take a good look in the mirror, analyze and critique what we do as well as how we do it, and ask: How can we, as antiracist white allies, operate ethically and responsibly as we go about the business of helping to dismantle white supremacy?
To this end, we propose the following code of ethics for antiracist white allies. Though it is hardly an exclusive or exhaustive list, we believe it is a start to a more responsible and responsive antiracist practice for white persons who wish to act in solidarity with people of color in the battle against racism. The code should not be viewed as a fixed or final document, let alone as a checklist or “rulebook” for responsible antiracists. It is merely a guidepost. We hope that it will lead to productive reflection, discussion, and even healthy debate among those who are engaged in antiracist struggle.
Code of Ethics for Anti-Racist White Allies
1. Acknowledge our racial privilege.
Self-reflection matters. Although there are many ways in which whites can be marginalized in this society (on the basis of gender, sex, sexuality, class, religion, disability, etc), this truth does not eradicate our racial advantage, relative to people of color. We can be oppressed in these other categories and still benefit from privileges extended to whites, as whites. Acknowledging racial privilege doesn’t mean that we didn’t work hard, or that there weren’t barriers we had to overcome; it simply means that our racial identity helped us along the way. Indeed, racial privilege will even work in our favor as we speak out against racism. We will often be taken more seriously in this work, precisely because we are white, and we should be clear on that point.
2. Develop interpersonal connections and structures to help maintain antiracist accountability.
Accountability matters. When we engage in antiracist efforts, be they public or private, we should remember that it is persons of color most affected by racism, and thus, they have the most to gain or lose as a result of how such work is done. With this in mind, we believe it is important to seek and obtain regular and ongoing feedback from people of color in our lives (friends and/or colleagues), as a way to better ground our efforts in structures of accountability. Although this kind of accountability may play out differently, depending on our specific job/position, one general principle is that we should be in regular and ongoing contact with persons in the communities that are most impacted by racism and white supremacy—namely, people of color.
3. Be prepared to alter our methods and practices, when and if persons of color implore us to do so.
Responsive listening matters. It’s not enough to be in contact with people of color as we go about our work. We also need to be prepared to change what we’re doing, if and when people of color suggest there may be problems, practically or ethically, with our existing methods of challenging racism. Although accountability does not require that we agree with and respond affirmatively to every critique offered, if people of color are telling us over and again that something is wrong with our current practices, accountability requires that we take it seriously and correct the practice. And all such critiques should be seen as opportunities for personal reflection and growth.
4. If we speak out about white privilege, racism, and/or white supremacy, whether in a public forum or in private discussions with friends, family or colleagues, we should acknowledge that people of color have been talking about these subjects for a long time, and yet, have been routinely ignored in the process.
Giving credit matters. Because many white people have tuned out or written off people of color, when a white person speaks about social and racial injustice it’s like a huge “a ha” moment happens, and that white person oftentimes is put on a pedestal. We should make sure people know that whatever wisdom we possess on the matter is only partially our own: it is also the collective wisdom of people of color, shared with us directly or indirectly. Likewise, beyond merely noting the general contribution of people of color to our own wisdom around matters of race, we should make the effort to specify those persons/groups of color from whom we’ve learned. Encourage others to dig deeper into the subject matter by seeking out and reading/listening to the words/work of those persons of color, so as to further their own knowledge base.
5. Share access and resources with persons of color whenever possible.
Networking matters. As whites, we often enjoy access to various professional connections, resources, or networks, from which persons of color are typically excluded. The ability to act as a “gatekeeper” comes with the territory of privilege. The only question is, will we help open the gates wider, or keep them closed? As allies, we should strive to share those connections and resources with persons of color whenever possible. So, for instance, we may have inroads for institutional funding or grant monies that could be obtained for people of color-led community organizations. We may have connections in media, educational institutions, or even the corporate world, which if shared with persons of color could provide opportunities for those persons of color to gain a platform for their own racial justice efforts.
6. If you get paid to speak out about white privilege, racism, and/or white supremacy, or in some capacity make your living from challenging racism, donate a portion of your income to organizations led principally by people of color.
Giving back matters. Although it is important to speak out about racism, and to do other types of antiracism work (organizing, legal work, teaching, etc.), and necessary for people to be paid for the hard work they do, whites who do so still have to admit that we are able to reap at least some of the financial rewards we receive because of racism and white privilege. Because so much of our own understanding of race and racism comes from the collective wisdom of people of color, from whom we have learned (especially at the grass-roots level), it is only proper that we should give back to those who have made our own “success” possible. Although there is no way to ascertain the real value of the shared and collective wisdom of people of color on the understanding that white allies have about racism, it seems fair to suggest that at least 10 percent of our honorariums, royalties, salaries, or other forms of income, should be shared with people-of color-led organizations with a commitment to racial and social justice. It would be especially helpful if at least some of that money goes to the kinds of locally based organizations that have a hard time getting funding from traditional sources.
The premise of this code is simple: White people have a moral and practical obligation to challenge racism in a responsible and responsive manner. To this end, we believe that the principles of self-reflection, accountability, responsive listening, and resource sharing are important starting points for whites who are engaged in any kind of efforts to eradicate racism and white supremacy. We hope that this code, devised merely as a set of suggestions and guideposts for white allies, will prompt constructive dialogue and discussion regarding how white allyship can best be developed and deployed for the purpose of building true multiracial democracy.
Please join the conversation and offer up your thoughts as to how antiracist white allies can become stronger in the fight to eradicate white supremacy.
A note about how this code was created:
The initial code was created and then sent out to a multi-racial group of activists, organizers, educators, artists, and everyday people who care deeply about social and racial justice. Input was given and the authors took key insights and common themes and incorporated them into the editing process. We thank everyone who took the time out to bring their wisdom and expertise to the table for this accountability work.
As I write this, spring training is in full swing - just as it was 23 years ago, when I sat in my dorm room desk writing the 1990 Major League Baseball Preview. I’d produced one every year since middle school for a few friends, some of whom actually liked baseball.
"Are you studying for the calc test?" asked my pal Andy, worksheets aswirl around him.
"It’s multiple choice," I said. "I’ll get a quarter of them right even if I pick randomly."
"You know," Andy said, "you ought to become a writer. All you ever do is write."
The air around me suddenly felt easier to breathe, as it infused with opportunity. Now I recognize why: This was a defining moment for me. Even though I spent much of my spare time writing—just to entertain family and friends—I’d never considered a career in journalism. But over the next few weeks, after scoring a statistically improbable 23 percent on the calculus exam, I changed my major and joined the college newspaper.
Our lives are full of defining moments. Some we invite; others we don’t. Then there are those we ignore - moments that might have become defining ones if only we’d dared to turn left or right instead of plowing straight ahead. I’ve been there; I bet you have too. Regretsville is a horrible place to visit, much less dwell in.
Those turns have the power to fundamentally change the courses of our lives…
My buddy Andy is a nuclear physicist now, be he would’ve become a poet if it paid better. He once bounced this line off me: “The wise step forward, not knowing the future, when they see an open door.”
I’ve tried to make this my mantra for life. But doors can be scary when you can’t see what’s on the other side. My advice to you: Stop. Look around. Spot the opening doors. Your options: Stay put or step forward. You know the right choice. The question is, do you dare?
We all want to achieve some level of greatness or significance with our lives. What we often underestimate is that this only comes through our engagement with others, not in isolation. We all need people behind us that continue to push us forward.
Only when you understand who you are, will you start living into how you were made to engage in your current context. I believe we were each made with an intense longing to have other people speaking into our lives. A mentor will help you discover who we are in a way you would not know in leading an isolated life.
There is no life-change without life-exchange.
For over a four year period I waited for an older and wiser man to mentor me. I assumed that if I waited long enough this person would give me a call and make my life better. The call never came despite desire and my frustration continued to grow.
Eventually I worked up enough courage to flip the script and asked someone who I thought would challenge me to be a better person. And sure enough, the time I spent with him changed my life.
Looking back I see the specific ways interactions with a mentor facilitated change within me.
Clarity Within Community
A lot of people have clarity of vision for their life, but they lack the relational engagement needed to see the full extent of the vision.
A mentor provides added perspective. You have blind spots—areas in life that you struggle to navigate well.
Personal clarity without the input of others often leads down treacherous paths.
Your life needs fresh eyes to lend perspective on where you are going astray. A mentor is not a babysitter or a parent, but they can shed light on areas of concern. A mentor—having navigated life further down the road—can give you the nudge needed to keep you walking the right direction.
The culture at large teaches that you should surround yourself with people who give positive vibes, but what you likely need is someone who is willing to give you the honest truth when you would rather ignore it.
Hikes Not Maps
I’m stubborn enough that I typically look for someone who will provide me with enough information for me to continue on my way. These information givers are like shopkeepers who provide maps.
The problem is what I need is a trail guide who can walk the paths rather than just providing a map.
You need a trail guide, not a shopkeeper. On a lonely trail, you need a hiking partner, not a map.
Plenty of people can give you the information you need to take the next step but a mentor will walk alongside you throughout the journey.
A Character Driven Life
In my weaker moments I’m often drawn to make decisions when my emotions are at their peak. Instead of taking the time to process through it all, the knee-jerk reaction seems to come naturally.
A mentor helps you sift through the emotions to make character based decisions. What are the principles and values that under gird your life? Those should drive your decisions.
At one point 6 months ago I was about to make an emotionally-driven, irrational decision because I sensed a need to make a drastic change in my life. My mentor helped me see how that decision directly contradicted a few things I believed to be true about myself.
A character-based life allows for short-term wins to translate into long-term sustainability.
Wings to Launch
The Millennial Generation has been described as “failing to launch.” The reasons for this are many and highly debated, but it doesn’t remove the truth that many people feel relegated to their current state—flightless with no wings to see beyond it.
This is right where a mentor can step in and help you navigate how you have been gifted and how those gifts can launch you toward the life you’ve been created to live.
Take the step. Make the ask. Get a mentor. It will change your life.
In what ways has a mentor changed your life?