Study Hall: Finding One’s Role as a White Organizer in Nonwhite Spaces

I have a strong desire to organize my community, however as non-Indigenous person I’m concerned that my choice to head up direct action may represent me stepping out of my lane as a white settler and subverting BIPOC’s rightful position as leaders of this movement. I also don’t want to put additional labor on BIPOC by putting forth the idea of organizing and insisting they be leaders. This may be representative of my white fragility as I do remember a past Q&A response that stuck with me: well-intentioned allies often won’t act without an explicit “yes”. Do you think this is one of those instances, or is my apprehension telling me something I should pay attention to?

I appreciate your consideration in how to navigate this work. A way white people tend to take up space is when they center themselves and their presence in the work above the work itself. If you do choose to move forward, get clear on both your intention to organize and its impact on the community (because even honorable intentions can cause harm) – and de-center yourself as much as you can in the process. 

I doubt you’re truly alone in this work. There are plenty of multiracial organizations that can use support. Instead of holding a binary “lead as a white person or elevate a BIPOC leader” stance, maybe the best next step is to connect with one of those organizations and become a member of a collective aligned with your goals. If there isn’t, perhaps your best next step is to be in conversation with the other people you view as leadership and build community that way. 

Regardless of how you move forward, the direct action you choose must be informed by the needs of the community, even if they’re not physically organizing where you live. Consider how you can use articles like these to help inform your perspective. By following their recommendations, we, as non-Indigenous people, are learning and listening to their leadership. Acting against their wishes, or creating actions that you believe are “better” without their insight, would be subverting. 

Remember, there’s no “perfect” path forward in this work. The communities most impacted rarely have the privilege to choose a path forward that’s free of risk. Do as much as you can from a resourced, educated, and respectful place.

1168 614 Team ARD
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