The Importance of Empathy in Allyship Work
Anti-racism work for white people can be fraught with feelings of guilt, shame and judgment when we or others stumble and make mistakes. So how do we continue to show up as effective allies when we're feeling this way?
Practicing empathy is central to this work and is twofold. The first is to do our best to empathize with the experiences of People of Color. Tilman Smith and Ilsa Govan, in their book What's Up with White Women: Unpacking Sexism and White Privilege in Pursuit of Racial Justice, explain,
We often hear white allies say, "I will never know what it is like to be a Person of Color." While this statement is true, it does not mean we shouldn't do our darndest to try to understand and, especially, to see how we have been taught not to see People of Color as fully human, and how that has dehumanized us.
The second is the importance of practicing empathy with other white people. As allies, it's easy to judge other people's racist behavior and that can thwart social justice efforts. Tilman and Ilsa go on to explain in her book,
Systemic racism and sexism hurt everyone, even as we may be receiving the benefits of white privilege. When we recognize this, it is easier to make empathic connections with other white people who we might otherwise want to dismiss or distance ourselves from. If we as white people cannot talk with other white people about our racist assumptions, whether intentional or not, then there is no way we will be able to change our institutions.
White people can more effectively commit to social justice by also committing to the practice of empathy.
If this resonated with you as a white woman, take our workshop based on Ilsa's book, Unpacking Sexism and White Privilege in Pursuit of Racial Justice.
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