White Allyship is a practical concept that can help white South Africans play an active role in identifying and overcoming racism in the post-Apartheid workplace or organisational environment. What are White Allies and why do we need them?
What is an ally?
An ally is a person who is not a member of a particular group, but who takes action to support that group. A man supporting women could be an ally against sexism, a person who is not disabled but supports people living with disabilities is an ally for ableism. In the same way, a white person uniting with black colleagues at work to create a better workplace, one that is free of racism, is a white ally.
What is a White Ally?
A white ally is a white person who stands up against racism in support of her black colleagues. A white ally is someone who stands by the side of black friends and colleagues, who listens to them, and supports them even in their absence, who works on their cause and who is prepared to experience discomfort and amplify the voice of black people against racism.
How does racism manifest?
Racism manifests at three levels:
On a personal level, you recognise that you, like everyone else, holds private beliefs, ideas and prejudices, which may be racist.
Interpersonally, it relates to the expression of racism between people, for example in a team or a department.
In an organisation or institution, it refers to discriminatory treatment, for example in recruiting or promoting, which is embedded in polices and practices within the organisation or institution itself.
How do I, as a white person, address Racism as an Ally?
Firstly, at a personal level, it can be measured by how much you change your prejudicial ideas. This can involve exposure to people of colour, especially Africans who make up the vast majority of people living in South Africa. Research and name your privilege as a white. Consider learning an African language.
Secondly, on the interpersonal level, racism can be addressed by the degree to which your relationships with black people change for the better in an authentic way. Consider your social friendship groups. How diverse are these? Where do you live and socialise? Can you expand your geography?
Finally, in an organisation, a white ally can address racism by the actions they take to unmask and challenge racism and to the extent to which they try to dismantle the racist systems inherent in most organisations.
How do I know I am working effectively as a White Ally?
You cannot label yourself as a white ally but your relationships and behaviours will show it. For example, you continually seek understanding of the experiences of black colleagues. You will address racism or call it out appropriately when you witness it, for example by challenging, interrupting and disrupting. Most importantly, you will be authentic in your behaviour.
Remember you cannot name yourself an ally, it is about how others experience you. In terms of the organisation or institution it will be measured by the extent to which you are pointing out and dismantling racist structures and systems inherent in your own organisation.
Take the next step with a helping hand
If your organisation is already working on diversity and inclusion building, White Allyship in the fight against racism can be the important next step. If you want to learn more about how to build White Allyship in your organisation contact us.