Larry Jin Lee: How to be Anti-Racist

2 min

How much credit do whites deserve when they stand up and do the right thing to confront racism? Larry Jin Lee has this Perspective.

I’ve never witnessed as much chatter from white people about white allyship as I have since the murder of George Floyd. It’s almost as if the confluence of the pandemic and the murders of African Americans by the police has finally awakened the collective consciousness of this country’s racism, sparking mass outrage.

Surprisingly, I found myself apprehensive about this groundswell of white activism, which puzzled me. I then heard the story about a restaurant server in the Monterey area who stood up to a white man who was hurling racist epithets at an Asian American family celebrating a birthday. Almost immediately, websites popped up that started to accept donations on this server’s behalf, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars.

I thought about making a donation, then I hesitated. While it was powerful for her to act as if the racist attack affected her personally, essentially, what she did was just the “right thing." This is what I’ve always tried to convince white people to do. However, it appeared that people felt she needed to be rewarded for taking a stand. While it is wonderful to affirm each other in being actively anti-racist, one should not expect extra credit for doing the “right and moral” action. Racism affects us all.

White allyship, first and foremost, is a partnership with people of color, not a heroic choice to assist a victim. White partners are essential in breaking this cycle that we are all stuck in. On the other hand, people of color have also learned in our dance of history to take care of the “oppressor,” aka white people. It’s learned behavior that people of color have had to use to survive. The paradigm of taking care of the white savior doesn’t serve either of us well.

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I genuinely appreciate what this server did because I’ve experienced racist attacks with complicit passive witnesses, which added to my trauma. My hope is that white compassionate witnesses would voice outrage with us because it hurts them too. This is what being actively anti-racist means. That is what will provide us the pathway to healing the disease of racism in this country and it’s been long in coming.

With a Perspective, I’m Larry Jin Lee.

Larry Jin Lee is a psychotherapist and father of two. He lives in San Francisco.