"The system of white supremacy was not created by anyone who is alive today. But it is maintained and upheld by everyone who holds white privilege - whether or not you want it or agree with it"


- Layla Saad (Me and White Supremacy)

Frequently asked questions

Q1. Why did you call yourselves 'White' Allies Network - why not 'All Allies' or just 'Allies'?


A. For similar reasons it is appropriate to emphasise 'Black Lives Matter' rather than 'All Lives Matter'. 'All lives' - people of all skin colours - need to work in harmony to defeat the scourge of racism - 'all lives' need to be involved. At the same time, many of us who pass as white have a lot of catching-up to do in our understanding of the issues. We are the ones that most need to learn about how racism plays out in our society, the devastating impact it has on so many people's lives and to learn how to become true allies against racism To really address the issue of racism, those of us that pass as 'white' need to recognise our 'whiteness' - that our skin colour affords us enormous privileges. We need to own our 'whiteness' and the privileges it brings. The title helps us to do this.




Q2. What right have you got to call yourselves 'allies' to people with black, brown and yellow skin? That is for them to decide - whether you are true allies or not.


A. You're right. As Layla Saad says: “Allyship is not self-defined – our work and our efforts must be recognised by the people we seek to ally ourselves with”. As our strapline says - being true allies is something we aspire to, and we are not claiming that we are already there. Our vision is that we will earn that label in the eyes of people with black, brown and yellow skin by what we do and say as we stand with them against racism.




Q3. Isn't the White Allies Network just another form of 'white saviourism'?


A. There's a danger it could be, but we're determined not to fall into that trap. 'White Saviourism' is a white mindset that believes people with black and brown skin, the global majority, need white people to save them. That without our help, they will be left helpless and unable to survive. Our white history tends to portray William Wilberforce in such a role in the abolition of slavery. But our white history lessons have ignored the far greater role and sacrifice of enslaved people such as Sam Sharpe, Mary Prince, Phyllis Wheatley, Ottobah Cugoano and Olaudah Equiano and many hundreds more who gave their lives to force the issue and prepare the ground for abolition. We want to challenge that mindset in ourselves and others. We start from a position of humility, needing to learn and to play our part, not to rescue. At the same time, we recognise there is a danger that we could unconsciously harbour a 'White Saviour' mindset. This is why we have a Council of Reference - people of colour that we will submit our plans to, helping us ensure our work is helpfully anti-racist, goes beyond 'optical allyship' and has no hint of white saviourism. That's why we have a 'Council of Reference' that we will humbly submit our plans and ideas to. This Council is made up entirely of people of colour, the global majority. They will be a check and balance for us so that we don't get above ourselves. It will be they, as well as other people of colour, that will help ensure we are being true allies in the fight against racism in ourselves and in our society.




Q4. Surely you are going to need to learn from people of different skin colours about these issues, so will need to include them in your meetings?


A. Absolutely right. All meetings are open to all and will include 'open spaces' in which everyone will be welcomed to join the conversation. In these spaces, we will all hopefully learn from people who have different skin colour to our own. In some meetings will also create 'separate breakout spaces' where white people and people of colour can talk more openly and vulnerably about their understanding and their experiences in pursuit of greater understanding. We will also be asking experts from this global majority community to bring some of their teaching to us, as well as accessing a plethora of resources made available to us by people of colour, both online and in print. We also have a council of reference made up of people of colour that will help us. At the same time, we don't want to over-rely on people who have suffered from racism to teach us. Some of them graciously and generously agree to do so, but it seems perverse, and can simply add to the pain and trauma of racism, to ask those suffering racial trauma to teach those of us who, mostly unwittingly, are perpetrators of that trauma. As white people, we need to take responsibility to educate ourselves about the issues using the plethora of materials that are available to us.




Q5. You talk about creating 'safe spaces for white people to learn' about racism. This world is not a 'safe place' for people whose skin is not white - this is not a 'safe' issue. Why should white people have a 'safe space' when it comes to addressing racism?


A. All our meetings are open to all and will include 'open spaces' where we can dialogue together on these issues to help ensure our meetings don't become 'echo-chambers', starved of diverse viewpoints. At the same time, most people need a degree of safety as well as stretch in order to learn, especially when the topic itself can be seen as fraught with danger. For many white people, engaging in a conversation about race is likely to feel uncomfortable. Facing our white privilege, stepping back from it and challenging it in ourselves and others is not comfortable work. A high degree of personal self-honesty will be needed. In our experience, creating properly facilitated and separate breakout spaces for white people and people of colour to talk on their own within some of our meetings provides a helpful balance of safety and discomfort to encourage honesty, self-disclosure and learning.




Q6. Isn't this just 'virtue signalling' - creating a 'safe' talking shop for white people to talk about the issues that looks good but achieves nothing?


A. We certainly hope not. But this is something our Council of Reference will help us with. Our aims are not just to educate ourselves but to agree individual and collective action that, together, we believe will make a difference.




Q7. Who is the White Allies Network predominantly for? Who can attend its meetings?


A. This network is firstly for white people who are willing to ‘do the work’, to educate themselves on the issues and to learn what it takes to be effective allies against racism. But we also need people of colour to engage with us in this learning process. This is why all our meetings will include 'open spaces' where we can all talk together about the issues. We warmly welcome any person of colour who feels able to journey with us to join the network as a 'co-mentor'. Some meetings will also include separate breakout spaces in which white people and people of colour can talk about their understanding and experiences on their own (see the answer to Q5 for more explanation of this).




Q8. If some of your meetings will include separate breakout spaces for white people and people of colour, who are you defining as 'white' and 'people of colour'? What about people who are mixed race? Or people who don't see themselves as Black or Asian or of having black or brown skin? Are they welcome too?


A. Anyone is welcome in the separate spaces for white people if they recognise they may benefit from white privilege by having lighter coloured skin than people who are visibly brown or black. This may include some who are bi-racial or multi-racial or others that pass as white. It will be up to the person themselves to decide whether or not they may benefit from white privilege, not up to us to judge. Our open spaces are, of course, for everyone to join the conversation, either to learn for themselves, or to share from their experiences and help us all to learn.




Q9. You talk about a Council of Reference - what exactly is their role in White Allies?


A. Our Council of Reference is there to guide our activity and ensure we are keeping on track towards our aspiration of becoming true allies with people of colour against racial injustice. It is a small group - people of colour from a variety of backgrounds that have generously agreed to support and challenge us, helping us keep perspective and avoid the dual traps of mere 'virtue signalling' or 'white saviourism'. They will help oversee our programme of education and action.




Q10. You are using the term 'people of colour' on this website. Why? This is not a universally accepted term and is less used outside the US. And isn't 'white' a colour, anyway?


A. There doesn't seem to be a universally accepted term at the moment. In fact any term is flawed as it is categorising a diversity of peoples and putting them all in a large box. BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) and BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) are becoming less used for this reason. Layla Saad uses the term BIPOC meaning Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, but this has not yet been widely accepted. The term Global Majority Community is beginning to be used more, to remind everyone that racism, globally, is about the global minority (white people) oppressing everyone else. On this website, we are using this latter term, alongside 'people of colour' and 'people with black, brown and yellow skin' as a way of acknowledging that most racism is on the basis of skin colour and that there are a whole range of skin colours apart from what passes as white. In reality, 'white skin' is a mutation from the first humans who were Africans with black or brown skin. So those of us with white skin are, basically, faded Africans!





 

"While the racist status quo is comfortable for me virtually 24-7 as a white person, challenging the status quo is not. Building the racial stamina required to challenge the racist status quo is thus a critical part of our work as white people."

- Robin Diangelo, author of White Fragility
(from the foreword to Layla Saad's 'Me and White Supremacy')