White folks can concretely put privilege to work. Three leaders in the Black and Native communities recently suggested how.

Are you willing to be uncomfortable and unpopular in your traditionally comfortable and popular places? How committed is the ally to that?asked Rev. Kenneth I. Lewis, pastor of the Green Memorial A.M.E. Zion church on public radio’s June 3 Maine Calling program.

Change starts within our own circles and spreads out from there . . . you’re going to lose some friends . . . and you need to be willing to lean into that,explained Shay Stewart-Bouley, executive director of Community Change Inc. and creator of the blog Black Girl in Maine..

“How many People of Color and Indigenous people are on your policymaking boards, committees and think tanks with power?” challenged Penobscot Tribal Elder Donna Loring in a June 7 Maine Sunday Telegram column. “No longer should we use the excuse that no qualified people of color or native people are interested. An extensive effort needs to be undertaken to find these people.”

It’s time to answer these calls to action.

Why do I, a white woman, care? In part because of my multi-racial family. I want the best for them. So my first answer’s about love.

There’s a broader answer involving love and freedom. If we are sincere about justice, white people are morally bound to care long-term. Otherwise, let’s just admit we’re abandoning our ideals.

Putting privilege to work can attract push-back from familiar circles. If that’s a white person’s worst pain in anti-racism work, we’ll be lucky. Sure, social disapproval hurts. It’s nothing like a knee on the neck. And while whites can withdraw from the anti-racist fight if it gets too hot, People of Color can’t. They bear daily, disproportionate burdens that need to shift. If these contrasts make us squirm, maybe we’re getting somewhere.

Some white discomfort is self-imposed. We may be at a loss for words with people of color. We might say the wrong thing. Are we accustomed to being understood? To not feeling wrong? Those are luxuries. Let’s risk conversations in which we’ve got a lot to learn.

Let’s examine our personal lives. What does our network of friends look like? How far do our hearts reach? If we expand the circle of people we cherish, we might create ripples of companions we never thought we’d know. Perhaps then we’ll envision leaders besides the usual suspects in government, boardrooms, education, arts.

Even so, People of Color and Native people may not rush to join our circle. We may have to live patiently on the periphery of their circles for a while.

Meanwhile, it may be worth focusing on a tactic.

If we have the privilege of financially or otherwise supporting entities we believe in, let’s consider conditioning that support on diversity in organizational leadership. Let’s request a time frame for progress. Let’s not be satisfied with delay.

When they say “We’re not ready,” our world says: “Time’s up.”

When they say “We have to adhere to process,” we say that legitimate process that becomes delay is resistance.

When they say, “It’s hard to find candidates,” we remind them that Barack Obama populated the world’s highest positions with superb People of Color. Can we see the similarly excellent people who’ve raised their hands in Maine?

When they say “Don’t micromanage,” we tell them that this work is about the values that guide management.

And how will organizations tackle the anti-racist work we ask for? They can seek advice from and hire People of Color for guidance. In fact, we could earmark part or all of our support for compensating such consultants, if they’re willing to take on the task. However, prepare to hear that the organization needs to do its own work first. This means homework: extreme honesty, learning inclusive search and hiring practices, conferring with organizations that have already diversified and enriched their staffs and boards.

How will we know when there’s been enough progress? Look for endorsement by People of Color that progress is authentic. Look for empowered, diversified leadership.

I’ve acted on what I’ve suggested here. It was hard, especially among friends. It’s gone slowly. Alone, my efforts are a drop in the bucket.

But the efforts of many supporters? That might be different. And who knows – discomfort might encounter good will.

I believe that’s called Grace.

— Special to the Telegram




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