By Sofia Fajardo
A big problem facing people of colour (POC) nowadays is not only dealing with racists who claim to know better about our issues, downplaying the prejudice we encounter and who are constantly attacking our culture, beliefs and skin colour, but our white “allies” who seem to be speaking for us and often over us on issues that do not directly affect them.
What I often see nowadays on online discussions and even in face-to-face conversations about issues surrounding POC are white people thinking that they are doing us a favour by “defending” us. Swooping in to put their two cents into arguments about anything and everything related to POC. In reality, however, they are actually speaking over us and not giving us a chance to speak for ourselves. I hear and see more comments from white progressives than I do from POC regarding our issues, often voicing their opinions on how they think we feel about certain topics relating to race rather than allowing us to tell them how we actually feel. Sometimes even arguing with POC when we don’t agree with what they say. You may think you are being helpful and supportive by speaking out for us but it actually does more harm than anything else. For you to just step in and take the mic from us when we are trying to let our voices be heard is selfish and takes away our right to speak up and raise awareness about our own experiences. You could even say it’s an act of oppression.
As a nursing student at QUT, I have undertaken many units about healthcare in different cultural contexts. Educating us students on how the healthcare system affects different cultures and the many stories of POC in this context. But who do I see leading the discussions in many of my classes? Not the POC that the unit is about, but white people instead. White people talking about POC’s experiences within our healthcare system, white people debating if white privilege actually exists (spoiler alert: it does) and white people speaking over us again and again.
We do not need you to come in and save the day, we are not damsels in distress needing to be saved from the evil white supremacists and we are definitely not helpless beings. When it comes to the topic of race and racism, make some space and let POC lead the discussion. We have a voice of our own, let us be heard.
In saying this, we do not want our white counterparts to stray from the cause. Of course there is nothing wrong with wanting to help but help in a way that enables us to take centre stage. Do not be mistaken, your support is important in helping to put a stop to the racism that we face. However, at the same time, know your place. When we say that we want you to just take a step back, it does not meant we want you to stop supporting us and do nothing. We just want you to respect that this is our fight and our stories are the most important ones to tell.
To be an ally is to listen! Listen to your fellow POC and their experiences and allow yourself to be educated by them. Hold yourself and others accountable when you realise you or others are speaking out of turn. Do not hog the spotlight, recognise your own egos, because there is no shame in taking the back seat. Aim to empower the voices of the people you claim you want to help. Listen and learn. By doing that, you are truly standing in solidarity with those who are marginalised in our society and you can properly consider yourself our ally.