In the past week, students across the nation have been protesting against the marginalization of students of color on university and college campuses. In the process, they have brought to light the apparent disadvantages of being a minority on these campuses. Once again, we are forced to question our nation’s principles due to its seemingly intentional disregard of minorities in higher institutions. In response to racist events at Yale, the University of Missouri, and several other campuses around the country, many, including white people, have taken this time to publicly express their support for people of color at schools all over the nation. The most common method has been a popular Facebook status update that claims support for the Black community and other communities of color on college campuses. While solidarity is nice, this vocal support from the white majority destroys the fundamental purpose of this developing movement.
The white support does not go unappreciated – as a person of color, I appreciate the willingness to confront issues that make much of their own race feel “uncomfortable.” However, the vocalization of white support drowns out the voice from people of color. In the eyes of the white community, being an ally means making your solidarity with the marginalized as overt as possible. Through the popular Facebook status spreading, white people living in the United States hijack the movement. Through these acts, even if unintentional, they forget to listen to the oppressed. They forget that this is our cause to lead, not theirs.
When white people hijack instances like this, movements lose direction and are eventually altered, if not completely forgotten. The problem lies in the fact that white people have no experience suffering from racism. It’s impossible for a white body to bear the consequences from the systematic violence that perpetuates the interests of white America. Thus, over-exuberant white “allies” are trying to lead a cause that they do not and cannot fully understand, and, in the process, weaken the minority influence. When people of color lose their voice, the movement loses authenticity.
White people in the United States have a long history of dehumanizing, exploiting, and marginalizing the non-white community. This history has created a system where today’s people of color are restricted from the same advantages that allow the white majority to thrive. By posting the widespread Facebook update, “To the students of color at Mizzou, we, student allies at [specific college or university], stand with you in solidarity,” the white majority completely disregards its violent history. It ignores the fact that – even if involuntary – they are a part of the very problem students of color are fighting: institutional racism.
In addition to white students disregarding their participation in systematic oppression, they are centering themselves in a cause that isn’t theirs to fight. A true white ally will hold him or herself accountable and stop trying so hard to show him or herself off as a “student ally” “standing in solidarity” with oppressed victims while acting as the oppressor. It is crucial white students do not ignore the fact that all white people are complicit in racism one way or another.
My suggestion to white students would be to act as an ally by listening to the minority voice rather than muting it. Hear us out: We’re asking you to take a step back and take apart the systematic institutions that continue to harm us. Stop attempting to garner respect from friends and family by appearing informed. Promote discussion about white privilege and cultural appropriation, among other topics that your race continuously avoids. Support us from the backlines, rather than rushing to the frontlines for attention. Let Black lives matter, let the marginalized voice be heard, let us represent ourselves.