As a white person speaking out against racism, I'm often asked what other white people can do to join the fight. In fact, it's been recommended that I develop a list of my top five suggestions so that it can be widely distributed. It's not that simple. What's helpful in one situation may be harmful in another. What one individual finds supportive, another might find insulting. So I offer the following ideas with that in mind.
1. White privilege should be used to eliminate white privilege. White individuals can and should speak out against racism wherever we see it. Sometimes we're able to do so when it might be dangerous or difficult or just plain exhausting for a person of color to speak up. But it can't end there. We must erase from our society the need for anyone - white or black - to address the problems of racism, systemic or otherwise.
2. Be aware that white people can walk away from the fight; people of color live it every minute of every day. There's the old saying about a breakfast of bacon and eggs...the chicken is involved but the pig is committed. I am involved by choice. I care deeply and passionately about making a difference. The analogy breaks down, though, when I realize that I am also committed. The value of my life is reduced every time someone of color is marginalized. We are all hurt by racism.
3. It is not the job of our family, friends, and colleagues of color to educate us about racism. Read the newspapers, follow minority journalists on the Internet, read books by minority writers, and listen to interviews about racism in America. Learn everything you can so that you can knowledgably discuss current events and help spread an attitude of awareness.
4. Elect, hire, and appoint people who see the importance of an integrated society. An attitude of acceptance must permeate every aspect of lives - our schools and daycares, our places of employment, our neighborhoods, our very existence. Only then will we move beyond the systemic racism that is so damaging to us all.
5. Step outside of your comfort zone to mingle with people of color. When we grow up isolated from those with a background different from our own, we instinctively view them as "other" and find it less comfortable to interact with them. While this may be human nature, it perpetuates our segregated society. The next time you're at a gathering - social, cultural, political, educational - and you see someone black, introduce yourself. Not only because this is one way we can fight systemic racism, but also because you may just find a new friend.
You may hear that we live in a post-racial society, that we have moved beyond this issue as demonstrated by our having elected a bi-racial president. You might be told, "Get over it and stop talking about it." Unfortunately, we are not there yet. It is still difficult to grow up as a person of color in America and we have much work left to do.
(Jo Ivester is the author of the best-selling, award-winning memoir, "The Outskirts of Hope: A Memoir of the 1960s Deep South.)