My Best Friend Uses Her White Privilege to Help Be an Ally

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This is an interview of how one of my best friends uses her white privilege to combat racism and act as an ally.

. . .

I met Meredith P. Hamilton in performing arts school while in 4th grade at Power APAC in Jackson, MS). Her focus was on dance/ballet, and mine was piano/music. I had no idea we would go on to be a best friend duo like no other. “Mere,” as I sometimes call her, was someone I grew close to as we both shared the experience of being the socially awkward kids. We would spend time after school waiting for our parents to pick us up (both of whom would be late). During this time, a bond formed. Then I went away to a different school, but we would connect again in high school (shout out to the rise of social media). Our relationship would stay put as BFF’s from then on.

“Wrong is wrong and I’ll let that be known. I’ll call out a privileged friend on their warped view points and challenge them.”

I’m giving this intro because I want to set a backdrop of our relationship. Mere was a white kid in a rare setting. Performing arts school with A LOT of black kids. She ended up going to the high school that fed into this program, which meant she was in a unique position. She had to learn first hand some of the differences and similarities between cultures. Fast forward to now, we had a convo following the most recent killing of the unarmed black man Ahmaud Arbery. This conversation turned into an interview.

. . .

Me: Are you annoyed that I randomly said “interview now”?

Meredith: I am always annoyed 😂

Me: Do you need to do anything other than pay attention to my foolishness?

Meredith: I’m eating hot wings then working out, so now is perfect.

Me: How do you identify when it comes to race and class?

Meredith: I identify as a white woman. Even though I am enough to classify as Cherokee I’m not able to get a tribe blood card. As far as class, I guess I would say socioeconomic middle. I grew up fluctuating between the lower and middle classes.

Me: So how would you define white privilege?

Meredith: I personally like this definition of white privilege — “generally agreed to refer to the implicit or systemic advantages that white people have relative to people who are the objects of racism”.

I would specifically say that it is the ability to navigate spaces without fear or anxiety, that my complexion would hinder me in certain spaces. The ability to make it through a road block or run in a neighborhood without pondering if I’ll make it home. If that makes sense?

Me: Cool. I’d say that makes sense. Would you say that you then fall in the category of having white privilege?

Meredith: Absolutely.

Me: If that’s the case where do you think your responsibility begins with that privilege?

Meredith: I personally believe my responsibility is to listen. Be knowledgeable of what’s happening in other communities. Educate other privileged individuals so that my friends of color can relax and process. It is not their job to educate and vocalize the wrongs to white folks.. Step. Up.

That privilege shows up in so many different ways. Listen when our minority friends need a shoulder. Educate other generations or classes of white folks of what and why certain things are happening. Step up when we’re asked to. Go to the marches, do the runs, vocalize on your platforms, be a political advocate for change.

Me: Would you say that helps you act as an ally?

Meredith: I think it does.

Me: How do you know it’s time to be an Ally? When does that moment present itself?

Meredith: Ahhhh this is a tough one… but it really depends on the situation. For a national/regional tragedy-

I’ll vocalize, educate, speak about it. Everything.

When it comes to my personal relationships- like something happening in real time- I let the individual direct the situation. I have some friends that don’t want me to step up and others that do. But wrong is wrong and

I’ll let that be known. I’ll call out a privileged friend on their warped view points and challenge them. Hopefully with a different outlook on the topic.

I’m always ready to have the dialogue and become the buffer when necessary. It’s a thin line between being an Ally and being a Karen.

Me: Karen never knew her hair cut would take her in this direction.

Meredith: NE👏🏻VER

If you aren’t sure what we mean by Karen click here.

“If you aren’t comfortable? Good. Don’t be comfortable in this space. It’s supposed to be uncomfortable.”

Me: What went through your head when you heard/read/watched the reports on the situation with Ahmaud Arbery?

Meredith: It got personal. I thought of Kelsey (Significant other). I thought of you. I thought of all my brown/black friends and their family/friends. It hit, just like all the other individuals these type of injustices keep happening to. That easily, this could be one of my people in a hashtag. That could be my boyfriend riding his bike to work. It could and IS happening constantly.

Me: What is your message to people that don’t feel comfortable with the topics? Confrontation? If navigating this space?

Meredith: If you aren’t comfortable? Good. Don’t be comfortable in this space. It’s supposed to be uncomfortable. Confrontation? Isn’t necessary, but learn when to take a breathe. Some people really don’t see the point and that’s okay. In the Deep South especially, a lot of this is generationally taught.

If you’re navigating this space- do it selflessly. This ain’t for progression of non racist white folk. This is for the progression of those targeted by racism. Black men and women. To stop having names in hashtags and disappointments when racist individuals walk for taking a life. That’s why you say their name. Till this stops, don’t stop navigating, don’t stop saying their names.

. . .

Following my conversation with Mere, I had some time to think about this, and I want to make something clear. I’m not here to tell you that you should definitely take the same approach. I am going to say that White Privilege is significant and can be used to be an Ally in the fight against systemic racism. There are some people that I have met that deny having privilege due to their background or hardships growing up. If that is you, there are many articles published on the realization of its existence. If you are looking for a place to start, I’d recommend Brando Starkey’s Piece: “Why do so many white people deny the existence of White Privilege?”.

One of the best things you may be able to do to support those around you who continuously live their life with the reality of tough questions like, “Will I make it home alive tonight?”, “I have multiple degrees, and am being told I have too much experience for a job I know I’m qualified for?”, “Will, my child, be okay if a police officer or random vigilante stops them?” — is understand that we shouldn’t have to tell you how to solve a problem we didn’t create. One thing I’ve learned in my friendship with Mere is that I can relax and say whatever is on my mind without judgment.

I’ve grown close to many people from different backgrounds and in my personal experience, say that’s a rare thing to have. For me, though, being self-aware enough to realize that white gaze is always lurking to some degree when I’m interacting with other relationships, be it with my white coworkers, in restaurants, or just taking my dog for a walk in the neighborhood. What I personally appreciate about Mere is that she doesn’t remove herself from the possibility of being a part of some issue- in fact, she takes ownership. She doesn’t claim to have the answers. Doesn’t absolve herself. And doesn’t back down from the conversation because it’s “uncomfortable.” I wish so many more people would be willing to take this approach.

Problem solved? No. Not in any way, shape, or form. But am I grateful I have a friend who uses their privilege in this manner? I’ll let James Earl Jones answer that one for me…

This post was previously published on Equality Includes You and is republished here with permission from the author.


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Photo credit: Matthew Castilla

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