White allies, here are some beginning steps to the social justice work that must be done in 2022 onwards
Alexis Zygan (She/Her) // Contributor
Michelle Lussier (She/Her/They/Them) // Illustrator
It’s that time of year where people reflect on the past and set an intention to improve their future. In most cases, New Year’s resolutions are driven by self-improvement. What if, instead of focusing on personal achievement, white allies worked to emphasize already existing community-based initiatives? Not just in 2022.
It starts with an understanding that all issues are interconnected. We cannot address colonialism without also recognizing how it impacts the environment, human rights and food insecurity because they operate within the framework of oppressive systems that govern society. This also means acknowledging the role that privilege plays when we benefit from systemic oppression.
Kelly Chessman (she/her), the Education Initiatives Coordinator at the North Shore Restorative Justice Society, shared how white allies can stay committed to dismantling oppressive systems, and how maintaining self-compassion is imperative to social justice work. In her role, Chessman supports educational programs by acquiring resources to develop conflict management and build trust in interpersonal relationships. She is also a facilitator of the Youth Justice Lab, a program where youth and young adults discuss systemic issues and develop various strategies in the form of project ideas, to contribute to tangible change and community care.
When asked about approaching social justice work, especially for those who are new in the fight to combat colonial systems, Chessman pointed to the importance of starting with one’s interpersonal and community relationships. As she emphasized, collaboration is the backbone of radical change, coupled with recognizing values and how they shape one’s perspective on the colonially founded society we live in. “Something that really shifted my mindset was the realization that I am an individual, but I am nothing without my community,” explains Chessman. “We all need one another.”
As we navigate the pandemic, there has been a switch from an individualistic mindset to doing what is best for everyone involved — staying at home, wearing a mask when in public and respecting personal boundaries. During this time, Chessman realized the importance of relationships and their impact on shifting to a community-focused approach. A question that followed this discovery is: how do I help others while also supporting myself?
It also helps to explore the mindsets that drive colonial ways of thinking. This can look like expanding your horizons by reading resources compiled and or written by authors that are BIPOC, queer or disabled. Or, by speaking to people who don’t have the privileged experience that white, cis, straight, able-bodied, and or neurotypical people have — while also recognizing how someone with white and other privileges, have caused harm and what actionable steps can be taken to towards accountability. As well as to uplift marginalized communities. This ongoing process relies heavily on practicing self-reflection and assessing how you benefit from oppressive systems, because although you may not want to accept it, you’ve definitely benefited.
At times, those who express commitment to social justice work may receive backlash from people in their lives, whether that be family or friends. When discussing social justice issues, one may feel frustrated or angry at someone who refuses to see beyond their colonial programming. However, Chessman has learned from personal experience that impatience is not an effective reaction when it comes to white allies trying to educate other white people.
Instead, she recommends approaching these situations with patience, openness and grace.
Especially when you’re trying to convince someone to empathize with a community, core values should be implemented as a guide for tackling conversations about human rights. Having a prepared list of responses in advance is also helpful.
Sometimes, as white allies, one occasionally slips up, says the wrong thing, or finds themselves burnt out. However, it’s important to remember that it’s a privilege to be able to step away from social justice work. And while white allies may feel burnt out, racialized communities and individuals have to carry this burden wherever they go, they can not step away. That is why, in one’s ongoing dismantling of internalized and external white supremacy and colonialism, searching for a community of people who can keep one accountable, is also essential. “I think it will only strengthen you because one person alone doesn’t have all the answers,” says Chessman. One must also recognize that there will be obstacles.