4 Traits of Real White Advocates for People of Color

(twitter threads posted with permission from Helen Lee; unrolled via threadreaderapp.com)

When a white person says he/she is an advocate for people of color, I need to know:

  1. Who are your closest friends, mentors, and advisors? Are they all or mostly white?
  2. Do you have a track record of elevating voices of color and how far does it go back?
  3. What experiences do you have of listening to POC, quelling your own voice, and making room for them?
  4. Have you experienced critique from POC, and how have you handled those experiences–with humility or with defensiveness?

In other words, have you earned the right to call yourself an advocate for POC? Have you been in the trenches alongside us, have you proved your commitment through your work and relationships over the long haul? Or is this just a newfound fad in your life that you are promoting?

If you are new to being an advocate, then just say so. Say you’re still learning. Be honest and humble about the reality. Don’t try to position yourself as someone you are not or accept credit that you do not deserve.

If you are a true advocate, then you will have loads of POC to thank for educating you and helping you to learn and grow in this area. And you will be seeking to elevate those folks and giving them the credit for your own process of awakening. That is all.

Sincere White Advocates

(Helen Lee added more about what it takes to be a sincere white advocate for people of color)

To follow up on my thread from Friday, a few more comments. It seems to be quite fashionable now in many circles & contexts to say you’re an advocate for POC. It’s even profitable now in some spaces. And so, natch, more people say that this is a conviction/passion of theirs.

Perhaps it is a genuine conviction and passion, and of course we need more white folks to have a heart for greater equity, representation, and reparation for POC. But forgive me if I don’t completely trust people who don’t have a track record in this area who suddenly care now.

I’ve seen too many white folks w/shiny platforms state that they are committed to racial justice and/or elevating voices of color, how much this is a part of their heart passion and professional calling. But it’s all talk. They dip in and out of the call as it suits their needs.

Sincere white advocates for POC do not often garner position or platform for this kind of work. In reality, any white person who is truly committed to this hard road has had to weather all kinds of costs, personally and/or professionally.

Sincere white advocates for POC expressly resists being labeled as such. They acknowledge their own privilege & power in the conversation and are very sensitive to try NOT to call public attention to themselves for their work, instead pointing attention towards POC.

Sincere white advocates for POC don’t feel threatened when they see that elevating POC may result in a loss of their own control. They gladly and quietly subsume themselves and find ways to hand over their power and privilege to those whose voices have been marginalized.

Sincere white advocates will humbly acknowledge how far they have to go in their own journey, how many mistakes they’ve made along the way, how much they still don’t fully understand, and how worried they are that about talking about these issues will just benefit themselves.

Sincere white advocates like this are so hard to find. Many believe they are these kinds of advocates, but actually, they still have so far to go. If you want to know whether you are or not, start asking the POC in your life for their sincere assessment. You might be surprised.

The bottom line for POC is that we have to be very discerning when we’re approached by white folks who want to work w/us and who say they care about elevating our voices. Do due diligence and make sure you are entrusting yourself to someone who has your best interests in mind!